…the most serious thing, and the strangest, is that we are afraid to the point of panic, not so much of seeing ourselves as of being seen by ourselves. This is our root absurdity. What is behind this great fear?
We are afraid that if we see ourselves we will not see anything very great. Our humbug self is afraid of being seen for what it is. It is fear of this awful exposure that makes us cover ourselves with makeup and put on phony facial expressions.
Sometimes one of life’s accidents—misfortune, a deeply moving encounter, rattles the relatively factitious and solid edifice that a human being has built up for the comfort of his existence. Shaken to what he believes to be his roots, he is burned for an instant by the fire of a question, a doubt: who am I? why am I living? where am I going?
At this moment of reality, he thinks. But such moments are almost always exceptional and accidental, particularly for the specialized men—conditioned by social attitudes, withdrawn into vicious circles in the shadows of their consciousness—that our modern civilization produces in abundance. But the edifice’s semblance of balance is rarely compromised in a serious way.
For the question “who am I,” civil status, first names, last names, positions, professions, titles, ranks, social circles, mirrors, ambitions, vanities and laziness are there to give the pretense of an answer. If the person is of a slightly speculative nature, his little internal philosophy also keeps answers to these rattling questions—brilliant, consoling or approximative answers—in reserve.
And man, that phantom vessel, sets off again under his illusory rigging on the waves of this world where, at times, a real vessel leaves its wake.…
Man is head, chest and stomach. Each of these animals operates, more often than not, individually. I eat, I feel, I even, although rarely, think…. This jungle crawls and teems, is hungry, roars, gets angry, devours itself, and its cacophonic concert does not even stop even when you are asleep.
—an excerpt from René Daumal’s Notebook.