Only one thing matters, says the man who has arrived at a certain point, and that is—inner peace. He thinks he will get it by some tension of his will that refuses to participate in human life. But nothing can come to enrich the soul in such an exile; it will only fall back upon itself; in its abstract prison, it is separated as far from heaven as from earth. Heavy boredom and dryness, with their processions of temptations, will make it feel its immobility and its sleep.
One evening, a man leans out of his window and looks at the countryside. Pale, creeping things, mists or spectres, rise out of the tilled fields and slither toward the houses; a cat imitates the death cry of a child being strangled, and dogs in the moonlight on the steppe. The man at his window feels a savage animal desire growing monstrously in himself, to go out too, and to howl and dance in the moonlight, to run shivering under the icy light and to creep up to the houses and spy on the slumber of thepeople and perhaps carry off a sleeping child. An animal, a wolf, comes to life in him and, fully grown, swells in his throat and his heart. He is going to howl! No! He is strong! With an abrupt movement, he springs backward, closes the window, and tries to convince himself that he was only dreaming. However, something tightens in the pit of his stomach as it used to long ago in his childhood, when he thought about death. He is afraid. But that is unworthy of him; isn’t he protected against that? He tries to say, “What do I care?” But all the same he doubts. He goes to bed; but if he tries to resist his agony, he will not be able to sleep. Little by little, he loses confidence in himself; he gives in to his sleepiness and at once the demons make their way in; he will have for bedfellows a leprous succubus without a nose, a frog-man that smells offish, and a disgusting head swollen with violet blood perched on a duck’s feet. The world he scorned takes its revenge on his tightened throat, on his unsteady, quavering heart and on his stomach where monsters are digging in their claws. In the morning he finds his faith in himself shaken.
Temptations of suffering, fear or boredom which summon his soul either to surmount them or let itself be crushed, happy is he who receives these in such a way that he recognizes his mistake. Abstract solutions solve nothing; man can only be saved as a complete whole; understanding alone is capable of dividing him up into body and spirit, for understanding knows, and separates methodically to provide an object for itself. An abstract solution is of no use in society either; the same mechanism of repression operates there. We see nations that appear to be well-policed, but in which, all the same, there is only a repression of instinct, which under the violent constraints of a rigid police system, have trouble in manifesting, but find free play among those who can most freely escape constraint, for example, among police agents. These men become the instruments of the brutish cruelty which is aroused; in the police stations, these defenders of order tie up an arrested man with rope publicly under whatever pretext, crushing his eyes, tearing off his ears with fist blows or grilling the soles of his feet, until he admits what they want him to admit. Such signs point to the fact that our society does not know how to control the passions which develop in its midst, and this is certainly because it wishes to resolve the problem of justice by applying to human relations solutions proposed from far away by certain experts. It is a warning to society that it is at the mercy of the least weakness; it will indeed be a happy thing if society can recognize these signs. Just the same for the individual; after these revelations he must find the faith that he had thought he had.
At the root of this haughty disdain of the world was an immense pride. Man wishes to affirm his being as apart from all humanity, and he chains himself up in this way, not only by the pride which congeals his spirit into a unique affirmation of self, but also by the power of the world which he wanted to scorn. The only liberation is to give of himself completely in each action, instead of pretending to accept to be a man. Allow the body to glide among other bodies according to the path which is destined for it, let man move among men following the laws of his nature. The body must be given to nature, the passions and the desires to the animal, the thoughts and the feelings to the man. Through this giving, everything that makes up the form of an individual is given back to the unity of existence; and the soul, which ceaselessly surpasses all form and is only a soul at this price, is given back to the unity of the divine essence by the same simple act of abnegation. This unity, which is rediscovered under two aspects and in a single act which brings them together, is what I call God, God in three persons.
The essence of renunciation is to accept all while denying all. Nothing which has any form is me; but the choices made by my individuality are thrown back into the world. After the revolt which seeks freedom in the possible choice between several actions, man must give up wanting to do something in the world. Freedom is not free will but liberation; it is the denial of individual autonomy. The soul refuses to fashion itself in the image of the body, the desires, the reasonings; actions become natural phenomena and man acts like lightning strikes. In the form in which I discover myself, I must read: / am not that. Through this denial I throw all form back into created nature, and make it appear as object; I wish to leave all that which tends to limit me, body, temperament, desires, beliefs, memories, in the surrounding world, and at the same time to the past, because this act of negation is the creator of consciousness and of the present, a unique and eternal act of the present moment. Consciousness is perpetual suicide. Even if it is known in duration, nevertheless it is only of the present moment, that is to say, a simple, immediate act outside of time.
Space is the form common to all objects; an object is that which is not me; space is the universal tomb, not the image of my freedom. When the horizon is no longer the fleeting image of freedom, but has become nothing more than a line in front of the eyes, and when man feels himself led by the hands of space, he will begin to know what it means to be free. There is no place among bodies for freedom. It is when man stops looking for freedom that he liberates himself. True acceptance is that of someone who in a single act gives himself to God, body and soul.
But to speak of acceptance is not some magic which enables one suddenly to find peace and happiness; very often, people who believe they have attained inner calm are not resigned but feeble. They repeat like idiotic charms the few rules of conduct they have been taught, and live thus in abject tranquility. They accept everything, but deny nothing, and by this consent want to live nothing more than this life, decorated with unreachable hopes which titillate their laziness. Acceptance can only be the voluntary abandoning of a possible revolt. The resigned person must be ready at each instant to revolt; if not, peace will become fixed in his life and he will fall asleep by again beginning to consent to everything. The act of renunciation is not done once and for all but is a perpetual sacrifice of revolt.
That is why it’s dangerous to preach humility to feeble souls; it takes them still further from themselves. An individual, congealed and turned back on himself, can not be conscious of his lot except in revolt. It is the same for a society. Just as the individual shuts himself in order to sleep like a coward behind ramparts of hopes and vows, so society puts limits to itself within the walls of institutions; the individualist looks for peace by enclosing himself within clear and solid limits; the nationalist state also. Neither the one nor the other can find the true way, where it can advance freely, except in a revolt which breaks these limits.
Both man and society need to be on the verge of bursting at every moment, renouncing it at every moment and refusing all the time to stay within a definite form. Freedom is to give oneself up to the necessity of nature, and the true will is only in an action which actually takes place. Such an acceptance, the contrary of self abasement, is power itself, for as soon as it is placed again in the world the body participates with all of nature. The nitchevo of the Russians makes the success of Marxism in Russia understandable. – “It doesn’t matter,” that is to say: none of what is tugging at me to act is me. And the effort of will is not to wish to accomplish an action, but to let it be done in continuous detachment. Accepting historical materialism was for the Russian revolutionaries the discovery of freedom.
Man must pass through three stages before achieving renunciation; first, a crass acceptance of all the rules and all the conventions which procure calm for him; then, revolt, whatever form it takes, the struggle with society, with self-pity, with flight into the desert, scepticism; and, finally, an acceptance which never ceases to keep in mind the constant possibility of revolt.
Renunciation is the continuous destruction of all the shells in which an individual tries to enclose himself; when exhausted by these labors that are harder than revolt, a man falls asleep in easy tranquility, the shell hardens and it takes violence to destroy it. To reject without ceasing all the blandishments of hopes, to break all the fixed creations of opinions, to struggle constantly with his desires without ever being assured of victory. Such is the hard and certain road towards renunciation.
What is necessary is that men become so desperate that they throw their humanity into the vast tomb of nature and so, in leaving their human being to its own laws, they go beyond it.