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悲慘世界

Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. — Proverbs 3:27 (KJV)

 

我有一個心願是把聖經由頭到尾讀一遍。唸英國文學的人,不能不懂聖經和希臘神話,聖經之中又尤以King James Version 最為文人採用。之前試了兩次,都是去到舊約的三分之一左右便半途而廢。這次來歐特別在平板電腦上載了King James Bible,再戰創世紀無限復活。上面引述的是app 裡內置的今日特選經文。

來歐不久,我很快便留意到車站裡和街頭上,常有來自敍利亞的難民坐在地上行乞。他們有時是一個人,多是年㒖的男人或女人(又或者只是戰亂催老),穿戴着沾滿風塵的傳統衣飾和頭巾,地𥱊子也沒有一張,就這樣或盤腿或跪坐在地上,手上拿着一個紙牌,上面以油性筆寫着:「我是敍利亞人,請給我吃的。」有時他們是一家幾口,男人和女人帶着幾個小孩,同樣骯髒沾滿灰塵,靜默疏離的冷眼看着身旁快速走過的冷眼的路人。然而除了難民,街上更多的是無業的無家者,每天在街上蹓躂向路人要零錢。這些無家者裡有男有女,有年長的,二十來歲的年輕人也見過。

我每次遇上他們的目光,難過之餘,更是尷尬萬分。我是一個遊客,拿着不多但顯然是余裕的金錢,來到這個地方消費我的時間與夢想。另一方面,他們的政府和同胞畢竟也沒有給他們施予援手,作為外國人的我,為甚麼就要負上這個責任?以我一人之力,又幫得了多少?我又如何可以知道我一時的善意(或偽善)結果不會害了他們?由政治和政策衍生的社會問題,該當由政治和政策解決,不是嗎?

昨天在前往地下鐵站的路上,一個男人走過來跟我講了一堆不知甚麼話。他的語氣是客氣的,並不帶任何威嚇,但我下意識的就起了自衞機制,邊擺手邊說我聽不懂。那個男人就笑了:「就不過是一些零錢,有甚麼明白不明白的?」我搖搖頭,走了。走着,心裡卻覺得非常羞恥。那男人只是想要幾塊零錢,我雖然一下子聽不懂,但大意也看得出來,那又為甚麼要假裝呢?我在保衛着區區幾塊零錢還是些甚麼原則?

如果這個世界只會一路變壞,我們也只等着政府為人民服務而對當前的不幸坐視不理嗎?其實會不會只是,我們能救一個就算一個呢?也許雨果的悲慘世界一百年後的這個悲慘世界裡,莫以善小而不為就是這個意思吧。

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再訪倫敦

這趟歐遊眼看快進入第三週,還沒有寫過一隻字(除了宣告被傷風KO那次),似是會重蹈日本那年遊記一開始即爛尾的覆轍。先是忙着適應,然後忙着遊玩,現在是久病未癒,即使有事想記,亦提不起力氣來。現在呆坐巴黎家裡等開飯(病了還有人做叉燒飯給自己吃是不是太過份),就想記一下--不是巴黎,這城於我還有待消化--倫敦之旅的一點感想。

那年赴倫敦唸書,已是14年前的2004年。由最初帶着一種殖民地情意結和各種來自文學藝術等對這霧都的印象而來,到最後把這城認定為家,朝思暮想着有一天總會歸來,沒想到一晃眼就是14年。這期間我認定的家又多了幾處--也許我們那位剛榮休的本土豪傑是對的:心安是歸處。一個地方住久了,在我們眼中就會變可愛,慣性就變成感情。也許人也是一樣。

久別歸來,我並沒有特別想做的事--我甚至本身並沒有打算過去倫敦,只是踫巧有朋友在那邊,又另有住在當地的朋友收留,當下就買了來回巴黎倫敦的火車票了。回到倫敦,也沒有追看展覧新營空間免費展館,一心只想漫步重温昔日那雙年輕的足跡,那初嚐自由氣味、還未被智能電話和Google Map 污染的勇於冒險嚐新、對方向極其敏感又不懂累為何物的年輕壯健的雙腿。

從St Pancras 走出來,紅磚車站外大街上來往兩排紅色雙層巴士--好老土的都要在心中叫聲:我回到倫敦了!卻又沒有想像的激動。倫敦一切依舊熟悉,但也已換過了一副嘴臉。記憶中街上很多的書店,店門常堆滿買二送一的暢銷書,現在都換成連鎖咖啡室連鎖超市和連鎖(奇怪)壽司店,就跟香港街上全是藥房和金舖一樣,只是連鎖咖啡室連鎖超市和連鎖(奇怪)壽司店這種小資優閒看上去還沒有藥房和金舖的庸俗那麼讓人難過。Notting Hill 已經見不到一間書店(這真是極其矛盾荒謬的事),Charingcross Road 的書店和唱片都消失了,那年我常常看着那唱片店櫥窗長年放着的The Libertines 的海報,心想海報中那男子長得還真俊美,卻一次也沒有踏足過店內。前面不遠處的Central Saint Martins 校舎也搬離了,以前上完課在Senate House 過來West End 散步,總要選這條路,為的就是偷看那些打扮時髦的藝術學生。同是大學生,為甚麼他們就那麼有型而我們又那麼笨柒呢?那是比論文題目還要難解的問題。

朋友住在倫敦東面,正正是Hipsterfication 正旺的地區。本來有色人種聚居的貧民區,街道兩旁盡是文青系小店餐室,週末還有各大小市集,滙聚區內外潮人甚或識途遊客。明明是仕紳化的現在進行式,我卻奇怪並沒有太大反感,甚至覺得在這種新舊踫撞中的鬧市小村落生活感覺也真還不錯:平日可到合作社形式的良心雜貨店買食材,在旁邊的古著店和charity shop 尋寶,在再旁邊的獨立書店翻翻專門出版關於東倫敦主題的獨立出版社的小書,週末逛花市逛市集,天氣好時在家門前的公園野餐⋯⋯在這裡,仕紳化好像真的帶來了一點美好生活的可能。當然,我們也走過一些身受仕紳化其害的地區:靠近中心的原本充斥藝術家工作室和空間的地區,原本的藝術家社群已不復存在。我只有安慰自己說至少住在東面的人好像還生活得可以的樣子,雖然真相如何我是無法知道。

受了突如其來的寒,病倒了兩天,但仍趕及在回巴黎前走一趟以前的大學。那懷念的東倫敦Mile End,走十五分鐘才到的Sainsbury (後來《Cashback》在那兒取景,為此我特別喜歡那電影),跟同屋一同去吃的Nando’s 和每週一天特價的電影院,此外就是一片無奇草根伊斯蘭社區,間有童黨作惡的Mile End。現在呢?整條街少算也有十來間超市(而且是精緻的不是寒酸的那種),以前從來沒有的時髦咖啡室和酒吧,本來的Sainsbury 外面的停車場成了倫敦市內無數新基建大樓工地的其中一個,我的回憶快將變成Crossrail 車站。Sainsbury 裡面也來了個大變身,而在市集也可以用信用卡的現今,應該也再沒有Cashback 這回事(我真有一個衝動去隨意買點甚麼,為的就是讓收銀員問我要不要Cashback)。以前的學生宿舎變成了大學醫務所,大學校園裡內地留學生佔了一半,我唸的學科大概也因為太冷門被拿掉了。單層的25號巴士變成了雙層,那曾把我接連倫敦中心的重要管道隱沒在其他紅色巴士群中。離遠看到初次跟朋友吸水煙的地方變了連鎖店,我頭也不回的往巴士站走去。

臨上Eurostar 前,雖然沒來得及去British Museum 走一轉,卻還可以重回British Library 一次。以前在那裡的Rare Books and Manuscripts 閱讀室上課,課後我們總會坐在外面的咖啡室聊一回才解散。這回我沒有通行證,不能再進去閱讀室,只坐在當年的那咖啡室,一邊欣賞旁邊一如昨日般宏偉的樓高幾層的玻璃書房,一邊感嘆變得光鮮的咖啡室,食物還是照舊難吃。作為紀念,我拿了一個進入閱讀室用的透明膠袋回去(那設計還是跟當年一模一樣)。

這次重回倫敦,於我像是了卻一件心事,是重逢一位多年沒見的故人,尋回一段無疾而終的愛情。我已不再問自己對倫敦的愛有多深,就像我們到了某個年紀就不再輕言愛那樣。她是一個我曾經用心生活過的地方,在我的裡面有着她的刻印,但也僅此而已。

撰於2018年5月21日巴黎

講句對唔住有幾難

我的搪瓷盒子崩了一塊。本來我媽想拿來用時我就抗議過,說她鐵定會把盒子跌傷,我媽說怎麼會。我不想對家人那麼計較,反正那只是十二元店的貨色,就由她拿去用了。結果我看盒子被隨意擱在客廳各個角落好多天(包括很容易發生意外的地方),便想把它洗了放回去,就發現崩了一塊。這麼多年共居累積下來的經驗告訴我,我媽觸碰過的東西都只會有一個結果,而且越是貴重高質的東西越是不得好死。當我試過幾千塊買回來的設計師品牌外套嘗未穿過便被她燙壞、從日本帶回來的松榮堂香立在日本經歷多次遷徙都好端端的,回到香港沒多久就神秘的崩了一角、francfranc杯子被人跌斷了耳仔還被丟到垃圾筒裡疑似意圖毁屍滅跡、書櫃裡和房間的書被無故移動,還有書因而受了重傷⋯⋯我就知道,既然我媽是那麼天生異稟,又從來不覺得那些傷亡跟自己的特殊能力有關,也不會停止觸碰我的東西(她的概念裡沒有私人和公共的分野,不管我抗議多少次仍經常私自闖進我的房間裡動我的東西),我要麼搬家(哪有錢),要麼是不擁有任何具有價值的東西(人生意義何在),要麼跟着潮流佛系一下,不阻止我媽搞破壞,也不停止收集鍾愛的物件,總有一天那些壞了的東西都會自動回復完好(道行未夠)。但我想講的不是在我家私人空間和私有財產不被尊重這回事(雖然這也有很多可說的),我想講的是一種拒絕承認錯誤的文化。

有趣的是,那可能不只是我家,而是中國人普遍共享的文化。「唔認衰」,「唔衰得」。我發現自己「唔衰得」這性格上的缺陷時是唸中一的時候。上地理課的時候,我因為之前缺課,不知道發了家課,被老師指出我欠交家課時,我即時嘟嚷起來:唔係啊--老師當堂切斷了我的藉口:甚麼唔係啊?妳沒有上課就不會問其他同學?那不是妳的責任?我即時噤聲了。那時我受的當頭棒喝,是我活了十一年才首次發現自己愛逃避責任、不懂認錯的性格上的缺陷。從記憶裡搜尋,我的確從來不會對人說「對不起」,彷彿承認錯誤比犯錯本身更叫人可怕。自從那一天後,我就沒有再說「唔係啊」這三個字,而且每逢從他人口中聽到都會感到耳朵發痛。那位老師教我的地埋知識我都還她了(雖然測驗都拿滿分),但這一課我到現在都牢牢記住。

但「唔衰得」的劣根性始終根深蒂固,我仍然未悟得道歉的學問。大一的時候,外遊時探望移居當地的同學,在停車場泊車時,跟隔隣的車子靠得很近,我開門的時候,車門剛刷到了人家的車子,剛好回到車旁的車主就光火了,開口就罵個不停。同學馬上着我道歉,我卻呆在原地不懂反應。在那幾秒鐘的光境,我下意識先是想要否認自己有所犯錯,當意識到錯的確在我時,卻又無法讓自己表現出歉意。這究竟是哪門子的自尊心,「對不起」這三個字竟比「我愛你」還要讓人難以啟齒。即使事過境遷,我仍在心裡跟自己說那個白人女子根本是歧視華人才這麼裝腔作勢云云,阿Q式的保全自尊的卑劣意圖實在讓現在的我想來也覺羞愧。

你說,講句對唔住有幾難呢?對唔住,係真係好難的。道歉、承認自己的錯誤,就是打破自己一直維持的美好自我形象,是不容易的。被人公然直面指出錯誤時,認錯就更困難。尤其對於由小到大都在沒有人對人道歉的環境成長的人來說,「對唔住」這三個字應如何發音也是一個難題。

回到我的搪瓷盒子。我向我媽表達不滿後,她否認是她做的。雖然她實在有太多前科,她無記性的程度也令人懷疑她只是忘記了,但疑點歸於被告,我於是又去問我爸。他的即時反應是:本來就爛咗架啦!當我指出之前沒有,他悻悻然的說他沒有碰過(沒有碰過又怎會知道本來就爛咗?)。再跟我媽核對過證供,我基本上可以肯定犯人是我爸,是他拿了盒子來裝花生糖,而我媽用的是另一個(我有兩個搪瓷盒子)。最讓人不忿的是,我爸為了逃避責任竟然說謊;就算錯不在他,可能是無心之失又或者並不知情,無論如何也不可能把錯推回給受害人吧(他那句不就是說我在說謊?)。覺察到我已經解開謎底後,我爸就開始說些甚麼搪瓷的本質就是會破等等的爛藉口意圖轉移視線推搪責任了。這跟我當年的「唔係啊」和白人歧視華人論根本沒有分別。我終找到了我「唔衰得」性格的來源了。

我爸明顯也是受我爺影響,整個家族一直傳承這個「唔衰得」的性格。多年前,我爺仍在生的時候,有一天我媽投訴有人弄斷了她的書法用墨塊,還悄悄的以膠水黏合了意圖蒙混過關。那時我就覺得我爺可愛又可憐,用那麼蠢的方法就是怕被發現,他一定很怕被媳婦罵了。當然大家都知道誰是犯人,但我媽就總是半開玩笑的硬要指犯人是我,要我招。雖然是玩笑,卻竟持續笑到今天,清白之軀的我這些年來不斷被指控這個莫須有的罪名,心裡其實是不愉快的。我們固然都不喜歡被直面指出犯錯之處,即使被指出犯錯也不願坦承及道歉,何況是根本沒有錯呢?我們家就是如此奇怪,犯錯的人不認錯,卻要沒犯錯的人去揹那罪名。

到最後,一如既往,當然是沒有人認錯也沒有人道歉的草草了事了。

不只個人,中國人的政府也不道歉,視道歉為軟弱的行為。當我看到香港警察至今仍拒絕向人肉路障的傷者道歉,我就覺得連對着自己人民都不屑道歉、不敢承擔責任的政府,又有甚麼臉去要求菲律賓政府為馬尼拉人質事件向我們道歉?沒有勇氣面對及承擔自己的錯誤的政府,才是最軟弱的,也實在怪不得人家政府瞧不起你。另一方面,我也不清楚日本那種道歉文化是否另一個極端--當道歉成為一種習以為常的形式,甚或取代承擔責任本身的時候(住在日本的時候,常常看到公眾人物在電視舉行記者招待會為自己的醜聞公開道歉,大家看過事主表演道歉,滿意他的演出的話,往往都前事不再追究,這於我是非常匪而所思的事),那種歉意又具有多少真誠,又會否來得太輕易呢。也許在不同的文化語境裡,認錯也有不同的含義。例如中國人會覺得認錯不但會傷自尊,還要承擔責任,所以不會輕易認錯。對日本人而言,不認錯的代價卻比認錯的更大;認錯對愛面子的日本人來說也不是易事,但道歉過後很多時會從輕發落甚至一筆勾消,表現好、躹躬躹得好看的話甚至會獲得欣賞。可以說,對日本人來說,犯錯不道歉比犯錯本身還要更大罪。只是,兩者比較的話,我想我還是想以日本人為榜樣多一點。起碼,勇於承認自己的錯誤,才是真正對自己的尊重。

羅樂敏《而又彷彿》

而又彷彿,我始發現自己陷入失眠。黑暗中我拿着手機,不斷更新選舉點票直擊,彷彿執念足以扭轉結果。新手機有時會自動離線,讓人焦燥不已。無法刷新社交媒體app追蹤某人的行跡,彷彿執念足以改變事實。昨夜沒睡好,惰性拒絕直面案頭的工作。//他們何以出現何以消散呢?/這是個沒法終結的下午。// 不如寫詩。但是我不喜歡詩,我是一個讀小說的人,也不太介意小說裡有適當的詩意。「適當的」一個日本男生經常說。不多不少的剛剛好。不知道他還有沒有念着我。為甚麼總是對喜歡自己的人如斯殘忍。//一個不幸的人被賦予詩的形狀// 看書這回事,不是經典口碑,就是認識作者。寫作的人豈能太孤清?但是我喜歡羅樂敏的詩。如果我寫詩的話,我會是這一種的,或者我希望自己會是這一種的。始料不及的聯想。轉瞬即逝的意象。如果我的小說有一天得以完成的話,它會是這一種的,或者我希望它會是這一種的。//似一種/不對應任何古老問題的回答。//

寫於三八婦女節

當年上Hall莊的時候,好似好聰明好體貼的給女Hall全員送上衛生護墊,還優雅的附上一張小紙片:XX體貼妳的需要。那個時候的我們大概也不認知婦女節的來由意義。由當年大學仍在唸Simone de Beauvoir 的第一代女權理論,這十年再接觸第二第三代,來到最近的MeToo運動,不能不驚訝我們的世界文明進化原來可以這麼慢,女人倒轉頭鬧返女人,女權運動的一半阻力其實來自女人自己。最近開始讀Lauren Elkin的《Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London》,在裡面發現了歷史上一直沒有被賦與在街道上行走的自由的女性之餘,也發現了那個喜歡用腳在街上走的自己,由最開頭因為想省錢,總是手拿着一本London A-Z由天光走到天黑,走到沒有力氣再走下去,才乘巴士回宿舍,到慢慢的愛上了這樣一個人在城市漫遊蹓躂。這一百年來,單身女子在街道上無目的地行走仍是奇觀,我的盲摸摸有時也會吸引好些詫異的目光。除了偏好以雙腳直接感受城市和歷史的發生,那一年在倫敦的最大發現,是自由的喜悅。是以我無法愛上寸步難行的城市(如耶加達、美國的近郊小城),而在未出發之前,已然率先愛上滿佈藝術家和文學家足跡的巴黎。作為一個女性,我們需要的又怎會只是衛生護墊。

Quote from Albert Camus, The Rebel

There is not one human being who, above a certain level of elementary consciousness, does not exhaust himself in trying to find formulae and attitudes which will give his existence the unity it lacks. Appearance and action, the dandy and the revolutionary, all demand unity, in order to exist and in order to exist on this earth. As in those pathetic and miserable relationships which sometimes survive for a very long time because one of the partners is waiting to find the right word, action, gesture, or situation which will bring his adventure to an end on exactly the right note, so everyone proposes and creates for himself the final word. It is not sufficient to live, there must be a destiny which does not have to wait on death. it is therefore justifiable to say that man has an idea of a better world than this. But better does not mean different, it means unified. This passion which lifts the mind above the commonplaces of a dispersed world, from which it nevertheless detaches itself, is the passion for unity. It does not result in mediocre efforts to escape, however, but in the most obstinate demands. Religion or crime, every human endeavour in fact, finally obeys this unreasonable desire and claims to give life a form it does not have. The same impulse which can lead to the adoration of the heavens or the destruction of man, also leads to creative literature which derives its serious content at this source.

—- Albert Camus, “Rebellion and Art,” The Rebel

Quotes from Testaments Betrayed

Try to reconstruct a dialogue from your own life, the dialogue of a quarrel or a dialogue of love. The most precious, the most important situations are utterly gone. Their abstract sense remains (I took this point of view, he took that one, I was aggressive, he was defensive), perhaps a detail or two, but the acousticovisual concreteness of the situation in all its continuity is lost.

And not only is it lost but we do not even wonder at this loss. We are resigned to losing the concreteness of the present. We immediately transform the present moment into its abstraction. We need only recount an episode we experienced a few hours ago: the dialogue contracts to a brief summary, the setting to a few general features. This applies to even the strongest memories, which affect the mind deeply, like a trauma: we are so dazzled by their potency that we don’t realize how schematic and meager their content is.

When we study, discuss, analyze a reality, we analyze it as it appears in our mind, in our memory. We know reality only in the past tense. We do not know it as it is in the present, in the moment when it’s happening, when it is. The present moment is unlike the memory of it. Remembering is not the negative of forgetting. Remembering is a form of forgetting.

We can assiduously keep a diary and note every event. Rereading the entries one day, we will see that they cannot evoke a single concrete image. And still worse: that the imagination is unable to help our memory along and reconstruct what has been forgotten. The present – the concreteness of the present – as a phenomenon to consider, as a structure, is for us an unknown planet; so we can neither hold on to it in our memory nor reconstruct it through imagination. We die without knowing what have lived.

—- Testaments Betrayed: An Essay in Nine Parts, Milan Kundera

Maxims, La Rochefoucald

We have no more say in the duration of our passions than in that of our lives.

Our self-esteem is more inclined to resent criticism of our tastes than of our opinions.

The steadfastness of the wise is but the art of keeping their agitation locked in their hearts.

Greater virtues are needed to bear good fortune than bad.

We have more strength than will-power, and when we imagine things are impossible we are trying to make excuses to ourselves.

If we had no faults we should not find so much enjoyment in seeing faults in others.

Pride plays a greater part than kindness in the reprimands we address to wrongdoers; we reprove them not so much to reform them as to make them believe that we are free from their faults.

People too much taken up with little things usually become incapable of big ones.

We are never as fortunate or as unfortunate as we suppose.

People with a high opinion of their own merit make it a point of honour to be unhappy so as to convince others as well as themselves that they are worthy victims of the buffetings of fate.

The scorn for riches displayed by the philosophers was a secret desire to recompense their own merit for the injustice of Fortune by scorning those very benefits she had denied them; it was a private way of remaining unsullied by poverty, a devious path towards the high respect they could not command by wealth.

Sincerity is openness of heart. It is found in very few, and what is usually seen is subtle dissimulation designed to draw the confidence of others.

There are few people who, when their love for each other is dead, are not ashamed of that love.

Reconciliation with our enemies is nothing more than the desire to improve our position, war-weariness, or fear of some unlucky turn of events.

What men have called friendship is merely association, respect for each other’s interests, and exchange of good offices, in fact nothing more than a business arrangement from which self-love is always out to draw some profit.

Our self-esteem magnifies or minimises the good qualities of our friends according to how pleased we are with them, and we measure their worth by the way they get on with us.

Old people are fond of giving good advice; it consoles them for no longer being capable of setting a bad example.

A man’s ingratitude may be less reprehensible than the motives of his benefactor.

Nothing is less sincere that the way people ask and give advice. The asker appears to have deferential respect for his friend’s sentiments, although his sole object is to get his own approved and transfer responsibility for his conduct; whereas the giver repays with tireless and disinterested energy that confidence that has been placed in him, although most often the advice he gives is calculated to further his own interests or reputation alone.

We often do good so that we can do evil with impunity.

When we resist passions it is more on account of their weakness than our strength.

One of the reasons why so few people are to be found who seem sensible and pleasant in conversation is that almost everybody is thinking about what he wants to say himself rather than answering clearly what is being said to him. The more clever and polite think it enough simply to put on an attentive expression, while all the time you can see in their eyes and train of thought that they are far removed from what you are saying and anxious to get back to what they want to say. They ought, on the contrary, to reflect that such keenness to please oneself is a bad way of pleasing or persuading others, and that to listen well and answer to the point is one of the most perfect qualities one can have in conversation.

The glory of great men must always be measured against the means they have used to acquire it.

Our real worth earns the respect of knowledgeable people, luck that of the public.

We are held to our duty by laziness and timidity, but often our virtue gets all the credit.

Repentance is not so much regret for the evil we have done as fear of the evil that may befall us as a result.

We own up to our failings so that our honesty may repair the damage those failings do us in other men’s eyes.

We do not despise all those with vices, but we do despise all those without a single virtue.

Our misdeeds are easily forgotten when they are known only to ourselves.

Virtue would not go so far without vanity to bear it company.

Gratitude is like commercial good faith; it keeps trade going, and we pay up, not because it is right to settle our account but so that people will be more willing to extend us credit.

The deficit in the amount of gratitude we expect for kindnesses done is due to the pride of both giver and receiver, for they fail to agree upon the value of the kindness.

Over-eagerness to repay a debt is in itself a kind of ingratitude.

Afflictions give rise to various kinds of hypocrisy: in one, pretending to weep over the loss of someone dear to us we really weep for ourselves, since we miss that person’s good opinion of us or deplore some curtailment of our wealth, pleasure, or position. The dead, therefore, are honoured by tears shed for the living alone. I call this a kind of hypocrisy because in afflictions of this sort we deceive ourselves. There is another hypocrisy, less innocent because aimed at the world at large: the affliction of certain persons who aspire to the glory of a beautiful, immortal sorrow. Time, the universal destroyer, has taken away the grief they really felt, but still they obstinately go on weeping, wailing, and sighing; they are acting a mournful part and striving to make all their actions prove that their distress will only end with their lives. This miserable and tiresome vanity is usually found in ambitious women, for as their sex precludes them from all the roads to glory they seek celebrity by a display of inconsolable affliction. There is yet another kind of tears that rise from shallow springs and flow or dry up at will: people shed them so as to have a reputation for being tender-hearted, so as to be pitied or wept over, or, finally, to avoid the disgrace of not weeping.

Those who obstinately oppose the most widely-held opinions more often do so because of pride than lack of intelligence. They find the best places in the right set already taken, and they do not want back seats.

In every walk of life each man puts on a personality and outward appearance so as to look what he wants to be thought: in fact you might say that society is entirely made up of assumed personalities.

Civility is a desire to be repaid with civility, and also to be considered well bred.

Pity is often feeling our own sufferings in those of others, a shrewd precaution against misfortunes that may befall us. We give help to others so that they have to do the same for us on similar occasions, and these kindnesses we do them are, to put it plainly, gifts we bestow on ourselves in advance.

Readiness to believe the worst without adequate examination comes from pride and laziness: we want to find culprits but cannot be bothered to investigate the crimes.

Absence lessens moderate passions and intensifies great ones, as the wind blows out a candle but fans up a fire.

We own up to minor failings, but only so as to convince others that we have no major ones.

Commonplace minds usually condemn whatever is beyond their powers.

Most friends give one a distaste for friendship, and most of the pious a distaste for piety.

Decorum is the least important of all laws, but the best observed.

The very pride that makes us condemn failings from which we think we are exempt leads us to despise good qualities we do not possess.

Those who have known great passions remain all through their lives both glad and sorry they have recovered.

Moderation in times of good fortune is merely dread of the humiliating aftermath of excess, or fear of losing what one has.

Each one of us finds in others the very faults other finds in us.

When you cannot find your peace in yourself it is useless to look for it elsewhere.

As man is never free to love or cease loving, a lover has no right to complain of his mistress’s inconstancy, nor she of his fickleness.

We do not always regret the loss of our friends because of their worth, but because of our own needs and the flattering opinion they had of us.

自戀者的告白

睡不着的夜晚,百無聊賴的瀏覧着自己的網誌,隨意撈起了幾篇以前寫的東西,看得我毛管直豎--怎麼這種東西也寫得出來讓人看?根本就是故作憂鬱多愁善感傷春悲秋的無聊X的自戀作業,還以為自己非常浪漫才情洋溢,實在太過可怕不堪入目。只是要我把上千篇文章逐一重新檢閱,把不見得光的東西收起或處理掉,我又提不起那個勁,因此暫時就放着算了,反正又不會有甚麼人看到。原來在我寫得最多的時候往往是最泛濫而又最幼稚粗糙的;而當我開始陷入無言的狀態之時,其實才是真正學懂了如何寫的時候。只有當寫作超越了純粹自戀式的情緒發泄時,寫作才真正成為寫作。就連這回事我也顯得十分的遲熟。

Borges on Writing and Blindness

I had always imagined Paradise as a kind of library.

I too, if I may mention myself, have always known that my destiny was, above all, a literary destiny — that bad things and some good things would happen to me, but that, in the long run, all of it would be converted into words. Particularly the bad things, since happiness does not need to be transformed: happiness is its own end.

I have said that blindness is a way of life, a way of life that is not entirely unfortunate. Let us recall those lines of the greatest Spanish poet, Fray Luis de León:

Vivir quiero conmigo,
gozar quiero del bien que debo al cielo,
a solas sin testigo,
libre de amor, de celo,
de odio, de esperanza, de recelo.

[I want to live with myself,/ I want to enjoy the good that I owe to heaven,/ alone, without witnesses,/ free of love, of jealousy,/ of hate, of hope, of fear.]

Edgar Allan Poe knew this stanza by heart.

A writer lives. The task of being a poet is not completed at a fixed schedule. No one is a poet from eight to twelve and from two to six. Whoever is a poet is always one, and continually assaulted by poetry. I suppose a painter feels that colors and shapes are besieging him. Or the musician feels that the strange world of sounds — the strangest world of art — is always seeking him out, that there are melodies and dissonances looking for him. For the task of an artist, blindness is not a total misfortune. It may be an instrument. Fray Luis de León dedicated one of his most beautiful odes to Francisco Salinas, a blind musician.

A writer, or any man, must believe that whatever happens to him is an instrument; everything has been given for an end. This is even stronger in the case of an artist. Everything that happens, including humiliations, embarrassments, misfortunes, all has been given like clay, like material for one’s art. One must accept it. For this reason I speak in a poem of the ancient food of heroes: humiliation, unhappiness, discord. Those things are given to us to transform, so that we may make from the miserable circumstances of our lives things that are eternal, or aspire to be so.

I want to end with a line of Goethe: ‘Alles Nahe werde fern,’ everything near becomes far. Goethe was referring to the evening twilight. Everything becomes far. It is true. At nightfall, the things closest to us seem to move away from our eyes. So the visible world has moved away from my eyes, perhaps forever.

Goethe could be referring not only to twilight but to life. All things go off, leaving us. Old age is probably the supreme solitude — except that the supreme solitude is death. And ‘everything near becomes far’ also refers to the slow process of blindness, of which I hoped to show speaking tonight, that it is not a complete misfortune. It is one more instrument among the many — all of them so strange – that fate or chance provide.

 

Jorge Luis Borges, “Blindness” in The Perpetual Race of Achilles and the Tortoise (Penguin Great Ideas 98)