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."
"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."


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