I wrote a while ago about “7 ways to explain the meaning of life“.
I said that the meaning of life would emerge around 80% of the way through my novel Biotime; and that it involved “Come Celebrate with Us” and “The Kiss”.
Wiener Secession, 2015 – Photo: Robert Pimm
I recently visited Vienna and was delighted to find that the wonderful Secession building built in 1897 by Joseph Maria Olbrich had got a new basement (confession: it actually opened in 1986 when I was living in Vienna, but I never got around to visiting it). Better still, that basement houses Gustav Klimt’s magnificent Beethoven frieze, based on the Ninth Symphony, which, to quote Wikipedia, “illustrates the human desire for happiness in a suffering and tempestuous world”.
Isn’t that the meaning of life?
The text of the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is of course written in German, being from Schiller’s Ode to Joy of 1785. There are plenty of translations on the Internet – I like this one, including the translator’s note: “I include this short reference to aid those trying to understand one of the towering achievements of human civilization”.
The three themes of Klimt’s frieze – The Yearning for Happiness, The Hostile Forces, and This Kiss to the Whole World – echo the themes of Biotime. The hero of Biotime, Jake Moonrath, listens to Beethoven’s 9th as he heads off to execute his the ill-fated termination contract for ‘Time-expired Jennifer at the start of the novel (later in the book, he will listen to the equally relevant Grateful Dead, whose successors, The Long-Dead Masters of the Disharmonic Wave, are a popular One Lifer band in Biotime). Finally, Jake may, perhaps, find that what he has been chasing all his life will not bring him happiness; but something else just might.
The parallels between Klimt, Beethoven and Biotime are not surprising. I conceived the story in Vienna; Klimt was Viennese; and while Beethoven was born in Bonn (where I lived in 1998-99) he is buried in Vienna’s magnificent Central Cemetery.
I visited the Central Cemetery, or Zentralfriedhof, on All Saints in 1986, and later wrote a piece expressing my emotions on seeing the countless elderly people, mostly women, who were out lighting candles on the graves of their loved ones. Despite its name, the cemetery is miles out of the city, and I remember humming Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness on the edge of town” to myself. If you ever get a chance to visit Vienna, I recommend the cemetery, the ceiling of whose chapel decorates the front page of this blog.
But most of all, I recommend Biotime. Read it. Tell me what you think. I’m crazy about it but I’m sure it could be improved. All ideas welcome.