The Second Death of God

A television set, an ordinary television set. Above it lays a bust of Beethoven. His impacting fearsome face towers above the screen projecting the news of quotidian reality. His face, the archetype of the romantic genius, gravely looks at its surroundings with wry dexterity. Below the Teutonic genius, pixels project his antithesis – the Teutonic pragmatist. Below the harbinger of marvellous sounds harbours the harbinger of economic meltdown. Angela Merkel sceptically announces the “necessary number of austerity measures about to be implemented,” the “solidarity needed in Europe to pull us through” and the “lamentable exit of Greece, Spain and Italy from the Eurozone.”
    Rudolf and Simon, erect, look at the projected images. Merkel does not seem at ease; she gesticulates, darting her eyes everywhere. “In the land of Beethoven...” Rudolf utters. “How can this happen in the land of Beethoven...”
     “I think the saying is ‘How can this happen in the land of Goethe.’” Simon corrects. “But, pedantry aside, you are right. The romantic genius is dead. We must get accustomed to the end times...”
    Merkel drones on and on.
    “Simon, stop the fatalism! Nietzsche said that the greater the level of chaos in human society, the greater the level of creative inquiry. The romantic genius is far from dead; on the contrary, his rebirth is due. Just watch the number of novels, symphonies, poems and plays about to pour into the public limelight. After years of perennial stasis, this economic meltdown is nurturing the most remarkable weapon mankind possesses – creativity.”
    Ludwig van continues to gaze ahead, solemn, brooding and furious. What could this example teach? And, below the Teutonic genius, how could one counteract this squat old lady?
    “There’s no good to just vegetate here. Rudolf! We must leave this house and pursue our quest for knowledge!” Simon exclaims.
     “Fancy you saying that!”
    “Seriously. Let’s go beyond these walls and outside, into the wilderness...”
    So Simon and Rudolf trot along into what used to be the abyss. Now it has been reanimated into a haven, a place of refuge from the swaggering, yet monotone, pronouncements made by Merkel. They leave the television set on, which blares out the hoarse voice. Ludwig Van continues to tower above, resolutely sceptical.
    They scuttle down steep cliffs, thrusting aside thorns and nettles, until they arrive at a large pond. Rudolf and Simon are reminded of the days when they used to excurse through this wildlife. They had replaced it with a television set. As soon as the breaking news of financial crisis broke through, it petrified them. They feared that their own lives would be implicated in this global calamity. It turned out that, right up to this moment in time, it hadn’t. But this was still a very thin line indeed. It could fall through at any minute. What could Rudolf and Simon do to make amends? They did not seem to have any solutions. All they seem to do was read newspapers, watch TV reports and make snobbish remarks. They had left their ambitions behind for this. As they contemplate this vast pond, all they think is: how could they?
    Five minutes of silence pass. To be precise: they are silent. The birds chirp, the wind blasts and the fish leap out of the water. Total silence is impossible to attain. By this tranquil pond, however, it is close to come by.
    A luminous glow materialises at the centre of the pond. It slowly augments in size, glinting within its porous environment. It is a golden sphere that duplicates its size every second. The luminosity increases, until it covers all the of the pond’s dimensions. Rudolf and Simon, erect, look on agape.
    This golden sheen rises out of the water, shaping into a monolithic bird. It blindingly glows. This metamorphosis is that of the phoenix, but it has not germinated through fire. It has germinated through its reverse element: water.
    “What... What do we owe to your visit, oh phoenix of the water?” Rudolf anxiously cries out.
    “Listen carefully, mortals. Late in the 19th century, in the Bavarian countryside, God died. This gave way to a new conception of ethics. These are ethics both of you have espoused ever so fervidly. Sadly, God resurfaced in a plethora of ways and his contagions can be felt all across the hemisphere.
    “Both of you are not greater than the common man. I’ll grant that. In many ways, you are nebbish and inferior. You do possess a degree of knowledge in some fields. More importantly, you are profound sceptics of the moral values humans believe. You are also curious.
    “I suggest you try the following: impart your sense of anguish to everyone. Make it public, be it through political activism or the writing of great prose. The romantic genius has died; all you need to do is resuscitate him.
    “I announce to you the second death of God.”
    The shapes and contours of the golden bird diffuse, the blinding light dissolving into the water. The luminosity reduces into a state of nothingness until the comparatively modest pond is the only visible landscape.
     Simon continues to look at the water, agape. Rudolf turns around, lowering his head.“What... what do we make out of all this?” he mutters.
    “I guess we should do just as the water phoenix instructed...” Simon says. “The thing is... The thing is... What methodology do we use?”
    Rudolf arches his head and looks up to the leaden sky. “Simon, by the laws of physics, what we just witnessed is... unfeasible.”
     “Unfeasible? If this was a hallucination of some sort, how can we have witnessed what we just did concurrently? If our minds simultaneously witnessed the same hallucination... I do not believe that there is psychiatric proof for such an event. Or is it just that there is such a synergy between us that... that... such a thing is possible?”
     “No, I do not believe it,” Simon continues. “Besides... We are not dealing with scientific probabilities here. We have entered the realm of the metaphysical. We have thought about it through our readings of novelists and philosophers and have been entranced by the sounds of the most wondrous symphonies... Now... Now it has been extirpated from our minds and it has materialised in the objective world. Rudolf... Rudolf... This is just what we were discussing in front of the television set. We must leave our comfortable house behind and change the world in some way. The world has to become metaphysical.”
     “You are the metaphysical type. I am a man of science,” Rudolf replies.
     “What we discussed before walking down here... You accused me of fatalism. Now you are being fatalistic. The romantic genius is far from dead, eh? Do you still stick to those words?”
    Rudolf lowers his head again. “Yes. Yes, I do. You just have to understand, Simon... Seeing a giant phoenix rise out of the water and watching it speak isn’t... it just isn’t something you see every day, ok?”
     “I understand your feelings.”
     The pair walk back up, once more thrusting thorns and nettles aside, until they arrive at the bustling metropolis they called home. What used to be the abyss. What used to be the abyss, however, will now be a testing ground for the metaphysical. Rudolf and Simon will see how far, in a state of economic meltdown, people will embrace their claims.
The pair settle in the middle of the city centre, the rain persistently falling down. Covered in their rain coats, they meekly take out their banners and the numerous apparatuses they have prepared for their protest. The crowd pass by at an accelerated rate, indifferent to the protests of these misfits.
     Simon takes out a banner announcing ‘God has died – again.’ Rudolf, wielding a megaphone, intones “God has died. So has capitalism. But so have our notions of reality. The water phoenix has announced it: the 19th century genius has been resuscitated! Death to laissez-fare capitalism! Death to mediocrity! We must welcome philosophical and creative inquiry. Pay heed to us! Pay heed! God has died for the second time! The economy has collapsed! Lo and behold the 21st century renaissance! Lo and behold great new art!”
    Eventually Rudolf runs out of energy. He has vociferated this with such exuberant energy that he cannot continue. He leaves the megaphone beside their carrier bags. The banner Simon seizes falls back upon him. Its sheer weight is too much for his brittle body. The rain falls with such insistence that the pair cannot find the stamina, nor the will, to continue. A very messy affair indeed.
     The crowd has not bat an eyelid to the couple’s efforts. Not for a second. They walk along, some with resilience, others with patient equanimity.
    A decrepit man appears. He has a tousled appearance and he rests all his force on a minute walking stick. He approaches the pair. Had they attracted a sympathiser?
     “Can it be known?” the old man croaks. “Can it be known what exactly it is you both stand for?”
    “Well...” Rudolf hesitates.
     “I can’t make head or tail out of it, to tell you the truth. Are you anarchists? I have no idea. Mystics? Again, no idea. Do you want to change the economic model? I can’t tell. Human perceptions of reality? If you want any of us to pay the slightest attention to your protests, you must have a little more focus. Otherwise, your little project – whatever it is – will just pass by unnoticed.”
     The decrepit man jerks back and integrates himself into the crowd. Rudolf and Simon bewilderedly gaze ahead.
Rudolf and Simon return home, their clothes sodden. The television screen is turned off. Ludwig Van still has the same expression – the same obstinacy and the same fury. True, he is just a bust and, being an inanimate object, he is two dimensional in the degree of his grimaces. But he has developed a degree of humanity in this house; he is the guardian or, to put it more cynically, the supervisor of this asinine pair. He witnesses the grand delusions of Rudolf and Simon and disapproves. As far as busts go, he is very analytical and judgemental.
    “Well...” Simon utters. “I guess we’ll... Well, God knows... We’ll have to... be more... focused.”
     “It’s all poppycock, you know,” Rudolf replies. “What we’re saying.”
     “Listen, I do think we have a clear idea of what we are saying,” Simon says. “All we need to do is present it more coherently. Our intentions are three-fold. Firstly, we want to create a different economic model which has strong affinities with traditional anarchist beliefs; second, we want to ‘resuscitate’ the 19th century genius and engender a new wave of creative thought and inquiry; third, we want people to embrace metaphysical philosophy, through the study and reflection of dreams and, if they wish, through the help of mystical drugs.”
    “Try synthesising all that into a coherent manifesto. It won’t work. Whether a ‘water phoniex’ told us or not, it simply won’t,” Rudolf replies.
     “What do you suggest we do?”
    “We need... to put it simply, we just need to get out more.”
     “Listen, if you want people to understand our intentions, let’s begin by showing an interest in them. How do most people interact? They congregate in clubs. Rock concerts. As much as we’d like to deny it, this is how social interaction and human procreation works.”
    “Listen, Rudolf… I don’t want to go to those noisy environments. They make me nauseous.”
     “Girls, sex, experience, adventure, indulgence. We need all of that. And we need it now.”
     “I want that, too. I just don’t like the means through which to acquire it…”
     “It’s a tough world, isn’t?”
     Simon wanders away, peering out of the window. Beyond the intertwining series of roads lies the vast expanse of countryside. Had those days gone? It seemed the least likely time to abscond. As that creature soared out of the water, Simon knew that this lifestyle was opening up to new and unknown possibilities. Rudolf was more than happy to replace it with casual leisure. How could he? What had got into him?
     He phrases just that to him: “Do you want to replace all this with casual leisure, eh?”
     “By no means, I simply want to partake in a little casual leisure and then follow through on our initial idea.”
     Once more, Simon is resigned.
     Rudolf continues: “Simon, let’s go to a rock concert. Girls there… they are wild. That’s what I need: nefarious, deviant behavior. After a while we will acquire a small following and build on from there…”
     “Those chicks… Those chicks… They just don’t appeal to me. They do drugs, they make themselves pale, wear socks on their heads… They are too conformist.”
     “They would cease to be conformist if they joined our boat,” Rudolf retorts.
     “I much prefer those pristine, virginal girls who study at the library. That’s what gets me off.”
    “Fine, if that gets you off then… I’ll go to a Goth concert, you go the local library.”
      “I can’t believe… I can’t believe… That this episode started with a Phoenix rising out of the water, imparting the injunction that God has died again… Why has it degenerated into this frivolous chatter about… girls!”
     Rudolf sceptically looks on. “Simon, maybe what that Phoenix was saying was… leave your study areas and immerse yourselves in a world of gratification and indulgence.”
     “I… I hardly… I hardly think that’s possible. How could you possibly take on such a reading! That is chronic misapprehension!”
      Rufold swerves back. “Simon… I don’t care. Let’s leave this black hole we’re in and plunge into a world of ecstasy and excitement.”
A squalid pit, murky, depressing and seedy – all synonyms for a rock concert venue. Rudolf wades through with caution. Groups of people are cloistered in distinct areas. They drink alcoholic beverages and smirk impishly. Whatever they say is clouded out by the loud music blaring out of the speakers. This music, incidentally, is a mere preamble for the sonic assault about to follow. Amidst the hollow darkness all around, lights incandescently simmer above the stage.
     Rudolf wrings his way through the crowd. The people are caked in white powder and piercings are ingrained into their muzzles. They are all shrouded in black and the word DEATH is omnipresent.
     In the bar area, a young girl stands, conversing with her comrades. The pallor of her skin is superseding. She has straight black hair and a slanted face that, despite its imperfections, has Rudolf smitten. He pushes his way through the crowd.
    Fixing his eyes on her face, he nervously states “God is dead.”
    She instinctively tilts her head, her eyes agog. Has he impressed her? “Well, God is a cunt anyway!”
     This instantly draws a reaction from her comrades, who chortle like small children. “Hey, look at my t-shirt!” one of the hairy rascals exclaims, which boldly states JESUS IS A CUNT. It is accompanied by an image of Christ limply hanging from a crucifix.
     They soon resume their own conversations. Rudolf remains standing, glazing into the group. The sought-after girl bemusedly asks “Why are you standing there? If you want to join us, why don’t you say something?”
     Tremulously shaking, his lips are pursed. What can he say? Couldn’t he have thought about this beforehand? His mind feels like it is racing yet, conversely, no detectable thought or idea can be traced. The blaring music hardly helps, either. “G-God is dead… This is giving way to a new wave of ethics.”
     The group is perplexed and dumbfounded. Rudolf continues with “Although God died in the Bavarian countryside… he resurfaced later… and… and… I am imparting my sense of anguish to you… I am resuscitating the Romantic genius… and…” He feels more and more dizzied by the second, the simmering lights drowning his sight, the blaring music trouncing his weak mind. What was he saying? What could they make out of this wad of babble? He clumsily cavorts back and forth, his head pivoting ceaselessly. He can make out the vague outlines of the girl, who not only looks confused but afraid. “God… God… Is dead… I want you all to join… join my project… to change the political system… and change the economic model… Pay heed… Pay heed to me.” Just as he utters the final phrase, he loses all consciousness and falls to the ground.

On the same day as this regrettable incident, Simon finds himself in the library foyer, nervously clutching the entrance’s door knob. On previous occasions he has noticed a youthful, spritely girl with golden dreadlocks who devotedly studies. Every time Simon sees her, she has been surrounded by a towering array of rusty bulky books. She always wears a white shawl; never has she been seen sporting any accessories or mascara. To Simon, she epitomises the wholesome, pious youth who does as told. There is something alluring in this pristine virginity. Simon and Rudolf’s minds have been blackened and tainted by the savagery and brutality of nihilistic atheism and defiance. They have not dabbled in drugs or anything of the sort, but they have rebelled against immutable doctrinal truths. This girl, with her virginal golden dreadlocks, clearly hasn’t.
    He turns the knob. He walks beyond the classified tomes, toward a silent study area, where the object of his desire harbours. He sits astride, withdrawing a notebook and pen and he begins to feign study. He feels terrified, his heart thumps maddeningly and he begins to write anything that comes to mind. (As it happens, this is the manifesto to the project, which he titles ‘The Water Phoenix’.)
     He jerks his head and begins to scrutinize the geometry, shape and contours of her body. He eyes her books, which mostly consist of titles on theology and middle history. Simon grunts surreptitiously and she alarmingly darts her eyes to his direction. She looks harried and alarmed. “There’s nothing to fear,” he glibly says.
     Her expression of fear has not altered. “Who… who are you?” she mutters.
     “I… I have seen you here before, studying. Do you know why you intrigue me?
     “You are cleansed, pure. I can sense it. It’s obvious. To me, there’s something appealing in that. Even though I would consider myself a rebel, I would say that this cleanliness and purity in an age of depravity and savagery shows a strength of character.”
    This does not impress her. Not in the slightest. To come out with this torrent of strange and idiosyncratic appraisals would not impress a girl anywhere, regardless of creed and temperament.
    “You are altruistic. It shows. In many ways, I am too. Still, you need to question. Question authority. You need to inquire without… without the aid of a supernatural, celestial governance.”
     This last statement is the last final impunity and blaspheme she can withstand. “God is our only moral compass. How dare you say that! Without God, anything is permissible.”
     “We all need a moral framework. It is not wrested out of the skies, however.”
     “Civilisations without the aid of God have lived in a state of anarchy and decadence.”
     “On the contrary. There’s scientific evidence that asserts that believers are far more likely to commit crimes.”
    “Oh… So how come I appeal to you! Because I am cleansed? Because I am pure? It is my very own religiosity that attracts you?”
     “No, it is your na├»ve attachment to it that intrigues me.”
     She covers her eyes and begins to cry. “I… I… I am being harassed.” She howls with all her strength. She gradually begins to regain composure, collects the stack of books and leaves. Simon remains seated and tears also begin to wheedle in his eyes.
We have come full circle. Ludwig Van towers above the television set (which is now projecting news coverage about troops withdrawing from Afghanistan). Rudolf has come back from the hospital, his head covered by a bandage placed to alleviate a concussion. Simon, meanwhile, has not taken the previous incident lightly and feels heartbroken. Their efforts have not changed the economic model. Their efforts have not changed people’s perceptions of reality. Their efforts have not attracted any sympathisers. And, more crushingly, they have not won over any maidens. 
     Simon sits down on an arm-chair whilst Rudolf remains erect, surveying the news footage. They are divided, almost antagonised, and they have not uttered a syllable to one other since yesterday.
      A grin begins to shape on Rudolf’s face, as he swings over to Simon. “Simon… We need something more… drastic.”
     Simon’s lips are pursed, his eyes evasive. Just like at the start of the story, he is resigned and pessimistic. “We will bomb… bomb… the Bundestag.”
     “Rudolf… I think your concussion is doing the talking right now.”
     He continues to prattle on incoherently. Simon has ceased to listen and Rudolf, upon noticing the muteness, snaps “Very well, I will… I will go solo!” He sniggers on and on. He storms out of the house.
     Simon begins to develop a level of contempt for Rudolf. Although they have been friends for innumerable years, he feels that this is the moment when they have drifted apart. It was clear that his companion had lost control of his mental capacities.
     Almost a month passes and Rudolf has not returned home. Simon’s ambitions have dwindled and he returns to his austere life of reading books, listening to music and going to the cinema.
    Finding that he has not kept a tab on current affairs, he switches the television set on. Something ghastly is there. An announcement proclaims “TERRORIST RUDOLF GANZ ARRESTED FOR BOMBING BUNDESTAG. THREE MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT DEAD.” Rudolf is scuttled away to a police car; he brandishes a ‘water phoenix’ t-shirt.
     Simon looks up at Beethoven whom, as always, looks on disparagingly. Paralysed, Simon realises the number of luxuries bequeathed to him as a responsible citizen. Rudolf is far away from him now, demented, in miserable surroundings. Come the onslaught of insanity, Rudolf acted upon the phoenix words. He brazenly followed through on it and inflicted terrorism upon the state. This was still a far cry from their original intentions. As Simon looks at Ludwig Van, the marble bust appears to agree.
September 2012

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