A few weeks ago I wrote a blog on choosing books in an eclectic way or rather on “reading broadly”, as I called my blog. I argued that reading broadly lays a better foundation for understanding the specific and maybe narrow topics you are interested in. I had to think of it, when I happened to read a novel by the German author Walter Flex on his friendship with Ernst Wuche during the First World War. I see you thinking already: This is again a case of eclectic reading, for what has a novel on the First World War to do with the themes discussed in these blogs? “Maybe nothing and yet maybe a lot”, is my reply. However, here I don’t want to talk about the direct relevance of these novels for “my” philosophy and philosophy in general but about eclecticism.
Flex’s novel is on friendship and especially on his relation with Ernest Wuche. In a certain sense the book can be compared with Montaigne’s essay “On friendship” dedicated to his friend Étienne de La Boétie, who had died a few years before Montaigne wrote it. Also Flex wrote his novel after his friend’s death. Flex meets Wuche for the first time when they received officer training somewhere in Germany. They clicked immediately with each other, just like Montaigne and La Boétie. And also the friendship between Flex and Wuche was short lasting but intensive. A difference is that Flex wasn’t there when Wuche died, although he was present at his burial. Also Flex, like Montaigne, couldn’t forget his friend and thinking of him made him depressive. This made Montaigne write his Essays and Flex write his novel Der Wanderer zwischen beiden Welten (The Wanderer between Two Worlds).
On the train to the Eastern Front, Flex and Wuche got into conversation. They talked about books. Wuche is an avid reader, and also in the trenches and behind the frontline he read a lot (as many other soldiers did, on both sides of the front). Flex tells how Wuche gets a few books from his knapsack: An anthology of Goethe, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra and the New Testament in a special edition for soldiers. “Is this compatible with each other?”, Flex asked. Wuche smiled and said: “In the trenches all sorts of people who do not know each other are forced to comradeship. It’s the same with books as it is with people. They may be very different – they need to be only strong and honest and be able to hold out, this gives the best comradeship.”Must I add anything to it? Good books do not need to fit objectively, as long as they fit in the mind of the reader.