Why Italy?

Klaus and Kaspar walked in silence. They hadn't been on such good terms for the past year or two; a minor dispute had broken out between them, and they'd stopped seeing one another or even exchanging letters. Klaus took this very much to heart, while Kaspar simply accepted it as somehow inevitable. He said to himself that it lay in the very nature of things to find oneself misunderstood at times, even by a brother. He didn't want to keep looking over his shoulder at things in the past; they were over and done with -- unworthy of further thought. He preferred to keep marching straight ahead and considered it harmful to gaze back at former ties. Now, finding it unbearable to remain silent at Kaspar's side, Klaus began to speak of his brother's art, encouraging him to take a trip to Italy some time so as to come into his own as a mature artist.

Kaspar cried out: "I'd rather the devil came for me right this minute! Italy! Why Italy? Am I suffering from an illness, must I be sent to recover in the land of oranges and pine trees? Why should I go to Italy when I can be here, a place I like? Would I have anything better to do in Italy than paint, and am I not able to paint right here? Or do you mean I should go to Italy because it's so beautiful there? Isn't it beautiful enough here? Can it possibly be more beautiful there than here, where I live and work, where I behold a thousand beautiful things that will remain when I myself have long since rotted away? Is it possible to go to Italy when one wishes to be productive? Are the beautiful things more beautiful in Italy than here? Maybe they're just more sophisticated, and for this reason I prefer not to see them in the first place. When sixty years from now I've reached the point of being able to paint a wave or a cloud, a tree or a field, then we'll see whether or not it was clever of me not to go to Italy. Can I be missing out if I havent seen those temples with their columns, those humdrum town halls, those fountains and arches, those pine and laurel trees, those Italian folk costumes, and splendid edifices? Must one wish to devour everything with one's eyes? I find it infuriating when people accuse me of harboring plans to become a better artist in Italy. Italy is just a trap we bumble into if we're stupendously dumb. Do the Italians come visit us when they wish to paint or write? What use is it to me to go into raptures over bygone cultures? Shall I -- if I am honest with myself -- have enriched my spirit by these means? No, I'll just have spoiled it, made it cowardly. Let an ancient, vanished culture be as magnificent as it likes, let it trump us in vibrancy and splendor, there's still no cause for me to go snuffing about in it like a mole; I prefer to observe it, as long as this is feasible and amuses me, in books, which are constantly at my beck and call. In truth, lost, bygone things are never so utterly worthy of our estimation; for when I gaze about me in the present, which is so often disparaged as lacking beauty and grace, I find no dearth of images that delight me and beautiful sights enough to fill both eyes to overflowing. This mania for all things Italian that has strangely, shamefully beset us makes my blood boil. Perhaps I am mistaken, but even twenty bristly devils stinking up the air and waving their horrific pitchforks around wouldn't manage to drag me off to Italy."

Klaus was shocked and saddened by the vehemence with which Kaspar was gauging matters. He'd always been like this, and, as things stood, it couldn't be anticipated how a person might succeed in establishing fruitful relations with him. Klaus said nothing, merely offered his hand in parting, for they had reached the place where he was staying.

-- Robert Walser, The Tanners (New York: New Directions, 2009), 102-103.

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