Plucking out and throwing away
The world stinging her as thorn,
This girl walked swiftly away somewhere.
Translation of Ismail’s Telugu poem, original below.
ఈ పిల్ల చక చకా
Plucking out and throwing away
The world stinging her as thorn,
This girl walked swiftly away somewhere.
Translation of Ismail’s Telugu poem, original below.
ఈ పిల్ల చక చకా
Yesterday I realized
From the white-knuckle silence
She wouldn’t let go
That I am still unborn
A point of no focus
Not ready yet
For her words that ring love
May never be ready yet
For that chuckle from her eyes
And so I am in a good place
Where strangers reside
And dream of afterlives.
Do I not see in your face
The growing pointlessness of me?
Did I not get used to you
Not even trying to ignore me?
What then is this longing still,
For a feeling for home,
For an uplifting of moods?
I must announce this secret
Before my weariness takes over
Listen all you clueless people
In this world, a woman is a home
A man is a wandering guest,
Cap in hand, begging for love
Take what she gives you,
But before you start believing
You found a home,
Her silence will kill you anyway
Lust never sleeps,
It dreams of you
Your face in my head
Questioning me, confronting me
With those big conquering eyes
Prodding me to be straight
And honorable, to you, to you alone
Squeezing the last breath out of me
Until all gone, except the desire
To please you more
Not even you can take that away from me
You say that you have children,
That your eyes are just eyes
And that your breasts are just breasts
Hearing such heartless you
I sigh, longing for your
Neck, for your waist and thighs
Orphans you stole from my palms
And gave them to your family
And so until I get them back
Lust never sleeps
Appearing in the slightest wind
That carries a memory to you
Here I am thinking,
You were nicer to me
When you were pregnant
Now all you do is
Give me a frown,
An abrupt look away
So I urge you,
Become pregnant again,
And walk in through the hallway
On a bright sunny morning
So we can be friends again
Then I can stop kicking myself,
And stop writing pedantic poetry like this,
Quoting the only Lord Byron fragment I remember,
“And must thy lyre, so long divine,
Degenerate into hands like mine?*
*Lord Byron, in his “The Isles of Greece”
If you let yourself go fat,
and a bit of you begins to be
amused by the world’s tantrums,
And another bit of you is a witness
to this amused you but in a passing way,
then, my friend, there’s hope for you.
All this means you have seized on
to the way of life that does not fall
in the allure of the svelte body
toned, and attuned to fashion.
This in turn means there’s a bit of you
that did not lose its inward glance,
and there’s a bit of you that declines
to ignore the time passed.
And a bit of you that begins to soften
at the innocence that is the true nature
of these fashionable trends,
And the same bit of you sees
that it is your own ignorance
that made this innocence into a
lifestyle of ignorance.
Now gather all these bits of you
and see them not one by one
but altogether in a single view.
In that view you will see
a path open up that leads you
through the thick and thin
and the increasing din of your tomorrow
A path toward a habit, an outlook
a language, a discipline,
a method, an attitude,
And a sense of commitment
that gives you depth.
Of what this depth consist of,
and where it leads to,
it is for you to find out.
These days I keep imagining you
Sitting in the middle of everyone
But looking elsewhere
Sighing and smiling
Thrown to wolves, I wander in myself
Keeping a distance from you
Body exchange is impossible
Kiss exchange has to be even more imaginary
We are bandinis of our age
Tied to our younger dreams
Mistaking them to be our secrets
Glorifying them, and
Dramatically becoming weary
Until slow frustrations turn into
Shaking of the fingers
Quivering of the tears
Now the chest beats faster
Now the mind wanders off,
And keeps wandering off
Now I am not just hungry again,
Not just thirsty again
Because this younger dream
Has turned into a fever,
Stealing my peace
Stealing my friends
Stealing my wish to die
How strange I must appear to you
That you don’t even feel me
But wait, isn’t this what I always wanted
A release from the world, one by one?
So I smile at your silence
And look at the heavens
Strip, strip strip strip
Strip everything strip
That look from the corner of your eye, strip
That raising your eyebrow in a tease, strip
Strip that microsecond look of longing at me, strip
Strip that touching my shoulder openly,
But sending electric waves to me secretly, strip
Strip, strip away all of that, my dear
So you can be an independent, professional woman.
Walk, walk walk walk
Walk sternly walk
Frown, glower, offended, not looking at me walk
Happy you put me in my place walk
Go each of us to our corners
You kicking my heart away,
I kicking my guts in
In crush over you.
And happy new year to you.
Let me begin by making you a woman again
And tell you who you actually are
Beneath the snow of indifference that piled up on you
And made you stop feeling womanly.
When you speak on the phone,
Your voice goes inside me
And fills me with a quiet charge
When you laugh, with that self-deprecating humor of yours
You ignite that powder keg you just deposited in me
And I pace restlessly in the room
Your eyes, your jaw, your neck,
Your waist, and all your forbidden spaces
Now suddenly make me shy and blush
Remembering the times when you
Made love to me, as only you have,
Owning my body, my muscles
My shoulders and my confidence
And rightfully so.
Now take my hand,
Feel its warmth
Feel its eagerness
Feel all its crazy fingers
Feel you melting in them
And then stop feeling
And stay suspended on the edge
As long as I let you
Until I command you
Follow my lead
Like the woman that I made you
Days are going by.
And I hold you
With content that comes from imagining you
A steady hand,
Calming my restlessness
Those searching anxious eyes
Staring at unresolved questions
Brightening quietly on seeing me
Such is the signature of my wife
On the sheets of my macrolove
Before she leaves me every morning
Saying “this grave is for you” you put me to sleep one night,
Years ago. Erased me from your memory.
Now, when our lost intimacy presses my heart,
I roll up my full sleeves, touch my naked forearms,
Imagining your face, rising from your night,
Into my morning, like a kindred sun we shared once.
I wake up now and then, on the shores of detachment,
Looking back wistfully at the ocean of love I left behind.
Old soul that you are, dear N., may you live deep within it,
Like those creatures in The Abyss.
While I switch on and off the blue lights all over your body,
Saying, “you love me,” and “you love me not.”
I know this is the end.
I am saying this to will the end to come over me.
To forget you.
To will myself to go back in time before I saw you.
To have been looking the other way in that moment when you walked in.
To be innocent of you again.
To be free again.
To have been filled with a cloud of indifference from the start, so that now I would be someone else.
Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be a stranger!
To be a visitor.
I could’ve begun with you, and added this whole world to which I would be a stranger.
But, alas, one look at you and I missed that chance.
So here I am, resetting, restarting.
Backing up all the way, before the crush.
What an arduous task this re-collection is…
(On stage, she is sitting crouched, lamenting, wailing and cursing Death who is standing quietly, about five feet in front of her, with its back to her.)
If you are so focused on not seeing me
What is this urge in me then
To make you feel what I feel
You must see someone else
As I see you in my crush
You must love someone else
As I think I love you,
Do I make you feel dishonorable
Or is it loyalty to your present love?
(At these words Death, taking a sudden deep breath, appeared to turn towards her, but held itself motionless. It was evident it is having a difficult time controlling itself.)
(She kept staring at her own hands, her voice now quieter, deeper, heavy with anguish)
Don’t you see me at this hour, everyday,
Saying your ordinary things are my extraordinary things,
Sharing secretly with you my weakest self?
Then why do you keep me,
Between your ignorings and uncarings,
Why won’t you release me
What more do you want?
(Then she became quiet. Death stood still as before. A few moments passed. Then at the sound of the bell that rang abruptly and loudly, the viewer rose, closed the laptop screen, on which the stage scene was being played, and stood up. Until tomorrow.)
I can see her saying she loves me.
Barely the words left her lips and they are already reverberating a millionth time in my head. Already reconfiguring my brain circuits. Raising the action potentials, reconnecting a billion more neurons.
Thus it is proven that some words have higher velocity. Especially words from women who say they love you.
In that moment I can feel time stop and start again. Like a switch, something in me shifts from despair to a bright possibility.
All this is because she learned the giving portion of love, forgetting the taking portion.
That’s all it took for her to say it. To me. Only to me. Always to me.
Your baby, standing on her tiny wobbly legs,
Staring at you, her fingers joyfully in her mouth
I am like that, when it comes to you.
Who are you, then? I’ve heard it said
That there is a phase women go through,
When they roughshod over children like me,
While I stand staring at you, my heart in my mouth.
Is that you?
They won’t believe it,
No one will believe it.
How you held my body, my heart, and my happiness,
Firmly to the ground,
And flew them in the air,
With one and same smile,
And with one and the same turn of your eyes,
On me. Today. At last.
How curiously I am submitting to your will,
Suppressing my impulse to talk to you,
Holding myself back from saying what’s in my heart,
Am I growing up? Is this wisdom?
Are you my country? Is this what loving you really means?
Are you teaching me how to be a friend,
Weaning me from my habit of turning into your lover?
Now. Today. Finally. I feel rested.
Saw you walk by
A little boldly today.
I turned away, but only a little
Worried that my very look at you,
Would afflict both of us.
You with more derision of me,
I with more longing for you.
How I yearn to talk to you,
To see your smile,
And those alarmed, big eyes,
Even if they cut me down,
With their diamond looks.
“Here, it is these glasses,” said she,
When I said I can’t see the Totality.
Still seeing only darkness,
I mumbled to myself, “Why I still can’t see it, even with these?”
I turned around, but she disappeared, like she was never there.
“I see what you did there,” I thought.
I was looking not at the sky, but at the people around me,
My blackness was the Totality for them,
Their whiteness was the Totality for me.
“Maybe we need shades,” I wondered.
Like those children wore over there.
Saw him first,
Groping in the dim light of my allowing eyes,
So I squeezed him in, with my gentle hands.
He stepped forward, wishing only not to be a stranger,
But just a friend for now,
Maybe, if God willing, even a dreamy lover, later.
Guided his already-blind eyes, with my gentle hands,
Saying they are lively, saying they are warm,
Read his poems, saying they are vitreous,
Saying they are mystical.
Even now I remember how it felt when I squeezed
His heart like a ripe yellow mango in my fist.
Slurpy, squishy, dripping all over my fingers and palm.
Had a hard time keeping it in my grip,
The yellow juice already sticky,
And when it unexpectedly flew squeaking out of my palm,
Hit the clean white fridge door,
And landed spinning round and round on the cement floor,
Suddenly the mango was not juicy anymore.
I washed my hand, cleaned my teeth, feeling more yucky.
As the water tasted salty, I stared at my hand,
And wondered what the hell was all that about.
Then, satiated, I suddenly remembered,
That I ought to be independent,
That I ought to be, dedicated
To my first love, to my family, to my children,
And to my provincial right and wrong,
And that I ought not to let in
That that I ought not to give in
So I touched my breasts
Said they are not special
Said he is blind.
Young women these days
And so, self-centered,
Married, betrothed, dedicated.
Groping out of the dim light of her accusing eyes,
He stepped forward,
Now as a stranger,
Wishing not even to be a friend,
But still, maybe, if God willing,
A dreamy lover, some day.
There was a time,
Two sisters enquired about you.
Two brothers joked,
Made my face flush.
A mother and a father,
Anxiously asked for your name
But I, I only loved with possession,
Groped between your breasts,
Pushing them away, looking for the heart,
Forgetting myself, and my manners
Kept awake by your self-consciousness,
I tried to cling onto your heart,
Tried to fill those self-conscious spaces
Wondering what manner of love is this,
I suckle your breast like a child
And make love to you like a man
What an in-between world is this
Not yet a child in you,
No longer only your man
Eagerly waiting, will I be a boy or a girl?
I giggle hard, kick hard,
Roll over hard, laughing hard,
While you, palms on your stomach
Say you never had it so hard,
And swear, “What manner of love this is…!
No more, no no no, no more!”
How with feeling your eyes smiled today
I cannot describe it, simply cannot
They ask me to come for life
And stay for children
They promised me,
That the thighs will remain curious
Why the breasts are heavier,
And why they sigh so much,
As though burdened by the secret.
And so I make my turn,
One more for today, like everyday,
To live, and to tell,
Though I cannot really describe it, really cannot
How, for me, your eyes smiled today
And so here I am,
Back again in your blindspot.
Not in your thoughts,
Nor in your fascinations,
Not even a chance, years from now,
To be in your recollections.
To be in your blindspot,
Is like not even being born,
But conscious enough to lament.
And so here I go,
In this august month of 2017,
Back into the blindspot,
Back into the Total Eclipse.
And I will look for you wistfully,
Among people coming in droves to see me.
Showing them my fate, cautioning them in whispers,
Not to be your enemy, you the heartless one.
This is the story of how I live in S-lane,
And how I love the little things here.
There are a thousand houses in the S-lane,
And when I walk here, a thousand looks,
Each a thousand carat diamond, greet me in the S-lane.
Each look cuts me in its own way,
One look she smiles heartless, before looking away,
One look she wishes me dead, and full of bones,
And another look she says I am all but artificial reasons.
At the end of this S-lane,
Is a graveyard of my dreams, and of my natural flair,
Still I walk in it, daily, almost daily,
With a 360-degree mirror around me,
That holds me up, to see for myself,
How I am still standing and walking tall in this S-lane,
While you, all thousand of you, run roughshod over me,
To reach that place, just before the graveyard,
Where everything is bigger than me,
Where hungry children eat what’s between my bones,
Without remorse or pity, knowing that,
Only then will I have been,
A useful furnishing of the human family,
Deserving of a quiet sleep in that graveyard,
Away from the looks of you, from the very looks of you.
Pouring coffee into the cup,
I realized something, and smiled.
I don’t have to die for you.
Of not even ignoring me,
Will bring your own ruinations.
You will no doubt go to heaven,
But only after your children mourn for you,
And only after you tire yourself,
Of looking for my eyes, ready to come to my arms.
By then I would be long buried,
In the graveyard of your regrets,
–Hidden from you when you stare at it
From your Electric Environment-friendly Car–
Turning and sighing in the golden casket
I built while dying, with my memories
My blessings, and my longings for you.
One look, one word
And I died everyday
I didn’t kiss you
Now, after 23 years
I still live
For one word, for one look
And for one kiss
To encode life
Into my 23 pairs
How long are you going to smile a public smile when you see me
Sweeping me out the door of your kindness and grace
How long am I to go on feeling a private guilt when I see you
Hoping one day you will see the chains you put me in
How long are you going to walk by my eyes, as if I am no one special to you
How long am I going to sigh, telling you I want to be someone special for you
How many times I should learn this lesson, to stop loving spontaneously
How many fresh kills am I to become, for you who judge me slovenly
Oh, how I wish I live like an old man in a village
Away from the likes of you, from the very likes of you
Don’t hold back
It is not your love I want
Nor your affection, not yet anyway
Not even your attention—maybe just a little
But you allowing yourself,
When you see me,
The softness in your heart,
The ease in your body,
Ready, hesitating and stirring.
Showing, for now, only in
The smile in your eyes.
All from you
Only from you,
All the time from you
But you don’t know it,
You don’t care for it
You don’t want to know it,
You don’t even ignore it
I am a roadkill,
In slow motion crush
Resting in your unopened heart
As a child in a warm casket
I write these poems imagining
That you are reading them
Which then makes me imagine
That you are seeing the heart of me
And that convinces me
That you are touched by it
And that therefore you will begin
To see me in a new light
With a bit more tenderness
With a bit more friendliness
And with a bit more kindness
Witness what a pack of cards I built
My attachment on top of your detachment
My longing on top of your indifference
My lament breeding on your heavenly shoulders
Leaping in my heart like a pair of fish
So, reader, you tell me then
Isn’t it clear that what’s now in me
Is not yet what’s now in her?
Isn’t it better to be me, longing longing and longing
Than to be her, heartless stubborn impossible and … HEARTLESS?
You ignore me with a purpose
Believing that a cloud of unknowing
Will soon set in between us
And all will be professional, and knowing
Like how a plastic doll knows another plastic doll
Let us make a compromise.
You be as beautiful as you are
Take me as your porcelain doll
And when you begin to miss me
Hurl me against the wall
And gather a thousand more of me
Crushed, I turned inward
“Whatever’s wrong with me,” I kept muttering to myself,
“That she wouldn’t even look at me.”
Then suddenly taken aback, I saw,
That all these “I”s and “me”s
Keep getting in the way
All at once showing me why it is
That she wouldn’t even look at me
Oho, I thought, this is how a man like me
Turns into his own enemy
Upset with me,
Suddenly opening the door,
For bursting open the door
I closed for your sake long ago,
And letting in sunshine and air,
[Original Telugu poem “Talupu” by Ismail]
Telugu original below, from this page (scroll down to almost the bottom of the page): ఈమాట Magazine – రాత్రి వచ్చిన రహస్యపు వాన
నా మీద అలిగి
భళ్ళున తలుపు తెరచుకుని
నీకై ఎన్నడో మూసుకున్న తలుపును
గాలీ వెలుతురూ రానిచ్చినందుకు
This scintillating book by David Shulman is a godsend and a must-read. Godsend because at last folks outside of south India, scratch that, outside of Tamilnadu, now have a reliable source to parse that glorious tradition. I don’t understand the T of Tamil (not from that part of the country), but just read this, from page 117:
“She is perfectly aware who this god is, who they say he is, what stories they tell about him, but actually none of this matters much:
They say he’s the one in the sky.
They say he’s king of the gods.
They say he’s this place.
The wise one. The one whose neck
grew dark with poison.
But I say: he’s the one
in my heart.
What happens in the heart, in the inner, akam domain, is what counts–far more than anything a person might happen to know or think. Karuttu, “thought,” is not, in itself, highly valued, though the poetess says she can tell us how to fix it or upgrade it quickly. She has, in fact, used her own thinking apparatus to good effect:
I thought one thought.
I decided one thing.
There is one thing I’ve locked
in my heart.
Only one. The lord with Ganga
and the bright moon in his hair
and flames flashing
in his hand: I just want
to be his.
She’s in love. She’s unsatisfied. She’s counting the seconds. She knows her heart. No one can tell her what to do. No external source, no sacred text, no ritual, no pious platitudes, can have any effect. She is breathing this god in, minute by minute, and she sings.”
Seeing you first, I rushed
From first fill of the heart,
To first tenderness of a poem
Seeing me then, you stared
With that diamond look of silence
Black from your black eyes
Shimmering from your shining face
Blinding, from knife-cuts
Of your smiles for others
ఏమనుకున్నావూ, ఏదో చెత్త పోయెట్రీ రాస్తే మనమేదో మాట్లాడుకుంటామూ, దగ్గరవుతామూ అనా?
నా సంగతి నీకు తెలీదూ? అయినా నువ్వెవరు, అసలూ?
నేను నిన్ను నువ్వు అన్నప్పుడు పర్లేదు అని నువ్వన్నప్పుడు,
మొట్టమొదటి రోజు ఇంత పెద్ద కళ్ళ తో నన్ను చూసినట్టు నాకనిపించినప్పుడు,
నువ్వు, నీ శరీరమంతా ఒక హృదయమే అని నాకనిపించినప్పుడు,
ఎవరితోనూ మాట్లాడకుండా నీపని నువ్వు చేసుకుంటున్నప్పుడు,
అయినా నేనెవరూ, అసలు?
అని నన్ను నేనే ప్రశ్నించుకునేలా నన్ను చూసిన
నీ కళ్ళకు, and for such a beautiful you, థాంక్స్!
Ignoring me, you let your
Beautiful big eyes rest on your screens
Fine. Be that way then.
I will brush your cheeks
As an old memory
Breeze into your shining hair, newly highlighted,
As a vague question in your mind
Rest on your lips
As a sigh
And then you will look up
See me and smile, realizing
I am an answer to your secret.
It’s that simple.
Here, take my hand.
Like a fool
I am trying to
Match your indifference
But I will eventually
Die of indifference poison
You will soak yourself in
The love of your twins, of your children
Growing ever more bright
Ever more radiant
Ever more glorious
God, I wish I were pregnant
And show you a thing or two
Until then, until that next life
Here I am. Mute. Agonizing.
Recycling my used up indifference
Like a fool.
Head down in it, I was fiddling with the back panel, prying it open
A shadow, silvery, appeared, almost stopping my heart
I looked up, dropped everything, saw the silvery shadow turn into you golden
My nerves, trembling, brightened, “It’s you, really you.”
Your two big beautiful eyes back in my left ventricle and my right ventricle,
where they are needed.
Blood circulation began again. Life awoke again. I am happy again.
Thank you. Now come here.
New project. Indian Literature in Translation. Visit, subscribe, and if you know a good translation of an Indian literary work, send me details, I will put it up.
See see see, I am here, right here you see. First you turned me on. Turned me like a marble, from words of garble. Round and round in your fingers, round and round in your head.
Only a first draft
Wait till the second draft
Now you say “there is too much of you,” and you say “there is too little of me.” Now you scratch me, now you bench me.
Oh, be that way
Fine by me
It is raining outside
The girl with covered hands
Is waiting outside
So I go
From your story
To her children’s story
She has a turtle, a rabbit, a donkey. And a monkey. And a heart as big as a lion, as tender as an elephant’s. And she has a swallow.
Swallow, swallow meeee…
Now I fly
Over your house
Near your window
See see see, I am here, right here you see.
Another favorite from the vault of my crazy yester years. Brushed up, spruced up and made sure not messed up.
First cold hands, then warm you
Like a front’s coming
Soon sheets of macrolove
Envelope me and you
See, see? See how
Showers of microkisses
Fly up from you to me
Fat raindrops falling
On your body
As though rustling
On a thin gold foil
And so I end this poem thus
Prodding in old familiar places
Groping through your newer graces
When people gather together, the first thing they do is to tell each other the purpose of why they are there.
They begin by reciting their purpose, and the very reasons of being there.
This exchange somehow moves the field of the gathering into inspiring them. Isn’t this interesting?
Words that inspire people are not all soaring words, but just descriptions of themselves, of why they are there, where they were before and what they look forward to.
Pretty mundane, it seems to me. But different from the tin box of hollowness, of shallowness, we see in online gatherings.
When night and day
Our whispers came together
Crawling into each other’s bed
Or was it my bed, and your chair?
And then your hand reached
Through static and dynamic banners
Binary symmetric channels
Under the skirt that lay
On the pile of letters
The sharper images,
On the whispers
The sweet secrets,
And the sticky goodbyes
Of nights and days,
First we fiddled,
Then I fumbled
And you fidgeted
And then, suddenly
So now I go back,
To my waterman, to my brother
What a strange brew,
This blogosphere is…!
To our heartaches
And strewn with no-reply trackbacks
That make a pedantic me
Not fantastic as you
Got up in the morning,
Still reeling from
Awoke to a quiet home
New tigerwood floors
Wistfully filled up my expectations
Raising up my hopes
Will she like them?
Sixteen miles of Tehachapi Pass
Still winding in my head
From yesterday’s drive
I wash my face in still waters of love
Pausing now and then,
To hear her speak
Already 2017 is almost here, fast
Already 2016 is almost gone, fast
I guess I’ll still sit here,
By her door step, while she
Cleans her dishes, washes her clothes,
Laughs at her husband’s
Smeared hands with
Black stripes of Cherry Blossom
(“Black,” “PRESS HERE”)
“Like my tigerwood floors,”
I mumbled to myself,
Nearly crashing through
Nearly calling her out
I know it’s all history now
But look, what an old soul she is
The day wore on
I unpacked my bags
Cleaned my dishes, washed my clothes
Smiled at your picture
Walked around my empty house
Drifted into tomorrow’s needs
And wrote poetry
Pedantic as me,
Not fantastic as you
Let me try this one, she said
“…can I do this by my own?”
Pushing him away,
Twist on her lip said
“I look …y,”
Nearly taking it off
Color of his heart,
Standing by the door,
Almost sitting down,
Almost saying out loud
“Will she say yes, or no?”
Was it November?
Heaps of cigarette ash in the tray.
Who would believe
If I tell them now,
How we had internalized
This song already by then.
How we had the world in our fists already then,
How our fingers were crazy already by then,
And how we were Kings then,
Our quiet incriminating gaze
Turned inward already by then
Now I wake up to this Book of Saturday (click to play YouTube video)
And ask you, my Yesterday
Why won’t you talk to me?
We exchanged dreams once
Me being myself, you confident yourself
What is this now that I keep running into?
A cloud of unknowing between us
A graceless ignoring by one of us
“…And before I had time to look round I had adopted the views on life of the set of authors I had come among, and these views completely obliterated all my former strivings to improve. Those views furnished a theory which justified the dissoluteness of my life.
“The view of life of these people, my comrades in authorship, consisted in this: that life in general goes on developing, and in this development we — men of thought — have the chief part; and among men of thought it is we — artists and poets — who have the greatest influence. Our vocation is to teach mankind. And lest the simple question should suggest itself: What do I know, and what can I teach? it was explained in this theory that this need not be known, and that the artist and poet teach unconsciously. I was considered an admirable artist and poet, and therefore it was very natural for me to adopt this theory. I, artist and poet, wrote and taught without myself knowing what.
“For this I was paid money; I had excellent food, lodging, women, and society; and I had fame, which showed that what I taught was very good.
“This faith in the meaning of poetry and in the development of life was a religion, and I was one of its priests. To be its priest was very pleasant and profitable. And I lived a considerable time in this faith without doubting its validity. But in the second, and especially in the third year of this life, I began to doubt the infallibility of this religion and to examine it. My first cause of doubt was that I began to notice that the priests of this religion were not all in accord among themselves. Some said: We are the best and most useful teachers; we teach what is needed, but the others teach wrongly. Others said: No! we are the real teachers, and you teach wrongly. And they disputed, quarreled, abused, cheated, and tricked one another. There were also many among us who did not care who was right and who was wrong, but were simply bent on attaining their covetous aims by means of this activity of ours. All this obliged me to doubt the validity of our creed.
“Moreover, having begun to doubt the truth of the authors’ creed itself, I also began to observe its priests more attentively, and I became convinced that almost all the priests of that religion, the writers, were immoral, and for the most part men of bad, worthless character, much inferior to those whom I had met in my former dissipated and military life; but they were self-confident and self-satisfied as only those can be who are quite holy or who do not know what holiness is. These people revolted me, I became revolting to myself, and I realized that that faith was a fraud.
“But strange to say, though I understood this fraud and renounced it, yet I did not renounce the rank these people gave me: the rank of artist, poet, and teacher. I naively imagined that I was a poet and artist and could teach everybody without myself knowing what I was teaching, and I acted accordingly.
“From my intimacy with these men I acquired a new vice: abnormally developed pride and an insane assurance that it was my vocation to teach men, without knowing what.
“To remember that time, and my own state of mind and that of those men (though there are thousands like them today), is sad and terrible and ludicrous, and arouses exactly the feeling one experiences in a lunatic asylum.
“We were all then convinced that it was necessary for us to speak, write, and print as quickly as possible and as much as possible, and that it was all wanted for the good of humanity. And thousands of us, contradicting and abusing one another, all printed and wrote — teaching others. And without noticing that we knew nothing, and that to the simplest of life’s questions: What is good and what is evil? we did not know how to reply, we all talked at the same time, not listening to one another, sometimes seconding and praising one another in order to be seconded and praised in turn, sometimes getting angry with one another — just as in a lunatic asylum.
“Thousands of workmen labored to the extreme limit of their strength day and night, setting the type and printing millions of words which the post carried all over…[…], and we still went on teaching and could in no way find time to teach enough, and were always angry that sufficient attention was not paid us.
“It was terribly strange, but is now quite comprehensible. Our real innermost concern was to get as much money and praise as possible. To gain that end we could do nothing except write books and papers. So we did that. But in order to do such useless work and to feel assured that we were very important people we required a theory justifying our activity. And so among us this theory was devised: “All that exists is reasonable. All that exists develops. And it all develops by means of Culture. And Culture is measured by the circulation of books and newspapers. And we are paid money and are respected because we write books and newspapers, and therefore we are the most useful and the best of men.”
“This theory would have been all very well if we had been unanimous, but as every thought expressed by one of us was always met by a diametrically opposite thought expressed by another, we ought to have been driven to reflection. But we ignored this; people paid us money and those on our side praised us, so each of us considered himself justified.
“It is now clear to me that this was just as in a lunatic asylum; but then I only dimly suspected this, and like all lunatics, simply called all men lunatics except myself.”
–-A Confession – by Leo Tolstoy (1872 or 1882) (Trans: Aylmer Maude)