It was an intelligent country, it housed cultivated people who, like cultivated people all over the globe, ran around in an unsettled state of mind amid a tremendous whirl of noise, speed, innovation, conflict, and whatever goes to make up the optical-acoustical landscape of our lives; like everybody else, they read and heard every day dozens of news items that made their hair stand on end, and were willing to work themselves up over them, even to intervene, but they never got around to it because a few minutes afterward the stimulus had already been displaced in their minds by more recent ones; like everyone else, they felt surrounded by murder, killings, passion, self-sacrifice, and greatness, all somehow going on within the Gordian knot that was forming around them, but they could never break through to these adventures because they were trapped in an office or somewhere, at work, and by evening, when they were free, their unresolved tensions exploded into forms of relaxation that failed to relax them.
“Why,” Ulrich thought suddenly, “didn’t I become a pilgrim?” A pure, uncontingent way of life, as piercingly fresh as ozone, presented itself to his senses; whoever cannot say “Yes” to life should at least utter the “No” of the saint. And yet it was simply impossible to consider this seriously. Nor could he see himself becoming an adventurer, though it might feel rather like an everlasting honeymoon, and appealed to his limbs and his temperament. He had not been able to become a poet or one of those disillusioned souls who believe only in money and power, although he had the makings of either. He forgot his age, he imagined he was twenty, but even so, something inside him was just as certain that he could become none of those things; every possibility beckoned him, but something stronger kept him from yielding to the attraction. Why was he living in this dim and undecided fashion? Obviously, he said to himself, what was keeping him spellbound in this aloof and nameless way of life was nothing other than the compulsion to that loosening and binding of the world that is known by a word we do not care to encounter by itself: spirit, or mind. Without knowing why, Ulrich suddenly felt sad, and thought: “I simply don’t love myself.” Within the frozen, petrified body of the city he felt his heart beating in its innermost depths. There was something in him that had never wanted to remain anywhere, had groped its way along the walls of the world, thinking: There are still millions of other walls; it was this slowly cooling, absurd drop “I” that refused to give up its fire, its tiny glowing core.