Philosophe Alain

Le site de référence sur le philosophe français Emile Chartier, dit Alain (1868-1951), par l’Association des Amis d’Alain, fondée par ses proches après sa mort.

Le site de référence sur le philosophe français Emile Chartier, dit Alain (1868-1951), par l’Association des Amis d’Alain, fondée par ses proches après sa mort.

The taste of strawberries

A child kills himself ­– that’s something painful and almost unbearable to imagine. Let’s try to think about it clearly and find some order within this disorder.

Life is good above everything; it is good in itself; reasoning adds nothing. One isn’t happy through travel, wealth, success, pleasure. One is happy because one is happy.  Happiness is the very taste of life. As a strawberry tastes of strawberry, so life taste of happiness. The sun is good, rain is good, all noise is music. To see, hear, smell, touch, taste, is but a series of occasions for happiness. Even difficulties, pain, fatigue, all have a taste of life. To exist is good; not better than anything else, for existence is everything and not to exist is nothing. If it wasn’t like this, no living being would last, no living being would be born. Think that a colour is a joy to the eyes.

To act is a joy. To perceive is also a joy and it’s the same as acting. We are not condemned to live; we live greedily. We want to see, to touch, to judge; we want to unfold the world. Every living being is like a walker in the morning. All those things that stretch out to the horizon – they only have meaning because I want them to. Otherwise they would be mere ticklings at the back of the eyes. But I say to myself: that’s a path, those are trees; that blue line is a hill where I shall walk. This can be clearly seen in the theatre, where the scenery painters show only a coloured canvas, but we immediately put the distant features in place; we draw the foreground towards us. And for the real world around us it’s the same thing. The vast sky is only a blue in my eyes but I spread it above my head. To see is to want to see. To live is to want to live. All life is a song played allegro. People are right to say that Beethoven overcame sorrow; but that doesn’t explain all of Beethoven; any living being gains the same victory, a beggar as well, a dog as well, certainly.

Jean Chardin : le panier de fraises des bois, 1761

Except it happens that people die; and the causes of death are more or less visible, but their effect is always the same. Pleasure as well as pain, all is as if contaminated; activity is like a dried up spring. And then it’s inevitable that the world crumbles through inactivity.  For those who don’t wish to live, it’s soon the end of the world. And that’s how one dies. To die is to give up.

In one sense, death is always voluntary. One dies only when one is tired of living. But also, in another sense, death is always involuntary. One dies only if something exterior poisons life. What killed this young man was neither his own hand nor his own revolver, but tiny accumulated causes, no doubt some unpurged acids which had the effect that he had no more happiness at all. Whether these acids numbed the nerve centres that make the heart beat, and cause death from a fever, or whether they lodged in the main part of the brain, and disturbed his imagination and the movements of his hand, it’s still the same thing. One always dies of an illness.

(Propos 29/5/09)

English translation copyright © Michel Petheram

To read the French version on this website.


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