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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sleepwalker (Schlafwandler) 

Something a bit odd:

In his larger forms, Schubert is a wanderer. He likes to move at the edge of the precipice, and does so with the assurance of a sleepwalker. To wander is the Romantic condition; one yields to it enraptured, or is driven and plagued by the terror of finding no escape. More often than not, happiness is but the surface of despair.

— Alfred Brendel, “Schubert's Last Sonatas”, in: Music Sounded Out (1990).

I was surprised to read this, as Hitler is believed to have used the same image in speaking of himself:

When, following the successful Rhineland coup, he remarked, in one of his “election” speeches: “I follow the path assigned to me by Providence with the instinctive sureness of a sleepwalker,” it was more than a piece of campaign rhetoric. Hitler truly believed it. He increasingly felt infallible.

— Ian Kershaw, “How Hitler Won Over the German People” in Der Spiegel.

I say “believed”, because I have heard the quotation a few times but have never seen an exact source. It might be recorded in the sources of Kershaw's book, Hitler, 1889-1936. It appears at the very beginning of chap. 1, “Hitler As He Believes Himself to Be”, of Walter C. Langer's A Psychologial Profile of Adolph Hitler, but there again it seems to be unsourced.

It seems like an odd combination: certainty and somnambulism. It's a little like saying “the relaxation of a man in a coma”. The thing about sleepwalkers, surely, is not that they're full of confidence and have a good handle on everything, but that they don't know what's going on and are unaware of that fact or of anything that might need their attention. I think the assurance is really in the mind of the observer. He sees someone fast asleep yet going to the fridge, making a sandwich and feeding the cat, finding and loading the shotgun, and so on. He wonders: “How can he do all that with his eyes closed? Should I wake him? Or will that just spoil his magnificent concentration and ruin everything?” I guess that would depend.



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