The Dream Of a Ridiculous Man (1)


I am a ridiculous person.  Now they call me a madman.  That
would be a promotion if it were not that I remain as
ridiculous in their eyes as before.  But now I do not resent it,
they are all dear to me now, even when they laugh at me -
and, indeed, it is just then that they are particularly dear to
me.  I could join in their laughter - not exactly at myself, but
through affection for them, if I did not feel so sad as I look at
them.  Sad because they do not know the truth and I do know
it.  Oh, how hard it is to be the only one who knows the
truth!  But they won't understand that.  No, they won't
understand it.
    In old days I used to be miserable at seeming ridiculous. 
Not seeming, but being.  I have always been ridiculous, and
I have known it, perhaps, from the hour I was born.  Perhaps
from the time I was seven years old I knew I was ridiculous. 
Afterwards I went to school, studied at the university, and, do
you know, the more I learned, the more thoroughly I
understood that I was ridiculous.  So that it seemed in the end
as though all the sciences I studied at the university existed
only to prove and make evident to me as I went more deeply
into them that I was ridiculous.  It was the same with life as
it was with science.  With every year the same consciousness
of the ridiculous figure I cut in every relation grew and
strengthened.  Everyone always laughed at me.  But not one
of them knew or guessed that if there were one man on earth
who knew better than anybody else that I was absurd, it was
myself, and what I resented most of all was that they did not
know that.  But that was my own fault; I was so proud that
nothing would have ever induced me to tell it to anyone. 
This pride grew in me with the years; and if it had happened
that I allowed myself to confess to anyone that I was
ridiculous, I believe that I should have blown out my brains
the same evening.  Oh, how I suffered in my early youth
from the fear that I might give way and confess it to my
schoolfellows.  But since I grew to manhood, I have for some
unknown reason become calmer, though I realised my awful
characteristic more fully every year.  I say 'unknown', for to
this day I cannot tell why it was.  Perhaps it was owing to the
terrible misery that was growing in my soul through
something which was of more consequence than anything
else about me: that something was the conviction that had
come upon me that nothing in the world mattered.  I had long
had an inkling of it, but the full realisation came last year
almost suddenly.  I suddenly felt that it was all the same to
me whether the world existed or whether there had never
been anything at all: I began to feel with all my being that
there was nothing existing.  At first I fancied that many
things had existed in the past, but afterwards I guessed that
there never had been anything in the past either, but that it
had only seemed so for some reason.  Little by little I
guessed that there would be nothing in the future either. 
Then I left off being angry with people and almost ceased to
notice them.  Indeed this showed itself even in the pettiest
trifles: I used, for instance, to knock against people in the
street.  And not so much from being lost in thought: what had
I to think about?  I had almost given up thinking by that time;
nothing mattered to me.  If at least I had solved my
problems!  Oh, I had not settled one of them, and how many
there were!  But I gave up caring about anything, and all the
problems disappeared.
    And it was after that that I found out the truth.  I learnt the
truth last November - on the third of November, to be precise
- and I remember every instant since.  It was a gloomy
evening, one of the gloomiest possible evenings.  I was going
home at about eleven o'clock, and I remember that I thought
that the evening could not be gloomier.  Even physically. 
Rain had been falling all day, and it had been a cold, gloomy,
almost menacing rain, with, I remember, an unmistakable
spite against mankind.  Suddenly between ten and eleven it
had stopped, and was followed by a horrible dampness,
colder and damper than the rain, and a sort of steam was
rising from everything, from every stone in the street, and
from every by-lane if one looked down it as far as one could. 
A thought suddenly occurred to me, that if all the street
lamps had been put out it would have been less cheerless,
that the gas made one's heart sadder because it lighted it all
up.  I had had scarcely any dinner that day, and had been
spending the evening with an engineer, and two other friends
had been there also.  I sat silent - I fancy I bored them.  They
talked of something rousing and suddenly they got excited
over it.  But they did not really care, I could see that, and
only made a show of being excited.  I suddenly said as much
to them.  "My friends," I said, "you really do not care one
way or the other."  They were not offended, but they laughed
at me.  That was because I spoke without any not of
reproach, simply because it did not matter to me.  They saw
it did not, and it amused them.
    As I was thinking about the gas lamps in the street I
looked up at the sky.  The sky was horribly dark, but one
could distinctly see tattered clouds, and between them
fathomless black patches.  Suddenly I noticed in one of these
patches a star, and began watching it intently.  That was
because that star had given me an idea: I decided to kill
myself that night.  I had firmly determined to do so two
months before, and poor as I was, I bought a splendid
revolver that very day, and loaded it.  But two months had
passed and it was still lying in my drawer; I was so utterly
indifferent that I wanted to seize a moment when I would not
be so indifferent - why, I don't know.  And so for two months
every night that I came home I thought I would shoot myself. 
I kept waiting for the right moment.  And so now this star
gave me a thought.  I made up my mind that it should
certainly be that night.  And why the star gave me the
thought I don't know.
    And just as I was looking at the sky, this little girl took me
by the elbow.  The street was empty, and there was scarcely
anyone to be seen.  A cabman was sleeping in the distance in
his cab.  It was a child of eight with a kerchief on her head,
wearing nothing but a wretched little dress all soaked with
rain, but I noticed her wet broken shoes and I recall them
now.  They caught my eye particularly.  She suddenly pulled
me by the elbow and called me.  She was not weeping, but
was spasmodically crying out some words which could not
utter properly, because she was shivering and shuddering all
over.  She was in terror about something, and kept crying,
"Mammy, mammy!"  I turned facing her, I did not say a word
and went on; but she ran, pulling at me, and there was that
note in her voice which in frightened children means despair. 
I know that sound.  Though she did not articulate the words,
I understood that her mother was dying, or that something of
the sort was happening to them, and that she had run out to
call someone, to find something to help her mother.  I did not
go with her; on the contrary, I had an impulse to drive her
away.  I told her first to go to a policeman.  But clasping her
hands, she ran beside me sobbing and gasping, and would not
leave me.  Then I stamped my foot and shouted at her.  She
called out "Sir! sir! . . ." but suddenly abandoned me and
rushed headlong across the road.  Some other passerby
appeared there, and she evidently flew from me to him.
    I mounted up to my fifth storey.  I have a room in a flat
where there are other lodgers.  Mr room is small and poor,
with a garret window in the shape of a semicircle.  I have a
sofa covered with American leather, a table with books on it,
two chairs and a comfortable arm-chair, as old as old can be,
but of the good old-fashioned shape.  I sat down, lighted the
candle, and began thinking.  In the room next to mine,
through the partition wall, a perfect Bedlam was going on. 
It had been going on for the last three days.  A retired captain
lived there, and he had half a dozen visitors, gentlemen of
doubtful reputation, drinking vodka and playing stoss with
old cards.  The night before there had been a fight, and I
know that two of them had been for a long time engaged in
dragging each other about by the hair.  The landlady wanted
to complain, but she was in abject terror of the captain. 
There was only one other lodger in the flat, a thin little
regimental lady, on a visit to Petersburg, with three little
children who had been taken ill since they came into the
lodgings.  Both she and her children were in mortal fear of
the captain, and lay trembling and crossing themselves all
night, and the youngest child had a sort of fit from fright. 
That captain, I know for a fact, sometimes stops people in the
Nevsky Prospect and begs.  They won't take him into the
service, but strange to say (that's why I am telling this), all
this month that the captain has been here his behaviour has
caused me no annoyance.  I have, of course, tried to avoid his
acquaintance from the very beginning, and he, too, was bored
with me from the first; but I never care how much they shout
the other side of the partition nor how many of them there are
in there: I sit up all night and forget them so completely that
I do not even hear them.  I stay awake till daybreak, and have
been going on like that for the last year.  I sit up all night in
my arm-chair at the table, doing nothing.  I only read by day. 
I sit - don't even think; ideas of a sort wander through my
mind and I let them come and go as they will.  A whole
candle is burnt every night.  I sat down quietly at the table,
took out the revolver and put it down before me.  When I had
put it down I asked myself, I remember, "Is that so?" and
answered with complete conviction, "It is."  That is, I shall
shoot myself.  I knew that I should shoot myself that night
for certain, but how much longer I should go on sitting at the
table I did not know.  And no doubt I should have shot
myself if it had not been for that little girl.

You see, though nothing mattered to me, I could feel pain,

for instance. If anyone had stuck me it would have hurt me.

It was the same morally: if anything very pathetic happened,

I should have felt pity just as I used to do in old days when

there were things in life that did matter to me. I had felt pity

that evening. I should have certainly helped a child. Why,

then, had I not helped the little girl? Because of an idea that

occurred to me at the time: when she was calling and pulling

at me, a question suddenly arose before me and I could not

settle it. The question was an idle one, but I was vexed. I

was vexed at the reflection that if I were going to make an

end of myself that night, nothing in life ought to have

mattered to me. Why was it that all at once I did not feel a

strange pang, quite incongruous in my position. Really I do

not know better how to convey my fleeting sensation at the

moment, but the sensation persisted at home when I was

sitting at the table, and I was very much irritated as I had not

been for a long time past. One reflection followed another.

I saw clearly that so long as I was still a human being and not

nothingness, I was alive and so could suffer, be angry and

feel shame at my actions. So be it. But if I am going to kill

myself, in two hours, say, what is the little girl to me and

what have I to do with shame or with anything else in the

world? I shall turn into nothing, absolutely nothing. And

can it really be true that the consciousness that I shall

completely cease to exist immediately and so everything else

will cease to exist, does not in the least affect my feeling of

pity for the child nor the feeling of shame after a

contemptible action? I stamped and shouted at the unhappy

child as though to say – not only I feel no pity, but even if I

behave inhumanly and contemptibly, I am free to, for in

another two hours everything will be extinguished. Do you

believe that that was why I shouted that? I am almost

convinced of it now. I seemed clear to me that life and the

world somehow depended upon me now. I may almost say

that the world now seemed created for me alone: if I shot

myself the world would cease to be at least for me. I say

nothing of its being likely that nothing will exist for anyone

when I am gone, and that as soon as my consciousness is

extinguished the whole world will vanish too and become

void like a phantom, as a mere appurtenance of my

consciousness, for possibly all this world and all these people

are only me myself. I remember that as I sat and reflected,

I turned all these new questions that swarmed one after

another quite the other way, and thought of something quite

new. For instance, a strange reflection suddenly occurred to

me, that if I had lived before on the moon or on Mars and

there had committed the most disgraceful and dishonourable

action and had there been put to such shame and ignominy as

one can only conceive and realise in dreams, in nightmares,

and if, finding myself afterwards on earth, I were able to

retain the memory of what I had done on the other planet and

at the same time knew that I should never, under any

circumstances, return there, then looking from the earth to

the moon – should I care or not? Should I feel shame for that

action or not? These were idle and superfluous questions for

the revolver was already lying before me, and I knew in

every fibre of my being that it would happen for certain, but

they excited me and I raged. I could not die now without

having first settled something. In short, the child had saved

me, for I put off my pistol shot for the sake of these

questions. Meanwhile the clamour had begun to subside in

the captain’s room: they had finished their game, were

settling down to sleep, and meanwhile were grumbling and

languidly winding up their quarrels. At that point, I suddenly

fell asleep in my chair at the table – a thing which had never

happened to me before. I dropped asleep quite unawares.

Dreams, as we all know, are very queer things: some parts

are presented with appalling vividness, with details worked

up with the elaborate finish of jewellery, while others one

gallops through, as it were, without noticing them at all, as,

for instance, through space and time. Dreams seem to be

spurred on not by reason but by desire, not by the head but

by the heart, and yet what complicated tricks my reason has

played sometimes in dreams, what utterly incomprehensible

things happen to it! Mr brother died five years ago, for

instance. I sometimes dream of him; he takes part in my

affairs, we are very much interested, and yet all through my

dream I quite know and remember that my brother is dead

and buried. How is it that I am not surprised that, though he

is dead, he is here beside me and working with me? Why is

it that my reason fully accepts it? But enough. I will begin

about my dream. Yes, I dreamed a dream, my dream of the

third of November. They tease me now, telling me it was

only a dream. But does it matter whether it was a dream or

reality, if the dream made known to me the truth? If once

one has recognized the truth and seen it, you know that it is

the truth and that there is no other and there cannot be,

whether you are asleep or awake. Let it be a dream, so be it,

but that real life of which you make so much I had meant to

extinguish by suicide, and my dream, my dream – oh, it

revealed to me a different life, renewed, grand and full of

power!

Listen.

(TO BE CONTINUED)

 

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

            Translated by Constance Garnett.

About sooteris kyritsis

Job title: (f)PHELLOW OF SOPHIA Profession: RESEARCHER Company: ANTHROOPISMOS Favorite quote: "ITS TIME FOR KOSMOPOLITANS(=HELLINES) TO FLY IN SPACE." Interested in: Activity Partners, Friends Fashion: Classic Humor: Friendly Places lived: EN THE HIGHLANDS OF KOSMOS THROUGH THE DARKNESS OF AMENTHE
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