"My Silent Confidant", by Søren Kierkegaard
Extract from :
My Silent Confidant :
I am at the end of my rope. I am nauseated by life; it is insipid — without salt and meaning. If I were hungrier than Pierrot, I would not choose to eat the explanation people offer. One sticks a finger into the ground to smell what country one is in; I stick my finger into the world — it has no smell. Where am I ? What does it mean to say: the world ? What is the meaning of that word ? Who tricked me into this whole thing and leaves me standing here ?
Who am I ? How did I get into the world ? Why was I not asked about it, why was I not informed of the rules and regulations but just thrust into the ranks as if I had been bought from a peddling shanghaier of human beings ? How did I get involved in this big enterprise called actuality ? Why should I be involved ? Isn’t it a matter of choice ?
And if I am compelled to be involved, where is the manager — I have something to say about this. Is there no manager ? To whom shall I make my complaint ? After all, life is a debate — may I ask that my observations be considered ? If one has to take life as it is, would it not be best to find out how things go ?
What does it mean: a deceiver ? Does not Cicero say that such a person can be exposed by asking: cui bono [to whose benefit] ? Anyone may ask me and I ask everyone whether I have benefited in any way by making myself and a girl unhappy. Guilt — what does it mean ? Is it hexing ? Is it not positively known how it comes about that a person is guilty ? Will no one answer me ? Is it not, then, of the utmost importance to all the gentlemen involved ?
My mind is numb — or is it more correct to say I am losing it ? One moment I am weak and weary, yes, practically dead with apathy; the next moment I am in a rage and in desperation rush from one end of the world to the other to find someone on whom I can vent my anger. My whole being screams in self-contradiction. How did it happen that I became guilty ? Or am I not guilty ? Why, then, am I called that in every language ? What kind of miserable invention is this human language, which says one thing and means another ? Has something happened to me, is not all this something that has befallen me ? Could I anticipate that my whole being would undergo a change, that I would become another person ? Can it be that something darkly hidden in my soul burst forth ? But if it lay darkly hidden, how then could I anticipate it ?
But if I could not anticipate it, then I certainly am innocent. Would I also have been
guilty if I had had a nervous breakdown ? What kind of wretched jargon is thishuman speech called language, which is intelligible only to a clique ? Are not the dumb animals wiser in never talking about such things ? — Am I unfaithful ? If she were to go on loving me and never loved anyone else, she would then certainly be faithful to me. If I go on wanting to love only her, am I then unfaithful ? Indeed, we are both doing the same thing — how then do I become a deceiver because I manifest my faithfulness by deceiving ? Why should she be in the right and I in the wrong ? If both of us are faithful, why then is this expressed in human language in such a way that she is faithful and I am a deceiver ?
Even if the whole world rose up against me, even if all the scholastics argued with me, even if it were a matter of life and death — I am still in the right. No one shall take that away from me, even if there is no language in which I can say it. I have acted rightly. My love cannot find expression in a marriage. If I do that, she is crushed. Perhaps the possibility appeared tempting to her. I cannot help it; it was that to me also.
The moment it becomes a matter of actuality, all is lost, then it is too late. The actuality in which she is supposed to have her meaning remains but a shadow for me, a shadow that trots alongside my essential spiritual actuality, a shadow that sometimes makes me laugh and sometimes wants to enter disturbingly into my existence. It would end with my fumbling for her as if I were grabbing at a shadow or as if I stretched out my hand after a shadow. Would not her life then be ruined ?
To me she is as if dead — yes, she could almost tempt me to wish her dead. Suppose, then, that I crush her, volatilize her in the very moment I want to make her an actuality, instead of the other alternative, that I keep her in a true, even though in another sense uneasy, actuality — what then ? Then language declares me guilty, for I ought to have
What kind of power is it that wants to deprive me of my honor and my pride and do it in such a meaningless way ? Have I been abandoned ? Am I inevitably guilty, a deceiver, whatever I do, even if I do nothing ? Or have I perhaps gone mad ? Then the best thing to do would be to lock me up, for people cravenly fear particularly the utterances of the insane and the dying. What does it mean: mad ? What must I do to enjoy civic esteem, to be regarded as sensible ? Why does no one answer ? I offer a reasonable reward to anyone who invents a new word ! I have set forth the alternatives. Is there anyone so clever that he knows more than two ?
But if he does not know more, then it certainly is nonsense that I am mad, unfaithful, and a deceiver, while the girl is faithful and reasonable and esteemed by people. Or am I to be blamed for making the first part as beautiful as possible ? Thanks ! When I saw her joy in being loved, I subordinated myself and everything she pointed to under the magic spell of erotic love. Is it blameworthy that I was able to do it or blameworthy that I did it ?
Who is to blame but her and the third factor, from whence no one knows, which moved me with its stimulus and transformed me ? After all, what I have done is praised in others. — Or is becoming a poet my compensation ? I reject all compensation, I demand my rights — that is, my honor. I did not ask to become one, and I will not buy it at this price. — Or, if I am guilty, then I certainly should be able to repent of my guilt and make it good again. Tell me how.
On top of that, must I perhaps repent that the world plays with me as a child plays with a beetle ? — Or is it perhaps best to forget the whole thing ? Forget — indeed, I shall have ceased to be if I forget it. Or what kind of life would it be if along with my beloved I have lost honor and pride and lost them in such a way that no one knows how it happened, for which reason I can never retrieve them again ? Shall I allow myself to be shoved out in this manner ? Why, then, was I shoved in ? I never requested it. Someone imprisoned on bread and water is better off than I am. Humanly speaking, my observations are the poorest diet imaginable, and yet I feel a satisfaction in carrying on at a scale as macrocosmic as possible in all my microcosmicness.
I do not converse with people, but in order not to break off all communication with them, as well as not to give them blather for their money, I have collected quite a few poems, pithy sayings, proverbs, and brief maxims from the immortal Greek and Roman writers who have been admired in every age. I have added to this anthology several superb quotations from Balle’s catechism published under the license of the orphans’ home. If anyone asks me anything, I have a ready answer. I quote the classics as well as Per Degn, and as a bonus I quote Balle’s catechism.“Even if we have attained all desirable honor, we ought not to let ourselves be carried away by pride and haughtiness.” Then I deceive no one. Indeed, how many are there who always utter a truth or a good comment. “As a rule, the word ‘world’ includes both heaven and earth and everything found therein.”
What could be gained if I did say something — there is no one who understands me. My pain and my suffering are nameless, even as I myself am nameless, one who, although he has no name, nevertheless may always be something to you and in any case remains