Friday, December 21, 2012

The Brothers Karamazov (Part I, Chapter V)


“She loves her own virtue, not me.” The words broke
involuntarily, and almost malignantly, from Dmitri. He laughed,
but a minute later his eyes gleamed, he flushed crimson and
struck the table violently with his fist.
“I swear, Alyosha,” he cried, with intense and genuine anger
at himself; “you may not believe me, but as God is holy, and as
Christ is God, I swear that though I smiled at her lofty sentiments
just now, I know that I am a million times baser in soul than she,
and that these lofty sentiments of hers are as sincere as a heavenly
angel's. That's the tragedy of it—that I know that for certain.
What if any one does show off a bit? Don't I do it myself? And
yet I'm sincere, I'm sincere. As for Ivan, I can understand how he
must be cursing nature now—with his intellect, too! To see the
preference given—to whom, to what? To a monster who, though
he is betrothed and all eyes are fixed on him, can't restrain his
debaucheries—and before the very eyes of his betrothed! And a
man like me is preferred, while he is rejected. And why? Because
a girl wants to sacrifice her life and destiny out of gratitude. It's
ridiculous! I've never said a word of this to Ivan, and Ivan of
course has never dropped a hint of the sort to me. But destiny will
be accomplished, and the best man will hold his ground while
the undeserving one will vanish into his back-alley for ever—his
filthy back-alley, his beloved back-alley, where he is at home
and where he will sink in filth and stench at his own free will and
with enjoyment. I've been talking foolishly. I've no words left. I
use them at random, but it will be as I have said. I shall drown in
the back-alley, and she will marry Ivan.”
“Stop, Dmitri,” Alyosha interrupted again with great anxiety.
“There's one thing you haven't made clear yet: you are still
betrothed all the same, aren't you? How can you break off the
engagement if she, your betrothed, doesn't want to?”
“Yes, formally and solemnly betrothed. It was all done on my
arrival in Moscow, with great ceremony, with ikons, all in fine
style. The general's wife blessed us, and—would you believe
it?—congratulated Katya. ‘You've made a good choice,’ she
said, ‘I see right through him.’ And—would you believe it?—she
didn't like Ivan, and hardly greeted him. I had a lot of talk with
Katya in Moscow. I told her about myself—sincerely, honorably.
She listened to everything.
There was sweet confusion,
There were tender words.
Though there were proud words, too. She wrung out of me a
mighty promise to reform. I gave my promise, and here—”
“Why, I called to you and brought you out here to-day, this
very day—remember it—to send you—this very day again—to
Katerina Ivanovna, and—”
“To tell her that I shall never come to see her again. Say, ‘He
sends you his compliments.’ ”
“But is that possible?”
“That's just the reason I'm sending you, in my place, because
it's impossible. And, how could I tell her myself?”
“And where are you going?”
“To the back-alley.”
“To Grushenka, then!” Alyosha exclaimed mournfully,
clasping his hands. “Can Rakitin really have told the truth?
I thought that you had just visited her, and that was all.”
“Can a betrothed man pay such visits? Is such a thing possible
and with such a betrothed, and before the eyes of all the world?
Confound it, I have some honor! As soon as I began visiting
Grushenka, I ceased to be betrothed, and to be an honest man.
understand that. Why do you look at me? You see, I went in the
first place to beat her. I had heard, and I know for a fact now,
that that captain, father's agent, had given Grushenka an I.O.U.
of mine for her to sue me for payment, so as to put an end to
me. They wanted to scare me. I went to beat her. I had had a
glimpse of her before. She doesn't strike one at first sight. I knew
about her old merchant, who's lying ill now, paralyzed; but he's
leaving her a decent little sum. I knew, too, that she was fond of
money, that she hoarded it, and lent it at a wicked rate of interest,
that she's a merciless cheat and swindler. I went to beat her, and
I stayed. The storm broke—it struck me down like the plague.
I'm plague-stricken still, and I know that everything is over, that
there will never be anything more for me. The cycle of the ages
is accomplished. That's my position. And though I'm a beggar, as
fate would have it, I had three thousand just then in my pocket.
I drove with Grushenka to Mokroe, a place twenty-five versts
from here. I got gypsies there and champagne and made all the
peasants there drunk on it, and all the women and girls. I sent the
thousands flying. In three days' time I was stripped bare, but a
hero. Do you suppose the hero had gained his end? Not a sign of
it from her. I tell you that rogue, Grushenka, has a supple curve
all over her body. You can see it in her little foot, even in her
little toe. I saw it, and kissed it, but that was all, I swear! ‘I'll
marry you if you like,’ she said, ‘you're a beggar, you know. Say
that you won't beat me, and will let me do anything I choose, and
perhaps I will marry you.’ She laughed, and she's laughing still!”
Dmitri leapt up with a sort of fury. He seemed all at once as
though he were drunk. His eyes became suddenly bloodshot.
“And do you really mean to marry her?”
“At once, if she will. And if she won't, I shall stay all the same.
I'll be the porter at her gate. Alyosha!” he cried. He stopped
short before him, and taking him by the shoulders began shaking
him violently. “Do you know, you innocent boy, that this is all
delirium, senseless delirium, for there's a tragedy here. Let me
tell you, Alexey, that I may be a low man, with low and degraded
passions, but a thief and a pickpocket Dmitri Karamazov never
can be. Well, then; let me tell you that I am a thief and
a pickpocket. That very morning, just before I went to beat
Grushenka, Katerina Ivanovna sent for me, and in strict secrecy
(why I don't know, I suppose she had some reason) asked me to
go to the chief town of the province and to post three thousand
roubles to Agafya Ivanovna in Moscow, so that nothing should
be known of it in the town here. So I had that three thousand
roubles in my pocket when I went to see Grushenka, and it was
that money we spent at Mokroe. Afterwards I pretended I had
been to the town, but did not show her the post office receipt. I
said I had sent the money and would bring the receipt, and so far
I haven't brought it. I've forgotten it. Now what do you think
you're going to her to-day to say? ‘He sends his compliments,’
and she'll ask you, ‘What about the money?’ You might still
have said to her, ‘He's a degraded sensualist, and a low creature,
with uncontrolled passions. He didn't send your money then, but
wasted it, because, like a low brute, he couldn't control himself.’
But still you might have added, ‘He isn't a thief though. Here is
your three thousand; he sends it back. Send it yourself to Agafya
Ivanovna. But he told me to say “he sends his compliments.” ’
But, as it is, she will ask, ‘But where is the money?’ ”
“Mitya, you are unhappy, yes! But not as unhappy as you
think. Don't worry yourself to death with despair.”
“What, do you suppose I'd shoot myself because I can't get
three thousand to pay back? That's just it. I shan't shoot myself.
I haven't the strength now. Afterwards, perhaps. But now I'm
going to Grushenka. I don't care what happens.”
“And what then?”
“I'll be her husband if she deigns to have me, and when lovers
come, I'll go into the next room. I'll clean her friends' goloshes,
blow up their samovar, run their errands.”
“Katerina Ivanovna will understand it all,” Alyosha said
solemnly. “She'll understand how great this trouble is and
will forgive. She has a lofty mind, and no one could be more
unhappy than you. She'll see that for herself.”
“She won't forgive everything,” said Dmitri, with a grin.
“There's something in it, brother, that no woman could forgive.
Do you know what would be the best thing to do?”
“Pay back the three thousand.”


(Translation Constance Garnet)

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Pessoa desassossegado...

Na primeira página do Livro do Desassossego, que se pretende uma Autobiografia sem Factos (alguma coisa a ver com Wittgenstein, que diz no início do Tractatus que ”the world is the totality of facts”?), Bernardo Soares resume o seu problema: acreditar em Deus deixou de estar na moda - e “porque o espírito humano tende a criticar porque sente, e não porque pensa, a maioria desses jovens escolheu a Humanidade para sucedâneo de Deus”. Mas ele, Bernardo, ajudante de guarda-livros, não sabendo crer em Deus, e não podendo crer numa soma de animais”, ficou, “como outros na orla das gentes, naquela distância de tudo a que comummente se chama a Decadência”. O que é que isto significa? Que depois de, servindo-se da conhecida ”técnica do projector” a que se refere Auerbach em Mimésis (1) , ter caricaturado grosseiramente o conceito de “Humanidade”, não resta ao desiludido Bernardo como solução senão entregar-se, como outros, “futilmente à sensação sem propósito, cultivada num epicurismo subtilizado, como convém aos nossos nervos cerebrais” (essa dos “nervos cerebrais” é Pessoa, e não só Bernardo Soares, no seu melhor estilo barroco, narcisista e bacoco).

Para quem escreveu em epígrafe, antes do início do livro, que a “autobiografia sem factos” trata de “impressões sem nexo, nem desejo de nexo”, o leitor pode ficar surpreendido por lhe ser oferecida de imediato, logo na primeira página, uma conclusão tão clara. Mas enfim, Pessoa é isso mesmo, a gente habitua-se às suas contradições: é tudo a brincar, não há que levar o que ele diz excessivamente a sério, ele deleita-se a entreter o leitor com minuciosas e estilisticamente elaboradas elucubrações pseudo-filosóficas. A solidão desse pobre lisboeta chamado Bernardo Soares era, evidentemente, terrível. O que, sem explicar tudo, explica evidentemente muita coisa. Um pouco mais tarde a gente entende melhor o problema e o projecto: “A literatura, que é a arte casada com o pensamento e a realização sem a mácula da realidade, parece-me ser o fim para que deveria tender todo o esforço humano, se fosse verdadeiramente humano, e não uma superfluidade do animal”. A arte “casada com o pensamento” é bruscamente o estilo dos Pascoaes que Pessoa parecia detestar a fazer irrupção aqui, mais passons, há muitos outros exemplos no livro desse estilo literariamente antiquado que nada tem a ver com o Modernismo. Quanto ao conceito de realidade como "mácula" parece-me que também ajuda a entender bastante bem a maneira como estava estruturada a mente de Pessoa (argumento patológico - mas eles agarram-no logo como pensamento de filosofia elevada - fornecido àqueles que acham que a realidade é um obstáculo para a literatura). Em resumo: devíamos ser todos escritores. É a internacional socialista aplicada às razões por que se deve viver. Pessoa, perdão, Bernardo Soares, é um farsante.

No prefácio que antecede o livro diz Richard Zenith que “antes de os descontrutivistas chegarem para nos ensinar que não há nada hors-texte, Fernando Pessoa viveu, na carne - ou na sua anulação – , todo o drama de que eles apenas falam.” Pois. Sim, claro, "os desconstrutivistas". And what else, gente? O cínico mestre Zen, se ouvisse isto, provavelmente perguntava: “se não há nada hors-texte, de que é que falam os textos? e se não há nada “hors-texte” por que é que se preocupam tanto com ele e em negá-lo?”

(1) Ver Erich Auerbach, Mimésis, p. 403: “la technique du projecteur (...) consiste à mettre en lumière un petit fragment d’un vaste ensemble et à laisser dans l’ombre tout ce qui serait susceptible de l’expliquer, de l’intégrer dans un tout et de fournir un contrepoint à ce qui est isolé de la sorte. Si bien qu’on dit apparemment la vérité, car les choses qu’on affirme sont indéniables, alors qu’en réalité on fausse tout, car la vérité requiert toute la vérité et le rapport exact de ses parties. Le public ne cesse de se laisser prendre à ces artifices, surtout dans les temps troublés”.

(J. E. Soice, dos seus cadernos secretos)
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Friday, November 30, 2012

Oisive jeunesse

Oisive jeunesse
à tout asservie
par délicatesse
j’ai perdu ma vie.


J’ai passé ma vie à dire non à beaucoup de choses. Maintes fois des situations où j’avais envie de m’engager, et qui auraient peut-être bouleversé mon existence, je les ai, par crainte de conséquences imprévues, par scrupule ou respect de codes de conduite que je trouvais pourtant contestables, évitées. C’est pour cette raison que j’ai souvent vécu seul sans en avoir vraiment envie. Ça ne m’aide en rien de le regretter.

(Joseph Edward Soice)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Erik Satie: Sarabande #3 (Reinbert de Leeuw) and Rilke

R. M. Rilke: First Elegy of Duino

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels'
hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me
suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed
in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.
And so I hold myself back and swallow the call-note
of my dark sobbing. Ah, whom can we ever turn to
in our need? Not angels, not humans,
and already the knowing animals are aware
that we are not really at home in
our interpreted world. Perhaps there remains for us
some tree on a hillside, which every day we can take
into our vision; there remains for us yesterday's street
and the loyalty of a habit so much at ease
when it stayed with us that it moved in and never left.
Oh and night: there is night, when a wind full of infinite
space gnaws at our faces. Whom would it not remain for - that
longed-after, mildly disillusioning presence, which the solitary heart
so painfully meets. Is it any less difficult for lovers?
But they keep on using each other to hide their own fate.
Don't you know yet? Fling the emptiness out of your arms
into the spaces we breathe; perhaps the birds
will feel the expanded air with more passionate flying.

Yes - the springtimes needed you. Often a star
was waiting for you to notice it. A wave rolled toward you
out of the distant past, or as you walked
under an open window, a violin
yielded itself to your hearing. All this was mission.
But could you accomplish it? Weren't you always
distracted by expectation, as if every event
announced a beloved? (Where can you find a place
to keep her, with all the huge strange thoughts inside you
going and coming and often staying all night.)
But when you feel longing, sing of women in love;
for their famous passion is still not immortal. Sing
of women abandoned and desolate (you envy them, almost)
who could love so much more purely than those who were gratified.
Begin again and again the never-attainable praising;
remember: the hero lives on; even his downfall was
merely a pretext for achieving his final birth.
But Nature, spent and exhausted, takes lovers back
into herself, as if there were not enough strength
to create them a second time. Have you imagined
Gaspara Stampa intensely enough so that any girl
deserted by her beloved might be inspired
by that fierce example of soaring, objectless love
and might say to herself, "Perhaps I can be like her"?
Shouldn't this most ancient of sufferings finally grow
more fruitful for us? Isn't it time that we lovingly
freed ourselves from the beloved and, quivering, endured:
as the arrow endures the bowstring's tension, so that
gathered in the snap of release it can be more than
itself. For there is no place where we can remain.

Voices. Voices. Listen, my heart, as only
saints have listened: until the gigantic call lifted them
off the ground; yet they kept on, impossibly,
kneeling and didn't notice at all:
so complete was their listening. Not that you could endure
God's voice -far from it. But listen to the voice of the wind
and the ceaseless message that forms itself out of silence.
It is murmuring toward you now from those who died young.
Didn't their fate, whenever you stepped into a church
in Naples or Rome, quietly come to address you?
Or high up, some eulogy entrusted you with a mission,
as, last year, on the plaque in Santa Maria Formosa.
What they want of me is that I gently remove the appearance
of injustice about their death - which at times
slightly hinders their souls from proceeding onward.
Of course, it is strange to inhabit the earth no longer,
to give up customs one barely had time to learn,
not to see roses and other promising Things
in terms of a human future; no longer to be
what one was in infinitely anxious hands; to leave
even one's own first name behind, forgetting it
as easily as a child abandons a broken toy.
Strange to no longer desire one's desires. Strange
to see meanings that clung together once, floating away
in every direction. And being dead is hard work
and full of retrieval before one can gradually feel
a trace of eternity. -Though the living are wrong to believe
in the too-sharp distinctions which they themselves have created.
Angels (they say) don't know whether it is the living
they are moving among, or the dead. The eternal torrent
whirls all ages along in it, through both realms
forever, and their voices are drowned out in its thunderous roar.

In the end, those who were carried off early no longer need us:
they are weaned from earth's sorrows and joys, as gently as children
outgrow the soft breasts of their mothers. But we, who do need
such great mysteries, we for whom grief is so often
the source of our spirit's growth-: could we exist without them?
Is the legend meaningless that tells how, in the lament for Linus,
the daring first notes of song pierced through the barren numbness;
and then in the startled space which a youth as lovely as a god
had suddenly left forever, the Void felt for the first time
that harmony which now enraptures and comforts and helps us.

(Translation: Stephen Mitchell)

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

R. M. Rilke: A god can do it

A god can do it. But will you tell me how
a man can penetrate through the lyre’s strings?
Our mind is split. And at the shadowed crossing
of heart-roads there is no temple for Apollo.

Song, as you have taught it, is not desire,
not wooing any grace that can be achieved;
song is reality. Simple, for a god.
But when can we be real? When does he pour

the earth, the stars, into us? Young man,
it is not your loving, even if your mouth
was forced wide open by your own voice – learn

to forget that passionate music. It will end.
True singing is a different breath, about
nothing. A gust inside the god. A wind.

— Rainer Maria Rilke (1923), trans. Stephen Mitchell (1989)

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Consuela a un Celoso


Amor empieza por desasosiego,

solicitud, ardores y desvelos;

crece con riesgos, lances y recelos;

susténtase de llantos y de ruego.

Doctrínanle tibiezas y despego,

conserva el ser entre engañosos velos,

hasta que con agravios o con celos

apaga con sus lágrimas su fuego.

Su principio, su medio y fin es éste:

¿pues por qué, Alcino, sientes el desvío

de Celia, que otro tiempo bien te quiso?

¿Qué razón hay de que dolor te cueste?

Pues no te engañó amor, Alcino mío,

sino que llegó el término preciso.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

About death

M. - Maybe we are ware of it. Maybe we are not aware of it.
W. – What are you talking about?
M. – I am talking about death. It’s there, waiting for us. Our own death. Not death as an intangible concept. Death as something that will take place in our own life.
W. – Death sure is waiting for us. And so what? Nothing new.
M. – And so what? We keep wasting the opportunities of having a better life. We will never learn.
W. – You will never stop being an irredeemable romantic.
M. – There is no romanticism in my analysis of the situation.
W. – Can we change our lives just because we know that we are going to die?
M. – We can, but we will not. That’s what should bother me.
W. – Are you still talking about love?
M. – Is there anything else worth to be taken in consideration?
W. – And you think you are not in a romantic mood. 
M. – I wish I were always in what you call a romantic mood. But it only happens after I had a good dinner and drank two or three glasses of wine.
W. – We had a good diner, didn’t we? Enjoy it. Don’t bother thinking about death.
M. – Don’t you feel that we are too easily satisfied with what we got? Why don’t you leave everything you have, your forever-comfortable life, and come with me?
W. – Ha ha. You are so funny. Heading where? Where would you take me?
M. – I wish I knew.
W. - When we know in advance where we are going the journey stops being exciting? Is that what you mean?
M. – I don’t know what I mean, darling. I don’t even know what I would do with you if you suddenly changed your mind and out of curiosity or love for me wanted me to take you.
W. – How funny. Is it what you want? You aim at making me unhappy?
M. – How would I know? You have to try first and then see what happens. Unhappiness for the moment is just a word. And we fear words. We shouldn’t. Words always make things more or less interesting than they really are.
W. – Now I am waiting for you to say that you love me. I have been waiting for a while but nothing comes.
M. – Maybe I would love you. I don’t know.
W. – You are always so ignorant in what concerns your own feelings. If you don’t commit how can you expect the person you are wooing to commit?
M. – Forgive me. When I drink I start talking nonsense. Let’s go. Your husband may be waiting for us. 

Os anjos

A essência dos anjos. Eles riem,
mas discretamente: como uma
sombra no jardim onde vivem
as densas árvores. Quem os
ouve? Nós, a quem pesa o
corpo e a quem a alma inspira
dúvidas e atormenta? E
invejamos a sua condição:
são-lhes poupadas a idade
e  a lenta decadência dos
movimentos, a frouxidão
do pensamento. Depois dos
anos em que, como se fôssemos
imortais, nos alegrámos
com a incomparável beleza
do mundo, o seu esplendor.
Tudo, nesse tempo inocente,
parecia ter sido criado para
festejar a nossa humana glória,
para desafiar a temível força
dos nossos braços e das nossas
pernas. Não éramos deuses?

Os anjos: um ideal. A maldade da
ambição é-lhes desconhecida. E a
crueldade da vitória. Eles não
necessitam de mentir, de espezinhar.
Nem de cuspir com desdém no rosto
dos inimigos. Protege-os da inveja e
do ódio uma barreira invisível. Nesse
espaço para além do espaço, puros,
despreocupados, eles sorriem e às
vezes, suavemente, riem. Vêem-nos?
Mas nós não os vemos. Imaginamos
a sua face imaterial para nos consolarmos
da nossa invencível, tão pesada
irrealidade? Ela envolve-nos nas
suas promessas de eternidade.
Quem tem certezas e a ciência
suficiente para, tendo chegado
a entender, explicar o que se
passa? Os anjos: nós, como
queríamos ser. Eles não existem,
provavelmente. Ou somos nós
que não passamos de um sonho
dos deuses que também não
existem, embora nas praças
antigas das cidades destruídas,
mutiladas, as suas estátuas nos
façam crer que eles são, desde
os séculos mais antigos, parte
irrecusável do nosso destino. Se
eles falassem, anjos ou deuses,
e nos revelassem as palavras que,
pronunciadas ou secretamente
balbuciadas, encheram de sentido
as vidas antigas, a dos filósofos
e a  dos músicos, a dos homens
e a das mulheres de quem
ninguém conservou a memória,
que provavelmente ninguém
amou nem fez estremecer. Os
anjos e os deuses são parte do
nosso destino. Por isso nós os
evocamos e  de noite, em estações
dominadas por todos os excessos,
eles nos visitam, para nos atormentar
com a sua perfeição ou, vendo-nos
duvidar,  nos pôr a mão pacificadora
no ombro. Mortais, só pressentimos a
intemporal essência dos anjos porque
nos foi concedida a capacidade de
comparar. Imaginar uma sublime
existência está ao nosso alcance.

Olham-nos com atenta admiração os
cães e provavelmente estremecem
diante do nosso poder outros animais.
Nos olhos deles descortinamos um
espanto semelhante àquele com
que, na nossa ambiciosa modéstia,
nos fixamos na figura exemplar e
invejada dos anjos. A eles, aos animais,
não lhes pesa não serem senão parte
insignificante da nossa existência?
Não os ofende não poderem sentar-se
à mesa connosco e partilhar, entre risos
e no calor das confidências, a carne e o
peixe, o vinho e as laranjas? Aos olhos
deles a nossa existência está cheia de
privilégios imerecidos. E eles assistem,
irritados mas silenciosos, às nossa
queixas. Porque não nos aperfeiçoamos
a entender o Ser em si mesmo, nas suas
múltiplas, imprevistas manifestações?
Aspiramos à sublime transparência
dos anjos, à perfeição sem lacunas
dos deuses, à irrealidade. Com que direito,
se desperdiçar todas as oportunidades é
a nossa vocação mais evidente? Os
animais  olham-nos com a intensidade
com que nos olham as pessoas. Mas
nós recusamos-lhes a capacidade de
sentir e de entender. Tamanha é a nossa
arrogância. Os anjos, se nos falassem,
não teriam razão de queixa da nossa
soberba, nada diriam da nossa cegueira
e da nossa pressa? Mas os anjos não se
queixam, os anjos não falam. Ou não
chega aos nossos ouvidos exacerbados
pelos ruídos da cansativa luta pela
existência o som, a música da sua voz.
Porque para ouvir é necessário estar
atento. E distrai-nos do que acontece
à nossa volta, dos convites do Ser a
aceder a outra realidade, a algazarra
das metas a perseguir, das corridas a
ganhar. Nós, tantas vezes vitoriosos
dos despiques insensatos por um
triunfo, tantas vezes abatidos pelas
aparentes derrotas da ambição. Se
aprendêssemos a ver e a ouvir, se
não nos cansasse a ilusória
monotonia com que se sucedem as
estações na sua fiel regularidade. Se
aprendêssemos, antes de morrer, a viver. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Rilke: Lament

Whom will you cry to, heart? More and more lonely,
your path struggles on through incomprehensible
mankind. All the more futile perhaps
for keeping to its direction,
keeping on toward the future,
toward what has been lost.

Once. You lamented? What was it? A fallen berry
of jubilation, unripe.
But now the whole tree of my jubilation
is breaking, in the storm it is breaking, my slow
tree of joy.
Loveliest in my invisible
landscape, you that made me more known
to the invisible angels.

Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Youth is pure

"Now allow me, though you have not requested it, to give you frankly some thoughts and impressions that have occurred to my mind while perusing your extremely candid 'autobiography.' Yes, I agree with Andrey Petrovitch, that one might well feel anxiety about you and your SOLITARY YOUTH. And there are more than a few lads like you, and there really is always a danger of their talents leading them astray, either into secret sensuality, or a latent desire for lawlessness. But this thirst for lawlessness proceeds most frequently, perhaps, from a latent craving for discipline and 'seemliness'--(I am using your own words). Youth is pure, just because it is youth. Perhaps in these precocious impulses of madness, there lie concealed a craving for discipline and a search for truth, and whose fault is it that some young people of to-day see that truth and that discipline in such stupid and ridiculous things, that one cannot imagine how they can believe in them! I may mention, by the way, that in the recent past, a generation ago at most, such interesting lads were not so much to be pitied, for in those days they almost always ended by successfully attaching themselves to our most highly cultivated class and merging into it and even if they did at the onset recognise their own lack of order and consistency, the lack of nobility even in their family surroundings, the lack of an ancestral tradition, and of fine finished forms of social life, it was a gain for them, for they consciously strove towards all this and thereby learned to prize it. Nowadays the position is somewhat different, for there is scarcely anything the young can attach themselves to. 

(Part III, Chapter 13/3)
A Raw Youth
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky
(Translator: Constance Garnett)
Published: 1875

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dostoevsky: "Did you ever love me or was I mistaken?"

They were sitting facing one another at the table at which we had yesterday drunk to his "resurrection." I got a good view of their faces. She was wearing a simple black dress, and was as beautiful and apparently calm as always. He was speaking; she was listening with intense and sympathetic attention. Perhaps there was some trace of timidity in her, too. He was terribly excited. I had come in the middle of their conversation, and so for some time I could make nothing of it. I remember she suddenly asked:

"And I was the cause?"

"No, I was the cause," he answered; "and you were only innocently guilty. You know that there are the innocently guilty. Those are generally the most unpardonable crimes, and they almost always bring their punishment," he added, laughing strangely. "And I actually thought for a moment that I had forgotten you and could laugh at my stupid passion … but you know that. What is he to me, though, that man you're going to marry? Yesterday I made you an offer, forgive me for it; it was absurd and yet I had no alternative but that… . What could I have done but that absurd thing? I don't know… ."

As he said this, he laughed hopelessly, suddenly lifting his eyes to her; till then he had looked away as he talked. If I had been in her place, I should have been frightened at that laugh, I felt that. He suddenly got up from his chair.

"Tell me, how could you consent to come here?" he asked suddenly, as though remembering the real point. "My invitation and my whole letter was absurd… . Stay, I can quite imagine how it came to pass that you consented to come, but—why did you come? that's the question. Can you have come simply from fear?"

"I came to see you," she said, looking at him with timid caution. Both were silent for half a minute. Versilov sank back in his chair, and in a voice soft but almost trembling and full of intense feeling began:

"It's so terribly long since I've seen you, Katerina Nikolaevna, so long that I scarcely thought it possible I should ever be sitting beside you again as I now am, looking into your face and listening to your voice… . For two years we've not seen each other, for two years we've not talked. I never thought to speak to you again. But so be it, what is past is past, and what is will vanish like smoke to-morrow—so be it! I assent because there is no alternative again, but don't let your coming be in vain," he added suddenly, almost imploringly; "since you have shown me this charity and have come, don't let it be in vain; answer me one question!"

"What question?"

"You know we shall never see each other again, and what is it to you? Tell me the truth for once, and answer me one question which sensible people never ask. Did you ever love me, or was I … mistaken?"

She flushed crimson.

"I did love you," she brought out.

I expected she would say that. Oh, always truthful, always sincere, always honest!

"And now?" he went on.

"I don't love you now."

"And you are laughing?"

"No, I laughed just now by accident, because I knew you would ask, 'And now.' And I smiled at that, because when one guesses right one always does smile… ."

It seemed quite strange to me; I had never seen her so much on her guard, almost timid, indeed, and embarrassed.

His eyes devoured her.

"I know that you don't love me … and—you don't love me at all?"

"Perhaps not at all. I don't love you," she added firmly, without smiling or flushing. "Yes, I did love you, but not for long. I very soon got over it."

"I know, I know, you saw that it was not what you wanted, but … what do you want? Explain that once more… ."

"Have I ever explained that to you? What do I want? Why, I'm the most ordinary woman; I'm a peaceful person. I like … I like cheerful people."


"You see, I don't know even how to talk to you. I believe that if you could have loved me less, I should have loved you then," she smiled timidly again. The most absolute sincerity was transparent in her answer; and was it possible she did not realise that her answer was the most final summing up of their relations, explaining everything. Oh, how well he must have understood that! But he looked at her and smiled strangely.

"Is Büring a cheerful person?" he went on, questioning her.

"He ought not to trouble you at all," she answered with some haste. "I'm marrying him simply because with him I shall be most at peace. My whole heart remains in my own keeping."

"They say that you have grown fond of society, of the fashionable world again?"

"Not fond of it. I know that there is just the same disorderliness in good society as everywhere else; but the outer forms are still attractive, so that if one lives only to pass the time, one can do it better there than anywhere."

"I've often heard the word 'disorderliness' of late; you used to be afraid of my disorderliness, too—chains, ideas, and imbecilities!"

"No, it was not quite that… ."

"What then, for God's sake tell me all, frankly."

"Well, I'll tell you frankly, for I look on you as a man of great intellect… . I always felt there was something ridiculous about you." When she had said this she suddenly flushed crimson, as though she feared she had said something fearfully indiscreet.

"For what you have just said I can forgive you a great deal," he commented strangely.

"I hadn't finished," she said hurriedly, still flushing. "It's I who am ridiculous to talk to you like a fool."

"No, you are not ridiculous, you are only a depraved, worldly woman," he said, turning horribly white. "I did not finish either, when I asked you why you had come. Would you like me to finish? There is a document, a letter in existence, and you're awfully afraid of it, because if that letter comes into your father's hands, he may curse you, and cut you out of his will. You're afraid of that letter, and you've come for that letter," he brought out. He was shaking all over, and his teeth were almost chattering. She listened to him with a despondent and pained expression of face.

"I know that you can do all sorts of things to harm me," she said, as if warding off his words, "but I have come not so much to persuade you not to persecute me, as to see you yourself. I've been wanting to meet you very much for a long time. But I find you just the same as ever," she added suddenly, as though carried away by a special and striking thought, and even by some strange sudden emotion.

"Did you hope to see me different, after my letter about your depravity? Tell me, did you come here without any fear?"

"I came because I once loved you; but do you know, I beg you not to threaten me, please, with anything. While we are now together, don't remind me of my evil thoughts and feelings. If you could talk to me of something else I should be very glad. Let threats come afterwards; but it should be different now… . I came really to see you for a minute and to hear you. Oh, well, if you can't help it, kill me straight off, only don't threaten me and don't torture yourself before me," she concluded, looking at him in strange expectation, as though she really thought he might kill her. He got up from his seat again, and looking at her with glowing eyes, said resolutely:

"While you are here you will suffer not the slightest annoyance."

"Oh yes, your word of honour," she said, smiling.

"No, not only because I gave my word of honour in my letter, but because I want to think of you all night… ."

"To torture yourself?"

"I picture you in my mind whenever I'm alone. I do nothing but talk to you. I go into some squalid, dirty hole, and as a contrast you appear to me at once. But you always laugh at me as you do now… ." He said this as though he were beside himself… .

"I have never laughed at you, never!" she exclaimed in a voice full of feeling, and with a look of the greatest compassion in her face. "In coming here I tried my utmost to do it so that you should have no reason to be mortified," she added suddenly. "I came here to tell you that I almost love you… . Forgive me, perhaps I used the wrong words," she went on hurriedly.

He laughed.

"How is it you cannot dissemble? Why is it you are such a simple creature? Why is it you're not like all the rest? … Why, how can you tell a man you are turning away that you 'almost love him'?"

"It's only that I could not express myself," she put in hurriedly. "I used the wrong words; it's because I've always felt abashed and unable to talk to you from the first time I met you, and if I used the wrong words, saying that I almost love you, in my thought it was almost so—so that's why I said so, though I love you with that … well, with that GENERAL love with which one loves every one and which one is never ashamed to own… ."

He listened in silence, fixing his glowing eyes upon her.

"I am offending you, of course," he went on, as though beside himself. "This must really be what they call passion… . All I know is that in your presence I am done for, in your absence, too. It's just the same whether you are there or not, wherever you may be you are always before me. I know, too, that I can hate you intensely, more than I can love you. But I've long given up thinking about anything now—it's all the same to me. I am only sorry I should love a woman like you."

His voice broke; he went on, as it were, gasping for breath.

"What is it to you? You think it wild of me to talk like that!" He smiled a pale smile. "I believe, if only that would charm you, I would be ready to stand for thirty years like a post on one leg… . I see you are sorry for me; your face says 'I would love you if I could but I can't… .' Yes? Never mind, I've no pride. I'm ready to take any charity from you like a beggar—do you hear, any … a beggar has no pride."

She got up and went to him. "Dear friend," she said, with inexpressible feeling in her face, touching his shoulder with her hand, "I can't hear you talk like that! I shall think of you all my life as some one most precious, great-hearted, as some thing most sacred of all that I respect and Love. Andrey Petrovitch, understand what I say. Why, it's not for nothing I've come here now, dear friend … dear to me then and now: I shall never forget how deeply you stirred my mind when first we met. Let us part as friends, and you will be for me the most earnest and dearest thought in my whole life."

"Let us part and then I will love you; I will love you—only let us part. Listen," he brought out, perfectly white, "grant me one charity more: don't love me, don't live with me, let us never meet; I will be your slave if you summon me, and I will vanish at once if you don't want to see me, or hear me, only … ONLY DON'T MARRY ANYONE!"

It sent a pang to my heart to hear those words. That naïvely humiliating entreaty was the more pitiful, the more heartrending for being so flagrant and impossible. Yes, indeed, he was asking charity! Could he imagine she would consent? Yet he had humbled himself to put it to the test; he had tried entreating her! This depth of spiritual degradation was insufferable to watch. Every feature in her face seemed suddenly distorted with pain, but before she had time to utter a word, he suddenly realised what he had done.

"I will STRANGLE you," he said suddenly, in a strange distorted voice unlike his own.

But she answered him strangely, too, and she, too, spoke in a different voice, unlike her own.

"If I granted you charity," she said with sudden firmness, "you would punish me for it afterwards worse than you threaten me now, for you would never forget that you stood before me as a beggar… . I can't listen to threats from you!" she added, looking at him with indignation, almost defiance.

"'Threats from you,' you mean—from such a beggar. I was joking," he said softly, smiling. "I won't touch you, don't be afraid, go away … and I'll do my utmost to send you that letter—only go; go! I wrote you a stupid letter, and you answered my stupid letter in kind by coming; we are quits. This is your way." He pointed towards the door. (She was moving towards the room in which I was standing behind the curtain.)

"Forgive me if you can," she said, stopping in the doorway.

"What if we meet some day quite friends and recall this scene with laughter?" he said suddenly, but his face was quivering all over like the face of a man in convulsions.

"Oh, God grant we may!" she cried, clasping her hands, though she watched his face timidly, as though trying to guess what he meant.

"Go along. Much sense we have, the pair of us, but you… . Oh, you are one of my own kind! I wrote you a mad letter, and you agreed to come to tell me that 'you almost love me.' Yes, we are possessed by the same madness! Be always as mad, don't change, and we shall meet as friends—that I predict, that I swear!"

"And then I shall certainly love you, for I feel that even now!" The woman in her could not resist flinging those last words to him from the doorway.

She went out. With noiseless haste I went into the kitchen, and scarcely glancing at Darya Onisimovna, who was waiting for me, I went down the back staircase and across the yard into the street, but I had only time to see her get into the sledge that was waiting for her at the steps. I ran down the street.

(Part III, Chapter 10/4)
A Raw Youth
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky
(Translator: Constance Garnett)
Published: 1875

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Love's Deity

"To rage, to lust, to write to, to commend,
All is the purlieu of the god of Love.
Oh were we wakened by this tyranny
To ungod this child again, it could not be
I should love her, who loves not me."

John Donne

Vrai ou faux ?

1. On ne sait jamais ce que vaut la parole d’une autre personne. Savons-nous quel crédit attacher à la nôtre? C’est pourquoi les relations humaines ne sont jamais sans danger. Et il y a une certaine ressemblance avec le jeu : si on parie fort, le risque de perdre fort vient avec. Mais petit à petit on fait confiance (comme dans les banques? lorsqu’on a une histoire de crédit respectable?). Autrement, comment vivre (comment en profiter)?

2. Si on croit aux paroles de l'insensé on risque notre santé morale. Mais les paroles de l'insensé sont pleines de charme, comment leur résister?

P. S. 1 - L'insensé(e) répond: si tu avais la foi, si tu étais croyant, mes paroles t'ouvriraient la voie vers une vie nouvelle et ne te sembleraient pas si insensées; mais tu manques de foi, malheureux, et à cause de ça tu es condamné à vivre une vie misérable où la vraie passion ne te touchera jamais !

P. S. 2 - Le Facebook boy répond: jaja jaja jaja ...

John Donne: The Expiration

SO, so, break off this last lamenting kiss,
    Which sucks two souls, and vapours both away ;
Turn, thou ghost, that way, and let me turn this,
    And let ourselves benight our happiest day.
We ask none leave to love ; nor will we owe
    Any so cheap a death as saying, "Go."

Go ; and if that word have not quite killed thee,
    Ease me with death, by bidding me go too.
Or, if it have, let my word work on me,
    And a just office on a murderer do.
Except it be too late, to kill me so,
    Being double dead, going, and bidding, "Go." 

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Amália Rodrigues: Fado do Ciúme

Constructions mentales

Dans notre imaginaire ou notre esprit il n’y a pas beaucoup de différence entre une personne réelle et un personnage de fiction. Nous construisons l’un et l’autre à l’aide des mêmes procédés et outils: nous mettons ensemble des visages et des corps, des paroles prononcées ou dissimulées, des gestes, des comportements. Puis nous ajoutons et nous enlevons, nous doutons et nous complétons, nous nous trompons et nous corrigeons, etc., ça n’arrête pas. C’est de cette existence-là, irréelle et certainement trompeuse ou erronée, que nous-mêmes « vivons » dans l’imaginaire des autres. 

Nous sommes tous des personnages de fiction: de la fiction des autres et de notre propre fiction sur nous-mêmes. Mais il faut quand même prendre le personnage de fiction au sérieux et le considérer un personnage appartenant au réel, autrement le vide absolu aurait raison de nous.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

About talking

You wouldn't dare to talk if you didn't believe that someone - or just the person you are talking to- will understand what you say. Does that confirm Wittgenstein's concept of language-games? It applies to poetry as well. But do we take in consideration the fact that what we say may be misunderstood? Not really, I guess.

And from another perspective: do we understand what we are doing when we are talking?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

ErikSatie: Les fils des étoiles - Acte I

Get rid of it

Facebook is a little bit like God or a God's kind of substitute: you think that there is always someone there paying attention to you, interested in what you say, caring about you, loving you. Wouldn't that be a good reason to get rid of it?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Leopardi: A Silvia

Silvia, rimembri ancora
quel tempo della tua vita mortale,
quando beltà splendea
negli occhi tuoi ridenti e fuggitivi,
e tu, lieta e pensosa, il limitare
di gioventù salivi?

Sonavan le quiete
stanze, e le vie d'intorno,
al tuo perpetuo canto,
allor che all'opre femminili intenta
sedevi, assai contenta
di quel vago avvenir che in mente avevi.
Era il maggio odoroso: e tu solevi
così menare il giorno.

Io gli studi leggiadri
talor lasciando e le sudate carte,
ove il tempo mio primo
e di me si spendea la miglior parte,
d’in su i veroni del paterno ostello
porgea gli orecchi al suon della tua voce,
ed alla man veloce
che percorrea la faticosa tela.
Mirava il ciel sereno,
le vie dorate e gli orti,
e quinci il mar da lungi, e quindi il monte.
Lingua mortal non dice
quel ch’io sentiva in seno.

Che pensieri soavi,
che speranze, che cori, o Silvia mia!
Quale allor ci apparia
la vita umana e il fato!
Quando sovviemmi di cotanta speme,
un affetto mi preme
acerbo e sconsolato,
e tornami a doler di mia sventura.
O natura, o natura,
perché non rendi poi
quel che prometti allor? perché di tanto
inganni i figli tuoi?

Tu pria che l’erbe inaridisse il verno,
da chiuso morbo combattuta e vinta,
perivi, o tenerella. E non vedevi
il fior degli anni tuoi;
non ti molceva il core
la dolce lode or delle negre chiome,
or degli sguardi innamorati e schivi;
né teco le compagne ai dì festivi
ragionavan d’amore.

Anche perìa fra poco
la speranza mia dolce: agli anni miei
anche negaro i fati
la giovinezza. Ahi come,
come passata sei,
cara compagna dell’età mia nova,
mia lacrimata speme!
Questo è il mondo? questi
i diletti, l’amor, l’opre, gli eventi,
onde cotanto ragionammo insieme?
questa la sorte delle umane genti?
All’apparir del vero
tu, misera, cadesti: e con la mano
la fredda morte ed una tomba ignuda
mostravi di lontano. 

Souvenirs des morts

Les villes sont les tombeaux
secrets de nos passions. On
y revient plus tard pour retrouver
notre passé et des larmes soudain
nous coulent sur la face. Où sont
celles que nous avons aimées,
tant aimées ? Elles sourient
encore, assises avec nous à
une table du Grillon. Elles nous
attendent, impatientes, au coin
d’une rue, pour aller au marché
faire des courses. Les maisons
sont là aussi : celle où est né
le premier enfant, celle où est
né le second enfant. Ils ont
grandi, ils habitent maintenant
dans un autre pays ; mais un jour
ils reviendront eux aussi, envahis
par des pensées mélancoliques,
chercher les lieux de leur enfance
à jamais perdue. Les murs, si on
les interrogeait, nous ramèneraient,
bienveillants, de retour aux matins
lumineux, aux après-midi chauds
dans le parc en haut de la colline,
aux soirées bruyantes de la vie en
famille. Mais nous n’interrogeons
pas. Pour oublier, nous marchons
dans les rues étroites jusqu’à
la fatigue, fermant les yeux
de l’esprit à tout ce qui peut
encore réveiller les émotions.

Une fenêtre d’hôtel nous rend
présente pendant quelques
secondes la fille américaine que
nous avons aimée, elle aussi,
avant de la perdre pour toujours.
Une fois, à Paris, nous avons erré
ensemble pendant la nuit aux
bords de la Seine, l’amour et le
désir nous brulaient le corps.
Elle vit maintenant dans un autre
continent, elle est heureuse. Mais
elle se souvient, elle n’a pas
oublié elle non plus, je le sais.

Près d’une place, à côté de la vieille
poste, les volets d’une chambre
d’étudiante où nous avons embrassé
et puis aimé tendrement la jeune fille
allemande dont le petit ami, son premier
amour, était à l’armé. Elle jouait du violon,
je m’en souviens. Où est-elle maintenant ? Et
son petit ami, le mécano, qu’est-il devenu ?

Partout les pierres dorées, les
fenêtres des maisons, les fontaines
d’où coule sans cesse une eau
limpide, les platanes et même le
pavement du Cours Mirabeau
sont pleins de souvenirs. Et
nous, qui sommes venus en
visite, arrivons au soir le cœur
rempli de tristesse, regrettant
les morts et la disparition de
ceux que nous avons aimés et qui
nous ont aimés. Et notre cœur,
attendri, se déchire de nostalgie.

Et les morts nous visitent encore
dans le rêve quand, enfin épuisés par
tant d’émotions, nous nous endormons,
inquiets, dans la petite chambre de
la Rue Vendôme, près des Thermes.

A poesia, ah!

Para escrever um poema juntei algumas palavras.
Um poema não passa disso: algumas palavras.
O problema, evidentemente, é o estilo. O que
seria um poema sem o estilo em que ele vê a
luz do dia? Nada. Parece simples. Mas não é
simples: o estilo é a dimensão metafísica do
poema. Não é necessário saber o que é o
estilo nem aspirar a ter estilo para ter estilo. 
O estilo é como a morte: não é possível
escapar-lhe. Olhei para as palavras do poema
e perguntei-me: em que traje de morto é que,
sem pensar nisso, fiz entrar o meu corpo?
Insensíveis aos detalhes da minha metafísica,
que pensariam das minhas palavras e da maneira
como as juntei os especialistas da poesia? Desin-
teressei-me da resposta. À gente do convento o
que pertence ao convento. À gente da corte os
trajes da corte. E fui dar uma volta de bicicleta.

Amour et connaissance

Il ya des gens qui souffrent à cause de l'amour. Mais pour moi l'amour a toujours été surtout une source de connaissance: il m'oblige à réfléchir.

La connaissance elle même peut provoquer la souffrance, bien entendu, car dans ce qu'on apprend sur soi-même et sur les autres tout n'est pas beau ou bon à voir ou à savoir.

L'amour et l'argent (une garantie)

Elle m’a dit: je t’aime. Je lui ai dit : donne-moi cinq cent dollars. Elle a dit : tu es fou ! pourquoi devrais-je te donner cinq cents dollars ? Je lui ai dit : c’est une garantie ; au cas où tu découvrirais plus tard que tu ne m’aimes pas, je garde les cinq cents dollars. Elle a rigolé : c’est une plaisanterie ! Mais non, ai-je répondu, je parle sérieusement. 
Écoute un peu, ai-je continué : les mots ne valent pas grand chose, on peut dire n’importe quoi et ça n’a pas de conséquences; mais on peut faire des mots qui en soi ne valent rien quelque chose qui a de la valeur, une valeur effective et pas seulement une valeur symbolique ; je t’aime, donne-moi les cinq cents dollars, nous serons heureux, je te promets. Elle restait bouche bée. J'ai continué: en plus, cinq cent dollars c'est une petite somme symbolique, ce n'est rien comparé au risque que je prends en croyant, sans preuves, que tu m'aimes.

Elle est restée silencieuse, me regardant sans savoir si je parlais sérieusement ou si je me moquais d’elle. J’ai insisté : alors, ces cinq cent dollars, tu les as, tu me les donnes ou quoi? Et j’ai ajouté : je te promets que je te les rendrai dans un an, au cas, évidemment, où tu m’auras suffisamment prouvé que tu m’aimes vraiment et que ce que tu dis en ce moment n’est pas seulement du bla bla bla romantique et poétique. Elle m’a regardé avec mépris, m’a tourné le dos (un joli dos, bronzé des dernières vacances à la plage) et elle est partie, dégoûtée. Ce qui, naturellement, m’a bien fait rigoler.

Ou bien on met de l’ordre dans notre vie sentimentale ou on ne quittera jamais l’état de sauvagerie dans lequel nous vivons actuellement en société.

The pleasure of the pain

My life was so boring that I started to think about falling in love with a girl that could not love me just for the pleasure of the pain.

Beethoven: Kreutzer Sonata (1/3)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rilke: Fear of the Inexplicable

But fear of the inexplicable has not alone impoverished
the existence of the individual; the relationship between
one human being and another has also been cramped by it,
as though it had been lifted out of the riverbed of
endless possibilities and set down in a fallow spot on the
bank, to which nothing happens. For it is not inertia alone
that is responsible for human relationships repeating
themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and
unrenewed: it is shyness before any sort of new,unforeseeable
experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope.

But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes
nothing, not even the most enigmatical, will live the relation
to another as something alive and will himself draw exhaustively
from his own existence. For if we think of this existence of
the individual as a larger or smaller room, it appears evident
that most people learn to know only a corner of their room, a
place by the window, a strip of floor on which they walk up and
down. Thus they have a certain security. And yet that dangerous
insecurity is so much more human which drives the prisoners in
Poe's stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons
and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their abode.

We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares are set about
us, and there is nothing which should intimidate or worry us.
We are set down in life as in the element to which we best
correspond, and over and above this we have through thousands of
years of accommodation become so like this life, that when we
hold still we are, through a happy mimicry,scarcely to be
distinguished from all that surrounds us. We have no reason to
mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors,
they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abuses belong to us;
are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we
arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us
that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now
still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust
and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those
ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into
princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses
who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps
everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless
that wants help from us. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"To be silent is good, safe and picturesque" (Dostoevsky)

"Whom no one will know of."
"'There is nothing hidden that shall not be made manifest.'"
"You're certainly laughing."
"Well, if you take it so to heart you'd better try as soon as possible to specialize, take up architecture or the law, and then when you're busy with serious work you'll be more settled in your mind and forget trifles."
I was silent. What could I gather from this? And yet, after every such conversation I was more troubled than before. Moreover I saw clearly that there always remained in him, as it were, something secret, and that drew me to him more and more.
"Listen," I said, interrupting him one day, "I always suspect that you say all this only out of bitterness and suffering, but that secretly you are a fanatic over some idea, and are only concealing it, or ashamed to admit it."
"Thank you, my dear."
"Listen, nothing's better than being useful. Tell me how, at the present moment, I can be most of use. I know it's not for you to decide that, but I'm only asking for your opinion. You tell me, and what you say I swear I'll do! Well, what is the great thought?"
"Well, to turn stones into bread. That's a great thought."
"The greatest? Yes, really, you have suggested quite a new path. Tell me, is it the greatest?"
"It's very great, my dear boy, very great, but it's not the greatest. It's great but secondary, and only great at the present time. Man will be satisfied and forget; he will say: 'I've eaten it and what am I to do now?' The question will remain open for all time."
"You spoke once of the 'Geneva ideas.' I didn't understand what was meant by the 'Geneva ideas.'"
"The 'Geneva idea' is the idea of virtue without Christ, my boy, the modern idea, or, more correctly, the ideas of all modern civilization. In fact, it's one of those long stories which it's very dull to begin, and it will be a great deal better if we talk of other things, and better still if we're silent about other things."
"You always want to be silent!"
"My dear, remember that to be silent is good, safe, and picturesque."
"Of course. Silence is always picturesque, and the man who is silent always looks nicer than the man who is speaking."
"Why, talking as we do is no better than being silent. Damn such picturesqueness, and still more damn such profitableness."
"My dear," he said suddenly, rather changing his tone, speaking with real feeling and even with a certain insistence, "I don't want to seduce you from your ideals to any sort of bourgeois virtue, I'm not assuring you that 'happiness is better than heroism'; on the contrary 'heroism is finer than any happiness,' and the very capacity for it alone constitutes happiness. That's a settled thing between us. I respect you just for being able in these mawkish days to set up some sort of an 'idea' in your soul (don't be uneasy, I remember perfectly well). But yet one must think of proportion, for now you want to live a resounding life, to set fire to something, to smash something, to rise above everything in Russia, to call up storm-clouds, to throw every one into terror and ecstasy, while you vanish yourself in North America. I've no doubt you've something of that sort in your heart, and so I feel it necessary to warn you, for I really love you, my dear."
What could I gather from that either? There was nothing in it but anxiety for me, for my material prosperity; it betrayed the father with the father's kindly but prosaic feelings. Was this what I wanted by way of an idea for the sake of which any honest father would send his son to face death, as the ancient Roman Horatius sent his sons for the idea of Rome?
I often pressed him on the subject of religion, but there the fog was thicker than ever. When I asked him what to do about that, he answered in the stupidest way, as though to a child:
"You must have faith in God, my dear."
"But what if I don't believe in all that?" I cried irritably once.
"A very good thing, my dear."
"How a good thing?"
"It's a most excellent symptom, dear boy; a most hopeful one, for our atheists in Russia, if only they are really atheists and have some little trace of intelligence, are the best fellows in the whole world, and always disposed to be kind to God, for they're invariably good-humoured, and they're good-humoured because they're immensely pleased at being atheists. Our atheists are respectable people and extremely conscientious, pillars of the fatherland, in fact… ."
This was something, of course, but it was not what I wanted. On one occasion, however, he spoke out, but so strangely that he surprised me more than ever, especially after the stories of Catholicism and penitential chains that I had heard about him.
"Dear boy," he said one day, not in my room, but in the street, when I was seeing him home after a long conversation, "to love people as they are is impossible. And yet we must. And therefore do them good, overcoming your feelings, holding your nose and shutting your eyes (the latter's essential). Endure evil from them as far as may be without anger, 'mindful that you too are a man.' Of course you'll be disposed to be severe with them if it has been vouchsafed to you to be ever so little more intelligent than the average. Men are naturally base and like to love from fear. Don't give in to such love, and never cease to despise it. Somewhere in the Koran Allah bids the prophet look upon the 'froward' as upon mice, do them good, and pass them by—a little haughty, but right. Know how to despise them even when they are good, for most often it is in that they are base. Oh, my dear, it's judging by myself I say that. Anyone who's not quite stupid can't live without despising himself, whether he's honest or dishonest—it makes no difference. To love one's neighbour and not despise him—is impossible. I believe that man has been created physically incapable of loving his neighbour. There has been some mistake in language here from the very first, and 'love for humanity' must be understood as love for that humanity which you have yourself created in your soul (in other words, you have created yourself and your love is for yourself)—and which, therefore, never will be in reality."
"Never will be?"
"My dear boy, I agree that if this were true, it would be stupid, but that's not my fault, and I was not consulted at the creation. I reserve the right to have my own opinion about it."