Wednesday, April 28, 2021

the last book I ever read (Chess Story by Stefan Zweig, excerpt three)

from Chess Story by Stefan Zwieg:

“My own room in a hotel—that sounds awfully decent, doesn’t it? Believe me, though, if they house ‘celebrities’ like us in reasonably well-heated hotel rooms of our own, this was not intended to be more decent than cramming us by the score into an ice-cold barracks—it was just a subtler method. For the requisite ‘evidence’ was to be wrested from us by a force more sophisticated than crude beating of physical torture: the most exquisite isolation imaginable. They did nothing—other than subjecting us to complete nothingness. For, as if well known, nothing on earth puts more pressure on the human mind than nothing. Locking each of us into a total vacuum, a room hermetically sealed off from the outside world, instead of beating us or exposing us to cold—this was meant to create an internal pressure that would finally force our lips open. At frist glance the room assigned to me did not seem at all uncomfortable. It had a door, a bed, a chair, a washbasin, a barred window. But the door stayed locked day and night, no book, no newspaper, no sheet of paper or pencil was permitted to be on the table, the window faced a firewall; complete nothingness surrounded me both physically and psychologically. They had taken every object away from me—I had watch, so that I didn’t know the time; no pencil, so that I couldn’t write; no knife, so that I couldn’t slit my wrists; even the tiniest comfort, such as a cigarette, was denied me. Apart from the guard, who was not permitted to say a word or respond to questions, I never saw a human face, never heard a human voice; my eyes, my ears, all my senses received not the slightest stimulation from morning till night, from night till morning, all the time you were hopelessly alone with yourself, with your body, and with these four or five mute objects, table, bed, window, washbasin; you lived like a diver in a diving bell in the black sea of this silence, for that matter like a diver who guesses that the cable to the outside world has snapped and that he will never be hailed out of the silent deep. There was nothing to do, nothing to hear, nothing to see, nothingness was everywhere around me all the time, a completely dimensionless and timeless void. You walked up and down, you and your thoughts, up and down, over and over. But even thoughts, insubstantial as they seem, need a footing, or they begin to spin,to run in frenzied circles; they can’t bear nothingness either. You waited for something from morning until night, and nothing happened. You went on waiting and waiting. Nothing happened. You waited, waited, waited, thinking, thinking, thinking, until your temples throbbed. Nothing happened. You were alone. Alone. Alone.

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