“It’s worse than the rest because I feel responsible and have complicity in it. For example, this sort of painful rumination: I exist, I am the one who keeps it up. I. The body lives by itself once it has begun. But thought—I am the one who continues it, unrolls it. I exist. How serpentine is this feeling of existing—I unwind it, slowly. … If I could keep myself from thinking! I try, and succeed: my head seems to fill with smoke . . . and then it starts again: “Smoke . . . not to think . . . don’t want to think … I think I don’t want to think. I mustn’t think that I don’t want to think. Because that’s still a thought.” Will there never be an end to it? My thought is me: that’s why I can’t stop. I exist because I think . . . and I can’t stop myself from thinking. At this very moment—it’s frightful—if I exist, it is because I am horrified at existing. I am the one who pulls myself from the nothingness to which I aspire: the hatred, the disgust of existing, there are as many ways to make myself exist, to thrust myself into existence. Thoughts are born at the back of me, like sudden giddiness, I feel them being born behind my head … if I yield, they’re going to come round in front of me, between my eyes— and I always yield, the thought grows and grows and there it is, immense, filling me completely and renewing my existence.”
“I was just thinking,” I tell him, laughing, “that here we sit, all of us, eating and drinking to preserve our precious existence and really there is nothing, nothing, absolutely no reason for existing.”
The Self-Taught Man becomes serious, he makes an effort to understand me. I laughed too loud: I saw several faces turn towards me. Then I regretted having said so much. After all, that’s nobody’s business.
He repeats slowly: “No reason for existing . . . you undoubtedly mean, Monsieur, that life is without a goal? Isn’t that what one might call pessimism?”
He thinks for an instant, then says gently:
“A few years ago I read a book by an American author. It was called Is Life Worth Living? Isn’t that the question you are asking yourself?”
Certainly not, that is not the question I am asking myself. But I have no desire to explain.
“His conclusion,” the Self-Taught Man says, consolingly, “is in favour of voluntary optimism. Life has a meaning if we choose to give it one. One must first act, throw one’s self into some enterprise. Then, if one reflects, the die is already cast, one is pledged. I don’t know what you think about that, Monsieur?”
“Nothing,” I say.