Society develops the mind, but only contemplation can form genius. In countries dominated by vanity, vanity is the moving force, and it leads inexorably to mockery, which kills enthusiasm.
Who can deny the fun of noticing ridiculous things and sketching them in a lively, graceful way? It might be better to refuse to give into such pleasure; but this is not a threatening kind of mockery. Really disastrous mockery is the kind that focuses on ideas and sentiments, infiltrating the source of strong, devoted affections. Man has great power over his fellow man, and the greatest harm he can do him is to interpose the phantom of ridicule between his generous impulses and the actions they might inspire.
Love, genius, talent – even pain: these sacred things are all exposed to irony, and no one can calculate how far the power of that irony may extend. There is something piquant about wickedness, something feeble about truth. Admiration for great things can be upset by joking: anyone who attaches no importance of anything looks as if he were above everything. If enthusiasm does not protect our hearts and minds, therefore, they may be assaulted by a sort of degeneration of the beautiful, combining insolence and gaiety.
Our social minds are constructed so that we often command ourselves to laugh, And are even more frequently ashamed to cry. Why? Because vanity feels more secure with jest and with emotion. We have to be able to count on our own minds if we are to face mockery seriously; we need a lot of strength to show sentiments vulnerable to ridicule… Only mediocre people want everything to be built on sand, so that no one can leave a trace of himself on earth more durable than their own.
The most decent men then invent a system transforming their laziness into dignity; they say nothing can be accomplished….
We also see young people, eager to seem disillusioned of enthusiasm, affecting a considered contempt for exalted feelings. They think they are showing precocious strength of mind: they are actually boasting about premature decadence. As for talent, they are like the old man asking if people still fell in love. The mind deprived of imagination would be quite willing to despise nature itself, if nature were not stronger.
People still aroused by noble desires are certainly hurt by the constant barrage of arguments that would disturb even the most confident hope. Good faith must not be discouraged by this, though, because it is concerned with what men really are, not what they seem to be. Whatever the surrounding atmosphere, a sincere word is never completely lost; success may have its day, but there are centuries for the good that can be done by truth.” —Madame De Staël
What kind of beast would turn its life into words? What atonement is this all about? —and yet, writing words like these, I’m also living. Is all this close to the wolverines’ howled signals, that modulated cantata of the wild? or, when away from you I try to create you in words, am I simply using you, like a river or a war? And how have I used rivers, how have I used wars to escape writing of the worst thing of all—not the crimes of others, not even our own death, but the failure to want our freedom passionately enough so that blighted elms, sick rivers, massacres would seem mere emblems of that desecration of ourselves?
When a man grows older, his life becomes less dependent on the rhythms of time and its seasons. Darkness sometimes falls right in the middle of an embrace of two people at a window. Or summer comes to an end during a love affair, as the love goes on into autumn. Or a man dies suddenly in the middle of speaking and his words remain there on either side. Or the same rain falls on the one who says goodbye and goes and on the one who says it and stays. Or a single thought wanders through cities and villages and many countries, in the head of a man who is traveling.
All these make a strange dance rhythm, but I don’t know who is dancing to it, or who is calling the tune.
A while back, I found an old photo of myself with a little girl who died long ago. We were sitting together, hugging as children do, in front of a wall where a pear tree stood, her one hand on my shoulder and the other one free reaching out from the dead to me now.
And I knew that the hope of the dead is their past, and God has taken it.
I have said before, I’m sorry, I’m just timid with someone new.
I have said it, and I have kept a list of those who have heard me say it.
I have kept it—this list—and I have kept it updated, and in mind.
Really, it is a Word document with a coding system cataloguing
who, exactly, got what of me, and when. It was Darlene’s idea.
The list keeps growing, she said, but our memories remain
small, false, and isn’t this something we should keep straight?
So I got to cataloguing and having something to catalogue,
to saying blank statements on shyness. And I have said things
too private, and now I’ve said these things to too many—
the grand emotional gestures, and the almost-whispered
admittance of self-hatred. And it’s not that they’re lies,
they’re just a little less full each time spoken. But the air
can never hold them, just as I cannot, so they exist now
in the minds of those I told, those I bore and bared myself to.
And these minds are connected to heads connected to bodies
in four states across the US, and on European nation.
But now I have no right of use, of entry, to these lives
as they carry my echoes through aisles of Whole Foods,
of Winn-Dixie, of Shoprite, Meijer, El Corte Ingles.