The novel's final chapter, Chapter 9, begins with the actor walking through the city in the night, waiting for the appointed time when he will pick up the woman from her night work. He walks constantly, as if he is not allowed to stand still. There is risk here ("Es stand etwas auf dem Spiel. Viel. Alles."), and after the statement of risk that, in German, means literally "There was something standing on the game," or, perhaps a bet had been laid, he lightens the mood by referring to himself as that guy in the film "Mission Impossible."
Over the years, critics, both positive and negative alike, have missed this playful, dialectical aspect of Peter's work. They keep seeing him as earnestly sensitive and metaphysically inclined. This is, as I read him, an anti-metaphysical writer who nevertheless works his ass off to create what meaning there is to be created; and then winks.
Before becoming Peter's traveling companion and translator, Zarko once interviewed him and mentioned what a sensitive writer he was. "Sensitive is a word for condoms," Peter replied.
On this last walk through the city (it's explicitly not "flanieren") the actor comes across a man who is dying on the ground by a subway entrance. The man looks at him and the look means "I recognize or know you (erkennen). You are known!"
Okay, here a break to think about realism.
This is not likely, that the actor is gazed at by a dying man. It's the last chapter and we need a climax or a set of them. So the narrator drags in a dying man. As a reader I think: the narrator just dragged in a dying man. How likely is that?
But then I think, as I have before: this isn't a realistic novel. It's a novel about what makes our lives more or less real, more or less authentic, more or less governed by the idiocies and wisdoms of our cultures. It's not a Dutch realist painting. The point here is simply that the actor needs the eyes of another person looking into his eyes, he needs face-to-face relationships to give him meaning. This is psychologically realistic, not a realist plot.
Finally, we're not alone in wondering. The narrator knows readers may be asking how the actor knew the man was dying: "He knew it, he still knew such things."
Back to the playful dialectic. The actor hears children laughing and thinks he has lost the ability to be drawn into such laughter: "Permeated by seriousness, he longed to laugh."
More children, these two swinging in a lit-up park.
Apples begin to appear, first in a display window, next in a phrase a passing man says to the woman he's holding close: "My apple,"and finally after thinking he will ram his head into a wall, the actor instead becomes a juggler with two apples."
If the Great Fall is coming, there have to be apples.
In the book the actor was reading in the morning, the man who ran amok, the man so troubled by things like the lemon seed, came to an understanding with things as the evening came. The man who runs amok in the film is almost speechless. The actor who keeps threatening to run amok thinks about the two fictional cases as he has his own experiences. And I as a reader ........ yes, I've written this already.
Two distraught people, a young man who drops everything as he leaves his house and stands on the sidewalk without picking up the things, just stands there, and a young woman who is crying because, the actor surmises, she has been jilted, she has lost her job, and she has no savings. The actor picks up the young man's things and gives him a hug. He can't think of how to help the woman and that impotence turns to anger at her.
Headed for the Bar of Destiny (not the Bar of Hope) where the woman will be waiting for him. She is waiting there, and he can tell from the back of her head that she, unlike he, has a mission. He can tell she has thirst and he thinks that she, like the others sitting there, is one of the latter-day saints, a different sort from the normal ones (that must be my ones, the ones I belong to and the ones I left, otherwise known as Mormons). What makes these people saintly is hunger and thirst and thirst and hunger -- for food and drink. Then comes the second hunger, for sex with the woman (remember the desire-filled mass the actor celebrates while the priest celebrates the more normal mass). Finally comes the third hunger, the great hunger, but only after he hears the heavy slow steps of a mother climbing a wooden staircase up to the abandoned room of the lost son and then the murmur of the inconsolable: "Grant that . . ."
"He stood, and stood, and stood. Third hunger, the great one. Time for the second Gentle Course/Path (Lauf). Instead, the Great Fall."
When the three hungers were introduced just before the actor entered the church, the third hunger, for Geist/Spirit/Mind, the actor thought of Goethe, not the Goethe of "Faust," which didn't much concern the actor, but the Goethe of the saying about the "'Oberen Leitenden', welches den Geist meinte," the 'guiding spirits' (or high leading ones?) that meant Geist.
The phrase is from Goethe's "Westoestlicher Divan: Der höchste Charakter orientalischer Dichtkunst ist, was wir Deutsche Geist nennen, das Vorwaltende des oberen Leitenden. . . .
And it's the actor's third hunger. How to satisfy it? By a second walk, a gentle walk through the day, the next day. For that he needs time.
He has no time.
And that's it.
A few final thoughts.
First the standing image I've been following throughout. Having read the entire novel, I see at least three different kinds of standing, although they are closely connected by the fact that they are the same image. First is the standing that opposes falling, the standing that works against entropy. Second is the standing that is a kind of threatening power, the standing of the policemen or of the actor himself in the subway. The actor's standing, standing, and standing at the end may entail both of those, but it is also the third kind of standing, the one that is stasis. There's life in the gentle moving on. It's a mobile standing, dialectical erection.
Second, the actor leaves the woman's house and travels toward her over the course of the entire day. He finally reaches her (although he remains at a distance). A second gentle walk would repeat that course, from woman to woman. The last image of the novel is the mother lamenting her lost son. Although the actor has set Faust aside, how can we not hear echoes of Faust here?
Hier ist's getan;
Zieht uns hinan.
I wanted to end this series with an appropriate image, a visual equivalent of sorts to the thoughts Peter's novel has evoked.
Last night I took a hundred photos of Utah Valley during a sunset. These three may share something with the powerful novel that undermines its own power, with the simple story that is so complex, with the coming darkness of the Great Fall still illuminated by the already absent sun.