Three Solutions (from The Happiness Diary, by Nicolae Steinhardt), transl. Gabriela Ailenei
In order to escape a concentrationary universe – and it doesn’t have to be a work camp, prison or other form of incarceration; the theory applies to any manifestation of totalitarianism – there is the (mystical) solution of faith. But this will not be talked about in what follows, as faith is the consequence of a grace selective in its essence.
The three solutions are strictly secular; they have a practical character and are accessible to anybody.
The First Solution: Solzhenitsyn’s
First briefly mentioned by Aleksandr Isayevich in The First Circle, he returns to it in the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago.
It consists of this: anybody detained by Securitate or other such investigative body has to say, without hesitation: in this moment I die. They can talk to themselves, consolingly: it is such a pity about myself, my youth or my old age, my spouse, my children, my talent, my possessions or my power, my lover, the wines I will never drink, the books I will never read, the walks I will never take, the music I will never listen to, etc, etc, etc. But something is certain and irreparable: from this moment on I am a dead man.
If he thinks like that, without hesitation, he’s saved. There is nothing they can do to him. He cannot be threatened, blackmailed, deceived. Once he considers himself dead, nothing can scare, rouse, or attract him anymore. He cannot be provoked. There is nothing – because he has no more hope, because he is out of this world – that he longs for anymore, nothing to sell his soul for, his peace, his honour. There is no currency for his betrayal.
It’s imperative of course for the decision to be firm, definitive. You declare yourself deceased, you consent to death, you abolish any hope. You can regret – like Madame d’Houdetot – your life, but this moral suicide, this anticipated death, will not fail. The risk of yielding, of denunciation, or of a false confession, has forever disappeared.
The Second Solution: Aleksandr Zinovyev’s
Is the solution found by one of the characters in his book The Yawning Heights. The character is a young man, with the allegorical name of Tramp. The solution consists in total maladjustment to the system. The Tramp has no house, no papers, no job; he’s a vagabond, a parasite. He lives from day to day, from other people’s charity; he eats here and there. He’s dressed in rags. He works sporadically, sometimes, when and if something comes his way. He spends all his time in prison or work camps, he sleeps wherever. He roams. Nothing will make him enter the system, not even the most insignificant, miserable, dullest of jobs. He’s unlike the character from Arthur Schnitzler’s novels, who, obsessed by the fear of responsibility, ends up a swineherd. NO, the Tramp projects himself (existentialist style) once and for all, a stray dog, a Buddhist beggar monk, a fool, a madman for (into) freedom.
This type of man, on the edge of society, is also immune: the system cannot exert any pressure on him, they have nothing to take from him, nothing to offer him. They can always detain, harass, abuse, insult him, but he escapes them. He has consented once and for all to spend his life in a perpetual lunatic asylum. He has made a creed out of poverty, distrust and frivolousness; he resembles a wild animal, a scrawny beast, a highway robber. He’s Stendhal’s Ferrante Palla. He’s Matei Calinescu’s Zacharias Lichter. He’s a laic fool-for-Christ, an eternal traveller (and what’s Wotan’s name on his descent to Earth? Der Wanderer), a wandering Jew.
And he has a loose mouth, he talks incessantly, he tells the most dangerous anecdotes, he doesn’t know what respect is; he makes fun of everything, he says whatever crosses his mind, he utters truths that others cannot allow themselves to whisper. He’s the child from The Emperor’s New Clothes. He’s King Lear’s buffoon. He’s the wolf from La Fontaine’s brave fable: he does not know what a collar is.
He is free, free, free.
The Third Solution: Winston Churchill and Vladimir Bukovski’s
To sum it up: in the presence of tyranny, oppression, misery, misfortune, disaster, calamity, you not only refuse to give up, but you extract out of all misfortune the most ardent desire to live and to fight.
In March 1939, Churchill was saying to Martha Bibescu: „There will be war. The British Empire will be reduced to rubble. Death is hard on our heels. But I can feel myself getting twenty years younger.”
If things are going from bad to worse and the hardship intensifies, the more you are hit, surrounded, besieged, and not able to catch a glimpse of any hope; when the grey, the dark and the viscous intensify, swell and writhe inextricably; the more danger you are in, you become even more eager to fight and you get this (increasing) feeling of inexplicable and overwhelming euphoria.
You are assailed from all sides by superior forces: you fight. They defeat you: you defy them. You’re lost: you attack (this is the way Churchill was talking in 1940). You laugh, you sharpen your teeth and your dagger, you grow younger. You quiver with the unutterable happiness of fighting back, even if with a force infinitely smaller. You not only refuse to despair, to declare yourself defeated and slain, but you taste the joy of resistance and are seized by an impetuous, demented cheerfulness.
This solution presupposes an exceptional strength of character, a military outlook on life, a formidable moral obstinacy of the flesh, ennobled steel willpower and an adamantine spiritual vigour. It also presumes a certain sporting spirit: to like the fight in itself – the rough and tumble – more than success.
This solution is also beneficial and absolute, because it’s based on a paradox: the more they hit, harm, and impose increasingly unjust suffering on you, the more they corner you in places without exit, you rejoice, strengthen, grow younger!
Together with Churchill’s solution we have Vladimir Bukovski’s. Bukovsi said that when he received the first summons to the KGB headquarters, he couldn’t sleep all night. Of course, the reader of his memoirs will say, it’s only natural; the incertitude, fear, the anxiety. But Bukovski continues: I couldn’t sleep out of impatience. I couldn’t wait to face them at dawn, to tell them exactly what I thought and go at them like a tank. I couldn’t imagine a greater happiness.
That is why he couldn’t sleep: not out of incertitude, fear, or anxiety. But out of the impatience of crying out the truth to their faces and the desire to go at them like a tank!
More extraordinary words I don’t think have ever been uttered or written in the world. And I wonder – I don’t claim that it is as I say, no, not in the least, I only wonder, I can’t but wonder – if this universe, with all its swarms of galaxies, containing a few thousands or millions of galaxies each, that in turn contain billions of suns and at least a few billion planets orbiting them; I wonder if all the outer spaces, the distances and all these spheres that are measured in light-years, parsecs and quadrillion miles; all this swarming of matter, stars, comets, satellites, pulsars, quasars, black holes, cosmic dust, meteors, and whatever else; all the ages, the eons, the space-time continuum and all the Newtonian and relative astrophysics have come into being for the one and only reason so that these words could be articulated by Bukovski.
All three solutions are certain and without fail.
I don’t know of anything else out there that can be used to escape a concentrationary universe, the entanglements of a Kafkaesque trial, a domino type game, labyrinth or interrogation chamber, there is no other way to escape fear and panic, a mouse trap, or empirical nightmare. Only these three. Any one of them is sufficient, adequate, and liberating.
Remember: Solzhenitsyn, Zinovyev, Churchill, Bukovski. Death acquiesced, assumed, anticipated, provoked; indifference and impudence; courage together with rabid glee. You’re free to choose. But you ought to realise that – humanly speaking – there is no other way to face out of the steel circle – which is also mainly made out of chalk (see The State of Siege by Camus, the basis of dictatorship is a phantasm – fear).
You will protest maybe, considering that all these solutions look at a life equivalent with death, or worse than death, or implying the risk of physical death at any moment. It is so. Are you surprised? Because you never read Igor Safarevici, because you don’t know yet that totalitarianism is not only the unification of an economical theory with a biological or social one, but it’s mostly the manifestation of an attraction to death. And the secret of those that cannot be sucked into the totalitarian abyss is simple: they love life, not death.
And who alone conquered death? He who has trampled death by death.
*Pseudonym used by Steinhardt
27 martie 2009 at 20:41
As avea o intrebare. Se gaseste in librarii in Romania traducerea in engleza a Jurnalului?
12 aprilie 2009 at 10:21
New translation of NS on Some Blind Alleys – and note the old blogspot page has been scrapped to make way for a new version of the journal. All the old links from this site to that old blogspot page will soon disappear.
The most recent translation is at
13 aprilie 2013 at 23:48
Jurnalul fericirii tradus in engleza urmeaza sa fie tiparit in noiembrie 2013 : http://www.uppress.co.uk/romanian.htm .
13 aprilie 2013 at 23:51
Dă clic pentru a accesa RCI_Catalogue_2009.pdf