The priest intoned words in a singsong voice, and the people repeated them after him in unison. It was a litany. The same words kept coming back, like a wanderer who cannot tear his eyes away from the countryside or like a man who cannot take leave of life. She sat in one of the last pews, closing her eyes to hear the music of the words, opening them to stare up at the blue vault dotted with large gold stars. She was entranced.
What she had unexpectedly met there in the village church was not God; it was beauty. She knew perfectly well that neither the church nor the litany was beautiful in and of itself, but they were beautiful compared to the construction site, where she spent her days amid the racket of the songs. The mass was beautiful because it appeared to her in a sudden, mysterious revelation as a world betrayed.
From that time on she had known that beauty is a world betrayed. The only way we can encounter it is if its persecutors have overlooked it somewhere. Beauty hides behind the scenes of the May Day parade. If we want to find it, we must demolish the scenery.
This is the first time I’ve ever been fascinated by a church, said Franz.
It was neither Protestantism nor asceticism that made him so enthusiastic; it was something else, something highly personal, something he did not dare discuss with Sabina. He thought he heard a voice telling him to seize Hercules’ broom and sweep all of Marie-Claude’s previews, all of Marie-Anne’s singers, all lectures and symposia, all useless speeches and vain words—sweep them out of his life. The great empty space of Amsterdam’s Old Church had appeared to him in a sudden and mysterious revelation as the image of his own liberation.
Stroking Franz’s arms in bed in one of the many hotels where they made love, Sabina said, The muscles you have! They’re unbelievable!
Franz took pleasure in her praise. He climbed out of bed, got down on his haunches, grabbed a heavy oak chair by one leg, and lifted it slowly into the air. You never have to be afraid, he said. I can protect you no matter what. I used to be a judo champion.
“The Unbear able Lightness Of Being” By Milan Kunder a 58 When he raised the hand with the heavy chair above his head, Sabina said, It’s good to know you’re so strong.
But deep down she said to herself, Franz may be strong, but his strength is directed outward; when it comes to the people he lives with, the people he loves, he’s weak. Franz’s weakness is called goodness. Franz would never give Sabina orders. He would never command her, as Tomas had, to lay the mirror on the floor and walk back and forth on it naked. Not that he lacks sensuality; he simply lacks the strength to give orders. There are things that can be accomplished only by violence. Physical love is unthinkable without violence.
Sabina watched Franz walk across the room with the chair above his head; the scene struck her as grotesque and filled her with an odd sadness.
Franz set the chair down on the floor opposite Sabina and sat in it. I enjoy being strong, of course, he said, but what good do these muscles do me in Geneva? They’re like an ornament, a peacock feather. I’ve never fought anyone in my life.
Sabina proceeded with her melancholy musings: What if she had a man who ordered her about? A man who wanted to master her? How long would she put up with him? Not five minutes! From which it follows that no man was right for her. Strong or weak.
Why don’t you ever use your strength on me? she said.
Because love means renouncing strength, said Franz softly.
Sabina realized two things: first, that Franz’s words were noble and just; second, that they disqualified him from her love life.
I just read this book after 25 years of reading it the first time. It is still magnificent.