No Man’s Land

The Revolutionary

by Hans Koningsberger
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 212 pp., $4.95

The Worldwide Machine

by Paolo Volponi, translated by Belén Severeid
Grossman, 213 pp., $6.00

No Man’s Time

by V.S. Yanovsky, translated by Isabella Levitin, translated by Roger Nyle Parris, with a Foreword by W.H. Auden
Dutton, 224 pp., $5.00

An anonymous man, an alienated outsider smugly aware of his difference from others, walks his lonely way through an imaginary or allegorical nation-state, discussing abstract ideas according to the metaphysical philosophy studied in the universities of the European continent. A first glance at these three novels suggests, wrongly, that all will be equally depressing. The reader may be reminded of the English play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, wondering irritably whether he is meant to work out the meaning of this metaphysical badinage or whether it is intended to be without significance, in order to illustrate the author’s conception of the meaninglessness of human life. Here is the man called A., the principal character in The Revolutionary, by the Dutchman, Hans Koningsberger:

If that weren’t so, if the body dream were not just created within itself, death would be a calamity. In his conscience world, death was no such thing…. If living were to matter, the world had to be re-created.

A. is a student. Anteo in Paolo Volponi’s Italian novel, is an autodidact. He writes:

The moment of becoming, congenital with the universal, can be thought of as the constant attribute in all the beginnings of creation. There-after, the system of gears unfolds itself, revealing the parts contributed at the creative moment as a sign of the mechanics that are synonymous with God, even if it is only a sign of an attempt that has been made, just as free will is such an attempt.

In No Man’s Time, by the Russian émigré, V. S. Yanovsky, Cornelius Yamb (otherwise known as Conrad Jamb) is talking with Bruno (otherwise known as “We”):

You claim that the personality is We, that the I is not the personality. But is not the personal opposite to the general?”

Personality is continuous motion, is the way, is the tendency. Only motion is real in the world, motion under a specific angle.”

But the first of these quotations is unjust to The Revolutionary. A. does not spend much of his time musing. When he does, he is certainly trying to communicate meaningfully, not merely to confuse the reader or involve him in esoteric gibberish. That division between “a body world and a conscience world” is A.’s own formulation, designed for the practical purpose of explaining his own willingness, as a revolutionary, to risk death for a cause. It is none too clear, however. The body world contains “the actuality of yourself as sharp and pleasurable”; but this important matter is quickly abandoned for a discussion of certain other sensations which A. calls “romanticness” (which might be called, by others, the “spiritual” or perhaps the “aesthetic”). Feelings of romantic love, yearning, and poetical ecstasy, these are “little luxuries of the body, as the narcissisms of philosophers in petty German towns were luxuries of the mind.” He is sketching tentatively what he means by the “body dream”:

Not the animal side in man… It was man’s earthly, trivial side. Not sin …

This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

One-Week Access — $4.99

Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.