All Things are Possible  \  Part I


Theories of sequence and consequence are binding only upon the disciples, not upon the masters. Fathers of great ideas tend to be very careless about their progeny, giving very little heed to their future career. The offspring of one and the same philosopher frequently bear such small resemblance to one another, that it is impossible to discern the family connection. Conscientious disciples, wasting away under the arduous effort to discover that which does not exist, are brought to despair of their task. Having got an inkling of the truth concerning their difficulty, they give up the job for ever, they cease their attempt at reconciling glaring contradictions. But then they only insist the harder upon the necessity for studying the philosophers, studying them minutely, circumstantially, historically, philologically even. So the history of philosophy is born, which now is taking the place of philosophy. Certainly the history of philosophy may be an exact science since by means of historical research it is often possible to decide what exactly a certain philosopher did mean, and in what sense he employed his peculiar terms. And seeing that there have been a fair number of philosophers, the business of clearing them all up is a respectable undertaking, and deserves the name of a science. For a good translation or a commentary on the chief works of Kant a man may be given the degree of doctor of philosophy, and henceforth recognised as one who is initiated in the profundities of the secrets of the universe. Then why ever should anybody think out new systems—or even write them?


The raptures of creative activity!—empty words, invented by men who never had an opportunity of judging from their own experience, but who derive their conclusion syllogistically: "if a creation gives us such delight, what must the creator himself experience!" Usually the creator feels only vexations. Every creation is created out of the Void. At the best, the maker finds himself confronted with a formless, meaningless, usually obstinate and stiff matter, which yields reluctantly to form. And he does not know how to begin. Every time a new thought is engendered, so often must that new thought, which for the moment seems so brilliant and fascinating, be thrown aside as worthless. Creative activity is a continual progression from failure to failure, and the condition of the creator is usually one of uncertainty, mistrust, and shattered nerves. The more serious and original the task which a man sets himself, the more tormenting is the self-misgiving. For this reason even men of genius cannot keep up the creative activity to the last. As soon as they have acquired their technique, they begin to repeat themselves, well aware that the public willingly endures the monotony of a favourite, even finds virtue in it. Every connoisseur of art is satisfied if he recognises in a new work the accepted "manner" of the artist. Few realise that the acquiring of a manner is the beginning of the end. Artists realise well enough, and would be glad to be rid of their manner, which seems to them a hackneyed affair. But this requires too great a strain on their powers, new torments, doubts, new groping. He who has once been through the creative raptures is not easily tempted to try again. He prefers to turn out work according to the pattern he has evolved, calmly and securely, assured of his results. Fortunately no one except himself knows that he is not any longer a creator. What a lot of secrets there are in the world, and how easy it is to keep one's secret safe from indiscreet glances!


A writer works himself up to a pitch of ecstasy, otherwise he does not take up his pen. But ecstasy is not so easily distinguished from other kinds of excitement. And as a writer is always in haste to write, he has rarely the patience to wait, but at the first promptings of animation begins to pour himself forth. So in the name of ecstasy we are offered such quantities of banal, by no means ecstatic effusions. Particularly easy it is to confound with ecstasy that very common sort of spring-time liveliness which in our language is well-named calf-rapture. And calf-rapture is much more acceptable to the public than true inspiration or genuine transport. It is easier, more familiar.


A school axiom: logical skepticism refutes itself, since the denial of the possibility of positive knowledge is already an affirmation. But, in the first place, skepticism is not bound to be logical, for it has no desire whatever to gratify that dogma which raises logic to the position of law. Secondly, where is the philosophic theory which, if carried to its extreme, would not destroy itself? Therefore, why is more demanded from skepticism than from other systems? especially from skepticism, which honestly avows that it cannot give that which all other theories claim to give.


The Aristotelian logic, which forms the chief component in modern logic, arose, as we know, as a result of the permanent controversies which were such sport to the Greeks. In order to argue, it is indeed necessary to have a common ground; in other words, to agree about the rules of the game. But in our day dialectic tournaments, like all other bouts of contention, no longer attract people. Thus logic may be relegated to the background.


In Gogol's Portrait, the artist despairs at the thought that he has sacrificed art for the sake of "life." In Ibsen’s drama, When We Dead Awaken, there is also an artist, who has become world-famous, and who repents that he has sacrificed his life—to art. Now, choose—which of the two ways of repentance do you prefer?


Man is often quite indifferent to success whilst he has it. But once he loses his power over people, he begins to fret. And—vice versa.


Turgenev’s Insarov strikes the imagination of Elena because he is a man preparing for battle. She prefers him to Shubin the painter, or to Berseniev the savant. Since ancient days women have looked with favour on warriors rather than on peaceful men. Had Turgenev invested that idea with less glamour, he would probably not have become the ideal of the young. Who does not get a thrill from Elena and her elect? Who has not felt the fascination of Turgenev’s women! And yet all of them give themselves to the strong male. With such "superior people," as with beasts, the males fight with each other, the woman looks on, and when it is over, she submits herself the slave of the conqueror.


A caterpillar is transformed into a chrysalis, and for a long time lives in a warm, quiet little world. Perhaps if it had human consciousness it would declare that that world was the best, perhaps the only one possible to live in. But there comes a time when some unknown influence causes the little creature to begin the work of destruction. If other caterpillars could see it how horrified they would be, revolted to the bottom of their soul by the awful work in which the insurgent is engaged. They would call it immoral, godless, they would begin to talk about pessimism, skepticism, and so on. To destroy what has cost such labour to construct! Why, what is wrong with this complete, cosy, comfortable little world? To keep it intact they call to their aid sacred morality and the idealistic theory of knowledge. Nobody cares that the caterpillar has grown wings, that when it has nibbled its old nest away it will fly out into space—nobody gives a thought to this.

Wings—that is mysticism; self-nibbling—this is actuality. Those who are engaged in such actuality deserve torture and execution. And there are plenty of prisons and voluntary hangmen on the bright earth. The majority of books are prisons, and great authors are not bad hangmen.


Nietzsche and Dostoevsky seem to be typical "inverted simulators," if one may use the expression. They imitated spiritual sanity, although they were spiritually insane. They knew their morbidity well enough, but they exhibited their disease only to that extent where freakishness passes for originality. With the sensitiveness peculiar to all who are in constant danger, they never went beyond the limits. The axe of the guillotine of public opinion hung over them: one awkward move, and the execution automatically takes place. But they knew how to avoid unwarrantable moves.


The so-called ultimate questions troubled mankind in the world's dawn as badly as they trouble us now. Adam and Eve wanted "to know," and they plucked the fruit at their risk. Cain, whose sacrifice did not please God, raised his hand against his brother: and it seemed to him he committed murder in the name of justice, in vindication of his own injured rights. Nobody has ever been able to understand why God preferred Abel's sacrifice to that of Cain. In our own day Salieri repeats Cain's vengeance and poisons his friend and benefactor Mozart, according to the poem of Pushkin. "All say, there is no justice on earth; but there is no justice up above: this is as clear to me as a simple scale of music." No man on earth can fail to recognise in these words his own tormenting doubts. The outcome is creative tragedy, which for some mysterious reason has been considered up till now as the highest form of human creation. Everything is being unriddled and explained. If we compare our knowledge with that of the ancients, we appear very wise. But we are no nearer to solving the riddle of eternal justice than Cain was. Progress, civilisation, all the conquests of the human mind have brought us nothing new here. Like our ancestors, we stand still with fright and perplexity before ugliness, disease, misery, senility, death. All that the wise men have been able to do so far is to turn the earthly horrors into problems. We are told that perhaps all that is horrible only appears horrible, that perhaps at the end of the long journey something new awaits us. Perhaps! But the modern educated man, with the wisdom of all the centuries of mankind at his command, knows no more about it than the old singer who solved universal problems at his own risk. We, the children of a moribund civilisation, we, old men from our birth, in this respect are as young as the first man.


They say it is impossible to set a bound between the "I" and society. Naïveté! Crusoes are to be found not only on desert islands. They are there, in populous cities. It is true they are not clad in skins, they have no dark Fridays in attendance, and so nobody recognises them. But surely Friday and a fur jacket do not make a Crusoe. Loneliness, desertion, a boundless, shoreless sea, on which no sail has risen for tens of years, do not many of our contemporaries live in such a circumstance? And are they not Crusoes, to whom the rest of people have become a vague reminiscence, barely distinguishable from a dream?


To be irremediably unhappy—this is shameful. An irremediably unhappy person is outside the laws of the earth. Any connection between him and society is severed finally. And since, sooner or later, every individual is doomed to irremediable unhappiness, the last word of philosophy is loneliness.


"It is better to be an unhappy man, than a happy pig." The utilitarians hoped by this golden bridge to get over the chasm which separates them from the promised land of the ideal. But psychology stepped in and rudely interrupted: There are no unhappy people, the unhappy ones are all pigs. Dostoevsky's philosopher of the underworld, Raskolnikov, also Hamlet, and suchlike, are not simply unhappy men whose fate might be esteemed, or even preferred before some happy fates; they are simply unhappy swine. And they themselves are principally aware of it... He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.


If you want people to envy you your sorrow or your shame, look as if you were proud of it. If you have only enough of the actor in you, rest assured, you will become the hero of the day. Since the parable of the Pharisee and the publican was uttered, what a lot of people who could not fulfill their sacred duties pretended to be publicans and sinners, and so aroused sympathy, even envy.


Philosophers dearly love to call their utterances "truths," since in that guise they become binding upon us all. But each philosopher invents his own truths. Which means that he asks his pupils to deceive themselves in the way he shows, but that he reserves for himself the option of deceiving himself in his own way. Why? Why not allow everyone to deceive himself just as he likes?


When Xanthippe poured slops over Socrates, as he returned from his philosophical occupations, tradition says that he observed: "After a storm there is always rain." Would it not be more worthy (not of the philosopher, but of philosophy) to say: After one's philosophical exercise, one feels as if one had had slops emptied over one's head. And therefore Xanthippe did but give outward expression to what had taken place in Socrates’ soul. Symbols are not always beautiful.


From the notes of an underworld man - "I read little, I write little, and, it seems to me, I think little. He who is ill-disposed towards me will say that this shows a great defect in my character, perhaps he will call me lazy, an Oblomov, and will repeat the copy-book maxim that idleness is the mother of all the vices. A friend, on the other hand, will say it is only a temporary state, that perhaps I am not quite well—in short, he will find random excuses for me, more with the idea of consoling me than of speaking the truth. But for my part, I say let us wait. If it turns out at the end of my life that I have ‘done’ not less than others why, then—it will mean that idleness may be a virtue."

[Oblomov, novel by Goncharov, about a weak-willed aristocratic idler - A.K.]


Börne, a contemporary of Heine, was very much offended when his enemies insisted on explaining his misanthropic outpourings as the result of a stomach and liver disease. It seemed to him much nobler and loftier to be indignant and angry because of the triumph of evil on earth, than because of the disorders of his own physical organs. Sentimentality apart—was he right, and is it really nobler?


A real writer disdains to repeat from hearsay events which he has not witnessed. It seems to him tedious and humiliating to tell "in his own words," like a schoolboy, things which he has fished out of another man's books. But there—how can we expect him to stoop to such insignificance!


Whilst conscience stands between the educated and the lower classes, as the only possible mediator, there can be no hope for mutual understanding. Conscience demands sacrifices, nothing but sacrifices. It says to the educated man: "You are happy, well-off, learned—the people are poor, unhappy, ignorant; renounce therefore your well-being, or else soothe your conscience with suave speeches." Only he who has nothing to sacrifice, nothing to lose, having lost everything, can hope to approach the people as an equal.

This is why Dostoevsky and Nietzsche were not afraid to speak in their own name, and did not feel compelled either to stretch up or to stoop down in order to be on a level with men.


Not to know what you want is considered a shameful weakness. To confess it is to lose for ever not only the reputation of a writer, but even of a man. None the less, "conscience" demands such a confession. True, in this case as in most others the demands of conscience are satisfied only when they incur no very dire consequences. Leaving aside the fact that people are no longer terrified of the once-so-terrible public opinion (the public has been tamed, it listens with reverence to what is told to it, and never dares judge) - the admission "I do not know myself what I want" seems to offer a guarantee of something important. Those who know what they want generally want trifles, and attain to inglorious ends: riches, fame, or at the best, progress or a philosophy of their own. Even now it is sometimes not a sin to laugh at such wonders, and may-be the time is coming when a rehabilitated Hamlet will announce, not with shame but with pride: "I don't in the least know what I want." And the crowd will applaud him, for the crowd always applauds heroes and proud men.


Fear of death is explained conclusively by the desire for self-preservation. But at that rate the fear should disappear in old and sick people, who ought by nature to look with indifference on death. Whereas the horror of death is present in all living things. Does not this suggest that there is still some other reason for the dread, and that even where the pangs of horror cannot save a man from his end, still it is a necessary and purposeful anguish? The natural-scientific explanation here, as usual, stops halfway, and fails to lead the human mind to the promised goal.


Moral indignation is only a refined form of ancient vengeance. Once anger spoke with daggers, now words will do. And happy is the man who, loving and thirsting to chastise his offender, yet is appeased when the offense is punished. On account of the gratification it offers to the passions, morality, which has replaced bloody chastisement, will not easily lose its charm. But there are offenses, deep, unforgettable offenses, inflicted not by people, but by "laws of nature." How are we to settle these? Here neither dagger nor indignant word will serve. Therefore, for him who has once run foul of the laws of nature morality sinks, for ever or for a time, into subsidiary importance.


Fatalism frightens people particularly in that form which holds it just to say, of anything that happens, or has happened, or will happen: be it so! How can one acquiesce in the actuality of life, when it contains so many horrors? But amor fati does not imply eternal acquiescence in actuality. It is only a truce, for a more or less lasting period. Time is needed in which to estimate the forces and intentions of the enemy. Under the mask of friendship the old enmity persists, and an awful revenge is in preparation.


In the "ultimate questions of life" we are not a bit nearer the truth than our ancestors were. Everybody knows it, and yet so many go on talking about infinity, without any hope of ever saying anything. It is evident that a result—in the usual acceptance of the word—is not necessary. In the very last resort we trust to instinct, even in the field of philosophy, where reason is supposed to reign supreme, uttering its eternal "Why?" "Why?" laughs at all possible "becauses." Instinct, however, does not mock. It simply ignores the whys, and leads us by impossible ways to ends that our divine reason would hold absurd, if it could only see them in time. But reason is a laggard, without much foresight, and therefore, when we have run up to an unexpected conclusion, nothing remains but for reason to accept: or even to justify, to exalt the new event. And therefore,—"reality is reasonable," say the philosophers: reasonable, not only when they draw their philosophic salaries, as the socialists, and with them our philosopher Vladimir Soloviov, explain; but still reasonable even when philosophers have their maintenance taken away from them. Nay, in the latter case, particularly in the latter case, in spite of the socialists and Vl. Soloviov, reality shows herself most reasonable. A philosopher persecuted, downtrodden, hungry, cold, receiving no salary, is nearly always an extreme fatalist although this, of course, by no means hinders him from abusing the existing order. Theories of sequence and consequence, as we already know, are binding only upon disciples, whose single virtue lies in their scrupulous, logical developing of the master's idea. But masters themselves invent ideas, and, therefore, have the right to substitute one for another. The sovereign power which proclaims a law has the same power to abolish it. But the duty of the subordinate consists in the praise, in the consequential interpretation and the strict observance of the dictates of the higher will.


The Pharisee in the parable fulfilled all that religion demanded of him: kept his fasts, paid his tithes, etc. Had he a right to be pleased with his own piety, and to despise the erring publican? Everybody thought so, including the Pharisee himself. The judgment of Christ came as the greatest surprise to him. He had a clear conscience. He did not merely pretend before others to be righteous, he himself believed in his own righteousness. And suddenly he turns out guilty, awfully guilty. But if the conscience of a righteous man does not help him to distinguish between good and evil, how is he to avoid sin? What does Kant's moral law mean, that law which was as consoling as the starry sky? Kant lived his life in profound peace of soul, he met his death quietly, in the consciousness of his own purity. But if Christ came again, he might condemn the serene philosopher for his very serenity. For the Pharisee, we repeat, was righteous, if purity of intentions, together with a firm readiness to fulfill everything which appears to him in the light of duty, be righteousness in a man.


We jeer and laugh at a man not because he is ridiculous, but because we want to have a laugh out of him. In the same way we are indignant, not because this or the other act is revolting to us, but because we want to let off our steam. But it does not follow from this that we ought always to be calm and smooth. Woe to him who would try to realise the ideal of justice on earth.


We think with peculiar intensity during the hard moments of our life - we write when we have nothing else to do. So that a writer can only communicate something of importance in reproducing the past. When we are driven to think, we have unfortunately no mind to write, which accounts for the fact that books are never more than a feeble echo of what a man has gone through.


Chekhov has a story called Misfortune which well illustrates the difficulty a man finds in adapting himself to a new truth, if this truth threaten the security of his condition. The Merchant Avdeyer does not believe that he is condemned, that he has been brought to trial, and tried, and found guilty, for his irregularities in a public bank. He still thinks the verdict is yet to come—he still waits. In the world of learning something like this is happening. The educated have become so accustomed to think themselves not guilty, perfectly in the right, that they do not admit for a moment even now that they are brought to court. When threatening voices reach them, calling them to give an account of themselves, they only suspiciously shrug their shoulders. "All this will pass away"—they think. Well, when at last they are convinced that misfortune has befallen them, they will probably begin to justify themselves, like Avdeyer, declaring that they cannot even read printed matter sufficiently well. As yet, they pass for respectable, wise, experienced, omniscient men.

Orphus system

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