This compulsion to understand seems to me like a stigma

The next to last chapter of Christa Wolf’s Medea, a retelling of the title character’s life from Colchis to Corinth. The speaker here is Leukon, Corinth’s second astronomer.

Here they come leaping out again, my constellations. How I hate these dreary repetitions. How loathsome all this is to me. I cannot say that to anyone, but it is also the case that there is no longer anyone who would want to hear it. So I sit here alone and drink wine and watch the movements of the stars. And I must see the images again and again, whether I want to or not, must hear the voices that haunt me. I did not know what a human being could endure. Now I sit here, obliged to tell myself that it is this ability to bear what is unbearable and to go on living, to go on doing what one is used to doing—it is this uncanny ability that the existence of the human species is based on. If I said this previously, I did so in the words of a spectator, for a man is a spectator as long as there is no other person close to him, as long as no one else’s misfortune can break his heart. Of all the unnamed stars in the heavens, I have named the brightest one Arethusa, and every time it sets in the western sky, as it is doing now, I feel the same pain. Among all these distant worlds I am alone in my world, and I like it less the better I know it. And understand it, I cannot deny that. As much as I search my heart, and as little as I wish to admit what that search reveals, I cannot find that there was a single one of the recent atrocities—and I was a witness to them—where I did not understand both sides. Not that I excuse them, no, but I understand. Humans in their blindness. This compulsion to understand seems to me like a stigma that I cannot get rid of and that isolates me from other people. Medea knew about such things.

How can I forget that last look she cast toward me as the two guards who were holding her by the arms expelled her from my city of Corinth through the southern gate, after she had been led, as is customary with scapegoats, through the city streets, which were lined by a hate-frothing, screaming, spitting, fist-shaking mob? And I (who would believe me?), I felt something like envy for this dirty, besmirched, exhausted woman, who was banished from the city with a shove from the guards and a curse from the High Priest. Envy, because she, the innocent victim, was free from inner conflict. Because the rift did not run through her, but gaped between her and those who had slandered and condemned her, who drove her through the city, insulted her, spat upon her. So that she could pick herself up out of the filth into which they had shoved her, could raise her arms toward Corinth and with all that remained of her voice announce that Corinth is doomed. Those of us who were standing near the gate heard this threat and walked without speaking back into the deathly still city, which seemed empty to me without the woman. But together with the burden that Medea’s fate laid upon my heart, I felt pity for the Corinthians, these pathetic, misguided wretches, who could not otherwise free themselves from their fear of the plague and of the ominous signs in the heavens and of hunger and of the palace’s encroachment upon their lives than by shifting their fear onto that woman. Everything is so transparent, everything is so clear and obvious, it can make one crazy.

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