Alcohol and women provided me, I admit, the only solace of which I was worthy. I’ll reveal this secret to you, cher ami, don’t fear to make use of it. Then you’ll see that true debauchery is liberating because it creates no obligations. In it you possess only yourself; hence it remains the favorite pastime of the great lovers of their own person. It is a jungle without past or future, without any promise above all, nor any immediate penalty. The places where it is practiced are separated from the world. On entering, one leaves behind fear and hope. Conversation is not obligatory there; what one comes for can be had without words, and often indeed without money. Ah, I beg you, let me pay honor to the unknown and forgotten women who helped me then! Even today, my recollection of them contains something resembling respect.
— Albert Camus, The Fall
Perhaps there is some consolation, however, in having pierced the veil of this terrible paradox of freedom. The citizens of Bouville, whom Roquentin watches going about their everyday business, are still veiled in ignorance of their arbitrariness. They are as unfree as Roquentin, yet they hide the terrible imprisonment of their existence by unthinkably getting up, going out to work, relaxing on Sundays, and so on. They wrongly imagine that they have chosen this form of life, when of course it has chosen them.
— Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea
He awoke each morning with the desire to do right, to be a good and meaningful person, to be, as simple as it sounded and as impossible as it actually was, happy. And during the course of each day his heart would descend from his chest into his stomach. By early afternoon he was overcome by the feeling that nothing was right, or nothing was right for him, and by the desire to be alone. By evening he was fulfilled: alone in the magnitude of his grief, alone in his aimless guilt, alone even in his loneliness. I am not sad, he would repeat to himself over and over, I am not sad. As if he might one day convince himself. Or fool himself. Or convince others—the only thing worse than being sad is for others to know that you are sad. I am not sad. I am not sad. Because his life had unlimited potential for happiness, insofar as it was an empty white room. He would fall asleep with his heart at the foot of his bed, like some domesticated animal that was no part of him at all. And each morning he would wake with it again in the cupboard of his rib cage, having become a little heavier, a little weaker, but still pumping. And by the midafternoon he was again overcome with the desire to be somewhere else, someone else, someone else somewhere else. I am not sad.
— Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated
Your dislike of politics, your despondence of the parties and the press, your despair over war, over all that people nowadays think, read and build, over the music they play, the celebrations they hold, the education they carry on. You are right Steppenwolf, right a thousand times, and yet you must perish. You are too exacting for this simple easily contended world of today. You have a dimension too many. Whoever wants to live and enjoy life today must not be like you.
— Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf
We treat desire as a problem to be solved, address what desire is for and focus on that something and how to acquire it rather than on the nature and the sensation of desire, though often it is the distance between us and the object of desire that fills the space in between with the blue of longing. I wonder sometimes whether with a slight adjustment of perspective it could be cherished as a sensation on its own terms, since it is as inherent to the human condition as blue is to distance? If you can look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you can own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed? For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and the blue instead tints the next beyond. Somewhere in this is the mystery of why tragedies are more beautiful than comedies and why we take a huge pleasure in the sadness of certain songs and stories. Something is always far away.
— Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost
It’s a mystery. A man’s at odds to know his mind cause his mind is aught he has to know it with. He can know his heart, but he dont want to. Rightly so. Best not to look in there. It aint the heart of a creature that is bound in the way that God has set for it. You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow. A creature that can do anything. Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine. And evil that can run itself a thousand years, no need to tend it.
— Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
May I at least carry, to the boundless possibility contained in the abyss of everything, the glory of my disillusion like that of a great dream, and the splendor of not believing like a banner of defeat; a banner in feeble hands, but still and all a banner, dragged through mud and the blood of the weak but raised high for who knows what reason—whether in defiance, or as a challenge, or in mere desperation—as we vanish into quicksand. No one knows for what reason, because no one knows anything, and the sand swallows those with banners as it swallows those without. And the sand covers everything: my life, my prose, my eternity. I carry my awareness of defeat like a banner of victory.
— Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
O youth! youth! you go your way heedless, uncaring – as if you owned all the treasures of the world; even grief elates you, even sorrow sits well upon your brow. You are self-confident and insolent and you say, ‘I alone am alive – behold!’ even while your own days fly past and vanish without trace and without number, and everything within you melts away like wax in the sun .. like snow .. and perhaps the whole secret of your enchantment lies not, indeed, in your power to do whatever you may will, but in your power to think that there is nothing you will not do: it is this that you scatter to the winds – gifts which you could never have used to any other purpose. Each of us feels most deeply convinced that he has been too prodigal of his gifts – that he has a right to cry, ‘Oh, what could I not have done, if only I had not wasted my time.
— Ivan Turgenev, First Love
The day-by-day experience of a managed existence leads us all to take a world of fictitious substances for granted… . The verbal amoebas by which we designate the management-bred phantoms thus connote self-important enlightenment, social concern and rationality without however denoting anything which we could ourselves taste, smell or experience. In this semantic desert full of muddled echoes we need a Linus blanket, some prestigious fetish that we can drag around to feel like decent defenders of sacred values.
— Ivan Ilich
God is not needed to create guilt or to punish. Our fellow men suffice, aided by ourselves. You were speaking of the Last Judgement. Allow me to laugh respectfully. I shall wait for it resolutely, for I have known what is worse, the judgement of men. For them, no extenuating circumstances; even the good intention is ascribed to crime. Have you at least heard of the spitting cell, which a nation recently thought up to prove itself the greatest on earth? A walled-up box in which the prisoner can stand without moving. The solid door that locks him in the cement shell stops at chin level. Hence only his face is visible, and every passing jailer spits copiously on it. The prisoner, wedged into his cell, cannot wipe his face, though he is allowed, it is true, to close his eyes. Well, that, mon cher, is a human invention. They didn’t need God for that little masterpiece.
— Albert Camus, The Fall