Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Where are you taking us?" excerpt from...
The Burn
by Vassily Aksyonov

Why am I here? I must get out at once, crawl up to my loft, bow to Our Lady the Consoler of the Afflicted, switch on the lamp over my table, put on a record of Chicago jazz, and lay a clean sheet of paper on my desk. How much longer can I go on being shaken up in this vile train? Surely I can jump out of it while it's moving even at the risk of my life? Who put us on this rattling train, with these rattling bottles and glasses and all this sticky food? Where did we board it? Where did we take our seats on its vomit-covered velvet seats? Where was that platform, spattered with gobs of spit? Where is our baggage being taken to: our childhood, our freedom, our creative work? Where is it locked up? Under what lead seals is it secured? We guess that our creaking monster is rumbling across the green hilly countryside, over mountain ranges, now the outlines of cities. We guess that we are crossing huge squares with crowds of people gripped by passion. We guess all this, but we see nothing, and all we do is pour ourselves drinks and eat and dully remasticate our stale ideas. We make friends and join groups because we are too frightened simply to get up from the table, wrench the door open, and ask with plain, straightforward anger, Where are you taking us?

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Grand Inquisitor excerpt from...
The Brothers Karamazov
by Fyodor Dostoevsky

"Even this must have a preface- that is, a literary preface," laughed Ivan, "and I am a poor hand at making one. You see, my action takes place in the sixteenth century, and at that time, as you probably learnt at school, it was customary in poetry to bring down heavenly powers on earth. Not to speak of Dante, in France, clerks, as well as the monks in the monasteries, used to give regular performances in which the Madonna, the saints, the angels, Christ, and God Himself were brought on the stage. In those days it was done in all simplicity. In Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris an edifying and gratuitous spectacle was provided for the people in the Hotel de Ville of Paris in the reign of Louis XI in honour of the birth of the dauphin. It was called Le bon jugement de la tres sainte et gracieuse Vierge Marie, and she appears herself on the stage and pronounces her bon jugement. Similar plays, chiefly from the Old Testament, were occasionally performed in Moscow too, up to the times of Peter the Great. But besides plays there were all sorts of legends and ballads scattered about the world, in which the saints and angels and all the powers of Heaven took part when required. In our monasteries the monks busied themselves in translating, copying, and even composing such poems- and even under the Tatars. There is, for instance, one such poem (of course, from the Greek), The Wanderings of Our Lady through Hell, with descriptions as bold as Dante's. Our Lady visits hell, and the Archangel Michael leads her through the torments. She sees the sinners and their punishment. There she sees among others one noteworthy set of sinners in a burning lake; some of them sink to the bottom of the lake so that they can't swim out, and 'these God forgets'- an expression of extraordinary depth and force. And so Our Lady, shocked and weeping, falls before the throne of God and begs for mercy for all in hell- for all she has seen there, indiscriminately. Her conversation with God is immensely interesting. She beseeches Him, she will not desist, and when God points to the hands and feet of her Son, nailed to the Cross, and asks, 'How can I forgive His tormentors?' she bids all the saints, all the martyrs, all the angels and archangels to fall down with her and pray for mercy on all without distinction. It ends by her winning from God a respite of suffering every year from Good Friday till Trinity Day, and the sinners at once raise a cry of thankfulness from hell, chanting, 'Thou art just, O Lord, in this judgment.' Well, my poem would have been of that kind if it had appeared at that time. He comes on the scene in my poem, but He says nothing, only appears and passes on. Fifteen centuries have passed since He promised to come in His glory, fifteen centuries since His prophet wrote, 'Behold, I come quickly'; 'Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, neither the Son, but the Father,' as He Himself predicted on earth. But humanity awaits him with the same faith and with the same love. Oh, with greater faith, for it is fifteen centuries since man has ceased to see signs from heaven.

No signs from heaven come to-day
To add to what the heart doth say.

There was nothing left but faith in what the heart doth say. It is true there were many miracles in those days. There were saints who performed miraculous cures; some holy people, according to their biographies, were visited by the Queen of Heaven herself. But the devil did not slumber, and doubts were already arising among men of the truth of these miracles. And just then there appeared in the north of Germany a terrible new heresy. 'A huge star like to a torch' (that is, to a church) 'fell on the sources of the waters and they became bitter.' These heretics began blasphemously denying miracles. But those who remained faithful were all the more ardent in their faith. The tears of humanity rose up to Him as before, awaited His coming, loved Him, hoped for Him, yearned to suffer and die for Him as before. And so many ages mankind had prayed with faith and fervor, 'O Lord our God, hasten Thy coming'; so many ages called upon Him, that in His infinite mercy He deigned to come down to His servants. Before that day He had come down, He had visited some holy men, martyrs, and hermits, as is written in their lives. Among us, Tyutchev, with absolute faith in the truth of his words, bore witness that

Bearing the Cross, in slavish dress,
Weary and worn, the Heavenly King
Our mother, Russia, came to bless,
And through our land went wandering.

And that certainly was so, I assure you.

"And behold, He deigned to appear for a moment to the people, to the tortured, suffering people, sunk in iniquity, but loving Him like children. My story is laid in Spain, in Seville, in the most terrible time of the Inquisition, when fires were lighted every day to the glory of God, and 'in the splendid auto-da-fe the wicked heretics were burnt.' Oh, of course, this was not the coming in which He will appear, according to His promise, at the end of time in all His heavenly glory, and which will be sudden 'as lightning flashing from east to west.' No, He visited His children only for a moment, and there where the flames were crackling round the heretics. In His infinite mercy He came once more among men in that human shape in which He walked among men for thirty-three years fifteen centuries ago. He came down to the 'hot pavements' of the southern town in which on the day before almost a hundred heretics had, ad majorem gloriam Dei, been burnt by the cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor, in a magnificent auto-da-fe, in the presence of the king, the court, the knights, the cardinals, the most charming ladies of the court, and the whole population of Seville.

"He came softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, everyone recognized Him. That might be one of the best passages in the poem. I mean, why they recognized Him. The people are irresistibly drawn to Him, they surround Him, they flock about Him, follow Him. He moves silently in their midst with a gentle smile of infinite compassion. The sun of love burns in His heart, and power shine from His eyes, and their radiance, shed on the people, stirs their hearts with responsive love. He holds out His hands to them, blesses them, and a healing virtue comes from contact with Him, even with His garments. An old man in the crowd, blind from childhood, cries out, 'O Lord, heal me and I shall see Thee!' and, as it were, scales fall from his eyes and the blind man sees Him. The crowd weeps and kisses the earth under His feet. Children throw flowers before Him, sing, and cry hosannah. 'It is He- it is He!' repeat. 'It must be He, it can be no one but Him!' He stops at the steps of the Seville cathedral at the moment when the weeping mourners are bringing in a little open white coffin. In it lies a child of seven, the only daughter of a prominent citizen. The dead child lies hidden in flowers. 'He will raise your child,' the crowd shouts to the weeping mother. The priest, coming to meet the coffin, looks perplexed, and frowns, but the mother of the dead child throws herself at His feet with a wail. 'If it is Thou, raise my child!' she cries, holding out her hands to Him. The procession halts, the coffin is laid on the steps at His feet. He looks with compassion, and His lips once more softly pronounce, 'Maiden, arise!' and the maiden arises. The little girl sits up in the coffin and looks round, smiling with wide-open wondering eyes, holding a bunch of white roses they had put in her hand.

"There are cries, sobs, confusion among the people, and at that moment the cardinal himself, the Grand Inquisitor, passes by the cathedral. He is an old man, almost ninety, tall and erect, with a withered face and sunken eyes, in which there is still a gleam of light. He is not dressed in his gorgeous cardinal's robes, as he was the day before, when he was burning the enemies of the Roman Church- at this moment he is wearing his coarse, old, monk's cassock. At a distance behind him come his gloomy assistants and slaves and the 'holy guard.' He stops at the sight of the crowd and watches it from a distance. He sees everything; he sees them set the coffin down at His feet, sees the child rise up, and his face darkens. He knits his thick grey brows and his eyes gleam with a sinister fire. He holds out his finger and bids the guards take Him. And such is his power, so completely are the people cowed into submission and trembling obedience to him, that the crowd immediately makes way for the guards, and in the midst of deathlike silence they lay hands on Him and lead him away. The crowd instantly bows down to the earth, like one man, before the old Inquisitor. He blesses the people in silence and passes on' The guards lead their prisoner to the close, gloomy vaulted prison- in the ancient palace of the Holy, inquisition and shut him in it. The day passes and is followed by the dark, burning, 'breathless' night of Seville. The air is 'fragrant with laurel and lemon.' In the pitch darkness the iron door of the prison is suddenly opened and the Grand Inquisitor himself comes in with a light in his hand. He is alone; the door is closed at once behind him. He stands in the doorway and for a minute or two gazes into His face. At last he goes up slowly, sets the light on the table and speaks.

"'Is it Thou? Thou?' but receiving no answer, he adds at once. 'Don't answer, be silent. What canst Thou say, indeed? I know too well what Thou wouldst say. And Thou hast no right to add anything to what Thou hadst said of old. Why, then, art Thou come to hinder us? For Thou hast come to hinder us, and Thou knowest that. But dost thou know what will be to-morrow? I know not who Thou art and care not to know whether it is Thou or only a semblance of Him, but to-morrow I shall condemn Thee and burn Thee at the stake as the worst of heretics. And the very people who have to-day kissed Thy feet, to-morrow at the faintest sign from me will rush to heap up the embers of Thy fire. Knowest Thou that? Yes, maybe Thou knowest it,' he added with thoughtful penetration, never for a moment taking his eyes off the Prisoner."

"I don't quite understand, Ivan. What does it mean?" Alyosha, who had been listening in silence, said with a smile. "Is it simply a wild fantasy, or a mistake on the part of the old man- some impossible quid pro quo?"

"Take it as the last," said Ivan, laughing, "if you are so corrupted by modern realism and can't stand anything fantastic. If you like it to be a case of mistaken identity, let it be so. It is true," he went on, laughing, "the old man was ninety, and he might well be crazy over his set idea. He might have been struck by the appearance of the Prisoner. It might, in fact, be simply his ravings, the delusion of an old man of ninety, over-excited by the auto-da-fe of a hundred heretics the day before. But does it matter to us after all whether it was a mistake of identity or a wild fantasy? All that matters is that the old man should speak out, that he should speak openly of what he has thought in silence for ninety years."

"And the Prisoner too is silent? Does He look at him and not say a word?"

"That's inevitable in any case," Ivan laughed again. "The old man has told Him He hasn't the right to add anything to what He has said of old. One may say it is the most fundamental feature of Roman Catholicism, in my opinion at least. 'All has been given by Thee to the Pope,' they say, 'and all, therefore, is still in the Pope's hands, and there is no need for Thee to come now at all. Thou must not meddle for the time, at least.' That's how they speak and write too- the Jesuits, at any rate. I have read it myself in the works of their theologians. 'Hast Thou the right to reveal to us one of the mysteries of that world from which Thou hast come?' my old man asks Him, and answers the question for Him. 'No, Thou hast not; that Thou mayest not add to what has been said of old, and mayest not take from men the freedom which Thou didst exalt when Thou wast on earth. Whatsoever Thou revealest anew will encroach on men's freedom of faith; for it will be manifest as a miracle, and the freedom of their faith was dearer to Thee than anything in those days fifteen hundred years ago. Didst Thou not often say then, "I will make you free"? But now Thou hast seen these "free" men,' the old man adds suddenly, with a pensive smile. 'Yes, we've paid dearly for it,' he goes on, looking sternly at Him, 'but at last we have completed that work in Thy name. For fifteen centuries we have been wrestling with Thy freedom, but now it is ended and over for good. Dost Thou not believe that it's over for good? Thou lookest meekly at me and deignest not even to be wroth with me. But let me tell Thee that now, to-day, people are more persuaded than ever that they have perfect freedom, yet they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet. But that has been our doing. Was this what Thou didst? Was this Thy freedom?'"

"I don't understand again." Alyosha broke in. "Is he ironical, is he jesting?"

"Not a bit of it! He claims it as a merit for himself and his Church that at last they have vanquished freedom and have done so to make men happy. 'For now' (he is speaking of the Inquisition, of course) 'for the first time it has become possible to think of the happiness of men. Man was created a rebel; and how can rebels be happy? Thou wast warned,' he says to Him. 'Thou hast had no lack of admonitions and warnings, but Thou didst not listen to those warnings; Thou didst reject the only way by which men might be made happy. But, fortunately, departing Thou didst hand on the work to us. Thou hast promised, Thou hast established by Thy word, Thou hast given to us the right to bind and to unbind, and now, of course, Thou canst not think of taking it away. Why, then, hast Thou come to hinder us?'"

"And what's the meaning of 'no lack of admonitions and warnings'?" asked Alyosha.

"Why, that's the chief part of what the old man must say.

"'The wise and dread spirit, the spirit of self-destruction and non-existence,' the old man goes on, great spirit talked with Thee in the wilderness, and we are told in the books that he "tempted" Thee. Is that so? And could anything truer be said than what he revealed to Thee in three questions and what Thou didst reject, and what in the books is called "the temptation"? And yet if there has ever been on earth a real stupendous miracle, it took place on that day, on the day of the three temptations. The statement of those three questions was itself the miracle. If it were possible to imagine simply for the sake of argument that those three questions of the dread spirit had perished utterly from the books, and that we had to restore them and to invent them anew, and to do so had gathered together all the wise men of the earth- rulers, chief priests, learned men, philosophers, poets- and had set them the task to invent three questions, such as would not only fit the occasion, but express in three words, three human phrases, the whole future history of the world and of humanity- dost Thou believe that all the wisdom of the earth united could have invented anything in depth and force equal to the three questions which were actually put to Thee then by the wise and mighty spirit in the wilderness? From those questions alone, from the miracle of their statement, we can see that we have here to do not with the fleeting human intelligence, but with the absolute and eternal. For in those three questions the whole subsequent history of mankind is, as it were, brought together into one whole, and foretold, and in them are united all the unsolved historical contradictions of human nature. At the time it could not be so clear, since the future was unknown; but now that fifteen hundred years have passed, we see that everything in those three questions was so justly divined and foretold, and has been so truly fulfilled, that nothing can be added to them or taken from them.

"Judge Thyself who was right- Thou or he who questioned Thee then? Remember the first question; its meaning, in other words, was this: "Thou wouldst go into the world, and art going with empty hands, with some promise of freedom which men in their simplicity and their natural unruliness cannot even understand, which they fear and dread- for nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom. But seest Thou these stones in this parched and barren wilderness? Turn them into bread, and mankind will run after Thee like a flock of sheep, grateful and obedient, though for ever trembling, lest Thou withdraw Thy hand and deny them Thy bread." But Thou wouldst not deprive man of freedom and didst reject the offer, thinking, what is that freedom worth if obedience is bought with bread? Thou didst reply that man lives not by bread alone. But dost Thou know that for the sake of that earthly bread the spirit of the earth will rise up against Thee and will strive with Thee and overcome Thee, and all will follow him, crying, "Who can compare with this beast? He has given us fire from heaven!" Dost Thou know that the ages will pass, and humanity will proclaim by the lips of their sages that there is no crime, and therefore no sin; there is only hunger? "Feed men, and then ask of them virtue!" that's what they'll write on the banner, which they will raise against Thee, and with which they will destroy Thy temple. Where Thy temple stood will rise a new building; the terrible tower of Babel will be built again, and though, like the one of old, it will not be finished, yet Thou mightest have prevented that new tower and have cut short the sufferings of men for a thousand years; for they will come back to us after a thousand years of agony with their tower. They will seek us again, hidden underground in the catacombs, for we shall be again persecuted and tortured. They will find us and cry to us, "Feed us, for those who have promised us fire from heaven haven't given it!" And then we shall finish building their tower, for he finishes the building who feeds them. And we alone shall feed them in Thy name, declaring falsely that it is in Thy name. Oh, never, never can they feed themselves without us! No science will give them bread so long as they remain free. In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, "Make us your slaves, but feed us." They will understand themselves, at last, that freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together, for never, never will they be able to share between them! They will be convinced, too, that they can never be free, for they are weak, vicious, worthless, and rebellious. Thou didst promise them the bread of Heaven, but, I repeat again, can it compare with earthly bread in the eyes of the weak, ever sinful and ignoble race of man? And if for the sake of the bread of Heaven thousands shall follow Thee, what is to become of the millions and tens of thousands of millions of creatures who will not have the strength to forego the earthly bread for the sake of the heavenly? Or dost Thou care only for the tens of thousands of the great and strong, while the millions, numerous as the sands of the sea, who are weak but love Thee, must exist only for the sake of the great and strong? No, we care for the weak too. They are sinful and rebellious, but in the end they too will become obedient. They will marvel at us and look on us as gods, because we are ready to endure the freedom which they have found so dreadful and to rule over them- so awful it will seem to them to be free. But we shall tell them that we are Thy servants and rule them in Thy name. We shall deceive them again, for we will not let Thee come to us again. That deception will be our suffering, for we shall be forced to lie.

"'This is the significance of the first question in the wilderness, and this is what Thou hast rejected for the sake of that freedom which Thou hast exalted above everything. Yet in this question lies hid the great secret of this world. Choosing "bread," Thou wouldst have satisfied the universal and everlasting craving of humanity- to find someone to worship. So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship. But man seeks to worship what is established beyond dispute, so that all men would agree at once to worship it. For these pitiful creatures are concerned not only to find what one or the other can worship, but to find community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time. For the sake of common worship they've slain each other with the sword. They have set up gods and challenged one another, "Put away your gods and come and worship ours, or we will kill you and your gods!" And so it will be to the end of the world, even when gods disappear from the earth; they will fall down before idols just the same. Thou didst know, Thou couldst not but have known, this fundamental secret of human nature, but Thou didst reject the one infallible banner which was offered Thee to make all men bow down to Thee alone- the banner of earthly bread; and Thou hast rejected it for the sake of freedom and the bread of Heaven. Behold what Thou didst further. And all again in the name of freedom! I tell Thee that man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born. But only one who can appease their conscience can take over their freedom. In bread there was offered Thee an invincible banner; give bread, and man will worship thee, for nothing is more certain than bread. But if someone else gains possession of his conscience- Oh! then he will cast away Thy bread and follow after him who has ensnared his conscience. In that Thou wast right. For the secret of man's being is not only to live but to have something to live for. Without a stable conception of the object of life, man would not consent to go on living, and would rather destroy himself than remain on earth, though he had bread in abundance. That is true. But what happened? Instead of taking men's freedom from them, Thou didst make it greater than ever! Didst Thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering. And behold, instead of giving a firm foundation for setting the conscience of man at rest for ever, Thou didst choose all that is exceptional, vague and enigmatic; Thou didst choose what was utterly beyond the strength of men, acting as though Thou didst not love them at all- Thou who didst come to give Thy life for them! Instead of taking possession of men's freedom, Thou didst increase it, and burdened the spiritual kingdom of mankind with its sufferings for ever. Thou didst desire man's free love, that he should follow Thee freely, enticed and taken captive by Thee. In place of the rigid ancient law, man must hereafter with free heart decide for himself what is good and what is evil, having only Thy image before him as his guide. But didst Thou not know that he would at last reject even Thy image and Thy truth, if he is weighed down with the fearful burden of free choice? They will cry aloud at last that the truth is not in Thee, for they could not have been left in greater confusion and suffering than Thou hast caused, laying upon them so many cares and unanswerable problems.

"'So that, in truth, Thou didst Thyself lay the foundation for the destruction of Thy kingdom, and no one is more to blame for it. Yet what was offered Thee? There are three powers, three powers alone, able to conquer and to hold captive for ever the conscience of these impotent rebels for their happiness those forces are miracle, mystery and authority. Thou hast rejected all three and hast set the example for doing so. When the wise and dread spirit set Thee on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Thee, "If Thou wouldst know whether Thou art the Son of God then cast Thyself down, for it is written: the angels shall hold him up lest he fall and bruise himself, and Thou shalt know then whether Thou art the Son of God and shalt prove then how great is Thy faith in Thy Father." But Thou didst refuse and wouldst not cast Thyself down. Oh, of course, Thou didst proudly and well, like God; but the weak, unruly race of men, are they gods? Oh, Thou didst know then that in taking one step, in making one movement to cast Thyself down, Thou wouldst be tempting God and have lost all Thy faith in Him, and wouldst have been dashed to pieces against that earth which Thou didst come to save. And the wise spirit that tempted Thee would have rejoiced. But I ask again, are there many like Thee? And couldst Thou believe for one moment that men, too, could face such a temptation? Is the nature of men such, that they can reject miracle, and at the great moments of their life, the moments of their deepest, most agonizing spiritual difficulties, cling only to the free verdict of the heart? Oh, Thou didst know that Thy deed would be recorded in books, would be handed down to remote times and the utmost ends of the earth, and Thou didst hope that man, following Thee, would cling to God and not ask for a miracle. But Thou didst not know that when man rejects miracle he rejects God too; for man seeks not so much God as the miraculous. And as man cannot bear to be without the miraculous, he will create new miracles of his own for himself, and will worship deeds of sorcery and witchcraft, though he might be a hundred times over a rebel, heretic and infidel. Thou didst not come down from the Cross when they shouted to Thee, mocking and reviling Thee, "Come down from the cross and we will believe that Thou art He." Thou didst not come down, for again Thou wouldst not enslave man by a miracle, and didst crave faith given freely, not based on miracle. Thou didst crave for free love and not the base raptures of the slave before the might that has overawed him for ever. But Thou didst think too highly of men therein, for they are slaves, of course, though rebellious by nature. Look round and judge; fifteen centuries have passed, look upon them. Whom hast Thou raised up to Thyself? I swear, man is weaker and baser by nature than Thou hast believed him! Can he, can he do what Thou didst? By showing him so much respect, Thou didst, as it were, cease to feel for him, for Thou didst ask far too much from him- Thou who hast loved him more than Thyself! Respecting him less, Thou wouldst have asked less of him. That would have been more like love, for his burden would have been lighter. He is weak and vile. What though he is everywhere now rebelling against our power, and proud of his rebellion? It is the pride of a child and a schoolboy. They are little children rioting and barring out the teacher at school. But their childish delight will end; it will cost them dear. Mankind as a whole has always striven to organize a universal state. There have been many great nations with great histories, but the more highly they were developed the more unhappy they were, for they felt more acutely than other people the craving for world-wide union. The great conquerors, Timours and Ghenghis-Khans, whirled like hurricanes over the face of the earth striving to subdue its people, and they too were but the unconscious expression of the same craving for universal unity. Hadst Thou taken the world and Caesar's purple, Thou wouldst have founded the universal state and have given universal peace. For who can rule men if not he who holds their conscience and their bread in his hands? We have taken the sword of Caesar, and in taking it, of course, have rejected Thee and followed him. Oh, ages are yet to come of the confusion of free thought, of their science and cannibalism. For having begun to build their tower of Babel without us, they will end, of course, with cannibalism. But then the beast will crawl to us and lick our feet and spatter them with tears of blood. And we shall sit upon the beast and raise the cup, and on it will be written, "Mystery." But then, and only then, the reign of peace and happiness will come for men. Thou art proud of Thine elect, but Thou hast only the elect, while we give rest to all. And besides, how many of those elect, those mighty ones who could become elect, have grown weary waiting for Thee, and have transferred and will transfer the powers of their spirit and the warmth of their heart to the other camp, and end by raising their free banner against Thee. Thou didst Thyself lift up that banner. But with us all will be happy and will no more rebel nor destroy one another as under Thy freedom. Oh, we shall persuade them that they will only become free when they renounce their freedom to us and submit to us. And shall we be right or shall we be lying? They will be convinced that we are right, for they will remember the horrors of slavery and confusion to which Thy freedom brought them. Freedom, free thought, and science will lead them into such straits and will bring them face to face with such marvels and insoluble mysteries, that some of them, the fierce and rebellious, will destroy themselves, others, rebellious but weak, will destroy one another, while the rest, weak and unhappy, will crawl fawning to our feet and whine to us: "Yes, you were right, you alone possess His mystery, and we come back to you, save us from ourselves!"

"'Receiving bread from us, they will see clearly that we take the bread made by their hands from them, to give it to them, without any miracle. They will see that we do not change the stones to bread, but in truth they will be more thankful for taking it from our hands than for the bread itself! For they will remember only too well that in old days, without our help, even the bread they made turned to stones in their hands, while since they have come back to us, the very stones have turned to bread in their hands. Too, too well will they know the value of complete submission! And until men know that, they will be unhappy. Who is most to blame for their not knowing it?-speak! Who scattered the flock and sent it astray on unknown paths? But the flock will come together again and will submit once more, and then it will be once for all. Then we shall give them the quiet humble happiness of weak creatures such as they are by nature. Oh, we shall persuade them at last not to be proud, for Thou didst lift them up and thereby taught them to be proud. We shall show them that they are weak, that they are only pitiful children, but that childlike happiness is the sweetest of all. They will become timid and will look to us and huddle close to us in fear, as chicks to the hen. They will marvel at us and will be awe-stricken before us, and will be proud at our being so powerful and clever that we have been able to subdue such a turbulent flock of thousands of millions. They will tremble impotently before our wrath, their minds will grow fearful, they will be quick to shed tears like women and children, but they will be just as ready at a sign from us to pass to laughter and rejoicing, to happy mirth and childish song. Yes, we shall set them to work, but in their leisure hours we shall make their life like a child's game, with children's songs and innocent dance. Oh, we shall allow them even sin, they are weak and helpless, and they will love us like children because we allow them to sin. We shall tell them that every sin will be expiated, if it is done with our permission, that we allow them to sin because we love them, and the punishment for these sins we take upon ourselves. And we shall take it upon ourselves, and they will adore us as their saviours who have taken on themselves their sins before God. And they will have no secrets from us. We shall allow or forbid them to live with their wives and mistresses, to have or not to have children according to whether they have been obedient or disobedient- and they will submit to us gladly and cheerfully. The most painful secrets of their conscience, all, all they will bring to us, and we shall have an answer for all. And they will be glad to believe our answer, for it will save them from the great anxiety and terrible agony they endure at present in making a free decision for themselves. And all will be happy, all the millions of creatures except the hundred thousand who rule over them. For only we, we who guard the mystery, shall be unhappy. There will be thousands of millions of happy babes, and a hundred thousand sufferers who have taken upon themselves the curse of the knowledge of good and evil. Peacefully they will die, peacefully they will expire in Thy name, and beyond the grave they will find nothing but death. But we shall keep the secret, and for their happiness we shall allure them with the reward of heaven and eternity. Though if there were anything in the other world, it certainly would not be for such as they. It is prophesied that Thou wilt come again in victory, Thou wilt come with Thy chosen, the proud and strong, but we will say that they have only saved themselves, but we have saved all. We are told that the harlot who sits upon the beast, and holds in her hands the mystery, shall be put to shame, that the weak will rise up again, and will rend her royal purple and will strip naked her loathsome body. But then I will stand up and point out to Thee the thousand millions of happy children who have known no sin. And we who have taken their sins upon us for their happiness will stand up before Thee and say: "Judge us if Thou canst and darest." Know that I fear Thee not. Know that I too have been in the wilderness, I too have lived on roots and locusts, I too prized the freedom with which Thou hast blessed men, and I too was striving to stand among Thy elect, among the strong and powerful, thirsting "to make up the number." But I awakened and would not serve madness. I turned back and joined the ranks of those who have corrected Thy work. I left the proud and went back to the humble, for the happiness of the humble. What I say to Thee will come to pass, and our dominion will be built up. I repeat, to-morrow Thou shalt see that obedient flock who at a sign from me will hasten to heap up the hot cinders about the pile on which I shall burn Thee for coming to hinder us. For if anyone has ever deserved our fires, it is Thou. To-morrow I shall burn Thee. Dixi.'"

Ivan stopped. He was carried away as he talked, and spoke with excitement; when he had finished, he suddenly smiled.

Alyosha had listened in silence; towards the end he was greatly moved and seemed several times on the point of interrupting, but restrained himself. Now his words came with a rush.

"But... that's absurd!" he cried, flushing. "Your poem is in praise of Jesus, not in blame of Him- as you meant it to be. And who will believe you about freedom? Is that the way to understand it? That's not the idea of it in the Orthodox Church.... That's Rome, and not even the whole of Rome, it's false-those are the worst of the Catholics the Inquisitors, the Jesuits!... And there could not be such a fantastic creature as your Inquisitor. What are these sins of mankind they take on themselves? Who are these keepers of the mystery who have taken some curse upon themselves for the happiness of mankind? When have they been seen? We know the Jesuits, they are spoken ill of, but surely they are not what you describe? They are not that at all, not at all.... They are simply the Romish army for the earthly sovereignty of the world in the future, with the Pontiff of Rome for Emperor... that's their ideal, but there's no sort of mystery or lofty melancholy about it.... It's simple lust of power, of filthy earthly gain, of domination-something like a universal serfdom with them as masters-that's all they stand for. They don't even believe in God perhaps. Your suffering Inquisitor is a mere fantasy."

"Stay, stay," laughed Ivan. "how hot you are! A fantasy you say, let it be so! Of course it's a fantasy. But allow me to say: do you really think that the Roman Catholic movement of the last centuries is actually nothing but the lust of power, of filthy earthly gain? Is that Father Paissy's teaching?"

"No, no, on the contrary, Father Paissy did once say something rather the same as you... but of course it's not the same, not a bit the same," Alyosha hastily corrected himself.

"A precious admission, in spite of your 'not a bit the same.' I ask you why your Jesuits and Inquisitors have united simply for vile material gain? Why can there not be among them one martyr oppressed by great sorrow and loving humanity? You see, only suppose that there was one such man among all those who desire nothing but filthy material gain-if there's only one like my old Inquisitor, who had himself eaten roots in the desert and made frenzied efforts to subdue his flesh to make himself free and perfect. But yet all his life he loved humanity, and suddenly his eyes were opened, and he saw that it is no great moral blessedness to attain perfection and freedom, if at the same time one gains the conviction that millions of God's creatures have been created as a mockery, that they will never be capable of using their freedom, that these poor rebels can never turn into giants to complete the tower, that it was not for such geese that the great idealist dreamt his dream of harmony. Seeing all that he turned back and joined- the clever people. Surely that could have happened?"

"Joined whom, what clever people?" cried Alyosha, completely carried away. "They have no such great cleverness and no mysteries and secrets.... Perhaps nothing but Atheism, that's all their secret. Your Inquisitor does not believe in God, that's his secret!"

"What if it is so! At last you have guessed it. It's perfectly true, it's true that that's the whole secret, but isn't that suffering, at least for a man like that, who has wasted his whole life in the desert and yet could not shake off his incurable love of humanity? In his old age he reached the clear conviction that nothing but the advice of the great dread spirit could build up any tolerable sort of life for the feeble, unruly, 'incomplete, empirical creatures created in jest.' And so, convinced of this, he sees that he must follow the counsel of the wise spirit, the dread spirit of death and destruction, and therefore accept lying and deception, and lead men consciously to death and destruction, and yet deceive them all the way so that they may not notice where they are being led, that the poor blind creatures may at least on the way think themselves happy. And note, the deception is in the name of Him in Whose ideal the old man had so fervently believed all his life long. Is not that tragic? And if only one such stood at the head of the whole army 'filled with the lust of power only for the sake of filthy gain'- would not one such be enough to make a tragedy? More than that, one such standing at the head is enough to create the actual leading idea of the Roman Church with all its armies and Jesuits, its highest idea. I tell you frankly that I firmly believe that there has always been such a man among those who stood at the head of the movement. Who knows, there may have been some such even among the Roman Popes. Who knows, perhaps the spirit of that accursed old man who loves mankind so obstinately in his own way, is to be found even now in a whole multitude of such old men, existing not by chance but by agreement, as a secret league formed long ago for the guarding of the mystery, to guard it from the weak and the unhappy, so as to make them happy. No doubt it is so, and so it must be indeed. I fancy that even among the Masons there's something of the same mystery at the bottom, and that that's why the Catholics so detest the Masons as their rivals breaking up the unity of the idea, while it is so essential that there should be one flock and one shepherd.... But from the way I defend my idea I might be an author impatient of your criticism. Enough of it."

"You are perhaps a Mason yourself!" broke suddenly from Alyosha. "You don't believe in God," he added, speaking this time very sorrowfully. He fancied besides that his brother was looking at him ironically. "How does your poem end?" he asked, suddenly looking down. "Or was it the end?"

"I meant to end it like this. When the Inquisitor ceased speaking he waited some time for his Prisoner to answer him. His silence weighed down upon him. He saw that the Prisoner had listened intently all the time, looking gently in his face and evidently not wishing to reply. The old man longed for him to say something, however bitter and terrible. But He suddenly approached the old man in silence and softly kissed him on his bloodless aged lips. That was all his answer. The old man shuddered. His lips moved. He went to the door, opened it, and said to Him: 'Go, and come no more... come not at all, never, never!' And he let Him out into the dark alleys of the town. The Prisoner went away."

"And the old man?"

"The kiss glows in his heart, but the old man adheres to his idea."

"And you with him, you too?" cried Alyosha, mournfully.

Ivan laughed.

"Why, it's all nonsense, Alyosha. It's only a senseless poem of a senseless student, who could never write two lines of verse. Why do you take it so seriously? Surely you don't suppose I am going straight off to the Jesuits, to join the men who are correcting His work? Good Lord, it's no business of mine. I told you, all I want is to live on to thirty, and then... dash the cup to the ground!"

"But the little sticky leaves, and the precious tombs, and the blue sky, and the woman you love! How will you live, how will you love them?" Alyosha cried sorrowfully. "With such a hell in your heart and your head, how can you? No, that's just what you are going away for, to join them... if not, you will kill yourself, you can't endure it!"

"There is a strength to endure everything," Ivan said with a cold smile.

"The strength of the Karamazovs- the strength of the Karamazov baseness."

"To sink into debauchery, to stifle your soul with corruption, yes?"

"Possibly even that... only perhaps till I am thirty I shall escape it, and then-"

"How will you escape it? By what will you escape it? That's impossible with your ideas."

"In the Karamazov way, again."

"'Everything is lawful,' you mean? Everything is lawful, is that it?"

Ivan scowled, and all at once turned strangely pale.

"Ah, you've caught up yesterday's phrase, which so offended Muisov- and which Dmitri pounced upon so naively and paraphrased!" he smiled queerly. "Yes, if you like, 'everything is lawful' since the word has been said, I won't deny it. And Mitya's version isn't bad."

Alyosha looked at him in silence.

"I thought that going away from here I have you at least," Ivan said suddenly, with unexpected feeling; "but now I see that there is no place for me even in your heart, my dear hermit. The formula, 'all is lawful,' I won't renounce- will you renounce me for that, yes?"

Alyosha got up, went to him and softly kissed him on the lips.

"That's plagiarism," cried Ivan, highly delighted. "You stole that from my poem. Thank you though. Get up, Alyosha, it's time we were going, both of us."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

"In the way" excerpt from...
by Jean-Paul Sartre

I can't say I feel relieved or satisfied; just the opposite, I am crushed. Only my goal is reached: I know what I wanted to know; I have understood all that has happened to me since January. The Nausea has not left me and I don't believe it will leave me so soon; but I no longer have to bear it, it is no longer an illness or a passing fit: it is I.

So I was in the park just now. The roots of the chestnut tree were sunk in the ground just under my bench. I couldn't remember it was a root any more. The words and vanished and with them the significance of things, their methods of use, and the feeble points of reference which men have traced on their surface. I was sitting, stooping forward, head bowed, alone in front of this black, knotty mass, entirely beastly, which frightened me. Then I had this vision.

It left me breathless. Never, until these last few days, had I understood the meaning of "existence." I was like the others, like the ones walking along the seashore, all dressed in their spring finery. I said, like them, "The ocean is green; that white speck up there is a seagull," but I didn't feel that it existed or that the seagull was an "existing seagull"; usually existence hides itself. It is there, around us, in us, it is us, you can't say two words without mentioning it, but you can never touch it. When I believed I was thinking about it, I must believe that I was thinking nothing, my head was empty, or there was just one word in my head, the word "to be." Or else I was can I explain it? I was thinking of belonging, I was telling myself that the sea belonged to the class of green objects, or that the green was a part of the quality of the sea. Even when I looked at things, I was miles from dreaming that they existed: they looked like scenery to me. I picked them up in my hands, they served me as tools, I foresaw their resistance. but that all happened on the surface. If anyone had asked me what existence was, I would have answered, in good faith, that it was nothing, simply an empty form which was added to external things without changing anything in their nature. And then all of a sudden, there it was, clear as day: existence had suddenly unveiled itself. It had lost the harmless look of an abstract category: it was the very paste of things, this root was kneaded into existence. Or rather the root, the park gates, the bench, the sparse grass, all that had vanished: the diversity of things, their individuality, were only an appearance, a veneer. This veneer had melted, leaving soft, monstrous masses, all in disorder--naked, in a frightful obscene nakedness.

I kept myself from making the slightest movement, but I didn't need to move in order to see, behind the trees, the blue columns and the lamp posts of the bandstand and the Velleda, in the midst of a mountain of laurel. All these can I explain? They inconvenienced me; I would have liked them to exist less strongly, more dryly, in a more abstract way, with more reserve. The chestnut tree pressed itself against my eyes. Green rust covered it half-way up; the bark, black and swollen, looked like boiled leather. the sound of the water in the Masqueret Fountain sounded in my ears, made a nest there, filled them with signs; my nostrils overflowed with a green, putrid odour. All things, gently, tenderly, were letting themselves drift into existence like those relaxed women who burst out laughing and say: "It's good to laugh," in a wet voice; they were parading, one in front of the other, exchanging abject secrets about their existence. I realized that there was no half-way house between non-existence and this flaunting abundance. If you existed, you had to exist all the way, as far as mouldiness, bloatedness, obscenity were concerned. In another world, circles, bars of music keep their pure and rigid lines. but existence is a deflection. Trees, night-blue pillars, the happy bubbling of a fountain, vital smells, little heat-mists floating in the cold air, a red-haired man digesting on a bench: all this somnolence, all these meals digested together, had its comic it didn't go as far as that, nothing that exists can be comic; it was like a floating analogy, almost entirely elusive, with certain aspects of vaudeville. We were a heap of living creatures, irritated, embarrassed at ourselves, we hadn't the slightest reason to be there, none of us, each one, confused, vaguely alarmed, felt in the way in relation to the others. In the way: it was the only relationship I could establish between these trees, these gates, these stones. In vain I tried to count the chestnut trees, to locate them by their relationship to the Velleda, to compare their height with the height of the plane trees: each of them escaped the relationship in which I tried to enclose it, isolated itself, and overflowed. Of these relations (which I insisted on maintaining in order to delay the crumbling of the human world, measures, quantities, and directions)--I felt myself to be the arbitrator; they no longer had their teeth into things. In the way, the chestnut tree there, opposite me, a little to the left. In the way, the Velleda...

And I--soft, weak, obscene, digesting, juggling with dismal thoughts--I, too, was In the way. Fortunately, I didn't feel it, although I realized it, but I was uncomfortable because I was afraid of feeling it (even now I am afraid--afraid that it might catch me behind my head and lift me up like a wave). I dreamed vaguely of killing myself to wipe out at least one of these superfluous lives. But even my death would have been In the way. In the way, my corpse, my blood on these stones, between these plants, at the back of this smiling garden. And the decomposed flesh would have been In the way in the earth which would receive my bones, at last, cleaned, stripped, peeled, proper and clean as teeth, it would have been In the way: I was In the way for eternity.

The word absurdity is coming to life under my pen; a little while ago, in the garden, I couldn't find it, but neither was I looking for it, I didn't need it: I thought without words, on things, with things. Absurdity was not an idea in my head, or the sound of a voice, only this long serpent dead at my feet, this wooden serpent. Serpent or claw or root or vulture's talon, what difference does it make. And without formulated anything clearly, I understood that I had found the key to Existence, the key to my Nauseas, to my own life. In fact, all that I could grasp beyond that returns to this fundamental absurdity. Absurdity: another word; I struggle against words; down there I touched the thing. But I wanted to fix the absolute character of this absurdity here. A movement, an event in the tiny coloured world of men is only relatively absurd: by relation to the accompanying circumstances. A madman's ravings, for example, are absurd in relation to the situation in which he finds himself, but not in relation to his delirium. But a little while ago I made an experiment with the absolute or the absurd. This root--there was nothing in relation to which it was absurd. Oh, how can I put it in words? Absurd: in relation to the stones, the tufts of yellow grass, the dry mud, the tree, the sky, the green benches. Absurd, irreducible; nothing--not even a profound, secret upheaval of nature--could explain it. Evidently I did not know everything, I had not seen the seeds sprout, or the tree grow. But faced with this great wrinkled paw, neither ignorance nor knowledge was important: the world of explanations and reasons is not the world of existence. A circle is not absurd, it is clearly explained by the rotation of a straight segment around one of its extremities. But neither does a circle exist. This root, on the other hand, existed in such a way that I could not explain it. Knotty, inert, nameless, it fascinated me, filled my eyes, brought me back unceasingly to its own existence. In vain to repeat: "This is not a root"--it didn't work any more. I saw clearly that you could not pass from its function as a root, as a breathing pump, to that, to this hard and compact skin of a sea lion, to this oily, callous, headstrong look. The function explained nothing: it allowed you to understand generally that it was a root, but not that one at all. This root, with its colour, shape, its congealed movement, was...below all explanation. Each of its qualities escaped a little, flowed out of it, half solidified, almost became a thing; each one was In the way in the root and the whole stump now gave me the impression of unwinding itself a little, denying its existence to lose itself in a frenzied excess. I scraped my heel against this black claw: I wanted to peel off some of the bark. For no reason at all, out of defiance, to make the bare pink appear absurd on the tanned leather, to play with the absurdity of the world. But, when I drew my heel back, I saw that the bark was still black.

Black? I felt the word deflating, emptied of meaning with extraordinary rapidity. Black? The root was not black, there was no black on this piece of wood--there was...something else: black, like the circle, did not exist. I looked at the root: Was it more than black or almost black? But I soon stopped questioning myself because I had the feeling of knowing where I was. Yes, I had already scrutinized innumerable objects, with deep uneasiness. I had already tried--vainly--to think something about them: and I had already felt their cold, inert qualities elude me, slip through my fingers. Adolphe's suspenders, the other evening in the "Railwaymen's Rendezvous." They were not purple. I saw two inexplicable stains on the shirt. And the stone--the well-known stone, the origin of this whole business: it was not...I can't remember exactly just what it was that the stone refused to be. But I had not forgotten its passive resistance. And the hand of the Self-Taught Man; I held it back and shook it one day in the library and then I had the feeling that it wasn't quite a hand. I had thought of a great white worm, but that wasn't it either. And the suspicious transparency of the glass of beer in the Cafe Mably. Suspicious: that's where they were, the sounds, the smells, the tastes. When they ran quickly under your nose like startled hares and you didn't pay too much attention, you might believe them to be simple and reassuring, you might believe that there was real blue in the world, real read, a real perfume of almonds or violets. But as soon as you held on to them for an instant, this feeling of comfort and security gave way to a deep uneasiness: colours tastes, and smells were never real, never themselves and nothing but themselves. The simplest, most indefinable quality had too much content, in relation to itself, in its heart. That black against my foot, it didn't look like black, but rather the confused effort to imagine black by someone who had never seen black and who couldn't know how to stop, who would have imagined an ambiguous being beyond colours. It looked like a colour, but a bruise or a secretion, like an oozing--and something else, an odour, for example, it melted int o the wet earth, warm, moist wood, into a black odour that spread like varnish over this sensitive wood, in a flavour of chewed, sweet fibre. I did not simply see this black: sight is an abstract invention, a simplified idea, one of man's ideas. That black, amorphous weakly presence, far surpassed sight, smell and taste. But this richness was lost in confusion and finally was no more because it was too much.

This moment was extraordinary. I was there, motionless and icy, plunged in a horrible ecstasy. But something fresh had just appeared in the very heart of this ecstasy; I understood the Nausea, I possessed it. To tell the truth, I did not formulate my discoveries to myself. But I think it would be easy for me to put them in words now. The essential thing is contingency. I mean that one cannot define existence as necessity. To exist is simply to be there; those who exist let themselves be encountered, but you can never deduce anything from them. I believe there are people who have understood this. Only they tried to overcome this contingency by inventing a necessary, causal being. But no necessary being can explain existence: contingency is not a delusion, a probability which can be dissipated; it is the absolute, consequently, the perfect free gift. All is free, this park, this city and myself. When you realize that, it turns your heart upside down and everything begins to float, as the other evening at the "Railwaymen's Rendezvous": here is Nausea; here there is what those bastards--the ones on the Coteau Vert and others--try to hide from themselves with their idea of their rights. But what a poor lie: no one has any rights; they are entirely free, like other men, they cannot succeed in not feeling superfluous. And in themselves, secretly, they are superfluous, that is to say, amorphous, vague, and sad.

How long will this fascination last? I was the root of the chestnut tree. Or rather I was entirely conscious of its existence. Still detached from it--since I was conscious of it--yet lost in it, nothing but it. An uneasy conscience which, notwithstanding, let itself fall with all its weight on this piece of dead wood. Time had stopped: a small black pool at my feet; it was impossible for something to come after that moment. I would have liked to tear myself from that atrocious joy, but I did not even imagine it would be possible; I was inside; the black stump did not move, it stayed there, in my eyes, as a lump of food sticks in the windpipe. I could neither accept nor refuse it. At what a cost did I raise my eyes? Did I raise them? Rather did I not obliterate myself for an instant in order to be reborn in the following instant with my head thrown back and my eyes raised upward? In fact, I was not even conscious of the transformation. But suddenly it became impossible for me to think of the existence of the root. It was wiped out, I could repeat in vain: it exists, it is still there, under the bench, against my right foot, it no longer meant anything. Existence is not something which lets itself be thought of from a distance: it must invade you suddenly, master you, weigh heavily on your heart like a great motionless beast--or else there is nothing more at all.

There was nothing more, my eyes were empty and I was spellbound by my deliverance. Then suddenly it began to move before my eyes in light, uncertain motions: the wind was shaking the top of the tree.

It did not displease me to see a movement, it was a change from these motionless beings who watched me like staring eyes. I told myself, as I followed the swinging of the branches: movements never quite exist, they are passages, intermediaries between two existences, moments of weakness, I expected to see them come out of nothingness, progressively ripen, blossom: I was finally going to surprise beings in the process of being born.

No more than three seconds, and all my hopes were swept away. I could not attribute the passage of time to these branches groping around like men. This idea of passage was still an invention of man. The idea was too transparent. All these paltry agitations, drew in on themselves, isolated. They overflowed the leaves and branches everywhere. They whirled about these empty hands, enveloped them with tiny whirlwinds. Of course a movement was something different from a tree. But it was still an absolute. A thing. My eyes only encountered completion. The tips of the branches rustled with existence which unceasingly renewed itself and which was never born. The existing wind rested on the tree like a great bluebottle, and the tree shuddered. But the shudder was not a nascent quality, a passing from power to action; it was a thing; a shudder-thing flowed into the tree, took possession of it, shook it and suddenly abandoned it, going further on to spin about itself. All was fullness and all was active, there was no weakness in time, all, even the least perceptible stirring, was made of existence. And all these existents which bustled about this tree came from nowhere and were going nowhere. Suddenly they existed, then suddenly they existed no longer: existence is without memory; of the banished it retains nothing--not even a memory. Existence everywhere, infinitely, in excess, for ever and everywhere; existence--which is limited only by existence. I sank down on the bench, stupefied, stunned by this profusion of beings without origin: everywhere blossomings, hatchings out, my ears buzzed with existence, my very flesh throbbed and opened, abandoned itself to the universal burgeoning. It was repugnant. But why, I thought, why so many existences, since they all look alike? What good are so many duplicates of trees? So many existences missed, obstinately begun again and again missed--like the awkward efforts of an insect fallen on its back? (I was one of those efforts.) That abundance did not give the effect of generosity, just the opposite. It was dismal, ailing, embarrassed at itself. Those trees, those great clumsy bodies...I began to laugh because I suddenly thought of the formidable springs described in books, full of crackings, burstings, gigantic explosions. There were those idiots who came to tell you about will-power and struggle for life. Hadn't they ever seen a beast or a tree? This plane-tree with its scaling bark, this half-rotten oak, they wanted me to take them for rugged youthful endeavour surging towards the sky. And that root? I would have undoubtedly had to represent it as a voracious claw tearing at the earth, devouring its food?

Impossible to see things that way. Weaknesses, frailties, yes. The trees floated. Gushing towards the sky? Or rather a collapse; at any instant I expected to see the tree-trunks shrivel like weary wands, crumple up, fall on the ground in a soft, folded, black heap. They did not want to exist, only they could not help themselves. So they quietly minded their own business; the sap rose up slowly through the structure, half reluctant, and the roots sank slowly into the earth. But at each instant they seemed on the verge of leaving everything there and obliterating themselves. Tired and old, they kept on existing, against the grain, simply because they were too weak to die, because death could only come to them from the outside: strains of music alone can proudly carry their own death within themselves like an internal necessity: only they don't exist. Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance. I leaned back and closed my eyes. But the images, forewarned, immediately leaped up and filled my closed eyes with existences: existence is a fullness which man can never abandon.

Strange images. They represented a multitude of things. Not real things, other things which looked like them. Wooden objects which looked like chairs, shoes, other objects which looked like plants. And then two faces: the couple who were eating opposite to me last Sunday in the Brasserie Vezelise. Fat, hot, sensual, absurd, with red ears. I could see the woman's neck and shoulders. Nude existence. Those two--it suddenly gave me a turn--in the midst of smells?--this soft throat rubbing up luxuriously against smooth stuffs, nestling in lace; and the woman picturing her bosom under her blouse, thinking: "My titties, my lovely fruits," smiling mysteriously, attentive to the swelling of her breasts which tickled...then I shouted and found myself with my eyes wide open.

Had I dreamed of this enormous presence? It was there, in the garden, toppled down into the trees, all soft, sticky, soiling everything, all thick, a jelly. And I was inside, I with the garden. I was frightened, furious, I thought it was so stupid, so out of place, I hated this ignoble mess. Mounting up, mounting up as high as the sky, spilling over, filling everything with its gelatinous slither, and I could see depths upon depths of it reaching far beyond the limits of the garden, the houses, and Bouville, as far as the eye could reach. I was no longer in Bouville, I was nowhere, I was floating. I was not surprised, I knew it was the World, the naked World suddenly revealing itself, and I choked with rage at this gross, absurd being. You couldn't even wonder where all that sprang from, or how it was that a world came into existence, rather than nothingness. It didn't make sense, the World was everywhere, in front, behind. There had been nothing before it. Nothing. There had been never been a moment in which it could not have existed. That was what worried me: of course there was no reason for this flowing larva to exist. It was unthinkable: to imagine nothingness you had to be there already, in the midst of the World, eyes wide open and alive; nothingness was only an idea in my head, an existing idea floating in this immensity: this nothingness had not come before existence, it was an existence like any other and appeared after many others. I shouted "filth! what rotten filth!" and shook myself to get rid of this sticky filth, but it held fast and there was so much, tons and tons of existence, endless: I stifled at the depths of this immense weariness. And then suddenly the park emptied as through a great hole, the World disappeared as it had come, or else I woke up--in any case, I saw no more of it; nothing was left but the yellow earth around me, out of which dead branches rose upward.

I got up and went out. Once at the gate, I turned back. Then the garden smiled at me. I leaned against the gate and watched for a long time. I the smile of the trees, of the laurel, meant something; that was the real secret of existence. I remembered one Sunday, not more than three weeks ago, I had already detected everywhere a sort of conspiratorial air. Was it in my intention? I felt with boredom that I had no way of understanding. No way. Yet it was there, waiting, looking at one. It was there on the trunk of the chestnut was the chestnut tree. Things--you might have called them thoughts--which stopped halfway, which were forgotten, which forgot what they wanted to think and which stayed like that, hanging about with an odd little sense which was beyond them. That little sense annoyed me: I could not understand it, even if I could have stayed leaning against the gate for a century; I had learned all I could know about existence. I left, I went back to the hotel and I wrote.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Shall I tell you the story of the tailor? excerpt from...
by Samuel Beckett
(premiering in 1957)

An Englishman, needing a pair of striped trousers in a hurry for the New Year festivities, goes to his tailor who takes his measurements.

(Tailor's voice.)
"That's the lot, come back in four days, I'll have it ready." Good. Four days later:

(Tailor's voice.)
"So sorry, come back in a week, I've made a mess of the seat." Good, that's all right, a neat seat can be very ticklish. A week later:

(Tailor's voice.)
"Frightfully sorry, come back in ten days, I've made a botch of the crotch." Good, can't be helped, a snug crotch is always a teaser. Ten days later:

(Tailor's voice.)
"Dreadfully sorry, come back in a fortnight, I've made a balls of the fly." Good, at a pinch, a smart fly is a stiff proposition.

I never told it worse.
I tell this story worse and worse.
Well, to make it short, the bluebells are blowing and he ballockses the buttonholes.

(Customer's voice.)
"God damn you to hell, Sir, no, it's indecent, there are limits! In six days, do you hear me, six days, God made the world. Yes Sir, no less Sir, the WORLD! And you are not bloody well capable of making me a pair of trousers in three months!"

(Tailor's voice, scandalized.)
"But my dear Sir, my dear Sir, look—
(disdainful gesture, disgustedly)
—at the world—
—and look—
(loving gesture, proudly)
—at my TROUSERS!"

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

PIGS like US

The international and domestic news media has had a lot of coverage lately on the proposed economic bail-out for Greece, the "G" of the "PIGS" of Europe (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain--all major debtor countries in the EU). As we in the US recline on our financed Laz-E-Boyz in our homes we can't afford and observe Europe's response to Greece, and as the Greeks experience growing unrest over the austerity measures being implemented in an attempt to avoid total default on their debt, we would be wise to turn inward and consider our own growing economic problems. We and the PIGS are not so different.

I really hope this guy gets elected to the Senate. Regardless of the political party with which he affiliates himself (it'd be nice to be rid of the labels altogether, and possibly some group-think and party survival tactics along the way), the Senate and Congress more broadly are in dire need of clear-mindedness like this.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The coming precipice

Reposting from the Becker-Posner Blog, specifically, Posner's post "The Entitlement Quandary" from April 11th, 2010:

Deficit projections are pretty worthless. At the beginning of 2007 the Congressional Budget Office, which has an inflated reputation but is at least nonpartisan, projected the federal deficit for fiscal 2010 at $333 billion (it will be at least four times that)—and that was a short-term projection. In 2001 it had predicted a 10-year budget surplus of more than $3 trillion. Its forecasts are largely just extrapolations, which assume that the future will be just like the past. All that can be said about future deficits with an approach to confidence is that if nothing is done they will grow, and that nothing is likely to be done until they grow to a point at which there is a palpable impact on the standard of living.

In 1983, Congress amended the social security act to provide that, for people born in 1938, the age of eligibility for full social security benefits would rise gradually from 65 to 67. (Hence the first effects of the reform were not felt until 2003, when people born in 1938 reached the age of 65, and the full effect will not be felt until 2026, when people born in 1959 reach 67—it is the deferral of the hurt that made the program politically feasible.) It is a sad commentary on our political system that there is no movement today for a similar reform, which would raise the future age of entitlement to full social security benefits to 70 in recognition of continuing increases in longevity, health, and income. We are in ostrich mode so far as dealing with our fiscal problems is concerned, even though the problems are far more serious than they were in 1983.

The basic problem is that our two political parties, although they pretend to be ideologically opposed and certainly do disagree on a number of details of public policy (many of which however are economically inconsequential), are agreed on the basics of fiscal policy: that taxes are bad and government spending is good. The Democrats used to believe that since spending was good, taxes had to be heavy, and Republicans that since taxes are bad, spending had to be limited so that taxes could be low. Eventually the parties discovered from election results that taxes are unpopular and spending popular, so Democrats stopped pushing for higher taxes (except on very high earners) and Republicans for lower spending. Both parties have embraced fiscal irresponsibility.

I couldn't agree more. These basic points are the essence of any conversation regarding politics I've had for the last few years, since having been (I believe) politically awakened, and the reason I'm entirely dissatisfied with both of the self-interested political parties running this country. It's becoming increasingly apparent how entirely incapable our government is at making difficult yet necessary decisions, and, for that matter, how fearful and selfish each of us is when it comes to making personal sacrifice. Obama is no savior, and it's delusional to think otherwise. In fact, he's going down the same doomed road as Bush, and each of them, in conjunction with our poor excuse for a Congress, and in collusion with our misdirected and misdirecting media, has been hauling us as "the people" with them, whether we like it or not. As we spend our time complaining about different government prescriptions for our cough, our lung cancer is being utterly ignored. We're sacrificing the future for today's creature comforts.

While it's true that it might not be such a bad thing to live with less, it would be a much better thing to live with less by choice rather than compulsion when we finally reach the coming precipice.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Our element is unending immaturity excerpt from...
by Witold Gombrowicz

For those short of time, as this is a long excerpt, read the final three or four paragraphs for Gombrowicz' entreaty.

Preface to "The Child Runs Deep in Filidor"

Before I continue these true reminiscences I wish to include, as the next chapter and by way of digression, a story entitled "The Child Runs Deep in Filidor." You saw how maliciously the doctrinaire Pimko dealt me the pupa, you saw the idealistic nooks and crannies of our intelligentsia youth, their inability to embrace life, the hopelessness of their disparate aims, their dismal affectation, the boredom that plunged them into gloom, their ridiculous fantasy life, their anguish over their anachronisms, the folly of their pupas, faces, and other body parts. You have heard words, words, vulgar words waging war on high-flown words, and you have heard other equally vacuous words uttered in class by their teachers--you were the silent witnesses to the way that a mish-mash of inane words came to a bad end in the form of a freakish grimace. It is in the prime of youth that man sinks into empty phrases and grimaces. It's in this smithy that our maturity is forged. In a moment you'll see yet another reality, another duel--a fight unto death between Professors G.L. Filador from Leyden and Momsen from Colombo (with the genteel title of "anti-Filidor"). And words, as well as various body parts, will play their part in that reality, but one should not look for an exact connection between the two parts of the said whole; and whoever thinks that by including this story, "The Child Runs Deep in Filidor," my sole aim was not merely fulfilling space on paper and reducing slightly the enormous number of white pages before me, is sorely mistaken.

But if notable scholars and connoisseurs, all those Pimkos adept at fabricating the pupa out of texts by pointing to the faulty construction of a work of art, reproach me that--in their opinion--a desire to fill space is a purely private matter and insufficient reason for writing, and that one shouldn't stick everything one has ever written into a work of art, I will reply that in my humble opinion individual body parts form an adequately aesthetic-artistic linkage with words. And I will prove that my construction is in no way inferior, as far as precision and logic are concerned, to even the most precise and logical constructions. Look--that basic body part, the tame and kindly pupa is in the basis, therefore, it is from the pupa that all action begins. It is from the pupa, as from the trunk of a tree, that the branching of individual parts, namely the toe, hands, eyes, teeth, ears, begins, and, at the same time, all those parts imperceptibly pass from one part to another in delicate and skillful transformations. And the human face, otherwise known as the mug, is the crown, the foliage of a tree whose individual parts grow out of the trunk of the pupa; the mug closes the cycle that began with the pupa. And having arrived at the mug, what is there left for me to do but to retrace my steps, through the individual parts, back to the pupa?--and this is the purpose of the short story "Filidor." "Filidor" is a construction in reverse, a passage or, strictly speaking, a coda, it's a trill, or rather a twist, a twisting of the gut, without which I would never have reached the calf of my left leg. Isn't this an ironclad skeleton for a construction? Isn't this enough to satisfy the most exacting requirements? And what if you penetrate deeper, into the linkages between the individual parts, into the pathways from the finger to the teeth, into the mystical meaning of some of your favorite parts, and further, into the significance of individual joints, of the sum of the parts, as well as into all the parts of parts? I assure you, such a construction is invaluable as far as filling space is concerned, one could fill three hundred volumes with critical research on the subject, thus filling even more space, reaching thereby an even high place, and seating oneself even more squarely and comfortably in that place. Do you like blowing soap bubbles by the lakeside at sunset when carp splash about and a fisherman s i t s in silence, looking at himself in the mirrorlike sheet of water?

And I recommend repetition as the method for enhancing the vigor of your work, because by systematically repeating certain words, phrases, situations, and parts I intensify them, thereby heightening the impression of uniformity of style to the point of near-mania. It's by means of repetition, repetition that mythology is most readily created! Take note, however, that this construction from particles is not a mere construction, it is actually an entire philosophy which I'll present here in the frivolous and frothy form of a carefree magazine article. But what do you think, tell me--in your opinion, doesn't the reader assimilate parts only, and only partly at that? He reads a part, or a piece of it, then stops, only to resume reading another piece later, and, as so often happens, he starts from the middle or from the end, then backtracks to the beginning. Quite often he'll read a couple of segments then toss the book aside, not because he has lost interest in it, but because something else came to his mind. And even if he were to read the whole--do you think that he can visualize it in its entirety and appreciate the relationship and harmony of its individual parts unless he hears it from an expert? Is it for this that an author toils for years, cuts his material and bends it into shape, tears it apart and patches it up again, sweats and agonizes over it--so that an expert may tell the reader that its construction is good? But let's go on, on, and into the realm of the reader's everyday personal experience! Might not just a phone call, or a fly, interrupt his reading precisely at the point where all the individual parts unite in a dramatic resolution? Or what if, at that very moment, his brother (for instance) comes into the room and says something. The author's noble-minded pains go for naught vis a vis the brother, the fly, or the phone call--fie! nasty little flies, why do they bite human beings who have lost their tails long ago and have nothing to swat with? What's more, let us consider whether your work, this unique, outstanding, and elaborate work is merely a particle of some thirty thousand other works, equally unique, which make their appearance year in, year out and on the principle of "each year be sure to add, whether bad or good, a new oeuvre to your brood"? Oh, horrid parts! Is this why we construct a whole, so that a particle of a part of the reader will absorb a particle of a part of the work, and only partly at that?

It's hard not to play little games and make fun of the subject. Making fun is the name of the game. Because we've learned long ago to make fun of that which too scathingly makes fun of us. Will there ever be a sufficiently serious-minded genius who will look life's trivia in the eye without bursting into a dumb giggle? Someone whose greatness will ever be a match for triviality? Hey-ho, I'm setting here a tone, a tone for my carefree feuilleton! But let's note further (to drain the chalice of particles to the last drop) that the cannons and principles of construction to which we so slavishly adhere are also the product of a mere part, and a rather minuscule part at that. It's only an insignificant part of the world, a scant circle of experts and aesthetes, a small world no bigger than one's little finger, a world that could fit in its entirety into one cafe, that constantly shapes itself, squeezing out ever more refined postulates. But what's worse, their tastes are not actually tastes--no, their fancy for the construction of your work is only a small part, the larger part being their fancy for their own expertise on the subject of construction. Is this why an author tries to show his skill in the way he constructs his work, so that an expert may show off his expertise on the subject? Quiet, shush, something mysterious is happening, here before us is a fifty-year-old author, on his knees at the altar of art, creating, thinking about his masterpiece, about its harmony, precision, and beauty, about its spirit and how to overcome its difficulties, and there is the expert thoroughly studying the author's material, whereupon the masterpiece goes out into the world and to the reader, and what was conceived in utter and absolute agony is now received piecemeal, between a telephone call and a hamburger. Here is the writer who with all his heart and soul, with his art, in anguish and travail offers nourishment--there is the reader who'll have none of it, and if he wants it, it's only in passing, offhandedly, until the phone rings. Life's trivia are your undoing. You are like a man who has challenged a dragon to a fight but will be yapped into a corner by a little dog.

But to go on, I want to ask you (to take one more swig from the chalice of particles)--in your opinion--does a work that obeys all the canons express a whole or only a part? Indeed! Doesn't all form rely on the process of exclusion, isn't all construction a process of whittling down, can a word express anything but a part of reality? The rest is silence. And finally, do we create form or does form create us? We think we are the ones who construct it, but that's an illusion, because we are, in equal measure, constructed by the construction. Whatever you put down on paper dictates what comes next, because the work is not born of you--you want to write one thing, yet something entirely different comes out. Parts tend to wholeness, every part surreptitiously makes its way toward the whole, strives for roundness, and seeks fulfillment, it implores the rest to be created in its own image and likeness. Out of the turbulent sea of images our mind catches a certain part, let's say an ear or a leg; then, right at the beginning of a work, the ear or the leg drifts under our pen, and henceforward we can no longer extricate ourselves from this part, so we continue with it, it imposes on us all the remaining body parts. We wrap ourselves around that part like ivy round an oak tree, the beginning sets up the end, and the end--the beginning, while the middle evolves between the beginning and the end. A total inability to encompass wholeness marks the human soul. What are we then to do with a part that has turned up and is not in our likeness, as if a thousand lustful, fiery stallions had visited the bed of our child's mother--and hey! if only to save some semblance of paternity we must, with all the moral power at our disposal, try to resemble our work, but it doesn't want to resemble us. Indeed, I remember a writer I knew years ago who, at the outset of his career, happened to write a heroic book. With his first words, and quite accidentally, he struck a heroic chord--he could equally well have struck a skeptical or lyrical note--but the first few sentences happened to sound heroic, therefore, out of consideration for the harmony of construction, he couldn't help but to go on enhancing the heroism, step by step, to the very end. And he continued rounding off the edges of his material, polishing and perfecting it, revising it, matching the beginning with the end, and the end with the beginning, until the work emerged like a living thing, full of deep convictions. But what could he do with those deep convictions? Could he then turn around and deny them? Can an author who is responsible for his every word admit that he just stumbled upon a heroic theme, that those deep convictions are not his deep convictions at all, that hey had somehow crept in from outside and had crawled over, ambled, and clambered into his text? Absolutely not! Because such trite methods as stumbling upon, crawling over, or creeping in have no place in a sophisticated piece of work, they are a makeshift approach suitable only for a frothy and playfully unimportant magazine article. In vain did our hapless heroic writer hide in embarrassment and try to weasel out of the part that caught hold of him, while the part, once having grabbed him, would not let go, and he had to adapt to it. And he continued to become more and more like the part until, at the end of his writing career, he became just like it, and just as heroic--though a rather weakly victim of his heroism. And he avoided his colleagues and companions from the time of immaturity like the plague, because they marveled at the whole that had so closely been matched with the part. And they called to him: "Hey, Bolek! Do you remember that fingernail...the fingernail...Bolek, Bolek, little Bolek, do you remember the fingernail on the green meadow? The fingernail? That fingernail, Bolek-boy, where is it now?"

These are then the basic fundamental and philosophical reasons that have induced me to build a work on a foundation of individual parts--treating the work itself as a particle of the world, man as a union of parts, and mankind as a composite of parts and pieces. But if anyone were to complain: this part-concept is not--if truth be known--a concept at all but sheer nonsense, a mockery and leg-pulling, and that I'm trying, instead of complying with strict rules and cannons of art, to evade them by mocking them--I would reply: yes, yes indeed, these and none other are my intentions. And--so help me God--I don't hesitate to admit it--I don't want to have anything to do with your art, gentlemen, which I can't stand, just as much as I don't want to have anything to do with you...because I can't stand you, with your ideas, your artistic posturing, and all that artistic little world of yours.

Gentlemen, there are on this earth societies that are more or less ridiculous, more or less degrading, shameful and humiliating--and the amount of stupidity is also variable. So, for example, a guild of hairdressers may seem, at first sight, more prone to stupidity than a guild of cobblers. But what goes on in the world of art beats all for stupidity and degradation--and to such a degree that someone who has some sense of decency and balance can't help but lower his brow in burning shame when confronted with this childish and pretentious orgy. Oh, those inspired songs to which no one listens! Oh, the connoisseurs' clever talk and their enthusiasm at concerts and poetry readings, oh, the initiations, valorizations, discussions, and oh, the faces of those who recite or listen to poetry and collectively celebrate the mystery of beauty! By what painful paradox does everything you say or do transform itself, under these circumstances, into the ridiculous? When, over time, a society lapses into fits of stupidity, one can definitely say that its ideas are not in keeping with reality, that it simply stuffs itself with bogus ideas. And, without a doubt, your artistic concepts have also reached the peak of conceptual naivete; but if you want to know how and in what sense they should be revised, I'll tell you soon enough, but you have to lend me your ear.

What is it that someone really desires these days when he feels a calling to take up the pen, the brush? He yearns, first and foremost, to be an artist. He yearns to create Art. He dreams of satiating himself and his fellow men with Beauty, Goodness, Truth, he wants to be their high priest of art and their bard by offering up all the riches of his talent to thirsting mankind. And perhaps he also wants to offer his talent in the service of some great idea as well as of his Nation. What lofty goals! What magnanimous undertakings! Wasn't this the role of all the Shakespeares and the Chopins? But, mark you, here is the catch: you are not, as yet, Chopins or Shakespeares, you are not, as yet, fully fledged artists nor high priests of art; you are at most, in the present phase of your development, merely half-Shakespeares and quarter-Chopins (oh, those accursed parts again!)--and therefore your posturing does nothing but expose your miserable deficiencies--it's as if you wanted, at any cost, to jump onto a pedestal, thereby endangering your precious and sensitive body parts.

Believe me: there is a great difference between an artist who has realized his potential and a horde of half-artists and quarter-bards who merely dream of doing so. And that which befits a fully fledged artist has, when it comes from you, an entirely different ring. Yet you, instead of conceiving ideas to your own measure, ideas that fit your own reality, you adorn yourselves with someone else's feathers--and this is why you become mere hopefuls, forever inept, whose grades will never be more than a puny C, you servants and imitators, vassals and admirers of Art, which keeps you in its antechambers. Truly, it's a terrible thing to watch you try and not succeed, to watch you push on with new works and try to foist them on others even as you're being told "that's not quite it," to watch you boost yourselves with awful, second-rate successes, pay each other compliments, arrange artistic soirees, and persuade yourselves and others to create ever new disguises for your own ineptness. And you don't have the consolation that what you write of concoct is of any value whatsoever, even to yourselves, because all of it, I repeat, all of it, is mere imitation, it's been picked up from the masters--ti's nothing but a premature illusion that your quality is being recognized, that you have attained a measure of worth. Your situation is false and, being false, must bear bitter fruit, therefore animosity, disdain, maliciousness grow ripe among you, and everyone looks down on everyone else and on himself in particular, you are a brotherhood of disdain--until you'll finally scorn each other to death. What is the situation, actually, of a second-rate writer if not one of major rebuff? The first and merciless rebuff is inflicted upon him by the ordinary reader who simply refuses to relish the writer's works. The second shameful rebuff is meted out to him by his own reality, which he has been unable to express. And the third rebuff, the most shameful of all and a real kick in the pants, is dealt him by art itself, the art to which he has turned for shelter but which regards him with utter disdain, as inept and inadequate. And this fills the cup of disgrace. This is where true homelessness begins. This is how the second-rate writer becomes the butt of ridicule from all sides, caught as he is in the crossfire of rebuff. Truly, what can be expected of a man rebuffed three times, each time more shamefully than the time before? And when he's dressed down like this, shouldn't a man pack his bags and leave, shouldn't he hide somewhere so he can't be seen? Can inadequacy which parades in the light of day and which craves honors be wholesome, won't it provoke one's nature to hiccup?

But first tell me this--in your opinion, are Anjou pears better and juicier than Bosc pears, aren't you more partial to the former than to the latter? And do you like to eat them while sitting comfortably in wicker chairs on the porch? For shame, gentlemen, for shame, shame and shame again! I'm not a philosopher and theoretician, no--but I'm talking about you, I'm thinking about your life, do understand me, I'm purely and simply troubled by your personal situation. You just can't break free. Oh, this inability of yours to cut the umbilical cord that ties you to mankind's rebuff! A soul rebuffed--a flower unsniffed--a candy that wants so much to be tasty but pleases no one--a woman spurned--all these have always caused me sheer physical pain, I just can't bear this lack of fulfillment, and when I meet one of those artists downtown and realize to what extent an ordinary rebuff lies at the basis of his existence, how his every move, every word, how his beliefs, his enthusiasms, his every comma, his hurt ego, his pride, his crying shame and suffering, how they all give off the smell of an ordinary and unpleasant rebuff, I too feel shame. And I feel shame not because I commiserate with him but because I live side by side with him, because his grotesque nature touches me and everyone else whose consciousness it has penetrated. Believe me, it's about time to decide and settle the status of the second-rate writer, otherwise everyone will be left nauseated. Isn't it strange that people who dedicate themselves ex professo to form and therefore, one would think, are sensitive to style, give in without a protest to such a false and pretentious state of affairs? Can't you understand that from the point of view of form and style nothing can be more disastrous in its consequences--because whoever finds himself in such a false situation, in such entirely shoddy circumstances, cannot utter a single word that won't be shoddy.

How should we then--you'll ask--express ourselves in a way that would be congruent with our reality, yet at the same time be autonomous? Gentlemen, it's not within your power to transform yourselves, well, let's say from Tuesday to Wednesday, into mature masters, but you could save your dignity to some degree by distancing yourselves from Art, which sticks it to you with that disconcerting pupa. To begin with, part company forever with the word: art, and that other word: artist. Stop wallowing in these words and repeating them with such endless monotony. Isn't everyone a bit of an artist? Isn't it true that mankind creates art not only on paper or on canvas, but also in every moment of everyday life--when a young girl pins a flower in her hair, when in the course of conversation a little joke escapes your lips, when we melt with emotion at the beauty of the twilight's light and shadow, what is all this if not the practicing of art? Why then this odd and idiotic division into "artists" and the rest of mankind? Wouldn't it be more wholesome if you simply said: "perhaps I busy myself with art a little more than others do," rather than to proudly declare yourselves artists? Further, what use is it to you, this worship of the art contained within the so-called "works of art"--how did you dream it up, what's given you teh daft idea that man has such a great admiration for works of art, that we swoon in heavenly bliss when we listen to a Bach fugue? Have you ever thought how impure, murky, and immature is the artistic aspect of culture, the aspect that you want to lock up within your simplistic phraseology? The mistake that you so commonly and flagrantly make is primarily this: you reduce man's communion with art to artistic emotion alone, and, at the same time, you define this communion in utterly egocentric terms, as if each one of us were experiencing art totally on our own--a single-handed, single-legged experience--in hermetic isolation from your fellow men. Yet in real life we're dealing with a blend of many emotions, of many individuals who, acting on each other, create a collective experience.

And so, when a pianist bangs out Chopin in a concert hall, you say that the magic of Chopin's music, masterfully rendered by this master pianist, has thrilled the audience. Yet it's possible that actually no one in the audience has been thrilled. Let's not exclude the possibility that, had they not known Chopin to be a great genius, and the pianist likewise, they would have listened to the music with less ardor. It's also possible that when some listeners, pale with emotion, applaud, scream, carry on, writhe in enthusiasm one should attribute this to the fact that others in the audience are also writhing, carrying on, shouting; because every one of them things that the others are experiencing an incredible ecstasy, a transcendent emotion, and therefore his emotions as well begin to rise on someone else's yeast; and thus it can easily happen that while no one in the concert hall has been directly enraptured, everyone expresses rapture--because everyone wants to conform to his neighbor. And it's not until all of them in a bunch have sufficiently excited each other, it is only then, I tell you that, these expressions of emotion arouse their emotion--because we must comply with what we express. It's also true that by participating in the concert we fulfill something of a religious act (just as if we were assisting in the Holy Mass), kneeling devoutly before the Godhead of artistry; in this case our admiration is merely an act of homage and the fulfilling of a rite. Who can tell, however, how much real beauty there is in this Beauty, and how much of it is a sociohistorical process? Tut, tut, as everyone knows, mankind needs myths--it chooses this one or that one from among its numerous authors (but who can ever explore or shed light on the course that such a choice has taken?), whereupon it proceeds to elevate him above all others, to memorize his works, to discover in him its own mysteries, to subordinate its emotions to him--but if we were to elevate, with the same doggedness, some other artist, then he would become our Homer. Can't you see then, how many varied and often other than aesthetic elements (a list of which I could tediously extend ad infinitum) make up the greatness of the artist and his work? And you want to enclose this muddled, complicated, and difficult communion with art in the naive phrase: "the poet sings with inspiration, the listener lends his ear in admiration"?

Stop then pampering art, stop--for God's sake!--this whole system of puffing it up and magnifying it; and, instead of intoxicating yourselves with legends, let facts create you. And once you open your minds to Reality this alone may bring you great relief--at the same time stop worrying that it will impoverish and shrivel your spirit--because Reality is always richer than naive illusions and idle notions. And I will soon show you what riches await you on this new path.

Certainly art is the perfecting of form. But you seem to think--and here is another of your cardinal mistakes--that art consists of creating works perfect in their form; you reduce this all-encompassing, omni-human process of creating form to the turning out of poems and symphonies; and you've never been able to truly experience nor explain to others what an enormous role form plays in our lives. Even in the field of psychology you haven't been able to secure form its proper place. You still seem to think that emotions, instincts, ideas govern our behavior, while you're inclined to consider form to be a superficial appendage and a simple gewgaw. When a widow who walks behind her husband's casket cries and wails to the point of splitting her sides, you surmise she's wailing because she's overcome by her loss. Or when some engineer, doctor, or lawyer murders his wife, children, or friend, you think that he let himself be seized by bloodthirsty instincts. Or when a politician says something stupid, you think that he's stupid because he's talking nothing but nonsense. But in Reality matters stand as follows: a human being does not express himself forthrightly and in keeping with his nature but always in some well-defined form, and this form, this style, this manner of being is not of our making but is thrust upon us from outside--and this is why one and the same individual can present himself on the outside as wise or stupid, as bloodthirsty or angelic, as mature or immature--depending upon the style he happens to come up with, and in what way he is dependent on others. And just as beetles,insects chase after food all day, so do we tirelessly pursue form, we hassle other people with our style, our manners while riding in a streetcar, while eating or enjoying ourselves, while resting or attending to our business--we always, unceasingly, seek form, and we delight in it or suffer by it, and we conform to it or we violate and demolish it, or we let it create us, amen.

Oh, the power of Form! Nations die because of it. It is the cause of wars. It creates something in us that is not of us. If you make light of it you'll never understand stupidity nor evil nor crime. It governs our slightest impulses. It is the base of our collective life. For you, however, Form and Style still belong strictly to the realm of the aesthetic--for you style is on paper only, in the style of your stories. Gentlemen, who will slap your pupa which you dare turn toward others as you kneel at the altar of Art? For you form is not something that is human and alive, something--I'd say--practical and everyday, but just a feature for the holidays. And while you're leaning over a piece of paper you forget your own self--you don't care about perfecting your own individual and concrete style, you merely practice an abstract stylization in a vacuum. Instead of art serving you, you serve art--and with a sheep-like docility you let it impede your development, and you let it push you into the hell of indolence.

Now consider how different the stance would be of someone who, instead of feeding on the words of the concept makers, would sweep the world with a fresh look and with an understanding of the boundless importance of form in our lives. If he were to take up the pen it would not be for the sake of becoming an Artist but--let's say--to better express his individuality and explain it to others; or else to put his internal affairs in order, and also, perhaps, to deepen and sharpen his relationship with his fellow men because other souls exert an immense and creative influence on our soul; or, for example, to try to fight for a world as he would like it to be, for a world that is indispensable to his life. He would, of course, spare no effort to have his work attract people and win their hearts with its artistic charm--but in this case his chief goal would not be art but the expression of his own person. And I say "his own," not "someone else's," because it's high time you stopped thinking of yourselves as creatures of a higher order who are here to edify and enlighten someone else, to lead and raise someone else into the sublime, or to improve someone else's morals. Who has granted you this superiority? Where does it say that you now belong to a higher class? Who has promoted you to aristocracy? Who gave you a patent on Maturity? Oh no, this writer, the one I'm talking about, will not write because he considers himself mature but because he is aware of his immaturity, because he knows that he doesn't know everything about form, he knows he is still climbing and has not quite yet crawled to the top, that he is in the process of becoming but has not yet become. And if he happens to write something inept and silly he'll say: "Great! I've written something stupid, but I haven't signed a contract with anyone to produce solely wise and perfect works. I gave vent to my stupidity and I'm glad of it, because the animosity and harshness of others that I've aroused against me will now form and shape me, it will create me as if anew, and here I am--reborn." Which shows that the bard who has such a sound philosophy, one who is so well-grounded within himself that neither stupidity nor immaturity can threaten nor harm him, this bard can, his head raised high, express himself even as he is being indolent, while you, you can no longer express much of anything because fear deprives you of speech.

With all this in mind, the reform I recommend should bring you considerable relief. One must add, however, that only a masterly writer cognizant of these matters would be equal to grappling with this problem, which, thus far, has dealt you the worst possible pupa--and the problem which I raise here is, very likely, the most fundamental, the most awesome, and the most brilliant (I have no hesitation in using this word) of all the problems of style and culture. Here is a graphic way of formulating the problem: imagine that the adult and mature bard, leaning over a piece of paper, is in the process of creating...but on his back a youth has squarely settled himself, or some semi-enlightened fellow from the semi-intelligentsia, or a young maiden, or some nondescript slouch of a soul, or some kind of juvenile, lowbrow, ignorant creature, and then--this creature, this youth, this maiden, or lowbrow fellow, or for that matter any muddle-headed son of the unenlightened quarter-culture--suddenly pounces on his soul and drags it down, constricts it, kneads it with his paws, yet at the same time, by embracing this soul, by soaking it up, sucking it in, he rejuvenates it with his youth, seasons it with his immaturity, and prepares it to his own liking, then he brings it down to his own level--and oh, into his arms! But this author, instead of pitting himself against his assailant, pretends that he does not see him and--what idiocy!--he thinks he'll avoid being violated by putting on a face as if he were not being violated. Isn't this exactly what happens to you, beginning with great geniuses all the way to mediocre bards in the gallery? Isn't it true that every being who is at a higher level of development, who is older and more mature, is dependent in a thousand different ways on being who are less well developed, and doesn't this dependence permeate us through and through, to our very core and to the extent that we can say: the elder is created by the younger? When we write, don't we have to accommodate the reader? Just as when we speak--don't we depend on the person we're addressing? Are we not mortally in love with youth? Are we not obliged then, at every moment, to ingratiate ourselves with beings who are below us, to tune in with them, to surrender, be it to their power or to their charms--and isn't this painful violence that's being committed on our person by some half-enlightened, inferior being the most seminal of all violence? Thus far, however, and contrary to all your rhetoric, you have only been able to hide your head in the sand, and your scholarly and didactic mentality, suffused with conceit, has made you unaware of this matter. In reality, you're constantly being violated, yet you pretend that nothing is happening--because you, oh mature ones, keep company solely with other mature ones, and your maturity is so mature that it can only chum up with maturity!

If you were, however less concerned with Art or the edifying and perfecting of others and more with your own pitiful selves, you would never acquiesce to such a terrible violation of the self; a poet, instead of creating poems for another poet, would feel that he's being suffused and created by forces from below, forces of which, thus far, he had not even been aware. He would realize that only by accepting them would he be able to free himself of them; and he would do his best to show, in his style, in his artistic as well as everyday attitude and form, a clear link with all that's inferior to him. He would then feel not only like a Father, but like a Father and a Son; he would write not solely like a wise, refined and mature one, but rather like a Wise One who benefits from stupidity, like a Refined One who profits from being tirelessly brutalized, and like a Mature One who is being ceaselessly rejuvenated. And if, upon leaving his writing desk, he were to run into that youth or that lowbrow he would no longer pat him condescendingly on the back like a preacher or a pedagogue, but instead he would wail and roar in holy trembling, and perhaps even fall to his knees! Instead of fleeing from immaturity and shutting himself within the ambit of the sublime, he would realize that a universal style is one that knows how to embrace lovingly those not quite developed. And this would finally lead all of you to a form that would pant and with creativity and be filled with poetry, so much so that the whole bunch of you would transform yourselves into powerful geniuses.

Take note then, what hope I send your way with such an individually personal concept--and what perspectives! But, for this idea to be a hundred percent creative and definitive, you must take yet another step forward--but this step must be so bold and resolute, so limitless in its possibilities and destructive in its consequences, that my lips will mention it only softly and from a distance. Here it is: the time has come, the hour has struck on the clock of history--make an effort to overcome form, to liberate yourselves from it. Stop identifying yourselves with that which delimits you. You, artists, try to avoid all expression of yourselves. Don't trust your own words. Be on guard against all your beliefs and do not trust your feelings. Back away from what you are on the outside and tremble with fear at any self-manifestation, just as a little bird trembles at the sight of a snake.

I don't know, truly, whether such things should pass my lips this day, but the stipulation--that an individual be well defined, immutable in his ideas, absolute in his pronouncements, unwavering in his ideology, firm in his tastes, responsible for his words and deeds, fixed once and for all in his ways--is flawed. Consider more closely the chimerical nature of such a stipulation. Our element is unending immaturity. What we think, feel today will unavoidably be silliness to our great grandchildren. It is better then that we should acknowledge today that portion of silliness which time will reveal...and the force that impels you to a premature definition is not, as you think, a totally human force. We shall soon realize that the most important is not: to die for ideas, styles, theses, slogans, beliefs; and also not: to solidify and enclose ourselves in them; but something different, it is this: to step back a pace and secure a distance from everything that unendingly happens to us.

A Retreat. I have a hunch (but I don't know whether my lips should confess it now) that the time for a Universal Retreat is at hand. The son of earth will henceforth understand that he is not expressing himself in harmony with his deepest being but always in accordance with some artificial form painfully thrust upon him from without, either by people or by circumstances. He will then dread that form of his and feel ashamed of it, much as he had thus far idolized and flaunted it. We will soon fear our persons and our personalities, because it will become apparent that they are by no means truly our own. And instead of roaring: "I believe in this--I feel it--that's how I am--I'm ready to defend it," we will say in all humility: "Maybe I believe in it--maybe I feel it--I happened to say it, to do it, or to think it." The bard will scorn his own song. The leader will shudder at his own command. The high priest will stand in terror of the altar, and the mother will instill in her son not only principles but also ways of escaping them so that they do not smother him.

It will be a long and arduous road. For nowadays individuals as well as whole nations are quite good at managing their psychological life, and they are not strangers to creating styles, beliefs, principles, ideals, and feelings at will and with their immediate interests in mind; yet they do not know how to live without adhering to a style; and we still don't know how to defend the depths of our freshness against the demon of order. Great discoveries are indispensable--powerful blows struck by the soft human hand at the steel armor of Form, as well as unparalleled cunning and great integrity of thought and an extreme sharpening of intelligence--so that man may break loose from his rigidity and reconcile within himself form with the formless, law with anarchy, maturity with sacred and eternal immaturity. But before this happens, tell me: in your opinion, are Anjou pears better than Bosc pears? Do you like to snack on them while comfortably s i t t i n g in wicker chairs on the porch, or do you prefer to abandon yourselves to this activity in the shade of a tree while a fresh and gentle breeze is cooling your body parts? And I ask you this in all seriousness and with total responsibility for my words, and likewise with the greatest respect for all your parts without exception, because I know that you are a part of Humanity, of which I am also a part, and that you partly take part in the part of something which is also a part and of which I am also in part a part, together with all the particles and parts of parts, of parts, of parts, of parts, of parts, of parts, of parts, of parts, of parts...Help! Oh, confounded parts! Oh, bloodthirsty, nightmarish parts, you've grabbed me once again, is there no escaping you, hah, where can I find shelter, what am I to do? oh, that's enough; enough, enough, let's finish this part of the book, let's swiftly move on to another part, and I swear that in the next chapter there will be no more particles, because I'll shake myself free of them and cast them off, and I'll dump them outside while inside I remain (in part at least) without parts.