Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Mist 
You’ll have noticed by now that as a means of illustrating Fred/Bob Arctor’s increasing cognitive deficit Philip K. Dick injects a number of passages of German into A Scanner Darkly. In keeping with the theme of blaue blume, these interpolations all come from a Romantic strain in German culture: Goethe’s Faust, a poem by Heinrich Heine and the libretto of Beethoven’s Fidelio.
What this might tell us is that underneath the chain-store banality and late capitalist detritus of Dick’s dystopian Orange County there is an impulse, fragile and ambitious, to transcend that situation. Romanticism‘s obsession with mysticism and heightened states of consciousness find a somewhat degraded counterpart in the drug-fuelled delirium of Scanner’s characters. The user of narcotics is, in some sense, a wanderer on a quest for Truth or Knowledge and runs many of the same risks as Goethe’s Faust, whose all-consuming desire to know the world in its totality leads him to make a contract with Mephistopheles. As with every deal with the Devil it is only a matter of time until the seeker, over-reaching, is destroyed.
Here are translations of the German passages:
pages 175-6 (from Goethe):
“You instruments, of course, can scorn and tease
With rollers, handles, cogs, and wheels:
I found the gate. you were to be the keys;
Although your webs are subtle, you cannot break
Why, hollow skull, do you grin like a faun?
Save that your brain, like mine, once in dismay
Searched for light day, but foundered in the heavy
And, craving truth, went wretchedly astray.
I’m like the worm that burrows in the dust,
Who, as he makes of dust his meager meal,
Is crushed and buried by a wanderer’s heel.
Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast,
And one is striving to forsake its brother.
Unto the world in grossly loving zest,
With clinging tendrils, one adheres;
The other rises forcibly in quest
Of rarefied ancestral spheres.
Still this old dungeon, still a mole!
Cursed by this moldy walled-in hole
Where heaven’s lovely light must pass,
And lose its luster, through stained glass.
Confined with books, and every tome
Is gnawed by worms, covered in dust,
And on the walls….
Page 215 (from the Fidelio libretto):
How cold it is in this underground vault!
This is only natural; it is so deep.
Page 261 (from Heine):
I, unfortunate Atlas! A whole world,
A monstrous world of sorrows I must carry.
I bear a weight unbearable; a burden
That breaks the heart within me
As this is a short lyric poem the rest of it bears repeating:
Oh foolish heart, you have what you desired!
You would be happy, infinitely happy,
Or infinitely wretched, foolish heart.
And now– now you are wretched.