Immanuel Kant lived with knowledge as with his lawfully wedded wife, slept with it in the same intellectual bed for forty years and begot an entire German race of philosophical systems.
The Struggle with the Demon [Der Kampf mit dem Daemon] (1929), p. 256, as translated by Marion Sonnenfeld
The organic fundamental error of humanism was that it desired to educate the common people (on whom it looked down) from its lofty stance instead of trying to understand them and to learn from them.
Erasmus of Rotterdam (1934), p. 116, as translated by Marion Sonnenfeld
All the pale horses of the apocalypse have stormed through my life, revolution, starvation, devaluation of currency and terror, epidemics, emigration; I have seen the great ideologies of the masses grow and spread out before my eyes. Fascism in Italy, National Socialism in Germany, Bolshevism in Russia, and, above all, that archpestilence, nationalism, which poisoned our flourishing European culture.
Only ambition is fired by the coincidences of success and easy accomplishment but nothing is quite as splendidly uplifting to the heart as the defeat of a human being who battles against the invincible superiority of fate. This is always the most grandiose of all tragedies, one sometimes created by a dramatist but created thousands of times by life.
Stellar Moments in Human History [Sternstunden der Menschheit] (1953), p. 280, as translated by Marion Sonnenfeld
Supreme achievement and outstanding capacity are only rendered possible by mental concentration, by a sublime monomania that verges on lunacy.
I have loved you ever since. I know full well that you are used to hearing women say that they love you. But I am sure that no one else has ever loved you so lavishly, with such doglike fidelity, with such devotion, as I did and do. Nothing can equal the unnoticed love of a child. It is hopeless and subservient; it is patient and passionate; it is something which the covetous love of a grown woman, the love that is unconsciously exacting, can never be. Non but lonely children can cherish such a passion. The others will squander their feelings in companionship, will dissipate them in confidential talks. They have heard and read much of love, and they know that it comes to all. They play with it like a toy; they flaunt it as a boy flaunts his first cigarette. But I had no confidant; I had been neither taught nor warned; I was inexperience and unsuspecting.
It is usual for a woman, even though she may ardently desire to give herself to a man, to feign reluctance, to simulate alarm or indignation. She must be brought to consent by urgent pleading, by lies, adjurations, and promises. I know that only professional prostitutes are accustomed to answer such an invitation with a perfectly frank assent — prostitutes, or simple-minded, immature girls.
There are two kinds of pity. One, the weak and sentimental kind, which is really no more than the heart's impatience to be rid as quickly as possible of the painful emotion aroused by the sight of another's unhappiness, that pity which is not compassion, but only an instinctive desire to fortify one's own soul agains the sufferings of another; and the other, the only one at counts, the unsentimental but creative kind, which knows what it is about and is determined to hold out, in patience and forbearance, to the very limit of its strength and even beyond.
The instinct for self-deception in human beings makes them try to banish from their minds dangers of which at bottom they are perfectly aware by declaring them non-existent.
On the whole, more men had perhaps escaped into the war than from it.
It always demands a far greater degree of courage for an individual to oppose an organized movement than to let himself be carried along with the stream — individual courage, that is, a variety of courage that is dying out in these times of progressive organization and mechanization. During the war practically the only courage I ran across was mass courage, the courage that comes of being one of a herd, and anyone who examines this phenomenon more closely will find it to be compounded of some very strange elements: a great deal of vanity, a great deal of fear — yes, fear of staying behind, fear of being sneered at fear of independent action, and fear, above all, of taking up a stand against the mass enthusiasm of one's fellows.
Everywhere soldiering entails the same busily empty monotony; hour after hour is mapped out in accordance with inflexible, antediluvian regulations, and even one's leisure does not seem to offer much in the way of variety. In the officers' mess the same faces, the same conversation; at the cafe the same games of cards and billiards.
It is never until one realizes that one means something to others that one feels there is any point or purpose in one's own existence.
Inevitably, in the secret chemistry of the emotions the feeling of pity for a sick person is imperceptibly bound up with tenderness.
Unhappiness makes people vulnerable, incessant suffering unjust. Just as in the relations between a creditor and a debtor there is always an element of the disagreeable that can never be overcome, for the very reason that the one is irrevocably committed to the role of giver and the other to that of receiver, so in a sick person a latent feeling of resentment at every obvious sign of consideration is always ready to burst forth.
In some mysterious way, once one has gained an insight into human nature, that insight grows from day to day, and he to whom it has given to experience vicariously even one single form of earthly suffering acquires, by reason of this tragic lesson, an understanding of all its forms, even those most foreign to him, and apparently abnormal.
Long-protracted suffering is apt to exhaust not only the invalid, but the compassion of others; violent emotions cannot be prolonged endlessly.
But it is the way of youth that each fresh piece of knowledge of life should go to its head, and that once uplifted by an emotion it can never have enough of it.
And I said to myself: From now on help anyone and everyone so far as it lies within your power. Cease to be apathetic, indifferent! Exalt yourself by devoting yourself to others, enrich yourself by making everyone's destiny your own, by enduring and understanding every facet of human suffering through your pity. And my heart, astonished at its own workings, quivered with gratitude to the sick girl whom I had hurt unwittingly and who, through her suffering, had taught me the creative magic of pity.
One's emotional state is always determined by the oddest and most accidental things, and it is precisely the most superficial factors that often fortify or diminish our courage.
The avaricious are thrifty with time as well as money.
No envy is more mean than that of small-minded beings when they see a neighbor lifted, as though borne aloft by angels, out of the dull drudgery of their common existence; petty spirits are more ready to forgive a prince the most fabulous wealth than a fellow-sufferer beneath the same yoke the smallest degree of freedom.
The union of opposites, in so far as they are really complementary, always results in the most perfect harmony; and the seemingly incongruous is often the most natural.
When one does another person an injustice, in some mysterious way it does one good to discover (or to persuade oneself) that the injured party has also behaved badly or unfairly in some little matter or other; it is always a relief to the conscience if one can apportion some measure of guilt to the person one has betrayed.
It is a blessing not yet to have acquired that over-keen, diagnostic, misanthropic eye, and to be able to look at people and things trustfully when one first sees them.
A doctor should never try to cure the incurable.
It is only at first that pity, like morphine, is a solace to the invalid, a remedy, a drug, but unless you know the correct dosage and when to stop, it becomes a virulent poison. The first few injections do good, they soothe, they deaden the pain. But the devil of it is that the organism, the body, just like the soul, has an uncanny capacity for adaptation. Just as the nervous system cries out for more and more morphine, so do the emotions cry out for more and more pity, in the end more than one can give. Inevitably there comes a moment when one has to say 'no', and then one must not mind the other person's hating one more for this ultimate refusal than if one had never helped him at all. Yes, my dear Lieutenant, one has got to keep one's pity properly in check, or it does far more harm than any amount of indifference — we doctors know that, and so do judges and myrmidons of the law and pawn-brokers; if they were all to give way to their pity, this world of ours would stand still - a dangerous thing pity, a dangerous thing!
There is nothing that so raises a young man's self-esteem, that so contributes to the formation of his character as for him to find himself unexpectedly confronted with a task which he has to accomplish entirely on his own initiative and by his own efforts.
Anger makes one not only malign but sharp-sighted.
The sight of a wedding always has a disturbing effect on young girls; at such moments a mysterious sense of solidarity with their own sex takes possession of them.
After experiencing profound emotions, one sleeps profoundly.
States of profound happiness, like all other forms of intoxication, are apt to befuddle the wits; intense enjoyment of the present always makes one forget the past.
When a dozen men are harnessed to the same cart, one always pulls harder than the others, and when it's a question of promotion and seniority, it's easy to tread on the toes of the man ahead of you. At every word one utters one has to be on one's guard; one's never quite sure whether it isn't going to arouse the disapproval of the big bugs; there's always a storm in the offing.
The word 'service' comes from serving, and serving means being dependent.
He who is himself crossed in love is able from time to time to master his passion, for he is not the creature but the creator of his own misery; and if a lover is unable to control his passion, he at least knows that he is himself to blame for his sufferings. But he who is loved without reciprocating that love is lost beyond redemption, for it is not in his power to set a limit to that other's passion, to keep it within bounds, and the strongest will is reduced to impotence in the face of another's desire. Perhaps only a man can realize to the full the tragedy of such an undesired relationships; for him alone the necessity to resist t is at once martyrdom and guilt. For when a woman resists an unwelcome passion, she is obeying to the full the law of her sex; the initial gesture of refusal is, so to speak, a primordial instinct in every female, and even if she rejects the most ardent passion she cannot be called inhuman. But how disastrous it is when fate upsets the balance, when a woman so far overcomes her natural modesty as to disclose her passion to a man, when, without the certainty of its being reciprocated, she offers her love, and he, the wooed, remains cold and on the defensive! An insoluble tangle this, always; for not to return a woman's love is to shatter her pride, to violate her modesty. The man who rejects a woman's advances is bound to wound her in her noblest feelings. In vain, then, all the tenderness with which he extricates himself, useless all his polite, evasive phrases, insulting all his offers of mere friendship, once she has revealed her weakness! His resistance inevitably becomes cruelty, and in rejecting a woman's love he takes a load of guild upon his conscience, guiltless though he may be. Abominable fetters that can never be cast off! Only a moment ago you felt free, you belonged to yourself and were in debt to no one, and now suddenly you find yourself pursued, hemmed in, prey and object of the unwelcome desires of another. Shaken to the depths of your soul, you know that day and night someone is waiting for you, thinking of you, longing and sighing for you - a woman, a stranger. She wants, she demands, she desires you with every fibre of her being, with her body, with her blood. She wants your hands, your hair, your lips, your manhood, your night and your day, your emotions, your senses, and all your thought and dreams. She wants to share everything with you, to take everything from you, and to draw it in with her breath. Henceforth, day and night, whether you are awake or asleep, there is somewhere in the world a being who is feverish and wakeful and who waits for you, and you are the centre of her waking and her dreaming. It is in vain that you try not to think of her, of her who thinks always of you, in vain that you seek to escape, for you no longer dwell in yourself, but in her. Of a sudden a stranger bears your image within her as though she were a moving mirror - no, not a mirror, for that merely drinks in your image when you offer yourself willingly to it, whereas she, the woman, this stranger who loves you, she has absorbed you into her very blood. She carries you always within her, carries you about with her, no mater whither you may flee. Always you are imprisoned, held prisoner, somewhere else, in some other person, no longer yourself, no longer free and lighthearted and guiltless, but always hunted, always under an obligation, always conscious of this "thinking-of-you" as if it were a steady devouring flame. Full of hate, full of fear, you have to endure this yearning on the part of another, who suffers on your account; and I now know that it is the most senseless, the most inescapable, affliction that can befall a man to be loved against his will - torment of torments, and a burden of guilt where there is no guilt.
If you are going to sell yourself, you should at least get a good price.
Why is it that the stupidest people are always the most good-natured?
Only a numskull is pleased at being a so-called 'success' with women, only a dunderhead is puffed up by it. A real man is much more likely to be dismayed at realizing that a woman has lost her heart to him when he can't reciprocate her feelings.
Everything in life that deviates from the straight and, so to speak, normal line, makes people first curious and then indignant.
People who are so much at the mercy of their moods should never be given serious responsibilities.
Those whom fate has dealt hard knocks remain vulnerable for ever afterwards.
One can run away from anything but oneself.
Was it not the most wonderful thing on earth to be able to help one's fellow-creatures? I now knew that it was the only thing that was worth while.
In my youth and comparative inexperience I had always regarded the yearning and pangs of love as the worst torture that could afflict the human heart. At this moment, however, I began to realize that there was another and perhaps grimmer torture than that of longing and desiring: that of being loved against one's will and of being unable to defend oneself against the urgency of another's passion; of seeing another human being seared by the flame of her desire and of having to look impotently, lacking the power, the capacity, the strength to pluck her from the flames. He who is himself crossed in love is able from time to time to master his passion, for he is not the creature but the creator of his own misery; and if a lover is unable to control his passim, he at least knows that he is himself to blame for his sufferings.
The feeling of self-assurance derived from physical achievement always transfers itself to the mental sphere.
A man of limited vision is hard to bear with in any sphere in which he is invested with power, but intolerable in the army.
A human being will accept the strictest disciplinary measures with a better grace if he knows that they will fall with equal severity on his neighbor. Justice in some mysterious way makes up for violence.
Our decisions are to a much greater extent dependent on our desire to conform to the standards of our class and environment than we are inclined to admit. A considerable proportion of our reasoning is merely an automatic function, so to speak, of influences and impressions which have become part of us, and anyone who has been brought up from childhood in the stern school of military discipline is particularly apt to succumb to the hypnotic and compulsive force exercised by an order of word of command; a force which is logically entirely incomprehensible and which irresistibly undermines his will. In the straitjacket of a uniform, even though fully aware of their absurdity, an officer will carry out his instructions lie a sleep-walker, unresistingly and almost unconsciously.
It is not the healthy, the confident, the proud, the joyous, the happy, that one must love - they have no need of one's love! Arrogant and indifferent, they accept love only as homage that is theirs to command, as their due. The devotion of another is to them a mere embellishment, an ornament for the hair, a bracelet on the arm, not the whole meaning and bliss of their lives. Only those with whom life has dealt hardly, the wretched, the slighted, the uncertain, the unlovely, the humiliated, could really be helped by love. He who devotes his life to them atones to them for what life has taken from them. They alone know how to love and be loved as one should love - gratefully and humbly.
The heart is able to bury deep and well what is urgently desires to forget.
No guilt is forgotten so long as the conscience still knows of it.
Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman (1927)
Most people have very little imagination. They are hardly moved by anything which does not directly touch them, which does not positively hammer its message upon their senses; but even a trifle, should it happen under their very eyes, and within the immediate range of their feelings, will instantly kindle in them a disproportionate amount of passion. We may say that the rarity of their interest is compensated by an inappropriate and exaggerated vehemence when their interest is at last aroused.
In times of exceptional stress, nature will often give people's behavior so tragical a complexion that neither a picture nor a verbal description is competent to represent its titanic energy.
For one who is having no personal experience, the passionate disquiet of others is at any rate a titillation of the nerves, like seeing a play or listening to music.
Life is futile unless it be directed towards a definite goal.
Gratitude is a rare frame of mind; and those who are grateful can seldom find a way to express what they feel. They are overwhelmed by silence; are shamefaced; and, sometimes, actually try to hide their feelings.
Gratitude fills us with rejoicing, for it so rarely finds frank expression; delicacy of feeling warms our hearts.
Whatever a woman's reason may say, her feelings tell her the truth.
Pain is a coward. He flees when faced by the irresistible power of the will-to-live, which is more strongly rooted in the flesh than the intensest passion is rooted in the spirit.
As we grow old, we become aware that death is drawing near; his shadow falls across our path; the realities of life seem less crude than of yore, they touch our senses less intimately, and they lose much of their poignancy.
To grow old means to be rid of anxieties about the past.
Confusion of Feelings or Confusion: The Private Papers of Privy Councillor R. Von D (1927)
We live through myriads of seconds, but there is only one second among all these myriads which brings our whole inner world to the boil; the second in which, as Stendhal described, there suddenly takes place a crystallization in the supersaturated blood; a magical second like that of procreation, and, like it, hidden in the warm interior of one's own body, invisible, intangible, impalpable, a unique experience of mystery. No algebra of the soul can calculate it; no alchemy can divine it. Usually, even for ourselves, it remains unsearchable.
My father was a schoolmaster in a little North German town, and for the very reason that at home culture was a means of livelihood, I detested learning and literature from childhood onwards. That is nature's way. In pursuance of her mysterious design to safeguard the creative faculty, she is apt to make children scorn their father's bent. She does not want to encourage an easy, effortless acceptance of a heritage, a mere handing down of acquisitions from one generation to the next. She sows the seeds of discord, and will only allow children to follow in their parent's footsteps after they have made laborious but fruitful detours.
There is no understanding of the past without personal experience, without reliving it in imagination. A word is nothing unless it has values and an atmosphere, unless you grasp its historical significance.
He who studies without passion will never become anything more than a pedant. We must approach knowledge from the inside; inspired by passion.
To the young, what can be more disturbing, what more unsettling and tantalizing, than the play of vague suspicions? The fancy, ceasing to wander in the void, concentrates upon a definite aim, and luxuriates in the febrile pleasures of the chase.
Nothing moves young people so much as to witness a sublime and virile gloom. Michelangelo's thinker staring down into the abyss of his own thoughts, Beethoven's poignantly drawn lips; these tragical masks of universal suffering touch the crude emotions of youth far more than Mozart's silver melodies or the crystalline light that radiates from Leonardo's figures. Being itself beauty, youth has no need of transfiguration. In the superabundance of its vital forces, it is allured by the tragical, and in its inexperience, is prone to accept the embraces of melancholy. That, too, is why youth is always ready for danger, and ever willing to extend a brotherly hand towards mental pain.
Youth is always right. Those who follow the counsels of youth are wise.
England rose before our eyes; the island girdled by the stormy waters in which all the continents of the globe are laved. In that sea-girt isle, the ocean holds sway. The cold and clear gaze of the watery element is reflected in the eyes of the inhabitants. Every one of the dwellers in that land is one of the sea-folk, is himself an island. The storms and dangers of the sea have left their mark, and live on to-day in these English, whose ancestors for centuries were vikings and sea-raiders. Now peace broods over the isle. But the dwellers therein, used to storms, crave for the lie of the sea with its daily perils. When it is denied them, they create its stormy likeness for themselves in blood-sports. They build wooden lists for beast-baiting. The voluptuous horror of the spectators is stimulated in bestial fashion by watching cock-fights or by looking on while bears are torn by dogs. Soon here is a demand for a loftier tension of the senses, such as can be derived from the spectacle of heroic human conflicts. Thus there grows out of the medieval religious mysteries, the great drama of human effort, in which the adventures and the voyages of earlier days are depicted - voyages no longer sailed on a real sea, but on the inner sea of man's feelings. A new infinity, another ocean with spring tides of passion and an uprush of the spirit; a determination to steer a course through the waters on which heretofore they were driven at the mercy of winds and waves - such are the new longings of the late-born and vigorous Anglo-Saxon race. Such is the origin of the Elizabethan drama.
When a man has a passion for a woman, and when that passion is of such a nature that he regards her with reverent admiration as an image of purity, none the less, in the unconscious, his desires turn towards bodily fulfillment, none the less the goal of physical possession is prefigured in the deepest recesses of his imagination. But when the passion is confined to the realm of the spirit, and, in that realm, is a man's passion for a man, how can it seek fulfillment? Unrestingly, the fancy wanders over the honored form, flaming up again and again to fresh ecstasy, but never finding repose in a last surrender. It flows on without pause in a current that can never empty the reservoir from which it comes. This passion is insatiable, as the spirit invariably is.
Adultery is in most cases a theft in the dark. At such moments almost every woman betrays her husband's innermost secrets; becomes a Delilah who discloses to a stranger, discloses to her lover, the mysteries of her husband's strength or weakness. What seems to me treason is, not that women give themselves, but that a woman is prone, when she does so, to justify herself to herself by uncovering her husband's nakedness, exposing it to the inquisitive and scornful gaze of a stranger.
The Post Office Girl (published posthumously in 1982)
Once shame touches your being at any point, even the most distant nerve is implicated, whether you know it or not; any fleeting encounter or random thought will rake up the anguish and add to it.
All office workers are afraid of being late for work.
The dressmaker doesn't have problems unless the dress has to hide rather than reveal.
In the end one needs forbearance to get by in this world.
The soul is made of stuff so mysteriously elastic that a single event can make it big enough to contain the infinite.
He looked at her again, now with the vague abject shyness that older men often have with young women, as though asking their indulgence for no longer being young.
Names have a mysterious transforming power. Like a ring on a finger, a name may at first seem merely accidental, committing you to nothing; but before you realize its magical power, it's gotten under your skin, become part of you and your destiny.
Confidences are always risky: a secret entrusted to a stranger make him less of one. You've given away something of yourself, given him the advantage.
Someone who's on top of the world isn't much of an observer: happy people are poor psychologists. But someone who's troubled about something is on the alert. The perceived threat sharpens his senses - he takes in more than he usually does.
Hairdressers are professional gossips; when only the hands are busy, the tongue is seldom still.
Malice is always lucky.
The subject of a rumor is always the last to hear it.
There is nothing more vindictive, nothing more underhanded, than a little world that would like to be a big one.
Memory is so corrupt that you remember only what you want to; if you want to forget about something, slowly but surely you do.
Fear is a distorting mirror in which anything can appear as a caricature of itself, stretched to terrible proportions; once inflamed, the imagination pursues the craziest and most unlikely possibilities. What is most absurd suddenly seems the most probable.
Ever since the war he's had a low opinion of people and of nations, they're selfish, all of them, without the imagination to see the injustices they're perpetrating. The idealism of his youth, a belief in the moral mission of mankind and the enlightened spirit of the white race that he took from the lectures of John Stuart Mill and his followers, was buried once and for all in the bloody mire of Ypres and the chalk quarry at Soissons where his son met his death. Politics disgusts him, the cool conviviality of the club and the showy self-congratulation of the public banquet repel him; since the death of his son he's avoided making new acquaintances. His own generation's sour unwillingness to recognize the truth and its inability to adapt to the postwar era anger him, as does the younger generation's smart-alecky thoughtlessness. But with this girl he's regained belief, a vague devout gratitude for the mere existence of youth; in her presence he sees that one generation's painfully acquired mistrust of life is fortunately neither understood nor credited by the next, and that each new wave of youth is a new beginning.
There's an inherent limit to the stress that any material can bear. Water has its boiling point, metals their melting points. The elements of the spirit behave the same way. Happiness can reach a pitch so great that any further happiness can't be felt. Pain, despair, humiliation, disgust, and fear are no different. Once the vessel is full, the world can't add to it.
You're going to tell me that poverty's nothing to be ashamed of. It's not true, though. If you can't hide it, then it is something to be ashamed of. There's nothing you can do, you're ashamed just the same, the way you're ashamed when you leave a spot on somebody's table. No matter if it's deserved or not, honorable or not, poverty stinks. Yes, stinks, stinks like a ground-floor room off an airshaft, or clothes that need changing. You smell it yourself, as though you were made of sewage. It can't be wiped away. It doesn't help to put on a new hat, any more than rinsing your mouth helps when you're belching your guts out. It's around you and on you and everyone who brushes up against you or looks at you knows it. I know the way women look down on you when you're down at heels. I know it's embarrassing for other people, but the hell with that, it's a lot more embarrassing when it's you. You can't get out of it, you can't get past it, the best thing to do is get plastered, and here" (he reached for his glass and drained it in a deliberately uncouth gulp) "here's the great social problem, here's why the 'lower classes' indulge in alcohol so much more - that problem that countesses and matrons in women's groups rack their brains over at tea. For those few minutes, those few hours, you forget you're an affront to other and to yourself. It's no great distinction to be seen in the company of someone dressed lie this, I know, but it's no fun for me either.
Nothing makes you madder than wanting to defend yourself against something you can't even get hold of, something the human race is doing to you, but still there's nobody you can grab by the throat.
The vast power of money, mighty when you have it and even mightier when you don't, with its divine gift of freedom and the demonic fury it unleashes on those forced to do without it — they felt this as never before and were filled with bitter rage when, in the dark of the early morning, they saw the brightly lit windows and knew that those glowing gold curtains gave shelter and freedom to hundreds of thousands of people, men with women they desired, while they themselves were homeless, plodding blindly through the streets, through the rain; it was cruel as only the sea could be cruel — the sea in which a person can die of thirst.
Something indefinite is always worse than something definite, a strong fear that doesn't last very long is easier than one that's nebulous but doesn't go away.
I don't have a trace of moral scruple, when it comes to the state I feel completely free. It's committed such terrible crimes against us all, against our generation, that we have a right to anything. I'm not worried about doing it damage, we'll just be recovering some damages for our entire battered generation. Who taught me how to steal, who made me do it, if not the state? Commandeering, that's the word they used during the war, or expropriating — Versailles called it reclamation. Who taught us how to cheat if not the state — how else would we know what money saved up by three generations could become worthless in a mere two weeks, that families could be swindled out of pastures, houses, and fields that had been theirs for a hundred years? Even if I kill someone, who trained me to do it? Six months on the drill field and then years at the front! We have an excellent case against the state, by God, we'll win in every court. It can never pay off its terrible debt, never give back what it took from us. Once there might have been a reason to have some qualms, back when the state was a good custodian, thrifty, decent, proper. Now that it's behaved like a hoodlum, we have the right to be hoodlums too.
The only respect in which man is superior to animals is that he can die when he wants to, not just when he has to. Maybe it's the one freedom you can always count on — the freedom to throw your life away.
No one would ever believe how hard it is to be really alone in a city of millions when you don't have money.