Sophie had the winged, elastic, precise gait that is so frequent, almost habitual, among the women of America, the gait of heroic creatures of the future, whom life and ambition carry lightly toward new kinds of adventure … Three-masters of joyful warmth, bound for the Infinite … Parapine, who was hardly given to lyricism on the subject of attractive women, would smile to himself when she left the room. Just to look at her did your soul good. Especially mine...
A different country, different people carrying on rather strangely, the loss of a few little vanities, of a certain pride that has lost its justification, the lie it’s based on, its familiar echo— no more is needed, your head swims, doubt takes hold of you, the infinite opens up just for you, a ridiculously small infinite, and you fall into it … Travel is the search for this nothing, this bit of intoxication for numbskulls …
There’s no such thing as intelligent vanity. It’s an instinct. And you’ll never find a man who is not first and foremost vain.
There wasn’t much to be said for me, but my manners were all right, and I was self-effacing; deference came easy to me, I lived in constant fear of not being on time, but took good care never to get ahead of anybody. In short, I had delicacy. After all, if you manage to escape alive from an international slaughterhouse run rampant, it’s a sign of tact and discretion.
A poor man in this world can be done to death in two main ways, by the absolute indifference of his fellows in peacetime or by their homicidal mania when there’s a war.
When other people start thinking about you, it’s to figure out how to torture you, that and nothing else. The bastards want to see you bleeding, otherwise they’re not interested!
...there was no place for doubt in her inner life, and still less for truth.
The poetry of heroism holds an irresistible appeal for people who aren’t involved in a war, especially when they’re making piles of money out of one. It’s only natural.
Today there’s no such thing as a soldier unworthy to bear arms and, above all, to die under arms and by arms … They’re going, latest news, to make a hero out of me! … How imperious the homicidal madness must have become if they’re willing to pardon—no, to forget!—the theft of a can of meat! True, we have got into the habit of admiring colossal bandits, whose opulence is revered by the entire world, yet whose existence, once we stop to examine it, proves to be one long crime repeated ad infinitum, but those same bandits are heaped with glory, honors, arid power, their crimes are hallowed by the law of the land, whereas, as far back in history as the eye can see—and history, as you know, is my business— everything conspires to show that a venial theft, especially of inglorious foodstuffs, such as bread crusts, ham, or cheese, unfailingly subjects its perpetrator to irreparable opprobrium, the categoric condemnation of the community, major punishment, automatic dishonor, and inexpiable shame, and this for two reasons, first because the perpetrator of such an offense is usually poor, which in itself connotes basic unworthiness, and secondly because his act implies, as it were, a tacit reproach to the community. A poor man’s theft is seen as a malicious attempt at individual redress … Where would we be? Note accordingly that in all countries the penalties for petty theft are extremely severe, not only as a means of defending society, but also as a stern admonition to the unfortunate to know their place, stick to their caste, and behave themselves, joyfully resigned to go on dying of hunger and misery down through the centuries for ever and ever …
Love is harder to give up than life. In this world we spend our time killing or adoring, or both together. “I hate you! I adore you!” We keep going, we fuel and refuel, we pass on our life to a biped of the next century, with frenzy, at any cost, as if it were the greatest of pleasures to perpetuate ourselves, as if, when all’s said and done, it would make us immortal. One way or another, kissing is as indispensable as scratching.
Get it into your head, Lola, that they died for nothing! For absolutely nothing, the idiots! I say it and I'll say it again! I've proved it! The one thing that counts is life! In ten thousand years, I’ll bet you, this war, remarkable as it may seem to us at present, will be utterly forgotten … Maybe here and there in the world a handful of scholars will argue about its causes or the dates of the principal hecatombs that made it famous … Up until now those are the only things about men that other men have thought worth remembering after a few centuries, a few years, or even a few hours … I don’t believe in the future, Lola …”
Lying, fucking, dying. A law had just been passed prohibiting all other activity. The lies that were being told surpassed the imagination, far exceeded the limits of the absurd and preposterous—in the newspapers, on posters, on foot, on horseback, on pleasure boats. Everybody was doing it. In competition, to see who could lie the most outrageously. Soon there wasn’t a bit of truth in the city.
He was holding his pants in both hands and vomiting … Bleeding all over and rolling his eyes … There was nobody with him. He was through … ‘Mama! Mama!’ he was sniveling, all the while dying and pissing blood … “ ‘Shut up! I tell him. Mama! Mama! Fuck your mama!’
The Aztecs, so the story goes, routinely disemboweled eight thousand faithful a week in their temples of the sun, a sacrifice to the god of the clouds to make him send them rain. Such things are hard to believe until you get mixed up in a war. Once you’re in a war, you see how it is: the Aztecs’ contempt for other people’s bodies was the same as my humble viscera must have inspired in our above-mentioned General Celadon des Entrayes, who, thanks to a series of promotions, had become a kind of chickenshit god, an abominably exigent little sun.
As far as they were concerned, gunfire was nothing but noise. That’s why wars can keep going. Even the people who make them, who fight in them, don’t really get the picture. Even with a bullet in their gut, they’d go on picking up old shoes that “might come in handy.” The way a sheep, lying on its side in a meadow, will keep on grazing with its dying breath. Most people don’t die until the last moment; others start twenty years in advance, sometimes more. Those are the unfortunates.
A tiny hamlet that you wouldn’t even notice in the daytime, with ugly, uninteresting country around it, you can’t imagine how impressive it can be when it’s on fire at night! You’d think it was Notre-Dame! A village, even a small one, takes at least all night to burn, in the end it looks like an enormous flower, then there’s only a bud, and after that nothing. Smoke rises, and then it’s morning.
So for night after idiotic night we crept from ambush to ambush, sustained only by the decreasingly plausible hope of coming out alive, that and no other, and if we did come out alive one thing was sure, that we’d never, absolutely never, forget that we had discovered on earth a man shaped like you and me, but a thousand times more ferocious than the crocodiles and sharks with wide-open jaws that circle just below the surface around the shiploads of garbage and rotten meat that get chucked overboard in the Havana roadstead.
The biggest defeat in every department of life is to forget, especially the things that have done you in, and to die without realizing how far people can go in the way of crumminess. When the grave lies open before us, let’s not try to be witty, but on the other hand, let’s not forget, but make it our business to record the worst of the human viciousness we’ve seen without changing one word. When that’s done, we can curl up our toes and sink into the pit. That’s work enough for a lifetime.