Author: August Strindberg.
Genre: Literature, non-fiction, autobiography, mental health, philosophy, occult, romance.
Publication Date: 1898.
Summary: Written at the height of Strindberg's troubles with both censors and women, the book is concerned with Strindberg's life both in and after he lived in Paris, and explores his various obsessions, including alchemy, occultism, and Swedenborgianism, and shows signs of paranoia and neuroticism.
My rating: 8.5/10.
♥ This elderly woman, who belonged to the Augustinian Order, wore the garb of the dead because she had never really lived her life. She was gentle as resignation itself, and she taught us to smile at our sufferings as if they had been so many joys, for she knew how salutary pain can be.
♥ I loved her and she me, yet we hated each other with the savage hatred of a passion that was intensified by separation.
♥ In the spring, just at the time when I was so much oppressed by my own reverses as well as those of my companion, I had a letter from the children of my first marriage, telling me that they had been seriously ill and had had to go to hospital. When I compared the date they mentioned with the date of my experiment in bewitchment I was seized with horror. By playing with those mysterious powers out of pure folly I had given the reins to my evil desires, but they, guided by the hand of the Unseen, had struck at my own heart.
I am not trying to excuse myself. I am only asking the reader to bear these facts in mind, should he ever be tempted to practice magic, particularly the kind known as bewitchment, or witchcraft in the true sense of the word.
♥ Absinth at six o’clock outside the Brasserie des Lilas, just behind the statue of Marshal Ney, is now my only vice and my last remaining pleasure. When the day’s work is done, and body and soul are worn out, I restore myself with a glass of the green liquor, a cigarette, and Le Temps or Le Journal des Débats. How sweet life can still be when the misery of one’s existence is blurred by slight intoxication.
♥ Why did I not flee? Because I was too proud, and what is inevitable must be endured.
♥ This monastery, with is innumerable rooms, was inhabited by a single human being, the superintendent of the district hospital. A widower, a solitary, he had gone his own independent way through the hard school of life, and looked down on his fellow human beings with the sturdy, noble scorn that springs from a profound knowledge of the relative worthlessness of everything, including one’s own self.
♥ There are times in our lives when things happen so pregnant with horror that our minds refuse to accept them at the moment of impact. But the impression they have made is there all the time and very soon returns with irresistible force.
♥ Hell? But I had been brought up to regard Hell with the deepest contempt as an imaginary conception, thrown on the scrap-heap along with other out-of-date prejudices. All the same, I could not deny a matter of fact, the only thing I could do was to explain eternal damnation in this new way: we are already in Hell. It is the earth itself that is Hell, the prison constructed for us by an intelligence superior to our own, in which I could not take a step without injuring the happiness of others, and in which my fellow creatures could not enjoy their own happiness without causing me pain.
It is thus Swedenborg, perhaps without knowing it, depicts our earthly life when meaning to describe Hell.
Hell-fire is our desire to make a name for ourselves in the world. The Powers awaken this desire in us and permit the damned to achieve their objectives. But when the goal is reached and our wish fulfilled, everything is found to be worthless and our victory meaningless. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. Then, after our first disillusionment, the Powers fan the flame of desire and ambition. Yet it is not unappeased hunger that plagues us most but gratified greed, which leaves us with a loathing for everything. Thus the Devil is made to suffer endless punishment by having every wish granted, and granted instantly, so that he is no longer able to take pleasure in anything.
♥ Of course a child is enchanting, captivating in its spontaneity, its light-heartedness, its gratitude for the least little thing; that is to say if one has nothing else to do. But when one is preoccupied by one’s own thoughts, abstracted or absent-minded, how terribly soul-destroying a little tot can be, with its endless questions, its fancies and whims! My little girl, jealous as a lover of my thoughts, just waited for the moment when her chatter would be most likely to ruin a cleverly spun network of ideas. No, of course she did not intend it; I was suffering from my usual delusion of being the victim of a deliberate plot on the part of an innocent little being.
I climbed slowly, I no longer flew. My soul was captive, my brain empty as a result of the efforts I was making to come down to the level of a child’s understanding. What made me suffer, almost to the point of torture, was the searching and reproachful look she gave me when she thought she was being a nuisance and imagined that I did not like her. Her little face darkened, that frank, radiant face of hers; she looked away and withdrew into herself, and I felt deprived of the light that this child had shed on my gloomy soul. I kissed her, carried her in my arms, collected flowers and pebbles for her, cut a switch and pretended to be a cow she was driving out to graze.
Then she was happy and pleased, and life smiled upon me once more.
I had sacrificed the hour in which I usually rallied my ideas. It was a penance for the evil that, in a moment of delirium, I had been prepared to bring upon this angelic little head.
Fancy being allowed to expiate a crime by making oneself loved! In truth, the Powers are not as cruel as we.
♥ I doubted no longer. The Eternal had spoken.
“Eternal! What do you demand of me? Speak, and your servant will harken unto your words.”
It is well. I will humble myself before the Eternal who has deigned to humble Himself before His servant. But bend my knee to the masses or to the mighty, that I will never do.
♥ Instead of being alarmed, I could not refrain from smiling, so absurd did the incident appear. Smile at death! That would not be possible if it were not that life itself is so ridiculous. Such a lot of fuss for so little result. It may even be that in the recesses of our souls there lurks a vague notion that everything here on earth is but a masquerade, a semblance, an illusion and that the Gods make merry over our suffering.
♥ What then are demons? As soon as we have admitted immortality the dead become nothing more than survivors who continue their association with the living. The evil geniuses are therefore not wicked, since their aim is good, and it would be better to use Swedenborg’s expression, “disciplinary spirits”, and thus dispel fear and despair.
The Devil, as an autonomous personality and God’s equal, does not exist, and the undeniable manifestations of the Evil One, in his traditional form, are simply scarecrows, conjured up by Providence, unique and good, who governs by means of an immense staff of servants made up of the departed.
Be therefore comforted and be proud of the grace that has been granted you, all ye who are sorrowful, who suffer from sleeplessness, nightmares, visions, anguish, and palpitations. Numen adest. God wants you.
♥ Jesus Christ our Saviour, what is it that he saved? Look at our Swedish pietists, the most Christian of all Christians, those pale, wicked, terror-stricken creatures, who cannot smile and who look like maniacs. They seem to carry a demon in their hearts and, mark you, most of their leaders end up in prison as malefactors. Why should their Lord have delivered them over to the enemy? Is religion a punishment, and is Christ the spirit of vengeance?
All the ancient Gods reappeared as demons at a later date. The dwellers in Olympus became evil spirits, Odin and Thor the Devil himself, Prometheus - Lucifer, the Bringer of Light, degenerated into Satan. Is it possible - God forgive me - that even Christ has been transformed into a demon? He has brought death to reason, to the flesh, to beauty, to joy, to the purest feelings of affection of which mankind is capable. He has brought death to the virtues of fearlessness, valour, glory, love, and mercy.
♥ The sun shines, daily life goes on in its accustomed way, the sound of men at their everyday tasks raises our spirits. It is at such moments that the courage to revolt rears up and we fling our challenge and our doubts at Heaven.
But at night, when silence and solitude fall about us, our arrogance is dissipated, we hear our heart-beats and feel a weight on our chests. Then go down on your knees in the bush of thorns outside your window, go find a doctor or seek out some comrade who will sleep with you in the same room.
Enter your room alone at night-time and you will find that someone has got there before you. You will not see him, but you will sense his presence. Go to the lunatic asylum and consult the psychiatrist. He will talk to you of neurasthenia, paranoia, angina pectoris, and the like, but he will never cure you.
Where will you go, then, all you who suffer from sleeplessness, and you who walk the streets waiting for the sun to rise?
The Mills of the Universe, the Mills of God, these are two expressions that are often used.
Have you had in your ears the humming that resembles the noise of a water-mill? Have you noticed, in the stillness of the night, or even in broad daylight, how memories of your past life stir and are resurrected, one by one or two by two? All the mistakes you have made, all your crimes, all your follies, that make you blush to your very ear-tips, bring a cold sweat to your brow and send shivers down your spine. You relive the life you have lived, from your birth to the very day that is. You suffer again all the sufferings you have endured, you drink again all the cups of bitterness you have so often drained. You crucify your skeleton, as there is no longer any flesh to mortify. You send your spirit to the stake, as your heart is already burned to ashes.
Do you recognize the truth of all this?
These are the Mills of God, that grind slow but grind exceeding small - and black. You are ground to powder and you think it is all over. But no, it will begin again and you will be put through the mill once more.
Be happy. That is the Hell here on earth, recognized by Luther, who esteemed it a high honour that he should ground to powder on this side of the empyrean.
Be happy and grateful.