Kästner, on rejection and renounce

I read Erich Kästner’s Going to the Dogs: The Story of a Moralist after watching the movie Fabian: Going to the Dogs (2021). This quote is from a letter from Stephan, Fabian’s close friend. Some novelists have a deep understanding of the present, and they foresee the future. Not only the near future. Maybe hundred years ahead. Spoiler alert.

going to the dogs = deteriorate shockingly

‘Dear Jacob, I went to the University at midday today to ask about my research thesis, but the Professor was away again. Weckherlin, his assistant, was there, however, and he told me that my thesis had been turned down. The Professor had described it as totally inadequate, and said that if he passed it on to the faculty, it would only be imposing on them. He also said that there was nothing to be gained by advertising my failure. This work has taken me five years. I’ve been working for five years on something which they wish to bury in secret out of consideration for my feelings.

‘I thought of telephoning you, but I was too ashamed. I have no talent for receiving sympathy – even at that I’m no good. I realized it a short time ago, after the talk we had about Leda. You would have shown me that my misfortune was microscopically small. I should have appeared to agree with you, and we should each have been deceiving the other.

‘The rejection of my work means my ruin, materially and psychologically, but especially the latter. Leda repulsed me, and now the University does the same. On all sides I am repudiated and inadequate. That is more than my ambition can stand. That breaks me, Jacob, mind and body. It is no good citing statistics of how many great men have been unsuccessful in their studies and unhappy in their love affairs.

‘Politically, my trip to Frankfurt was a sickening failure. It ended in a free fight. When I got back yesterday, Selow was lying in bed and Ruth Reiter was here and several other women were lending a hand. And now, as I write, they are throwing tumblers and vases at each other in the next room. When I survey my present situation, I can only say that everything about it is distasteful for me. I have been expelled from the circles where I belong, and those that would accept me I do not wish to enter. Do not be angry with me, dear friend; I am leaving it all. Europe does not need me. It will survive or go under without my assistence. We live in a time when economic horse-trading can alter nothing; it can only hasten or delay the final breakdown. We stand at one of those rare turning points of history, where a new way must be found of looking at life: all else is useless. I have no longer the courage to allow myself to be made fun of by political experts who let the continent die under their hands, while they potter about with their petty remedies. I know I am right, but that is no longer enough. I have become ridiculous, a candidate for manhood who has failed in both subjects, love and work. Let me get rid of myself! The revolver I took from the Communist the other day, by the Märkisches Museum, shall reap fresh laurels. I took it so that no harm should be done. I ought to have been a teacher, for children are the only persons ripe for ideals.

‘Well, good-bye, Jacob. I had almost written, in all seriousness, I shall often think of you. But that is all over now. Do not blame me for disappointing us so. You are the only person I ever knew and yet love. Remember me to my father and mother, and especially to your mother. If you should happen to meet Leda, do not tell her that I was so hard hit by her unfaithfulness. Let her think I was only hurt for the moment. There is no need for everyone to know everything.

Kästner, E. (2012). Going to the dogs: The story of a moralist (C. H. Brooks, Trans.). New York Review Books. p. 136-7.