Affliction [malheur] is an uprooting of life, a more or less attenuated equivalent of death, made irresistibly present to the soul by the attack or immediate apprehension of physical pain. If there is complete absence of physical pain there is no affliction for the soul, because our thoughts can turn to any object. Thought flies from affliction as promptly and irresistibly as an animal flies from death. Here below, physical pain, and that alone, has the power to chain down our thoughts; on condition that we count as physical pain certain phenomena that, though difficult to describe, are bodily and exactly equivalent to it. Fear of physical pain is a notable example.
When thought is obliged by an attack of physical pain, however slight, to recognize the presence of affliction, a state of mind is brought about, as acute as that of a condemned man who is forced to look for hours at the guillotine that is going to cut off his head. Human beings can live for twenty or fifty years in this acute state. We pass quite close to them without realizing it. What man is capable of discerning such souls unless Christ himself looks through his eyes? We only notice that they have rather a strange way of behaving and we censure this behaviour.
As for those who have been struck by one of those blows that leave a being struggling on the ground like a half crushed worm, they have no words to express what is happening to them. Among the people they meet, those who have never had contact with affliction in its true sense can have no idea of what it is, even though they may have suffered a great deal. Affliction is something specific and impossible to describe in any other terms, as sounds are to anyone who is deaf and dumb. And as for those who have themselves been mutilated by affliction, they are in no state to help anyone at all, and they are almost incapable of even wishing to do so. Thus compassion for the afflicted is an impossibility. When it is really found we have a more astounding miracle than walking on water, healing the sick, or even raising the dead.
– Simone Weil, ‘The Love of God and Affliction’ (tr. Craufurd)
It would be futile if I were to try to tell how I have perceived God’s assistance in this. For example, it has been inexplicable to me (what has so often happened to me) that when I did something and could not possibly say why or it did not occur to me to ask why, when I as a very specific person followed the prompting of my natural impulses, that this, which for me had a purely personal meaning bordering on the accidental, that this then turned out to have a totally different, a purely ideal meaning when seen later within my work as an author; that much of what I had done purely personally was strangely enough precisely what I should do qua author. It has been inexplicable to me how very often seemingly quite accidental little circumstances in my life, which then in turn admittedly became something very considerable through my imagination, brought me into a specific state, and I did not understand myself, became depressed – and see – then out of this developed a mood, the very mood I should use in the work with which I was engaged at the time, and at just the right place. There has not been the slightest delay in the writing; what was to be used has always been at hand the very moment it was to be used.
– Kierkegaard, The Point of View for My Work as an Author (tr. Hong & Hong)
We live in a world of unreality and dreams. To give up our imaginary position as the centre, to renounce it, not only intellectually but in the imaginative part of our soul, that means to awaken to what is real and eternal, to see the true light and hear the true silence. A transformation then takes place at the very roots of our sensibility, in our immediate reception of sense impressions. It is a transformation analogous to that which takes place in the dusk of evening on a road, where we suddenly discern as a tree what we had at first seen as a stooping man, or where we suddenly recognise as a rustling of leaves that we thought at first was whispering voices. We see the same colours, we hear the same sounds, but not in the same way.
– Simone Weil, ‘Forms of the Implicit Love of God’ (tr. Craufurd)
Every human being here is asked two questions of creed: first as to the credibility of this life, second as to the credibility of his goal. Both questions are answered by everyone, through the very fact of his life, with such a firm and direct ‘yes’ that it might become uncertain whether the questions have been understood rightly. In any case, it is now that one must begin to work one’s way through to this, one’s own basic Yes, for even far below their surface the answers are confused and elusive under the assault of the questions.
– Kafka, The Blue Octavo Notebooks (tr. Kaiser and Wilkins)
We constantly refer back to the natural world to try and discover who we are. Nature is the most potent source of metaphors to describe and explain our behaviour and feelings. It is the root and branch of much of our language. We sing like birds, blossom like flowers, stand like oaks. Or then again we eat like gluttons, breed like rabbits and generally behave like animals. But then ‘animal’ itself springs from the ancient Sanskrit root anila, meaning ‘wind’, via the Latin animalis, ‘anything alive’, splitting off animus on the way as, first, ‘mind’ and then ‘mental impulse, disposition, passion’ – a reminder of the time that mind and nature were not thought of as contrary entities. It is as if in using the facility of language, the thing we believe most separates us from nature, we are constantly pulled back to its, and our, origins. In that sense all natural metaphors are miniature creation myths, allusions to how things came to be, and a confirmation of the unity of life.
– Richard Mabey, Nature Cure