Radetzky March

One of the issues I am concerned with is the apparent inability of modern man to approach others through language. Or, to put it better, today’s speechlessness and the failure to make real contact with other people through words.

And it grabs my heart every time I see people talking past each other. My hands start to tremble and I have the feeling that I have to grab them by the shoulders and force them to talk.

I would have to push them together so that, as they say, they speak to each other in fiery tongues.

Maybe that’s why I read so much. And maybe that’s why I love our culture so much. Because we have created such a differentiated language, such a differentiated use of language, that we are able to put almost everything into words. Especially the unspeakable.

And we are not forced to resort to simple myths or any kind of childlike belief. But to use the language in such a way that everyone who approaches it with devotion and passion is able to understand it and express almost everything in it.


When I walk through the streets, when I stand on the platform or sit in a coffee house, I have always listened to the voices of people.

But today I am appalled by the poverty of their language. The flatness of their words, the loss of colours, of nuances and all that would make their language alive.


Perhaps it is a sign of the times. Perhaps speechlessness has become as much a part of us as the little boxes that keep us on a leash.

Because today we are all servants of foreign masters. Or, as Allen Ginsberg once said: “Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch whose heart is a cannibalistic dynamo!”


But maybe that’s also something that’s inherent in our humanity. And that is just a little bit obscured by what we call culture.

Maybe literature is not a reflection of reality, not even a surrogate for unlived life.

It is simply an ideal in the dreams of lonely people.


Joseph Roth also dealt with this topic in the “Radetzky March”.

It is the story of three generations of men who have been cut off from their history and thus run through their lives speechlessly. Unable to communicate with each other, unable to find a way to each other they stand alone in their world and all three die a lonely death. The sad end of a life that is as empty of meaning as it is speechless.


Already the grandfather Trotta was torn from his simple world when he saved the emperor’s life.

Ennobled and promoted to lieutenant, he finds no way back to his comrades and loses his connection to his homeland, to the plaice and the world of his fathers.


His son lives at the side of this deeply bitter man. He is severely scarred and mentally crippled and does not succeed in establishing a relationship with his own child. What carries him through life is the framework of his position and a last part of his inherited strength.

It is only in old age that he succeeds, at least for a few moments, in breaking through this armor and tentatively reaching out to his child.


But it is too late.

For his son is completely lost in his own speechlessness. The last scion of the Trottas is deprived of everything that would make a fulfilled life possible. He has no more roots and therefore can no longer make contact with people.


The book shows vividly how much a person needs relationships in order to survive. Relationship above all through the word. To establish contact, to grow up and to survive in the true sense of the word.

And it also shows that in our world language is needed for this.


But it also shows how much a person’s speechlessness lives on into the third limb.

And even the grandson is condemned to speechlessness.


And it shows the true loneliness of the speechless.

Maybe this is the reason why speechlessness is so close to my heart.

Because between the unspoken words I feel the longing, the loneliness and the pain.

And the impossibility to escape from it.

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