The idle apprehend more things, are deeper than the industrious: no task limits their horizon; born into an eternal Sunday, they watch—and watch themselves watching. Sloth is a somatic skepticism, the way the flesh doubts. In a world of inaction, the idle would be the only ones not to be murderers. But they do not belong to humanity, and, sweat not being their strong point, they live without suffering the consequences of Life and of Sin. Doing neither good nor evil, they disdain—spectators of the human convulsion—the weeks of time, the efforts which asphyxiate consciousness. What would they fear from a limitless extension of certain afternoons except the regret of having supported a crudely elemental obviousness? Then, exasperation in the truth might induce them to imitate the others and to indulge in the degrading temptation of tasks. This is the danger which threatens sloth, that miraculous residue of paradise.
E. M. Cioran, The Sundays of Life, (translated by Richard Howard)
There are three sacred languages: Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, which are the most outstanding in the entire world. For in these three languages, the case of the Lord was written upon the cross by Pontius Pilate. For this reason, and on account of the obscurity of Sacred Scriptures, the understanding of these three languages is necessary so that you may reference one of the others if an expression in one of the languages presents some doubt to your mind about the meaning of a word or its interpretation.
Isidore of Seville, translation from Senteniae Antiquae
Perhaps one reason why both [Virginia Woolf and T. S. Eliot] of them were able to go on writing so extraordinarily well was that, despite the views they held and the bundle of prejudices they, like all of us, carried with them, they remained close to the child and the adolescent in themselves, ever responsive to the physical pleasures of dancing and writing.
Gabriel Josipovici, Eliot in His Letters, from The Teller and the Tale
The gates of war, grim with iron and close-fitting bars, shall be closed; within, impious Rage, sitting on savage arms, his hands fast bound behind with a hundred brazen-knots, shall roar in the ghastliness of blood-stained lips.
Virgil, Aeneid, 291-296 (trans. H. Rushton Fairclough)
“I read of the world of the Russians and the French, of the English and Americans and Scandinavians, and nothing stopped me feeling at home there. I was akin to Gaugin in Tahiti, to Van Gogh in Arles, to Myshkin in St. Petersburg, to Lieutenant Glahn in the Norwegian forests and to Fabrizio in the Charterhouse of Parma.”
Being exiled is a training ground for a dedicated reader, rootless, inwardly alone and never without the lonely good company of a book. In Leavetaking and Vanishing Point, the twentieth century as the age of alienation finds eloquent expression. Peter Weiss writes: “For me there were no lost home and no thoughts of return, for I had never belonged anywhere.”
Cosmic and social unity is gradually displaced by commodification and selfish individuality, transformations accelerated during the industrial revolution. The wars of the twentieth century and the continuing aftermath: perpetual crisis, wars and persecutions make rootlessness a common experience for countless individuals. But even those fortunate to lead relatively settled lives are, to borrow Camus’s term, irremediable exiles.
Peter Weiss’s two autobiographies are possibly the best I’ve read on the emotional and intellectual manifestation of that feeling of not belonging and its concomitant desire for security, yet fear of loss of freedom. Like many lonely wanderers, Weiss turns to literature, both as reader and a writer. In these two spiritual autobiographies he recollects his tentative beginnings as an artist and reflects on the literature and experiences that provided a formative substratum. Without a home, all literature is foreign, but in what is strange or unfamiliar we can feel alive.