The Life And Convictions Of Zacharias Lichter

excerpt Motto: Prophetic utterance comes into being via negation: it is the knowledge induced by ashes. In the aftermath of speaking the word entrusted to them, prophets taste the ashes of the world upon their tongues; their wisdom is the aftertaste of ashes.  A portraitMany of those who chanced to see him, however fleetingly, would recognize him from the briefest description, no matter how perfunctory. His bizarre, incongruously ungainly shape is likely to haunt even casual onlookers whose powers of observation are below average, like one of those marginal yet persistent memories abiding at length in the shadows, only to surface at the drop of a hat, complete with details whose immediacy verges on the uncanny. As he propelled his massive, contorted frame all over the streets and parks of the city, he would attract attention both through his manifest seediness, akin to a beggar's, and through his outlandish behaviour tinged with apparent ostentation. He thus ended up as one of those quaintly familiar figures whose extended absence would by no means pass unnoticed, being perhaps recorded with a certain upsurge of nostalgia. Yet few know that his appearance concealed the ardent personality of one of the last descendants of the race of great prophets of yore…  Being vs. havingFully immersed in a plenary state of existence by virtue of assuming the sole liberty he acknowledges– the liberty of loving his own destiny – Zacharias Lichter is one of those extremely rare characters who have excelled at overcoming the spirit of possession in all of its misleading disguises and insidious strains. Such circumstances allow us to address his poverty as an opus, impossible to understand outside the context of its perfect, ideal model – the Platonic idea, that is. It would thus be erroneous to assert that Zacharias Lichter is poor (since such an assertion entails his inclusion in a social category, and consequently allows for unwarranted relativistic comparisons); in actual fact, he can be more accurately described – no matter how awkward the formula – as a poverty carrier, we're referring here to poverty as an archetype and philosophical category (as negation of having, since poverty is, essentially, a mode of existence, a condition of being); he is not poor in relation to any given standards – rather, he embodies to a certain extent the very essence and genius of poverty, and thus has to be exclusively judged from their perspective. As early as his adolescent years, Zacharias Lichter separated himself in a most natural way from everything that appeared to him defiled by the secretly poisoning tentacles of having. At first he cut himself off from his family of petty merchants (Moses, Zacharias' father, kept a tiny shop dealing in odds and ends down on Philanthropy Avenue, and the few members of his family would do their bit for the business by peddling part of the merchandise to the city markets). As a young boy, Zacharias used to share in his father's commerce by trailing behind his elder siblings to whatever location they'd chosen for attempting to dispose of their assorted stock; he'd even have to advertise loudly – until his tiny fragile voice cracked with a shrill, hoarse sound – combs, buttons, shoe laces, soap and shoe polish. One evening, when he was 13-14 years old, he'd been left on his own to attend the meagre display. Without warning, Zacharias Lichter felt inflamed with God's fiery presence and, in a state approaching delirium, he gave away in less than fifteen minutes all the merchandise entrusted to him. He'd be sharing it blindly, indiscriminately, among the beggars, the children swarming all over the marketplace, even among the riff-raff attracted to such places by the prospect of making a profit however small, who had no qualms about stealing, in case no alternative opportunity presented itself. Zacharias' conduct under the circumstances had impressed his parents as so extremely uncommon, unaccountable and unsettling, that they were at a loss for finding an adequate form of chastisement. The child had thus been allowed to get off scot-free, and exempted from any further involvement in the precarious enterprise of his father, who otherwise had no grounds of complaint against Zacharias, who did brilliantly at school, and on top of it all was possessed of a most winsome character, whose goodness was in striking opposition to his ugliness (which only made those who knew him love him the more). "An angel of fire descended, and what happened next I no longer know…" was how Zacharias attempted to explain the matter. When he was 19, and a student of philosophy, Zacharias stopped living with his family, (though emotionally he still felt quite related to them), and moved to an abandoned garage on the outskirts of the city, making a living from private tuition. He graduated from university with a remarkable thesis on Plotinus' Enneads, choosing the moment to vanish completely from the arena of academic life, where all doors were open to him, only keeping in touch occasionally with two or three of his former colleagues, and with his old metaphysics professor whom he would visit once or twice a year, borrowing the odd book from him. His detachment had gone so far that he didn't even go to university to collect his diploma. Illuminated and scorched by the flaming presence of God, Zacharias Lichter was able to renounce his entire past effortlessly, inaugurating the cycle of his prophetic existence with the revelation of the clown as ironic alternative to the human condition. "I came to understand – Lichter would explain – that it's the blaring trumpets of clowns that truly herald the Apocalypse; and I blew for all I was worth into numberless trumpets of garish cardboard, opening the grand freak show, as the great circus of the world was reverberating: ta-ra-ra ta-ra-ra ta-ra-ra." It was about that time, too, that he came to the revelation of the deeper meaning of begging. Zacharias Lichter's refusal to work should not be construed as a rejection of the idea of work as such, but merely as a form of protest and revolt against the possessive spirit which has set its despicable mark upon each and every constructive activity in the modern world… In order to prove that far from opposing the idea of work, he considered it one of the highest manifestations of the human nature (ontologically speaking, work is a form of ecstasy) Zacharias Lichter practised for a while a series of professions (he'd completed apprenticeships as a bricklayer and a welder, he'd done a spell carving epitaphs on funeral stones); he rejected however the wages due to him, or any other form of payment, for that matter, being simultaneously involved in the practice of begging which he urged his work mates to take up too. Conflicts were quick to break out, and his employers, in spite of his zeal and efficiency, had no choice but fire him in the long run, regarding him not only as insane, but as dangerous as well…; there were also those who, laughing at Zacharias Lichter, yet without a trace of malice, would sense the hidden tendency toward self-sacrifice and the generous kindness at work in him, and partly for amusement, partly out of genuine appreciation, would invite him from time to time into their families; on such occasions, the prophet (fully aware, after all, of his apparently ridiculous position) would expound his grand utopian schemes: overthrowing the capitalist system by converting the millions of workers to the practice of begging, founding a new, anarchic-religious society, where possessive ownership, though lawful, would be regarded as a form of alienation, a shameful disease, to be approached with revulsion and compassion at the same time. ("Those afflicted with the malady of possession – Zacharias Lichter would passionately vent his convictions – will lead a life of isolation in the luxury leprosy wards of the spirit, and it is for them that the prophets and saints of the future will work – in order to support and to nurse them – just like you're doing now.") Zacharias Lichter continued to live in the abandoned garage he'd moved to as a student… Yet he did not come "home" all that regularly. In summer he was partial to sleeping out in the parks, either in the grass, behind some bush, or, when it got cooler, upon some bench. When he couldn't go to sleep, he would climb into some tree, and propped against some vigorous bough, he would meditate or pray. (One early morning, an acquaintance of his, espied him up in the foliage of a blossoming linden tree, in a state of near-trance; he called to him in surprise, and asked him what he was doing up there. "I want to be nearer to God", Lichter replied, closing his eyes and reverting to silence.)…  From "The Poems" of Zacharias LichterWith time we are dying.We do hasten to die.We grow dark with the night.And we darken the world.Thirst is the only light there is –No talking there.The word drinks itself into silence.Into the rain.Into God. EPL, 1969

by Matei Călinescu (1934-2009)