In an investigation, a Parisian newspaper asked the question: what sign makes us recognize the coming of old age ? Someone replied: old age comes when your memories overwhelm you.
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy
For some time I have felt this very intense. In my moments of loneliness, I see fragments from my past. I review a certain scene, think I hear voices… These memories are often related to my father, Leo Tolstoy, who was everything I had dearest and brighter in my life.
I can not always relate them to events that preceded or followed them, nor to fix them at a certain date. But I see the episode as if it had happened yesterday. I write down these “memory flashes” as they emerge.
Dad Gets a Baksheesh
From Moscow to Iasnaia Poliana is about 200 km and sometimes my father was walking this way. With the bag in his back, he mingled among the pilgrims he was interested in, but for whom he has been just a simple traveler. He was making this trip in five days. On the way, he stopped eating and sleeping in a wooden house or at a country inn. When he approached a train station, he went to eat in the waiting room of the third class.
In one of these stops, walking on the platform where a train was ready to leave, he heard someone call him.
“Hey, old man, old man !”, a woman yelled from the train window. “Do you want to go to the woman’s toilet and bring me the bag that I left there ? But go quickly, because the train leaves soon.”
My dad ran to the women’s toilet where he was lucky to find the bag, and then gave it to the lady.
“Thank you very much,” said the lady, and gave him a large bronze coin.
“Do you know who you gave those five kopecks ?”, asked her a traveler who recognized the dusty pilgrim as being the author of the book War and Peace. “To Leo Tolstoy !”
“God, what have I done ! Lev Nikolayevich, Lev Nikolayevich ! Please forgive me and give me back the five kopecks I gave you out of my stupidity .”
“Why ?”, my dad answered. You didn’t do anything wrong. The five kopecks I won honestly. I keep them…”
The train moved into motion, carrying with it the lady who continued to apologize, bagging Tolstoy to give her the coin back.
Tolstoy, with a smile, was watching the train moving away.
from Tatiana Tolstaya, Avec Leon Tolstoi. Souvenirs
I separated myself from philosophy when it was impossible for me to discover at Kant any trace of human weakness or an authentic accent of sadness; at Kant and at all philosophers.
In contrast to music, mysticism, poetry, philosophical activity shows a thin sap and a suspected depth which tempt only shy beings and executioners.
Essentially, the philosophy, as impersonal anxiety and refuge around some anemic ideas, is the appeal of all those who avoid the corrupting exuberance of life.
Almost all philosophers died well; this is the ultimate argument against philosophy. Even the end of Socrates had notihing tragic in it: it was just a misunderstandig, being the end of a teacher. And if Nietzsche collapsed, he paid for his ecstasy of poet and visionary, and not for his reasoning.
We cannot ignore existence because of the explanations; we can only live it, love or hate it, adore it or fear because of it in that alternation of happiness and horror that expresses the rhythm of the being itself, oscillations, dissonances, its bitter or sweet vehemences.
Practicing philosophy is not profitable; it is just honorable. You don’t risk anything as a philosopher: philosophy is a job without destiny, it fills the neutral and free time with bulky thoughts… refractory time to the Old Testament, to Bach as well as to Shakespeare.
Have these thoughts of philosophy ever been at the level of Job’s exclamation of pain ? Can it compare to a fright in Macbeth or the height of a symphony ?
The universe is not discussed; it is expressed. And philosophy doesn’t express it. The real problems start after you’ve gone through or exhausted them, after the last chapter of a huge book in which the final dot is put as a sign of abdication in favor of the Unknown, Unknown in which all our moments are rooted and we must fight against it because it is more immediate, more important than our daily bread.
Here the philosopher leaves us: enemy of disaster, he is quiet and prudent as rationality. And we remain in the fellowship of an old plague, of a poet who knows all the deliriums, and a musician whose sublime goes beyond the sphere of the world.
We begin to really live only at the end of philosophy, on its ruins, when we understand its terrible futility and the fact that it’s a hopeless act to ask for its help, that it is useless.
Emil Cioran, Manual de descompunere
Existentialist atheism affirms that God doesn’t exist, but then there is at least one being whose existence precedes the essence, a being that existed before being defined by a concept, and that being is man…
What is meant here by the statement that existance precedes the essence ?
This mean that man first exist, is situated, is emerging in the world, and then he is defined. As he is conceived by existentialism, man is undefined because at first he is nothing. But then he will something, and he will be what he does himself. So there is no human nature, because there is no God to create it.
Dostoievsky wrote: “If God doesn’t exist, then everything is permitted”. This is the starting point of existentialism. Indeed, everything is permitted if God doesn’t exist, and consequently man is abandoned because he finds neither in himself, nor outside, any possibility that he can cling. He can no longer apologize.
If indeed existence precedes the essence, we will never be able to explain something reffering to a established or fixed nature; in other words, there is no determinism, man is free, man is freedom.
On the other hand, if God doesn’t exist then we don’t find any value or ordinance to legitimize our behavior. Today we have neither justification, nor excuses, in the bright field of values. We are alone, without excuses.
If we suppressed God, then one has to invent the values. The things must be interpreted as they are. In fact, to say that we invent the values doesn’t mean anything: life has no established meaning. Before you live, life is nothing; but you are those who give it meaning, and values is nothing but meaning you give to life…
from J. P. Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism
In Germany, Enlightenment was followed by a movement called “Sturm und Drang” (Storm and Stress), animated by national ideals and militating for naturalism, and affirmation of sensitivity and genius. The rediscovery of the ancient ideal and the idea of man’s accomplishment characterize the orentation represented by Schiller, Hölderlin and Herder, and which found its superior illustration in Goethe’s writings.
Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832), the greatest German writer and one of the brilliant spirits of humanity, was a personality developed in many areas, concerned with literature, art and science, excelling in all areas he had approached, and he can not be framed in a single domain.
The most important of these is his literary work, which includes lyrics, dramas and tragedies.
His masterpiece Faust is a creation whose elaboration had lasted almost 60 years, being complex and difficult to fit into a particular literary species. Goethe called it a tragedy, but we can think of it as a philosophical drama or a dramatic poem.
The subject of the man who has sold his soul to the devil appears in a medieval legend and, in the form of Dr. Faust, in folk books of the Renaissance. These sources of inspiration were used by Goethe in a original way and subordinate to a fundamental theme: the meaning of existance.
His masterpiece is preceded by a Worship and a double prologue: Prologue in Theater, an opportunity for Goethe to express his ideas about literature, and a Prologue in the Sky. Here comes a bet of God and Mephistopheles, the devil convinced that man is dominated by the principle of evil and who has committed to winning Faust’s soul.
Faust is an old scientist at the end of hsi life full of study, and he expresses his dissatisfaction with the futility of never-complete knowledge. The tought of committing suicide is eliminated by the joy of the holidays outside and the crowd’s laugh in the nature of spring.
Mephistopheles appears at Faust and the two ones conclude a pact by which the scientist gets the youth and pleasures, promising Mephistopheles to give him his soul when the happiness will cause him to ask time to stop.
The adventures of Faust symbolize the steps of man in gaining happiness. Finally, Faust find happiness in the active life, in the useful creation for people. Old again and blind, pursued by Care, Faust has the vision of creative work in freedom and asks the moment to stop:
“To live with the free people on the free fields,
At that moment I would like to say to it for the first time:
Stay, you are so beautiful !”
Faust dies, but Mephistopheles won’t get his soul becaause his generous deed has forgiven him for the sin.
from Ovidiu Drimba, Literatura universala
I entered Sinclar Drive. It was a short street and there were lots of young trees in front of its houses.
Nothing was new in that street which I knew so very well, but now it was my beloved street and it was wonderful to me.
When I came near Alison’s house, I heard her singing. She was practising; her song was a simple Scottish one. I stopped in front of the gate for a log while and listened.
When there was silence, I entered the garden and rang the bell on the door. Alison was waiting for me in the front room, with her books on the table. Her mother, Mrs. Keith, was sitting by the fire. What a bright and charming room it was !
“You are punctual as usual, Robert”, Mrs. Keith said kindly. “What sort of night is it ?”
“Oh, very nice,” I answered. “You can see the stars.” She smiled: “You can always see the stars, Robert.”
Mrs. Keith watched me with a smile on her kind face, all the time I was working with Alison. Alison was weack at mathematics, while I was good at it, and Mrs. Keith was pleased to see that I helping her daughter.
“What are you teaching my daughter now, Robert ?”
“Euclid, Mrs. Keith,” I said shyly.
“It’s so difficult,” said Alison.
“Oh, no, Alison, it’s very easy.” And I began to teach her.
When the lesson was over, it was half past eight. I wanted to speak to Alison, but I did not dare. I wrote down in her exercise-book: “Will you come to the door with me tonight ?”
She looked at me and wrote: “What for ?”
I wrote back: “I have something to tell you.”
Ten minute later, I stood up and said good night to Mrs. Keith. Alison wanted to see me out.
“I heard you singing, Alison.”
Yes, I”ve begun to work a lot. Miss Gramb is teaching me.” Silence. We reached the gate, but it was very difficult to speak.
“Alison, yesterday something happened to me. My teacher told me I might sit for a scholarship.”
“Oh, Robert !” she exclaimed.
“I cannot win it, but I wanted to tell you.”
“Oh, you must try, Robert, you can get it, of course, you can.” I looked at Alison. Beautiful words lay behind my tongue, but I could not speak them.
“Good night, Alison.”
“Good night, Robert.”
I was young. And I felt life was wonderful.
from A. J. Cronin, Alison
What are the essential intentions and goals of people ? What do they want from life ? What are they going for ?
We don’t deceive ourselves if we answer: they aspire to happiness, people want to be and stay happy. This aspiration has two faces, a negative and a positive one: on the one hand, avoiding pain and unpleasantness, and on the other hand enjoying intense pleasure.
In a narrower sense, the term “happiness” only means that the second goal has been achieved. In correlation with this duality of purposes, the activity of people can have two directions, as they try in a predominant or even exclusive manner to acheive one or other of the goals.
As we see, it is only the principle of pleasure that determines the purpose of life, leading the operations of the mental apparatus; there is no doubt about the use of this principle. However, the whole universe – both the macrocosm and the microcosm – cospire to the failure of this purpose of man, a purpose that is absolutely urealizable. The whole order of the universe opposes man. We could say that it was not in the plan of “Creation” that man should be happy.
What we call happiness, in the most strict sense of the term, results rather from a satisfaction of needs that have reached a great deal of tension, which by its nature is only possible as an episodic phenomenon.
If the program that the pleasure principle demands and wich is to be happy is not feasible, we are still allowed not to give up the effort to get closer to it. To get here we can use very different ways means… No advice here is valis for everyone, each of us having to look for the way to become happy.
It all depends on the amount of real satisfaction that each of us can get from the outside world, by the way he is able to become independent and the power to change his wishes. In that regard, without taking into account the objective circumstances, determinant will be the psychic consistency of the individual.
Thus, the person who has erotic temperament will firstly put affective relations with the people, the narcisist will look for essential pleasures among those that come from his inner life, and the man of action will not lose sight of the outside world with which he is fit to try his power.
from S. Freud, Anguish and civilization