(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Friedrich is described as a man who loves and respects rationality, especially logic and the sciences. In contrast, he has little respect for unscientific forms of knowledge. Though tolerant of religion, he does not take it seriously. He considers mysticism and magic to be pointless and outmoded in the scientific age. In fact, he despises superstition wherever he encounters it, especially among educated people. Those who question the supremacy of science in the wake of recent war and suffering infuriate him. He grows increasingly disturbed as he senses a rising interest in the occult as an alternative to science.

One day, Friedrich visits Erwin, a close friend whom he has not seen for a while. Friedrich thinks that Erwin’s smile is indulgent and mocking. He recalls that he sensed a rift between them when they last parted—Erwin was not vehement enough in supporting Friedrich’s hatred of superstition. Now they speak awkwardly of superficial matters, and all the while Friedrich is uncomfortably aware of a distance between them, as if he no longer truly knows Erwin.

Then Friedrich spots a paper pinned to the wall, which awakens memories of his old friend’s habit of noting an interesting quotation. To Friedrich’s horror, however, the line written on this paper is an expression of Erwin’s recent mystical interests: “Nothing is outside, nothing is inside, for that which is outside is inside.” Friedrich demands that his friend explain the meaning of this sentence and learns that Erwin sees it as an introduction to an ancient form of knowledge, “magic.” In disappointment and anger, Friedrich tells Erwin to choose between this superstitious nonsense and Friedrich’s respect and friendship. Erwin explains that he really had no choice in the matter—magic “chose him.” He begs Friedrich not to part in anger but to accept their separation as inevitable, as if one of them were dying. Friedrich agrees and asks a final favor, to have...

(The entire section is 803 words.)