Friday, January 23, 2009

thieving

He opened the book randomly to sample its style; what he found felt like his long lost diary:


"...Since the old says, since the beginning, what have I done with myself? Nothing, I am already on the downhill slope. Because that hunting-call reminded me of the past, it seems to me that I am done for, that I haven't lived, and I feel a longing for a sort of lost paradise.

But it is no use my imploring, it is no use my rebelling, there will never be anything more for me; henceforth I shall never be either happy or unhappy. I can't return to life. I shall grow old as peacefully as I am sitting today in this room where so many human beings have left their trace, where no single human being has left his own.

This room can be found anywhere. It is everybody's room. You think that it is closed, but no: it is open to the four winds. It is lost in the midst of similar rooms, like the light in the sky, like one day among other days, like myself everywhere.

Myself, myself? Now I can no longer see anything but the pallor of my face, with its deep eye-sockets, buried in the dusk, and my mouth full of a silence which is gently but surely stifling and destroying me.

I raise myself on one shoulder as on the stump of a wing. I would like something of an infinite character to happen to me.

[...]

My brain is empty; my heart is dried up; I have nobody around me; I have never had anybody, not even a friend; I am a poor man who has been washed up for a day in a hotel room where everybody comes, and which everybody leaves -- and yet I long for glory! Glory mingled with me like a wonderful, astonishing wound which I would feel and everybody would talk about; I long for a crowd in which I would be the principal figure, acclaimed by name as by a new cry under the face of heaven.

But I can feel my grandeur diminishing. My childish imagination plays in vain with these exaggerated pictures. There is nothing for me; there is only myself, stripped by the evening, and rising like a cry.

The time of day has made me almost blind. I guess at myself in the mirror more than I see myself. I see my weakness and my captivity. I hold my hands out towards the window with fingers outstretched, my hands with their appearance of torn objects. From my shadowy corner I raise my face towards the sky. I lean backwards and support myself on the bed, that big object which looks vaguely human, like a dead body. Lord, I am lost! Have pity on me! I believed myself to be wise and happy with my lot; I said that I was free from the thieving instincts; alas, that isn't true, since I would like to take everything that isn't mine."


To this day that is the only passage he has read from the book, for he knows that in the rest of it lies his story.


* * *

[excerpt from Barbusse's Hell (1908)]

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