No, I Can’t; Let It Be without Headings!
Evening. It is somewhat foggy. The sky is covered with a milky-golden tissue, and one cannot see what is there, beyond, on the heights. The ancients “knew” that the greatest, bored skeptic — their god — lived there. We know that crystalline, blue, naked, indecent Nothing is there. I no longer know what is there. I have learned too many things of late. Knowledge, self-confident knowledge, which is sure that it is faultless, is faith. I had ﬁrm faith in myself; I believed that I knew all about myself. But then . . . I look in the mirror. And for the ﬁrst time in my life, yes, for the ﬁrst time in my life I see clearly, precisely, consciously and with surprise, I see mySelf as some “him”! I am “‘he.” Frowning, black, straight brows; between them, like a scar, there is a vertical wrinkle. (Was that wrinkle there before?) Steel-gray eyes encircled by the shadow of a sleepless night. And behind that steel . . . I understand; I never knew before what there was behind that steel. From there (this “there” is at once so near and so inﬁnitely distant!) I look at myself — at “him.” And I know surely that “he” with his straight brows is a stranger, that I meet him here for the ﬁrst time in my life. The real I is not he.
No. Period. All this is nonsense. And all these foolish emotions are only delirium, the result of last night’s poisoning. . . . Poisoning with what? With a sip of that green poison, or with her? It matters little. I write all this merely in order to demonstrate how strangely confused our precise and sharp human reason may become. This reason, strong enough to make inﬁnity, which the ancients feared so much, understandable by means of . . . . The switch buzzes. “Number R-13.” Well, I am even glad; alone I should . . .
Twenty minutes later:
On the plane of this paper, in a world of two dimensions, these lines follow each other, but in another world they . . . I am losing the sense for ﬁgures. . . . Twenty minutes! Perhaps two hundred or two hundred thousand! . . .
It seems so strange, quietly, deliberately, measuring every word, to write down my adventure with R-. Imagine yourself sitting down at your own bed, crossing your legs, watching curiously how you yourself shrivel in the very same bed. My mental state is similar to that.
When R-13 came in I was perfectly quiet and normal. With sincere admiration I began to tell him how wonderfully he succeeded in versifying the death sentence of that insane man, and that his poem, more than anything else, had smothered and annihilated the transgressor of the law.
“More than that,” I said, “if I were ordered to prepare a mathematical draft of the Machine of the Well-Doer, I should undoubtedly, undoubtedly, put on that draft some of your verses!” Suddenly I saw R-’s eyes becoming more and more opaque, his lips acquiring a gray tint.
“What’s the matter?”
“What? Well . . . Merely that I am dead sick of it. Everybody keeps on: ‘The death sentence, the death sentence!’ I want to hear no more of it! You understand? I do not want . . .” He became serious, rubbing his neck — that little valise ﬁlled with luggage which I cannot understand. A silence. There! He found something in that little valise of his, removed it, unwrapped it, spread it out; his eyes became covered with the varnish of laughter. He began:
“I am writing something for your Integral. Yes. . . . I am!” He was himself again: bubbling, sprinkling lips, words splashing like a fountain. ,
“You see, it is the ancient legend of paradise.” (“p” like a fountain.) “That legend referred to us of today, did it not? Yes. Only think of it, think of it a moment! There were two in paradise and the choice was offered to them: happiness without freedom, or freedom without happiness. No other choice. Tertium non datur. They, fools that they were, chose freedom. Naturally, for centuries afterward they longed for fetters, for the fetters of yore. This was the meaning of their world weariness, Weltschmerz. For centuries! And only we found a way to regain happiness. . . . No, listen, follow me! The ancient god and we, side by side at the same table! Yes, we helped god to defeat the devil deﬁnitely and ﬁnally. It was he, the devil, who led people to transgression, to taste pernicious freedom — he, the cunning serpent. And we came along; planted a boot on his head, and . . . squash! Done wit him! Paradise again! We returned to the simple-mindedness and innocence of Adam and Eve. No more meddling with good and evil and all that; everything is simple again, heavenly, childishly simple! The Well—Doer, the Machine, the Cube, the giant Gas Bell, the Guardians — all these are good. All this is magniﬁcent, beautiful, noble, lofty, crystalline, pure. For all this preserves our non-freedom, that is, our happiness. In our place those ancients would indulge in discussions, deliberations, etc. They would break their heads trying to make out what was moral or unmoral. But we . . . Well, in short, these are the highlights of my little paradise poem. What do you think of it? And above all the style is most solemn, pious. Understand me? Nice little idea, is it not? Do you understand?”
Of course I understood. I remember my thoughts at that moment: “His appearance is nonsensical and lacking in symmetry, yet what an orderly-working mind he has!” This made him dear to me, that is to the real me. (I still insist that that I of before is the real one; my I of late is, certainly, only an illness.)
Apparently R- read my thought in my face; he put his hand on my shoulders and laughed: “Oh, you! . . . Adam! By the way, about Eve . . .” He searched for something in his pockets, took out a little book, turned over a few leaves, and said, “For the day after tomorrow — oh, no, two days from now — O-90 has a pink check on you. How about it? . . . As before? . . . You want her to?”
“Of course, of course!”
“All right then, I’ll tell her You see she herself is very bashful. . . . What a funny story! You see, for me she has only a pink-check affection, but for you . . . And you, you did not even come to tell us how a fourth member sneaked into our triangle! Who is it? Repent, sinner! Come on!”
A curtain arose inside me; rustle of silk, green bottle, lips . . . For no reason whatsoever I exclaimed (oh, why didn’t I restrain myself at that moment?), “Tell me, R-, did you ever have an opportunity to try nicotine or alcohol?” ‘
R- sucked in his lips, looked at me from under his brows. I distinctly heard his thoughts: “Friend though he is, yet . . And he answered:
“What shall I say? Strictly speaking, no. But I know a woman . . .
“I-330?” I cried.
“What! You? You, also?” R- was full of laughter; he chuckled, ready to splash over.
My mirror was hanging in such a way that in order to see R- clearly I had to turn and look across the table. From my armchair I could see now only my own forehead and eyebrows. Then I, the real I, suddenly saw in the mirror a broken, quivering line of brow; I, the real I, heard suddenly a wild, disgusting cry: “What? What does that ‘also’ mean? What does that ‘also’ mean? I demand . . .” ‘
Widely parted Negro lips. . . . Eyes bulging, I (the real I) grasped my other wild, hairy, heavily breathing self forcibly. I (the real I) said to him, to R-, “In the name of the Well-Doer, please forgive me. I am very sick; I don’t sleep; I do not know what is the matter with me.”
A swiftly passing smile appeared on the thick lips.
“Yes, yes, I understand, I understand. I am familiar with all this — theoretically, of course. Good-by.”
At the door he turned around like a little black ball, came back to the table and put a book upon it. “This is my latest book. I came to bring it to you. Almost forgot. Good-by.” (“b” like a splash.) The little ball rolled out.
I am alone. Or, to be more exact, I am tête-à-tête with that other self. I sit in the armchair and, having crossed my legs, I watch curiously from some indeﬁnite “there” how I, myself, am shriveling in my bed!
Why, oh, why is it, that for three years R-, O-, and I were so friendly together and now suddenly — one word only about that other female, about I-330, and . . . Is it possible that that insanity called love and jealousy does exist, and not only in the idiotic books of the ancients? What seems most strange is that I, I! . . . Equations, formulae, ﬁgures, and suddenly this! I can’t understand it, I can’t! Tomorrow I shall go to R- and tell him . . . No, it isn’t true; I shall not go; neither tomorrow nor day after tomorrow, nor ever. . . . I can’t, I do not want to see him. This is the end. Our triangle is broken up.
I am alone. It is evening. There is a light fog. The sky is covered by a thin, milky-golden tissue. If I only knew what is there — higher. If I only knew who I am. Which I am I?