Tuesday, January 28

Inside the Whale

He remembered how as a boy he used to run out into the garden without a hat on when there was a storm, and how two fair-haired girls with blue eyes used to run after him, and how they got wet through with the rain; they laughed with delight, but when there was a loud peal of thunder, the girls used to nestle up to the boy confidingly, while he crossed himself and made haste to repeat: "Holy, holy, holy. . . ." Oh, where had they vanished to! In what sea were they drowned, those dawning days of pure, fair life? He had no fear of the storm, no love of nature now; he had no God. All the confiding girls he had ever known had by now been ruined by him and those like him. All his life he had not planted one tree in his own garden, nor grown one blade of grass; and living among the living, he had not saved one fly; he had done nothing but destroy and ruin, and lie, lie. . . .

"What in my past was not vice?" he asked himself, trying to clutch at some bright memory as a man falling down a precipice clutches at the bushes.

School? The university? But that was a sham. He had neglected his work and forgotten what he had learnt. The service of his country? That, too, was a sham, for he did nothing in the Service, took a salary for doing nothing, and it was an abominable swindling of the State for which one was not punished.

He had no craving for truth, and had not sought it; spellbound by vice and lying, his conscience had slept or been silent. Like a stranger, like an alien from another planet, he had taken no part in the common life of men, had been indifferent to their sufferings, their ideas, their religion, their sciences, their strivings, and their struggles. He had not said one good word, not written one line that was not useless and vulgar; he had not done his fellows one ha'p'orth of service, but had eaten their bread, drunk their wine, seduced their wives, lived on their thoughts, and to justify his contemptible, parasitic life in their eyes and in his own, he had always tried to assume an air of being higher and better than they. Lies, lies, lies. . . .
(The Duel. Chekhov.)

Monday, January 27

A Ship Without a Captain

Don’t feel bad for me. I implore you. My crimes are many and my comeuppance just. Unlike Job who swore to “maintain mine own ways before him” to the last — i cannot. I have “sinned” and i know it. Eli! Eli! cried the Son of God. And in that he may have been justified, his reproach justified. There are forms of evil, of injustice, in this world that certainly make us think that God has forsaken it...us. But he did not abandon me, i abandoned him, rather, i never had him ... I had no reason either. Imagine a ship that is without a captain and being run by the crew. Can there be any unity, any organization, upon such a ship? Rather, will not disorder and strife hold sway as everyone of its crew will try to seize control of the helm? It was the same with me. Having neither reason nor God, the twin captains of the soul, i became prey to the multiplicity of my desires, which kept pulling me sometime in one direction sometime in other, never letting me stay the course; and, instead of the light of truth, chaos and darkness filled my soul. 

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves...” But do not think that i am being excessively pious or that i have accepted defeat ... au contraire. The Gospel says, “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” THIS is my truth.

Thursday, January 23

Chreia or "Khreiai"

On being asked by somebody, "What sort of a man do you consider Diogenes to be?" "A Socrates gone mad," said he. One day he detected a youth blushing. "Courage," quoth he, "that is the hue of virtue." When he was told that many people laughed at him, he made answer, "But I am not laughed down." Noticing a good-looking youth lying in an exposed position, he nudged him and cried, "Up, man, up, lest some foe thrust a dart into thy back!" When some one declared that life is an evil, he corrected him: "Not life itself, but living ill." When he was advised to go in pursuit of his runaway slave, he replied, "It would be absurd, if Manes can live without Diogenes, but Diogenes cannot get on without Manes." He described himself as a hound of the sort which all men praise, but no one, he added, of his admirers dared go out hunting along with him. On being asked by a tyrant what bronze is best for a statue, he replied, "That of which Harmodius and Aristogiton [the Tyrannicides] were moulded." When some one reproached him with his exile, his reply was, "Nay, it was through that, you miserable fellow, that I came to be a philosopher." Again, when some one reminded him that the people of Sinope had sentenced him to exile, "And I them," said he, "to home-staying." He once begged alms of a statue, and, when asked why he did so, replied, "To get practice in being refused." Hegesias having asked him to lend him one of his writings, he said, "You are a simpleton, Hegesias; you do not choose painted figs, but real ones; and yet you pass over the true training and would apply yourself to written rules." When some one was extolling the good fortune of Callisthenes and saying what splendour he shared in the suite of Alexander, "Not so," said Diogenes, "but rather ill fortune; for he breakfasts and dines when Alexander thinks fit." He would often insist loudly that the gods had given to men the means of living easily, but this had been put out of sight, because we require honeyed cakes, unguents and the like. Perdiccas having threatened to put him to death unless he came to him, "That's nothing wonderful," quoth he, "for a beetle or a tarantula would do the same." ...after Chaeronea he was seized and dragged off to Philip, and being asked who he was, replied, "A spy upon your insatiable greed." One day, observing a child drinking out of his hands, he cast away the cup from his wallet with the words, "A child has beaten me in plainness of living." He also threw away his bowl when in like manner he saw a child who had broken his plate taking up his lentils with the hollow part of a morsel of bread. Being reproached one day for having falsified the currency [which resulted in his exile], he said, "That was the time when I was such as you are now; but such as I am now, you will never be." Being reproached for eating in the market-place, "Well, it was in the market-place," he said, "that I felt hungry." The Athenians urged him to become initiated, and told him that in the other world those who have been initiated enjoy a special privilege. "It would be ludicrous," quoth he, "if Agesilaus and Epaminondas are to dwell in the mire, while certain folk of no account will live in the Isles of the Blest because they have been initiated." He lit a lamp in broad daylight and said, as he went about, "I am looking for a man." [Laeritus's life of Diogenes of Sinope.]

Even at that hour when the grey sky of St. Petersburg is shrouded in total darkness and all its race of officials have dined and sated the...