I hoped she did not dislike me, but I was under no illusions that she might remember me in any way fondly; that is, if she remembered me at all. I was but one of a procession; I provided extra food, drink, that day some tobacco, beyond that I did not exist for her. When I thought of the way money & dirt & the frenzy of human desire & the bitter aftertaste of life all come together when you buy a woman in whatever way, I felt dizzy like I was peering into an infinite black hole & losing my balance. I thought: it is not dishonest; it is the most honest expression of the whole infinite sadness of us all. I had willingly passed like quicksilver through too many women’s hands, but there was a reckoning. There was no absolution of love; no redemption in the idea that the world had shrunk down to just two people. For in her that day I knew myself to be absolutely nothing.
Then, perhaps overcome with nostalgia for happier times, he gave me a good kicking. Afterwards I assured him he had all the attributes necessary for a successful artistick career, through unfortunately my mouth was too swollen to list them for Pobjoy’s benefit: mediocrity; a violent capacity with any potential rivals; the desire not only to succeed but to see your fellow artists fail; gross insincerity; & a capacity for betrayal. Fortune favours folly, I tried to say, but merely succeeded in dribbling some blood & teeth.
But Art is a punitive sentence, not a birthright, & there is nothing in my early life that suggests artistick aptitude or even interest, my pastimes & fascinations nearly all being what may – & were – deemed the merely villainous. And though I am, of course, the hero of this, my own tale, if only because I can’t really imagine anyone else wanting to be, my story is no remade myth of Orpheus, but the story of a sewer rat made worse.
And how can you bring it home to them? By an inspiration? By a vision? A dream? Brothers! People! Why has life been given you? In the deep, deaf stillness of midnight, the doors of the death cells are being swung open – and great-souled poeple are being dragged out to be shot. On all the railroads of the country this very minute, right now, people who have just been fed salt herring are licking their dry lips with their bitter tongues. They dream of the happiness of stretching out one’s legs and of the relief one feels after going to the toilet. In Orutukan the earth thaws only in summer and only to the depth of three feet – and only then can they bury the bones of those who died during winter. And you have the right to arrange your own life under the blue sky and hot sun, to get a drink of water, to stretch, to travel wherever you like without a convoy. So what’s this about unwiped feet? And what’s this about a mother-in-law? What about the main thing in life, all its riddles? If you want, I’ll spell it out for you right now. Do not pursue what is illusory – property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life – don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes see, and if both ears hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart – and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it might be your last act before your arrest, and that will be how you are imprinted in their memory!
As for the leaflets reporting the creation of the ROA, the “Russian Liberation Army,” not only were they written in bad Russian, but they were imbued with an alien spirit that was clearly German and, moreover, seemed little concerned with their presumed subject; besides, and on the other hand, they contained crude boasting about the plentiful chow available and the cheery mood of the soliders. Somehow one couldn’t believe in that army, and, it if really did exist, what kind of cheery mood could it be in? Only a German could lie like that.
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
So what is the answer? How can you stand your ground when you are weak and sensitive to pain, when people you love are still alive, when you are unprepared?
What do you need to make you stronger than the interrogator and the whole trap?
From the moment you go to prison you must put your cozy past firmly behind you. At the very threshold, you must say to yourself: “My life is over, a little early to be sure, but there’s nothing to be done about it. I shall never return to freedom. I am condemned to die – now or a little later. But later on, in truth, it will be even harder, and so the sooner the better. I no longer have any property whatsoever. For me those I love have died, and for them I have died. From today on, my body is useless and alien to me. Only my spirit and my conscience remain precious and important to me.”
Confronted by such a prisoner, the interrogation will tremble.
Only the man who has renounced everything can win that victory.