Sometimes, when I find myself in the street's densest throng, I am surrounded by such a confusion of voices that I feel like covering my ears with my hands. Someone croaks; someone else drums; from a third passer-by come snapping sounds that combine to make a kind of monotonous music. And what about the strange bellowing or shrill cries that from time to time pierce the spaces between the houses and rebound from one wall to the other. I understand them as little as I understand the screaming of birds, the silence of fish.
The state of confusion in which I often move in this city makes me remember and long for something. I remember the radio, whose place was on a low rosewood shelf in the bay window. I often sat on the floor in front of the radio for quite long times and listened.
But that happened only when I was able to be alone in the room. When the other children came to listen to the radio, I found other things to do, for I did not care for storytime, or for quizzes or sports commentaries. Why, then, did I dawdle, turning the knobs of the radio for so long that my mother often lost her temper and told me to stop?
Beside the radio there grew, in a large earthenware pot, a crown of thorns, and as I listened I liked to finger its sturdy prickles; they were shiny and amazingly sharp, as hard as bone.
'That's nothing but noise,' said my older brother, stepping into the room. 'Let me try.'
And he bent over the receiver and adjusted the vertical pointer to a station that broadcast music or sports commentaries or news.
'Is this what you wanted to listen to?' my brother asked, and out of politeness toward my brother, or rather in order to be left in peace the more quickly, I answered: 'Yes, this is it.'
But as soon as my brother had gone, I turned back to the dimly glowing pointer board and ran the red line through all the cities of Europe. I heard them murmur and sing, but their invitation did not move me. Although I did not understand their distant languages, I knew that they said the same things as in our own language, and at that time I doubted whether that could be used to say anything really important.
For precisely that reason, I did not pause at any of the big cities, but adjusted the pointer to the empty space between the radio stations, where no one was sending anything. To these regions, which were as deserted and roadless as the spaces between stars, I returned again and again. As I wandered through their integrity, I felt the happiness of an explorer, and I was bewitched by the ceaseless humming that rose like vapour from their nameless seas. It was secreted from the receiver as a radiation of the same strength, almost unchanging in wavelength, which brought to mind honey and the homes of thousands of bumblebees. It swayed before me like a curtain, like dancing dust; it was ceaseless happening, but nothing changed in it.
So I wandered through the forest, peaceful and alone. The language I listened to was so full of meaning that once I even felt my intestines pausing in their work in order to understand better.
If I had been asked then, 'But what does it mean?', I should not have replied. For I could not have said anything but: 'It means everything', and even to my own ears such an answer would have seemed senseless.
But that was precisely how it was. The roar that lured me was the chimera of all languages and all voices.
Once I heard the same storm rising elsewhere. I had a fever, and I was standing in line in the school playground. Faintness made me black out and dizziness thrust me to the ground. But I did not feel myself hit the gravel, for in my eyes and my blood there rose, roaring, such a plenitude and suction of voices that I dived into it head-first as if into the sea, and there, too, 'everything' lived.
But from time to time as I listened to the noise of the radio, I could distinguish individual voices and call them to me. I did not always succeed, but sometimes all I needed to do was listen, and a whisper or a note would detach itself from the density of the cloud of voices and float in the foreground. But nothing I heard was unambiguous, so that often I wanted to tear the roaring aside as if it were a stage-curtain. But that, of course, was impossible: the voices were born and lived only in the fog, and if it lifted, 'everything' disappeared immediately into a deathly silence.
But one day I could hear the seagulls shrieking above the reef, and on another the trains dashed forward. It happened very far away, and I admit I was a little afraid.
Everything floated and changed; something was always happening. I could exert only the tiniest influence on what was born and died behind the calm fabric that covered the radio loudspeaker. Some events were terrible: cities destroyed by earthquakes, assassinations, collapsing stars. One eruption sparked another, the echo of ceaseless explosions never seemed to weaken. It was as if one were hearing, from afar, the birth of matter itself.
Then my fingers reached out once more for the spine of the cactus and tightly pressed its sharpest point, in extent warmer than a nail, living, steady.
Once I remembered, in front of the receiver, that I had a heart: that whatever I did, that heart beat and beat, ceaselessly. And as if in answer, through the tempest, I heard the beats of another heart, dull, even and self-assured. Then I found myself looking at the fabric that hid the loudspeaker behind it, but it did not sigh like my own chest; it did not even quiver.
Or I remembered the name I had once been given, and at the same time I was called by that name, but from a place so far off that I could never have reached there, even if I had set off immediately.
And when the dishes clattered in the kitchen, I was already sitting at table like the others.
Eric von Hippel
Erik S. Raymond