The Book of Disquiet 100 [199]

Suddenly, as if destiny had turned surgeon and, with dramatic success, operated on an ancient blindness, I raise my eyes from my anonymous life to the clear knowledge of the manner of my existence. And I see that everything I have done, everything I have thought, everything I have been is a sort of delusion and madness. I marvel that I did not see it before. I am surprised by everything I have been and that I now see I am not.

I look down on my past life as if it were a plain stretched out beneath the sun just breaking through the clouds, and I notice, with a metaphysical shock, how all my most assured gestures, my clearest ideas and my most logical aims were, after all, nothing but an innate drunkenness, a natural madness, an immense ignorance. I did not act the part. It acted me. I was merely the gestures, never the actor.

Everything that I have done, thought and been has been a series of subordinations either to a false entity I took to be myself, because all my actions came from him, or to the force of circumstance that I took to be the air I breathed.  In this visionary moment, I am suddenly a solitary man realizing he is in exile from the country of which he had always considered himself citizen. In the very heart of everything I thought, I was not me.

I am overwhelmed by a sarcastic terror of life, a dejection that overflows the bounds of my conscious being. I know that I was never anything but error and mistake, that I never lived, that I existed only in the sense that I filled up time with consciousness and thought. And my sense of myself is that of a person waking up after a sleep full of real dreams, or like someone freed by an earthquake from the feeble light of the prison to which he had become accustomed.

It weighs on me this sudden notion of the true nature of my individual being that did nothing but make somnolent journeys between what was felt and what was seen, it weighs on me as if it were a sentence not to death but to knowledge.

It is so difficult to describe the feeling one has when one feels that one really does exist and that the soul is a real entity, that I do not know what human words I can use to define it. I don’t know if I’m really as feverish as I feel or if instead I have finally recovered from the fever of slumbering through life. Yes, I am like a traveller who suddenly finds himself in a strange town, with no idea of how he got there and I’m reminded of cases of amnesiacs who, losing all memory of their past lives, for a long time live as other people. For many years – from the time I was born and became a conscious being – I too was someone else and now I wake up suddenly to find myself standing in the middle of the bridge, looking out over the river, knowing more positively now than at any moment before that I exist. But I do not know the city, the streets are new to me and the sickness incurable. So, leaning on the bridge, I wait for the truth to pass so that I can regain my null and fictitious, intelligent and natural self.

It lasted only a moment and has passed now. I notice the furniture around me, the design on the old wallpaper, the sun through the dusty panes. For a moment I saw the truth. For a moment I was, consciously, what great men are throughout their lives. I recall their actions and their words and I wonder if they too were tempted by and succumbed to the Demon Reality. To know nothing about oneself is to live. To know a little about oneself is to think. To know oneself precipitately, as I did in that moment of pure enlightenment, is suddenly to grasp Leibniz’s notion of the dominant monad, the magic password to the soul. A sudden light scorches and consumes everything. It strips us naked even of our selves.

It was only a moment but I saw myself. Now I cannot even say what I was. And, after it all, I just feel sleepy because, though I don’t really know why, I suspect that the meaning of it all is simply to sleep.

–Translated by M. J. Costa


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