Einstein on Desolation Row

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood with his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago with his friend, a jealous monk . . .

Einstein on Desolation Row

Now you would not think to look at him but he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin on Desolation Row.

– Bob Dylan (b. May 24, 1941)

Speaking of Einstein, here’s something that was translated by a friend of mine from a speech he gave in Berlin during the 1920’s:

To belong to those humans who are allowed and able to devote their best powers to the observation and research of objective, non-temporary matters means a special grace.

How happy and thankful I am that I am blessed with this grace, which creates a far-reaching independence of personal fate and of the behaviour of fellow man.

But this independence must not make us blind of the knowledge and duties which binds us constantly to the former, present, and future humankind. Our situation on earth seems strange. Everyone of us appears to be here unwilling and uninvited for a short stay, without knowing  why and what for. We only feel in our daily life that man is because of others. Because of those we love and numerous other beings with whom we are united in destiny. Often I feel oppressed when I think how largely my life is based on the work of my fellow man. And I know how much I owe them.

I never strove for affluence and luxury. And I even feel contempt for it. My passion for social justice often brought me into conflict with people, as well my dislike of any relation or dependence which didn’t appear to me absolutely necessary.

Always I respect the individual and harbor insuperable dislike of violence and of the club. For all these motives I am a passionate pacifist and antimilitarist, I decline all kind of nationalism, even it behaves as patriotism.

Privileges springing from position and property always appeared to me as unjust and disastrous. As well an excessive personality cult. It is true, that I am a typical “one-horse-carriage” in my daily life, but the consciousness to belong to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice never allowed the feeling of loneliness to arise.

The most beautiful and deepest that man can experience is the feeling of the mysterious. It is the foundation of religion as well as of all deeper striving of art and science.

Who never experienced that seems to me if not a dead person but then a blind person.

To feel that behind the experience of things there is something hidden and unreachable for our spirit, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirect and as a weak reflection, that is religiousness.

In this sense, I am religious. It is sufficient for me to have a presentiment in amazement of these mysteries, and to try with humility to comprehend intellectually a weak reflection of this sublime structure of being.

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2 thoughts on “Einstein on Desolation Row

  1. I’ve always liked the portrayal Dylan has of Einstein — and I like the picture you’re using here a lot.

    The literal picture is very surreal, but one has to sometimes wonder whether it’s a metaphor. There are some strange implications if that happens to be the case.

    But Einstein was a very hip guy. The speech he gave is excellent, and it’s not the only time he’s expressed similar sentiments:

    “Concern for man and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.”

    “Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.”

    Einstein also wanted to “make physics easy to explain to a barmaid,” basically as simple as possible. I’m always astounded by how his dedication towards understanding the nature of the universe led him to similar conclusions as meditation and Buddhism. (One could go on here about quantum physics as well…).

    Anyway, one has to wonder what playing the electric violin means — if anything at all.

    Happy Birthday, Bob — by the way.

    1. I have no idea what it means. Einstein did play the violin, obviously. Dylan’s image of him playing the electric violin on Desolation Row – whatever that may be – is just one of my favorites.

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