from The Immoralist
"But you didn't begin by insulting me... Leave all that nonsense to the papers. They seem to be surprised that a man with a certain reputation can still have any virtues at all. They establish distinctions and reserves which I cannot apply to myself, for I exist only as a whole; my only claim is to be natural, and the pleasure I feel in an action, I take as a sign that I ought to do it...
If only the people we know could persuade themselves of the truth of this! But most of them believe that it is only by constraint they can get any good out of themselves, and so they live in a state of psychological distortion. It is his own self that each of them is most afraid of resembling. Each of them sets up a pattern and imitates it; he doesn't even choose the pattern he imitates; he accepts a pattern that has been chosen for him. And yet I verily believe there are other things to be read in man. But people don't dare to -- they don't dare to turn the page. Laws of imitation! Laws of fear, I call them. The fear of finding oneself alone -- that is what they suffer from -- and so they don't find themselves at all. I detest such moral agoraphobia -- the most odious cowardice, I call it. Why, one always has to be alone to invent anything -- but they don't want to invent anything. The part in each of us that we feel is different from other people is just the part that is rare, the part that makes our special value -- an dthat is the very thing people try to suppress. They go on imitating. And yet they think they love life."
"How could the ancient past have answered my present question? ... What can man do more? That is what seemed to me important to know. Is what man has hitherto said all that he could say? Is there nothing in himself he has overlooked? Can he do nothing but repeat himself? ... And every day there grew stronger in me a confused consciousness of untouched treasures somewhere lying covered up, hidden, smothered by culture and decency and morality. It seemed to me then that I had been born to make discoveries of a kind hitherto undreamed of; and I grew strangely and passionately eager in the pursuit of my dark and mysterious researches..."
from Journals 1889 - 1949
Never try to urge yourself on at the moment of writing by either reading or music; or else choose an ancient author and read, with the proper attitude of piety; only a few lines.
The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes. Essential to remain between the two, close to madness when you dream and close to reason when you write.
I also sought in vain that dark cafe where the only habitues were tall Negroes from the Sudan. Some of them had their big toe cut as a sign of slavery. Most of them wore, stuck in their turban, a little sprig of white flowers, of fragrant jasmine, which intoxicates them; it falls along the cheek like a curl of the romantic epoch and gives their face an expression of voluptuous languor. They like the odour of flowers to such an extent that often, not able to smell them strongly enough, they insert the crushed petals in their nostrils. In that cafe one of them would sing, another would tell stories, and tame doves would fly about and perch on their shoulders.
I should long ago have ceased to write if I were not inhabited by the conviction that those to come will discover in my writings what those of today refuse to see there, and which nevertheless I know that I put there.
Have I reached the limit of experience? And shall I be able to catch hold of myself again now? I need to put my remaining energy to some studious use. How easy it would be for me now to throw myself into a confessional! How difficult it is to be at one and the same, for oneself, he who commands and he who obeys! But what spiritual director would undersand with sufficient subtlety this vacillation, this passionate indecision of my whole being, this equal aptitude for contraries? Depersonalization, obtained by an effort of the will and with such difficulty, which could be explained and excused only by the production of works that it authorizes and with an eye to which I have striven to suppress my preferences. Absurdity of the objective method (Flaubert). Cease to be oneself in order to be all. Danger of aiming towards a limitless empire. To conquer Russia, Napoleon had to risk France. Necessity of linking the frontier with the centre. It is time to return home.
Even my insomnia struck me last night as a form of perplexity, and kind of difficulty in making up my mind to sleep.
Never go out without a definite aim; hold to this.
Walk along without looking in every direction.
In a train choose any compartment whatever; and enter the subway train by the first door you see, without looking for something better. Do not scorn little victories; as soon as it is a matter of the will, the much is only the patient addition of the little.
Just the same it takes a certain dose of mysticism — or of something — to go on speaking, writing, when you know that you are absolutely not being listened to.
The Gospels are a very simply little book, which must be read very simply. There is no question of explaining it, but merely of accepting it. It needs no commentary and every human effort to throw light upon it only dims it. It is not adressed to learned men; science prevents one from understanding anything in it. Access to it can be gained through poverty of spirit.
See everything as a novelty; is it not true that the Kingdom of God is nothing else? The innocence of the little child...
Oh to be born again! To forget what other men have written, have painted, have thought, and what one has thought oneself. To be born anew.
It is in eternity that right now one must live. And it is right now that one must live in eternity.
It seems that there is too much sound, too many notes as soon as one ceases to understand the complete meaning of each one. Any good execution must be an explanation of the piece. But the pianist, like the actor, strives for the effect; and the effect is generally achieved at the expense of the text. The player is well aware that I shall be more impressed the less I understand. But that is just what I want - to understand. Being impressed, in art, is worth nothing unless it yields at once to emotion; and most often it stands in the way of emotion.
Manner is always the indication, and it soon becomes the penalty, of a self-satisfaction. The most subtle, the strongest and deepest art - supreme art - is the one that does not at first allow itself to be recognized. And just as 'real eloquence doesn't give a rap for eloquence,' so true art doesn't give a rap for manner, which is but its caricature.
The best thing is to let the work compose itself and give itself its order, and above all not to force it. And I use this word likewise in the sense that horticulturists give it: forced cultivation is a cultivation that makes a plant blossom prematurely.
I believe that the major shortcoming of writers and artists today is IMPATIENCE: if they knew how to wait, their subject would automatically compose itself slowly in their mind; by itself it would cast off the useless matter and everything that impedes it; it would grow like a tree whose leading branches are developed at the expense of... It would grow naturally.
It is through composition that a painter gives depth to his canvas. Without composition a work of art can offer only a superficial beauty.
My good days of work are those I begin by reading an ancient author, one of those that are called 'classics.' A page is enough; a half-page, if only I read it in the proper state of mind. It is not so much a lesson one must seek in them as the tone, and that sort of being out of one's element which sets the present effort in proper proportion, without divesting the moment of any of its urgency. And this is the way I like to end my day too.