“Without pitying himself, he was content to write for a few,”

September 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Consideration of literary or any other private immortality can best start with a man like Stendhal. It would be hard to find a man less sympathetic to religion and more completely unaffected by its promises and obligations. His thought and feelings were directed wholly to this life and he experienced it with exactness and depth. He gave himself up to it, enjoying what could give him pleasure; but he did not become shallow stale in doing so, because he allowed everything that was separate to remain separate, instead of trying to construct spurious unities. He thought much, but his thoughts were never cold. He was suspicious of everything that did not move him. All that he recorded and all that he shaped remained close to the fiery moment of genesis. He loved many things and believed in some, but all of them remained miraculously concrete for him. They were all there in him and he could find them at once without resort to specious tricks of arrangement.

This man, who took nothing for granted, who wanted to discover everything for himself; who, as far as life is feeling and spirit, was life itself; who was in the heart of every situation and therefore had a right to look at it from outside; with whom word and substance were so intuitively one that it was as though he taken it on himself to purify language single-handed—this rare and truly free man had, none the less, one article of faith, which he spoke of as simply and naturally as of a mistress.

Without pitying himself, he was content to write for a few, but he was certain that in a hundred years he would be read by many. Nowhere in modern times is a belief in literary immortality to be found in a clearer, purer and less pretentious form. What does a man mean who holds this belief? He means that he will still be here when everyone else who lived at the same time is no longer here. It is not that he feels any animosity towards the living as such; he does not try to get rid of them, nor harm t hem in any way. He does not even see them as opponents. He despises those who acquire false fame and would despise himself too if he fought them with their own weapons. He bears them no malice, for he knows how completely mistaken they are, but he chooses the company of those to whom he himself will one day belong, men of earlier times whose work still lives, who speak to him and feed him. The gratitude he feels to them is gratitude for life itself.

Killing in order to survive is meaningless to such a man, for it is not now that he wants to survive. It is only in a hundred years that he will enter the lists, when he is no longer alive and thus cannot kill. Then it will be a question of work contending against work, with nothing that he himself can do. The true rivalry, the one that matters, begins when the rivals are no longer there. Thus he cannot even watch the fight. But the work must be there and, if it is to be there, it must contain the greatest and purest measure of life. Not only does he abjure killing, but he takes with him into immortality all who were live with him here, and it is then that all these, the least as well as the greatest, are most truly alive.”

— Elias Canetti, Crowds & Power

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