Literature & Religion: Pascal, Gryphius, Lessing, Holderlin, Novalis, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Kafka

By Walter Jens; Hans Küng et al. | Go to book overview

WALTER JENS
Certitude! Certitude!

"Let us imagine a number of men in chains, and all condemned to death, where some are killed each day in the sight of the others, and those who remain see their own fate in that of their fellows, and wait their turn, looking at each other sorrowfully and without hope. It is an image of the condition of men" (#199).

A prophecy of horror. L'homme sans dieu, the godless man, positing his autonomy: For Pascal this is not only a depraved, aberrant, and desperate creature. It is the candidate for death who at the moment of truth, when it comes time to die, experiences his end as an execution, mute and hopeless in the face of the firing squad that awaits him.

In a few sentences, Pascal anticipates the mass executions of the twentieth century, with the people huddled together naked and robbed of their dignity, waiting for a bullet in the back of the neck. The loneliest death there is, the most wretched and meaningless, seems prefigured here in a way that points to the divinatory power of great poetry shaped by visionary images. How else can we read today, after Auschwitz, Oradour, or My-Lai, Pascal's description of the "last act": "The last act is tragic, however happy all the rest of the play is; at the last a little earth is thrown upon our head, and that is the end forever" (#210).

Yet this is unlike the time of fascism, unlike the period under Stalin or Pinochet. Here it is not the innocent -- Jews, dissidents, and advocates of humanity -- but those declared guilty in the name of religion, the godforsaken, no longer mindful of their first nature, to whom Pascal calls out his "damnati eritis in saecula sae-

-21-

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Literature & Religion: Pascal, Gryphius, Lessing, Holderlin, Novalis, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Kafka
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