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Authors: Harry Mulisch

The Discovery of Heaven

BOOK: The Discovery of Heaven
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A novel


Harry Mulisch

First published in Dutch as
De ontdekking van de hemel

This translation first published in the USA by Viking Penguin,

a division of Penguin Putnam Inc. 1996

First published in Great Britain in Penguin Books 1998

1 3579108642

Copyright © Harry Mulisch, 1992

Translation copyright © Paul Vincent, 1996

All rights reserved





1 The Family Gathering

2 Their Meeting

3 I'll See You Home

4 Friendship

5 Coming Out to Play

6 Another Meeting

7 The Observatory

8 An Idyll

9 The Demons

10 The Gypsies

11 The Trial

12 The Triangle

13 Clearing Up

14 Repayment

15 The Invitation

16 The Conference

17 Hot Days

18 The Vanishing Point

19 In the Sea



First Intermezzo

20 The Hooblei

21 The News

22 What Next?

23 Heads or Tails

24 The Wedding

25 The Mirror

26 Fancy

27 Consolation

28 The Funeral

29 Irreversibility

30 The Scaffold

31 The Proposal

32 The Dilettante

33 Cesarean Section

De Profundis


Second Intermezzo

34 The Gift

35 The Move

36 The Monument

37 Expeditions

38 The Grave

39 Further Expeditions

40 The World of Words

41 Absences

42 The Citadel

43 Finds

44 The Not

45 Changes

46 The Free Market Economy

47 The Music

48 Velocities

49 The Westerbork

50 The Decision

De Profundis


Third Intermezzo

51 The Golden Wall

52 Italian Journey

53 The Shadow

54 The Stones of Rome

55 The Spot

56 Biblical Scholarship

57 Discoveries

58 Preparations

59 Waiting

60 The Commandos

61 The Flight

62 Thither

63 The Center of the Center

64 Chawah Lawan?

65 The Law Taker









—Can I have a moment?

—What is it?

—Mission accomplished. The matter's settled.

What matter?

—Oh, forgive me. The most important matter of all. The major problem.

The major problem? What are you talking about?

—The testimony.

But of course! Good heavens, how terrible! One devotes oneself full-time to the essential questions, one focuses all one's energies on them, and at a certain moment one simply forgets them, or deals with them in a trice.

—Perhaps you should start delegating a little more.

Perhaps you should be more aware of your place when someone confides in you. Delegate more! You still don't seem to understand what's hanging over us. Why do you think this project was set up? Tell me, how long have you been wording on this file?

—Over seventy years in human time.

Tell me about it.

—Where shall I begin?

You're the best judge of that. First tell me briefly about the prelude.

—I've seldom had to deal with such a complicated program. Thank God we generally let things run their own course, and in earlier assignments I had far more time to play with. However, because for some reason the matter had to be dealt with by the end of the millennium, I had four generations at most to come up with someone who could carry out the mission. The usual procedures were no good at all on such short notice. Normally, of course, we could have given the mission to any Spark we liked, but that would have been pointless. The problem was that if he was to be our envoy, he would have to remember the mission once he was in a body of flesh and blood—that is, he would have to be capable of hitting on the outrageous idea and, furthermore, have the strength of will and courage to execute it. I say "he" because it didn't seem a job for a "she." Of course, among the infinite human potential at our disposal there was a Spark who met those requirements, but how were we to get him to earth? So first we had to establish the unique DNA sequence in which he could manifest himself. I don't have to tell you that the coiled double DNA helix containing the information on a human individual, that Hermetic caduceus within the nucleus of each of the individual's hundred thousand billion cells, weighs no more than one hundred thousandth of a gram but, when extended, is approximately the same length as the individual himself, so that the number of possible sequences at the molecular level is vast. If written in the three-letter words of the four-letter alphabet, a human being is determined by a genetic narrative long enough to fill the equivalent of five hundred Bibles. In the meantime human beings have discovered this for themselves.

That's right. They have uncovered our profoundest concept—namely, that life is ultimately reading. They themselves are the Book of Books. In their year 1869 the wretched creatures discovered the DNA in the cell nucleus, and at the time we kidded ourselves that it was of no great significance, because they would never have the bright idea that the acid contained a code—and in any case would never be able to break it—but a hundred human years later they had deciphered the genetic code down to its subtlest details. We made them much too clever, using the very same code.

—However, a hundred human years later I also achieved what I was after. First we managed to write down the secret name of our man, but that was nothing compared with what we had to do next: we had to find the great-grandparents, the grandparents, and the parents who could produce the desired combination within approximately fifty years. In his unfathomable wisdom, which may sometimes surprise even himself, the Chief arranged things so that in our Eternal Light we have a Spark for every possible combination of a sperm cell and an ovum. At each ejaculation a man emits three hundred million sperm: combined with a single female ovum, that is the same number of possible human beings, for which there are an equivalent number of Sparks—but a Spark is required for every combination of every sperm from every man in the present, past, and future with each ovum of each woman in the present, past, and future. That was necessary because even here no one could know when human beings would invent something that would extend their lives by hundreds or thousands of years. So there is a Spark for a particular sperm from a particular ejaculation of Julius Caesar's, which might have merged with a particular ovum of Marilyn Monroe's. And every sperm in the countless ejaculations of the possible son of that mismatch might subsequently have been able to join with every ovum of the countless possible daughters of John F. Kennedy and Cleopatra, or those of a random sculptor from the reign of the pharaoh Cheops with those of a toilet attendant living in ten thousand years' time— and all those possible permutations and their possible descendants might in turn have joined with all other possible permutations and their possible descendants in space and time, and so on and so on ad infinitum. For example, besides the Sparks for the combinations of all sperm—thousands of quarts of which are emitted century after century in a never-ending stream—with all ova from all ages, there are also those for the alternative generations of what might have been, diverging and branching into hyperinfinity: This is the Logos Spermatikos—the Absolute Infinite Light!

Can I ask if you are telling me all this to teach me something?

—Holy, holy, thrice holy! I am speaking because I am still dumbstruck at the thought of our Light.

That does you honor. You are probably trying to say that there's a great deal of it.

—Yes, you could put it like that.

But you succeeded.

—Just don't ask me how. Decoding the genome, the full, secret name of a human being, is simply a matter of money for human beings themselves now, one dollar per nucleotide to be exact, making three billion dollars, and they're working on the project all over the world. Within the foreseeable future their biotechnology will enable them to produce the genetic essence of a particular ovum and a particular nucleus with a tail more quickly and simply than we can select them with our romantic, extremely old-fashioned breeding system—but it simply had to be done before the year 2000.

Precisely. And might there have been a connection, perhaps? Have you seen the light yet? It was only seventy-five human years ago that we discovered to our horror how rapidly technical skills were expanding down below and what human beings were going to do with them—not only in biotechnology, but in all other fields too. Before long our organization will be reduced to a skeleton staff, after which heaven will be wound up like a scroll. So tell me, how did you manage it?


—Seventy human years ago, despite all the problems, I suddenly saw a way of getting the required Spark into flesh and blood not in four generations but in three.

—Well, well. Your creative gifts are even greater than I thought.

—The only snag was that there was no way of doing it painlessly. I was forced to use a terrible expedient.

Which was?

—The First World War.

Yes, that's an aspect of the same problem. Our alarm at the technological turn that human history was increasingly taking was finally confirmed by that senseless slaughter.

—So I was able to give it some meaning at least, in the following way: working back from the necessary sequence of amino acids to a possible paternal grandfather, my 301655722 staff, following my instructions, arrived at an Austrian, a certain Wolfgang Delius, born for no particular reason in 1892. The only possible paternal grandmother turned out to be a certain Eva Weiss, also born for no particular reason, but not until in 1908, in Brussels.

"Weiss" doesn't sound very Flemish. Shouldn't it be De Witte?

—Her parents were German-speaking Jews from Frankfurt and Vienna. A family of diamond merchants.


—Completely agnostic. They laughed at us.


—Faith is not so simple for human beings; we can scarcely imagine that. For us there is no such thing as faith, only knowledge.

Yes, I can see that you operate at the farthest edge of the Light. Perhaps you should be a little wary of too much understanding. Go on with the story.

—I received your instructions in April 1914, and that same June in Sarajevo a student, a certain Gabriel Princip, leaped forward and shot the archduke of Austria. That Christian name and surname are bound to make you chuckle to yourself. He was a follower of Nietzsche, the most gruesome figure of the whole lot of them.

The name Nietzsche seems to me to have connotations of its own. Nichevo. He was that nihilist who spread the rumor that the Chief was dead. Well, he wasn't far from the truth—but the fact that the Chief can't die is precisely the most dreadful limitation of his omnipotence. He exists by virtue of the paradox, but by the same token he must exist eternally and die eternally.

—Within a few months the slaughter was in full swing. I was able to use the spectacle not only to bring Wolfgang Delius and Eva Weiss into contact, but also for the following generation, which was to involve Dutch people.

Dutch? Isn't this taking us a long way from home?

—It was the only solution. The German and Austrian high commands dusted off the old Schlieffen plan, which proposed violating Dutch and Belgian neutrality in order to invade France with a flanking movement. However, Dutch neutrality was as essential to my project as the infringement of Belgian neutrality, and through gentle promptings in Moltke's brain I was able to ensure that the plan was only implemented for Belgium.

My memory for human affairs is like a sieve these days. Moltke?

—General Field Marshal von Moltke, the German supreme commander. Wolfgang Delius—or, as he was wont to say in the manner of his region, Delius, Wolfgang—who had just graduated from a Vienna business college, became a professional soldier and fought on the Italian, Russian, and French fronts. In Brussels he was billeted with the Weiss family, where his future wife was still sitting on the floor playing with a doll, already using it for practice, so to speak. Delius was a good-looking young officer in the mounted artillery, highly decorated and with silver spurs on his boots, but with an extraordinarily somber look in his eyes, which everyone put down to his wartime experiences—and which was partly due to them, but not entirely. There was a deeper, underlying somberness in him. In his knapsack he carried Stirner's
The Ego and His Own.
Weiss, very glad to be among compatriots and fellow German-speakers again, was by now driving along the Boulevard Anspach with the military governor in an open car, which did not escape the people of Brussels. The war had served its purpose, and when Germany and Austria capitulated, Weiss, in accordance with my plan, got into serious difficulties. The day after the armistice, all his possessions were confiscated, and in order to avoid arrest he had to flee overnight with his family—to Holland, that is, where I wanted them, because there was no other alternative. Meanwhile, Delius left for Germany on horseback at the head of his company.

BOOK: The Discovery of Heaven
2.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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