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A Confession

Part 4

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My life came to a standstill.  I could breathe, eat, drink,
and sleep, and I could not help doing these things; but there was
no life, for there were no wishes the fulfillment of which I could
consider reasonable.  If I desired anything, I knew in advance that
whether I satisfied my desire or not, nothing would come of it. 
Had a fairy come and offered to fulfil my desires I should not have
know what to ask.  If in moments of intoxication I felt something
which, though not a wish, was a habit left by former wishes, in
sober moments I knew this to be a delusion and that there was
really nothing to wish for.  I could not even wish to know the
truth, for I guessed of what it consisted.  The truth was that life
is meaningless.  I had as it were lived, lived, and walked, walked,
till I had come to a precipice and saw clearly that there was
nothing ahead of me but destruction.  It was impossible to stop,
impossible to go back, and impossible to close my eyes or avoid
seeing that there was nothing ahead but suffering and real death --
complete annihilation.

It had come to this, that I, a healthy, fortunate man, felt I
could no longer live: some irresistible power impelled me to rid
myself one way or other of life.  I cannot say I *wished* to kill
myself.  The power which drew me away from life was stronger,
fuller, and more widespread than any mere wish.  It was a force
similar to the former striving to live, only in a contrary
direction.  All my strength drew me away from life.  The thought of
self-destruction now came to me as naturally as thoughts of how to
improve my life had come formerly.  and it was seductive that I had
to be cunning with myself lest I should carry it out too hastily. 

I did not wish to hurry, because I wanted to use all efforts to
disentangle the matter.  "If I cannot unravel matters, there will
always be time."  and it was then that I, a man favoured by
fortune, hid a cord from myself lest I should hang myself from the
crosspiece of the partition in my room where I undressed alone
every evening, and I ceased to go out shooting with a gun lest I
should be tempted by so easy a way of ending my life.  I did not
myself know what I wanted:  I feared life, desired to escape from
it, yet still hoped something of it.

And all this befell me at a time when all around me I had what
is considered complete good fortune.  I was not yet fifty; I had a
good wife who lived me and whom I loved, good children, and a large
estate which without much effort on my part improved and increased. 
I was respected by my relations and acquaintances more than at any
previous time.  I was praised by others and without much self-
deception could consider that my name was famous.  And far from
being insane or mentally diseased, I enjoyed on the contrary a
strength of mind and body such as I have seldom met with among men
of my kind; physically I could keep up with the peasants at mowing,
and mentally I could work for eight and ten hours at a stretch
without experiencing any ill results from such exertion.  And in
this situation I came to this -- that I could not live, and,
fearing death, had to employ cunning with myself to avoid taking my
own life.

My mental condition presented itself to me in this way:  my
life is a stupid and spiteful joke someone has played on me. 
Though I did not acknowledge a "someone" who created me, yet such
a presentation -- that someone had played an evil and stupid joke
on my by placing me in the world -- was the form of expression that
suggested itself most naturally to me.

Involuntarily it appeared to me that there, somewhere, was
someone who amused himself by watching how I lived for thirty or
forty years:  learning, developing, maturing in body and mind, and
how, having with matured mental powers reached the summit of life
from which it all lay before me, I stood on that summit -- like an
arch-fool -- seeing clearly that there is nothing in life, and that
there has been and will be nothing.  And *he* was amused. ...

But whether that "someone" laughing at me existed or not, I
was none the better off.  I could give no reasonable meaning to any
single action or to my whole life.  I was only surprised that I
could have avoided understanding this from the very beginning -- it
has been so long known to all.  Today or tomorrow sickness and
death will come (they had come already) to those I love or to me;
nothing will remain but stench and worms.  Sooner or later my
affairs, whatever they may be, will be forgotten, and I shall not
exist.  Then why go on making any effort? ... How can man fail to
see this?  And how go on living?  That is what is surprising!  One
can only live while one is intoxicated with life; as soon as one is
sober it is impossible not to see that it is all a mere fraud and
a stupid fraud!  That is precisely what it is:  there is nothing
either amusing or witty about it, it is simply cruel and stupid.

There is an Eastern fable, told long ago, of a traveller
overtaken on a plain by an enraged beast.  Escaping from the beast
he gets into a dry well, but sees at the bottom of the well a
dragon that has opened its jaws to swallow him.  And the
unfortunate man, not daring to climb out lest he should be
destroyed by the enraged beast, and not daring to leap to the
bottom of the well lest he should be eaten by the dragon, seizes s
twig growing in a crack in the well and clings to it.  His hands
are growing weaker and he feels he will soon have to resign himself
to the destruction that awaits him above or below, but still he
clings on.  Then he sees that two mice, a black one and a white
one, go regularly round and round the stem of the twig to which he
is clinging and gnaw at it.  And soon the twig itself will snap and
he will fall into the dragon's jaws.  The traveller sees this and
knows that he will inevitably perish; but while still hanging he
looks around, sees some drops of honey on the leaves of the twig,
reaches them with his tongue and licks them.  So I too clung to the
twig of life, knowing that the dragon of death was inevitably
awaiting me, ready to tear me to pieces; and I could not understand
why I had fallen into such torment.  I tried to lick the honey
which formerly consoled me, but the honey no longer gave me
pleasure, and the white and black mice of day and night gnawed at
the branch by which I hung.  I saw the dragon clearly and the honey
no longer tasted sweet.  I only saw the unescapable dragon and the
mice, and I could not tear my gaze from them.  and this is not a
fable but the real unanswerable truth intelligible to all.

The deception of the joys of life which formerly allayed my
terror of the dragon now no longer deceived me.  No matter how
often I may be told, "You cannot understand the meaning of life so
do not think about it, but live," I can no longer do it: I have
already done it too long.  I cannot now help seeing day and night
going round and bringing me to death.  That is all I see, for that
alone is true.  All else is false.

The two drops of honey which diverted my eyes from the cruel
truth longer than the rest: my love of family, and of writing --
art as I called it -- were no longer sweet to me.

"Family"...said I to myself.  But my family -- wife and
children -- are also human.  They are placed just as I am: they
must either live in a lie or see the terrible truth.  Why should
they live?  Why should I love them, guard them, bring them up, or
watch them?  That they may come to the despair that I feel, or else
be stupid?  Loving them, I cannot hide the truth from them: each
step in knowledge leads them to the truth.  And the truth is death.
     "Art, poetry?"...Under the influence of success and the praise
of men, I had long assured myself that this was a thing one could
do though death was drawing near -- death which destroys all
things, including my work and its remembrance; but soon I saw that
that too was a fraud.  It was plain to me that art is an adornment
of life, an allurement to life.  But life had lost its attraction
for me, so how could I attract others?  As long as I was not living
my own life but was borne on the waves of some other life -- as
long as I believed that life had a meaning, though one I could not
express -- the reflection of life in poetry and art of all kinds
afforded me pleasure:  it was pleasant to look at life in the
mirror of art.  But when I began to seek the meaning of life and
felt the necessity of living my own life, that mirror became for me
unnecessary, superfluous, ridiculous, or painful.  I could no
longer soothe myself with what I now saw in the mirror, namely,
that my position was stupid and desperate.  It was all very well to
enjoy the sight when in the depth of my soul I believed that my
life had a meaning.  Then the play of lights -- comic, tragic,
touching, beautiful, and terrible -- in life amused me.  No
sweetness of honey could be sweet to me when I saw the dragon and
saw the mice gnawing away my support.

Nor was that all.  Had I simply understood that life had no
meaning I could have borne it quietly, knowing that that was my
lot.  But I could not satisfy myself with that.  Had I been like a
man living in a wood from which he knows there is no exit, I could
have lived; but I was like one lost in a wood who, horrified at
having lost his way, rushes about wishing to find the road.  He
knows that each step he takes confuses him more and more, but still
he cannot help rushing about.

It was indeed terrible.  And to rid myself of the terror I
wished to kill myself.  I experienced terror at what awaited me --
knew that that terror was even worse than the position I was in,
but still I could not patiently await the end.  However convincing
the argument might be that in any case some vessel in my heart
would give way, or something would burst and all would be over, I
could not patiently await that end.  The horror of darkness was too
great, and I wished to free myself from it as quickly as possible
by noose or bullet.  that was the feeling which drew me most
strongly towards suicide.