Quotes By The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”

“It's ridiculous. Here I sit in my little room, I, Brigge, who have got to be twenty-eight years old and about whom no one knows. I sit here and am nothing. And yet this nothing begins to think and thinks, up five flights of stairs, these thoughts on a gray Paris afternoon:

Is it possible, this nothing thinks, that one has not yet seen, recognized, and said anything real and important? Is it possible that one has had thousands of years of time to look, reflect, and write down, and that one has let the millennia pass away like a school recess in which one eats one's sandwich and an apple?
Yes, it is possible.

...Is it possible that in spite of inventions and progress, in spite of culture, religion, and worldly wisdom, that one has remained on the surface of life? Is it possible that one has even covered this surface, which would at least have been something, with an incredibly dull slipcover, so that it looks like living-room furniture during the summer vacation?
Yes, it is possible.

Is it possible that the whole history of the world has been misunderstood? Is it possible that the past is false because one has always spoken of its masses, as if one was telling about a coming together of many people, instead of telling about the one person they were standing around, because he was alien and died?
Yes, it is possible.

Is it possible that one believed one has to make up for everything that happened before one was born? Is it possible one would have to remind every single person that he arose from all earlier people so that he would know it, and not let himself be talked out of it by the others, who see it differently?
Yes, it is possible.

Is it possible that all these people know very precisely a past that never was? Is it possible that everything real is nothing to them; that their life takes its course, connected to nothing, like a clock in an empty room?
Yes, it is possible.

Is it possible that one knows nothing about girls, who are nevertheless alive? Is it possible that one says "the women", "the children", "the boys", and doesn't suspect (in spite of all one's education doesn't suspect) that for the longest time these words have no longer had a plural, but only innumerable singulars?
Yes, it is possible.

Is it possible that there are people who say "God" and think it is something they have in common? Just look at two schoolboys: one buys himself a knife, and the same day his neighbor buys one just like it. And after a week they show each other their knives and it turns out that they bear only the remotest resemblance to each other-so differently have they developed in different hands (Well, the mother of one of them says, if you boys always have to wear everything out right away). Ah, so: is it possible to believe that one could have a God without using him?
Yes, it is possible.

But, if all this is possible, has even an appearance of possibility-then for heaven's sake something has to happen. The first person who comes along, the one who has had this disquieting thought, must begin to accomplish some of what has been missed; even if he is just anyone, not the most suitable person: there is simply no one else there. This young, irrelevant foreigner, Brigge, will have to sit himself down five flights up and write, day and night, he will just have to write, and that will be that.”

“There are a large number of people in the room, but one is unaware of them. They are in the books. At times they move among the pages, like sleepers turning over between two dreams. Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”

“No, no, one can imagine nothing in the world, not the least thing. Everything is composed of so many isolated details that are not to be foreseen. In one's imagining one passes over them and hasty as one is doesn't notice that they are missing. But realities are slow and indescribably detailed.”

“Verses are not, as people think, feelings (those one has early enough) -- they are experiences. For the sake of a verse one must see many cities, men, and things, one must know the animals feel how birds fly, and know the gesture with which the little flowers open in the morning.”

“with poems one accomplishes so little when one writes them early. One should hold off and gather sense and sweetness a whole life long, a long life if possible, and then, right at the end, one could perhaps write ten lines that are good.”

“So this is where people come to live; I would have thought it is a city to die in.”

“I am learning to see. I don’t know why it is, but everything enters me more deeply and doesn’t stop where it once used to. I have an interior that I never knew of. Everything passes into it now. I don’t know what happens there.”

“Who is there today who still cares about a well-finished death? No one. Even the rich, who could after all afford this luxury, are beginning to grow lazy and indifferent; the desire to have a death of one's own is becoming more and more rare. In a short time it will be as rare as a life of one's own.”

“To think, for instance, that I have never been aware before how many faces there are. There are quantities of human beings, but there are many more faces, for each person has several. There are people who wear the same face for years; naturally it wears out, it gets dirty, it splits at the folds, it stretches, like gloves one has worn on a journey. These are thrifty, simple people; they do not change their face, they never even have it cleaned. It is good enough, they say, and who can prove to them the contrary? The question of course arises, since they have several faces, what do they do with the others? Thhey store them up. Their children will wear them. But sometimes, too, it happens that their dogs go out with them on. And why not? A face is a face.”

“Outside much has changed. I don't know how. But inside and before you, O my God, inside before you, spectator, are we not without action? We discover, indeed, that we do not know our part, we look for a mirror, we want to rub off the make-up and remove the counterfeit and be real. But somewhere a bit of mummery still sticks to us that we forget. A trace of exaggeration remains in our eyebrows, we do not notice that the corners of our lips are twisted. And thus we go about, a laughing-stock, a mere half-thing: neither existing, not actors.”

“Ask no one to speak of you, not even contemptuously. And when time passes and you notice how your name is spreading around among people, don't take it more seriously than any of the other things you find on their lips. Think: your name has turned bad, and get rid of it. Take on another, any other, so that God can call you in the night. And conceal it from everyone.”

“Around everything that is perfected, the unfinished ascends and intensifies.”

“Yes, he knew that we was withdrawing from everything: not merely from human beings. A moment more and everything will have lost its meaning, and that table and the cup, and the chair to which he clings, all the near and the commonplace, will have become unintelligible, strange and heavy. So he sat there and waited until it should have happened. And defended himself no longer.”

“My God, I thought with sudden vehemence, so you really are. There are proofs of your existence. I have forgotten them all and never even wanted any, for what a huge obligation would lie in the certainty of you.”

“There I sat, probably looking so dreadful that nothing had the courage to stand by me; not even the candle, which I had just done the service of lighting it, would have anything to do with me. It burned away there by itself, as in an empty room. My last hope was always the window. I imagined that outside there, there still might be something that belonged to me, even now, even in this sudden poverty of dying. But scarcely had I looked thither when I wished the window had been barricaded, blocked up, like the wall. For now I knew that things were going on out there in the same indifferent way, that out there, too, there was nothing but my loneliness. The loneliness I had brought upon myself and to the greatness of which my heart no longer stood in any sort of proportion. People came to my mind whom I had once left, and I did not understand how one could forsake people.”

“Bisognerebbe saper attendere, raccogliere, per una vita intera e possibilmente lunga, senso e dolcezza, e poi, proprio alla fine, si potrebbero forse scrivere dieci righe valide. Perché i versi non sono, come crede la gente, sentimenti (che si acquistano precocemente), sono esperienze. Per scrivere un verso bisogna vedere molte città, uomini e cose, bisogna conoscere gli animali, bisogna capire il volo degli uccelli e comprendere il gesto con cui i piccoli fiori si aprono al mattino. Bisogna saper ripensare a itinerari in regioni sconosciute, a incontri inaspettati e congedi previsti da tempo, a giorni dell'infanzia ancora indecifrati, ai genitori che eravamo costretti a ferire quando portavano una gioia e non la comprendevamo (era una gioia per qualcun altro), a malattie infantili che cominciavano in modo così strano con tante profonde e grevi trasformazioni, a giorni in stanze silenziose e raccolte e a mattine sul mare, al mare sopratutto, a mari, a notti di viaggio che passavano con un alto fruscio e volavano assieme alle stelle - e ancora non è sufficiente poter pensare a tutto questo. Bisogna avere ricordi di molte notti d'amore, nessuna uguale all'altra, di grida di partorienti e di lievi, bianche puerpere addormentate che si rimarginano. Ma bisogna anche essere stati accanto ad agonizzanti, bisogna essere rimasti vicino ai morti nella stanza con la finestra aperta e i rumori intermittenti. E non basta ancora avere ricordi. Bisogna saperli dimenticare, quando sono troppi, e avere la grande pazienza di attendere che ritornino. Perché i ricordi in sé ancora non sono. Solo quando diventano sangue in noi, sguardo e gesto, anonimi e non più distinguibili da noi stessi, soltanto allora può accadere che in un momento eccezionale si levi dal loro centro e sgorghi la prima parola di un verso.”

“But now that so much is changing, isn't it time for us to change? Couldn't we try to gradually develop and slowly take upon ourselves, little by little, our part in the great task of love? We have been spared all its trouble, and that is why it has slipped in among our distractions, as a piece of real lace will sometimes fall into a child's toy-box and please him and no longer please him, and finally it lies there among the broken and dismembered toys, more wretched than any of them. We have been spoiled by superficial pleasures like dilettantes, and are looked upon as masters. But what if we despised our successes? What if we started from the very outset to learn the task of love, which has always been done for us? What if we went ahead and became beginners, now that much is changing?”

“I have a notion that, at big fires, a moment of extreme suspense can sometimes occur, when the jets of water slacken off, the firemen no longer climb, no one moves a muscle. Without a sound, a high black wall of masonry cants over up above, the fire blazing behind it, and, without a sound, leans, about to topple. Everyone stands waiting, shoulders tensed, faces drawn in around their eyes, for the terrible crash. That is how the silence is here.”

“I, who even as a child had been so distrustful of music (not because it took me out of myself more powerfully than anything else, but because I had noticed that it did not put me back where it had found me, but left me deeper down, somewhere in the heart of things unfinished)...”

“Früher wusste man (oder vielleicht ahnte man es), dass man den Tod in sich hatte wir die Frucht den Kern. Die Kinder hatten einen kleinen und die Erwachsenen einen großen. Die Frauen hatten ihn im Schoß und die Männer in der Brust. Den hatte man, und das gab einem eine eigentümliche Würde und einen stillen Stolz.”

“There exists a creature which is perfectly harmless; when it passes before your eyes you scarcely notice it and forget it again immediately. But as soon as it invisibly gets somehow into your ears, it develops there, it hatches, as it were, and cases have been known where it was penetrated even into the brain and has thriven devastatingly in that organ, like those pneumococci in dogs that gain entrance through the nose.
This creature is one's neighbor.”

“Is it possible that despite our inventions and progress, despite our culture, religion and knowledge of the world, we have remained on the surface of life?”

“Mécontent de tous et mécontent de moi, je voudrais bien me racheter et m’enorguiellir un peu dans le silence et la solitude de la nuit. Âmes de ceux que j’ai aimés, âmes de ceux que j’ai chantés, fortifiez-moi, éloignez de moi le mensonge et les vapeurs corruptices du monde; et vous, Seigneur mon Dieu! accordez-moi la grâce de produire quelques beaux vers qui me prouvent à moi même que je ne suis pas le dernier des hommes, que je ne suis pas inférieur à ceux que je méprise.”

“All the suffering and torment wrought at places of execution, in torture chambers, madhouses, operating theatres, under the arches of bridges in late autumn—all these are stubbornly imperishable, all these persist, are inaccessible but cling on, envious of everything that is, stuck in their own terrible reality. People would like to be allowed to forget much of it, their sleep gliding softly over these furrows in the brain, but dreams come and push sleep aside and fill the picture again. And so they wake up breathless, let the light of a candle dissolve the darkness as they drink the comforting half-light as if it was sugared water. But, alas, the edge on which this security is balancing is a narrow one. Given the slightest little turn and their gaze slips away from the familiar and the friendly, and the contours that had so recently been comforting take the sharp outlines of an abyss of horror.”

“But now that so much is changing, is it not up to us to change? Could we not try to evolve just a little, and gradually take upon ourselves our share in the labour of love? We have been spared all of its toil, and so it has slipped in among our amusements, as a scrap of genuine lace will occasionally fall into a child's toy-box, and give pleasure, and cease to give pleasure, and at lengthe lie there among broken and dismembered things, worse than all the rest. We have been spoiled by easy gratification, like all dilettantes, and are held to be masters. But what if we despised out successes? What if we began to learn, from the very start, the labour of love that has always been done for us? What if we were to go and become beginners, now that so much is changing?”

“Aber nun, da so vieles anders wird, ist es nicht an uns, uns zu verändern? Könnten wir nicht versuchen, uns ein wenig zu entwickeln, und unseren Anteil Arbeit in der Liebe langsam auf uns nehmen nach und nach? Man hat uns alle ihre Mühsal erspart, und so ist sie uns unter die Zerstreuungen geglitten, wie in eines Kindes Spiellade manchmal ein Stück echter Spitze fällt und freut und nicht mehr freut und endlich daliegt unter Zerbrochenem und Auseinandergenommenem, schlechter als alles. Wir sind verdorben vom leichten Genuß wie alle Dilettanten und stehen im Geruch der Meisterschaft. Wie aber, wenn wir unsere Erfolge verachteten, wie, wenn wir ganz von vorne begännen die Arbeit der Liebe zu lernen, die immer für uns getan worden ist? Wie, wenn wir hingingen und Anfänger würden, nun, da sich vieles verändert.”