“Conversations with Lev Shestov” – Benjamin FONDANE

Full version of “Entretiens avec Léon Chestov” from Rencontres avec Léon Chestov. Edited and annotated by Nathalie Baranoff and Michel Carassou, Paris, Plasma, 1982. English translation by ArianeK.

Entretiens avec Leon Chestov (French version)

The text in this edition is slightly different from the excerpts published as introduction to the the French edition of Shestov’s “Potestas Clavium;”, 1967.

I first met Shestov in the spring of 1924 at Jules de Gaultier’s home. Two years earlier I published, in Romanian, six chronicles dealing with his latest work translated into Romanian – “Revelations of Death”. I had no idea whether he was dead or alive, whether he was from this century or the past century. I never imagined him in any context, except maybe in Russia. And now suddenly I had in front of me this tall lanky old man, in that old-fashioned drawing room at de Gaultier’s.

I was truly moved and expressed as much, I think.

I let de Gaultier and Shestov talk and all I remember is that de Gaultier had trouble understanding Shestov’s French pronunciation (which he later improved) and that Shestov had difficulty understanding de Gaultier’s metaphysics. I had no problem with either and so I translated for de Gaultier what Shestov was saying, and explained to Shestov what de Gaultier was trying to convey.

I think Shestov was impressed with my sharpness and also with that spark of enthusiasm and combative spirit that I brought to the discussion. We left together.

For he first time in my life I felt intimidated. His daughter Tatiana took down my address and it was decided that I will be invited at the first opportunity.

From 1924 to 1929 I could locate only one note from Shestov among my papers.

7, rue Sarasate, Mai 3, 1924

“Dear Sir,
Tomorrow, May 4, at 4pm we are holding a small party for our French and Russian friends. We will be delighted to have you among us. Cordially.

Most of the time invitations were written by Tatiana Shestov who summoned me first to rue Sarasate, then to rue de l’Abbé-Grégoire, rue d’Alboni, rue Letellier. I remember little of those visits. At Shestovs I was considered a friend of Tatiana. Shestov himself rarely talked philosophy with me, I hardly ever saw him one-on-one, almost never in fact. He showed a certain sympathy towards me but without much hope. Especially after a certain conversation we had (on the Passy bridge, I think) when he asked me directly what philosopher I liked most. I felt intimidated – I was too aware of my lack of philosophical background. At that time the only philosopher I really knew was Jules de Gaultier and it is through him that I discovered Nietzsche of the “Birth of Tragedy” period. But I did not want to mention de Gaultier, as it was apparent to me that Shestov did not rank him very high, as a philosopher that is.

I answered that up til then I had learned my philosophy from writers, poets even, and I mentioned Remy de Gourmont whose name was unknown to Shestov. I was afraid to tell him that it was Shestov himself that I knew best as a philosopher: my deep sympathy for him was bridled by the feeling I had that he would not appreciate my choosing him. Shestov was disappointed, I blushed. This blunder pursued me for a long time, became a self-punishment.

It was only in 1926 that a serious contact was established between the two of us. He presented me with a copy of the French translation of his “Dostoevsky and Nietzsche: philosophy of tragedy” that had just been published by La Pleiade. I wrote him a thank-you letter where I said more or less how difficult it was to follow him, for to really penetrate his thought, as he himself said, one must have lived through some personal disaster… And I added: what man would want such disasters upon himself out of love for Truth? Who, of his own will, would want to become his disciple?

A few days later I received an invitation from his daughter Tatiana and that night, at rue de l’Abbé Grégoire, Shestov took me apart among the guests:

– I am so used to receive letters where I am told how talented I am, how deeply I understand Dostoevsky, how my style is so etc, and now, for the first time maybe, I meet someone who understands the question itself.

And he proceeded to show my letter around.

[ Fondane’s letter to Shestov ] [ Annex I ]

January 17, 1927

Dear Friend and Master,

I just finished reading “Dostoevsky and Nietzsche” – the book lost in the mail was replaced by Schloezer, though of course it lacks your inscription on the title page. I cannot express the passionate curiosity that moves me to follow your thought, all of it. But I am not a professional reader and I must ask you to forgive me this. Copeau, the founder of the “Vieux Colombier” [famous theater in Paris], made it a principle to only employ people who knew nothing of the drama techniques and have never acted on stage. Perhaps you have the same view of the philosopher (for I am not one, as you know only too well) and will allow me not to understand a thing and still read you.
Do you remember how one day, on the Passy bridge, you asked who made the deepest impression on me up til now? I still wince at the answers I gave you. But what could I say? I walk barefoot across the moral crisis of this century, I struggle against the suicidal tendencies of an artistic movement I am closest to, I try to give Art an importance that is being refused to it more and more – and for this I need to strengthen my thought and attack, and sometimes I have to let go of all my weapons and run. I’ve adopted and tried many an idea that seemed invigorating, I wanted to hold on to the old idols of logic which promise little yet keep their promise, but I’ve always recoiled in dread when faced with the arbitrary – and yet it is all around me and it has for me a strange attraction. Who will win me over? Which of my beloved masters will spawn revelation, who will become an enemy? I should have mentioned Nietzsche but, thanks to you, I have understood since that I read him badly, that it was his style I loved, his profession of orgiastic logic, I loved the artist in him – but not what he called the tragic artist, as you have so ably revealed.
Yet it was not only Nietzsche and Tolstoy that you made me understand, but also writers you haven’t thought about – Rimbaud, Baudelaire. For a brief moment I even imagined to give you a few texts to read, to interest you in Rimbaud for instance – it seems to me that your ideas could really contribute to illuminate some ancient mysteries here.
I’ve spent my youth being in awe of skeptics. Even in Pascal I chose only one passage which I misunderstood so as to believe that he was mocking the relativity of all things while it was reason itself he was mocking. Today I understand that skeptics are in fact believers who go down on their knees in front of Reason and experience. I used to think this was the noblest posture of all, today I want none of it anymore. Yet I’d like to finally discover what it is I really want. I find you alone on this path and I am delighted I found you but I am also scared. With you I can define the question but I cannot go through with it. I am still reluctant to follow you but my fear is full of delight. Do not smile at me. I wish all this were nothing but amateur talk. You yourself say that one needs to have gone through a disaster to overcome the obstacle and I do not dare to wish a disaster on myself. Would I ever get there on my own?
Asking you to forgive so much talk of himself and wishing the best to you and your family for the new year,



At this time I had not yet conceived the idea to take notes of our conversations. I was even very far from this thought for I’ve always detested private diaries. And so our early encounters, which became more and more frequent throughout the years, are lost to memory.

It was only in 1934 that a deep and shattering realization dawned on me – that nobody really understood Shestov’s thought, that his books were little read or not read at all, that he lived in a horrible and total isolation, that I was the only one who was allowed into his presence to listen and understand, and that if I did not decide to write down our conversations nobody else would. It was then that, despite my misgivings, I first tried to put down some of the most striking ideas he had introduced during our encounter that day. But it was so unpleasant to actually fix down a living thing (which, in any case, I was certain I would not forget) that my notes quickly became too short and too rare.

At the same time, his conversation, or better to say, his monologue (for I rarely ever interrupted him, just enough to revive the flow) was so full of Greek and Latin quotations and involved so many technicalities concerning the history of philosophy, that, no matter how closely I listened, I invariably had the hardest time remembering exactly what he had said. Had I tried to reproduce his words exactly I was certain to commit the most obvious blunders. Even later, when I was less of a novice in these matters, I found it difficult to follow him. At the same time, I was loath to make him repeat what he was saying or ask him to spell out names out of fear that he might discover my intentions. It was paramount that he should know nothing about my notes. I didn’t want to disturb the natural flow of his lectures (oftentimes it was real lecturing) or to make him self-conscious in case he imagined that in my notes I distorted and massacred his ideas.

I kept a hundred and twenty letters he wrote to me between 1929 and 1938, while only one remains from the period between 1924 and 1929 – I just quoted it above. I must say that none of these letters are of special interest. Long developments were unnecessary given my frequent visits, not to mention that Shestov detested writing and finished most of his letters with a “come to see me and we will talk about it”. Another reason is that I was one of the rare correspondents to whom he was obliged to write in French. This he found tiresome as he was aware that he handled French badly. Therefore he tried to keep letter-writing to a minimum – as for example during my two trips to Buenos Aires, or during his yearly vacations at Châtel-Guyon in the Puy-de-Dome region.

Half of these letters are invitations, reminders or notes on small services that he asked of me and such. I decided not to include them here. Others deal with subjects that I did not record in my notes and which today recall some forgotten conversations we had. Since I started my diary only in 1934, I thought it opportune to include excerpts from the letters I received from him between 1929 and 1934. Their interest is relative since they mostly deal with my affairs and my writings, but they should serve as pathmarks for that period void of other memories. I hope the reader will forgive me this long preface in the anticipation of the real feast that, I trust, he will find in these conversations. Nevermind that these conversations are presented mostly as monologues for I judged superfluous to record my own contributions – something I regret today.

At this time already Shestov decided to orient me towards a serious study of philosophy. He often talked about Husserl and suggested I wrote a short article about him in the “Europe” magazine, taking for material the long passages from the German philosopher he cited in his essay on Husserl [“Memento Mori”]. Meantime Husserl himself came to Paris to give a talk at the Sorbonne. This visit coincides with the postcard I received from Shestov:

1, rue de l’Alboni [February 27][1929]

Dear friend, Sunday March 3, at 4 o’clock, Husserl is coming to visit. You are also invited. You must take a look at his person.

And so I went. Husserl talked and was asked questions. Shestov was a perfect host and did not interfere in the conversation. He was rather embarrassed when Mme Rachel Bespaloff, taking Husserl up in a brilliant and vivid attack, decided to produce Shestov as her ally. Fortunately she referred to Shestov as Lev Isaakovich (his name and patronymic, as is customary between Russians) and so Husserl never had an inkling that this other detractor constantly referred to by Mme Bespaloff was no other than his friend Shestov. I can’t remember anything else. Shortly after “Europe” magazine published my article on Husserl [“Edmund Husserl et l’oeuf de Colomb du réel”, no.XX, 1929] (I reworked this article for my “Conscience Malheureuse” and this time based it on the recently published French translation of Husserl’s “Cartesian Meditations”). I remember that Shestov was astonished that I was able to manage so well in such a “technical” field where he counted me a green novice. He congratulated me with real warmth.

3, rue Letellier [June 28, 1929]

“No news from you, my dear friend, where are you. I expected to see you at de Gaultier’s last Monday. You were not there. I hoped you would come to see me, but you didn’t. I have plenty and pleasant things to tell you about your two articles, the one from “Cahiers” [Cahiers de l’Etoile, “Léon Chestov, témoin à charge”, may-july 1929] and the one from “Europe” [“Un philosophe tragique: Léon Chestov”, no.XIX, jan.15, 1929]. The latter is really excellent, even though the former is also good. Do come by so we may discuss it. Make sure to send a card first so I would wait for you.”

I must note here, for memory’s sake, that I wrote the article for “Europe” of my own accord. It was different with the one for “Cahiers de l’Etoile”. Mme de Manziarly asked Shestov to suggest somebody who might write about him; he spoke of me. I remember that he had already recommended me for the same task to another magazine that was to be called “La Pensée Française”. I wrote the article but it was never published. I seem to remember that though he liked it, he found some fault with it. I was reluctant to change anything and Shestov let me send it as is.

In July 1929 I left for Buenos Aires to present a series of lectures, on Victoria Ocampo’s invitation. I met her at Shestov’s where she accompanied Ortega y Gasset whom Count Keyserling specifically directed to visit Shestov and Berdyaev when in Paris. I was talking with her in a corner of the large drawing room at rue de l’Alboni (Shestov lived then at his sister’s, Mme Balachowski) when Shestov came by and said to her:

– “Beware of this assassin – he likes to make heads roll.”

This made her laugh quite a bit.

[Adolfo Bioy Casares on Victoria Ocampo and Review SUR: “Victoria Ocampo was an impossible woman. Very overbearing. She had no friends, only vassals. All those around her had to accept her orders. But she played quite an important role at the helm of the Review SUR. The Review survived for many long years. I did not belong to Victoria’s group because my tastes in literature were different from hers.” – my note – A.K.][French original of this comment]

I stayed in Argentine only a month and a half which goes to explain why I can find nothing in my correspondence related to that period. While my lectures in Buenos Aires concerned abstract films, I used the occasion to present a lecture at the Faculty of Arts entitled “Lev Shestov and the struggle against self-evidences” [September 12, 1929]. The text was never published. I sent Shestov a copy of the program for the conference where the name of my lecture appeared. As soon as I returned to Paris, I received a postcard from him:

3, rue Letellier, Sunday, [Oct 14] 1929

“Finally, Dear Friend, you are back. We are very eager to see you and hear the story of your extraordinary, even supernatural journey. Do come two days from now (Tuesday) so we may spend the evening in your company…”

Upon my return from Buenos Aires I wrote, almost back to back, a book of poems, “Ulysses” (which I didn’t show to Shestov) and also the first draft of “Rimbaud le Voyou” which I pretty much abandoned later on. I gave Shestov the manuscript of the draft.

3, rue Letellier, March 13, 1930

“Dear Friend, this is only a brief note. I hope we will meet at Jules de Gaultier’s two days from now. I would like to congratulate you – in my opinion your book is excellent. I already read it all through and I found there something I appreciate most – a real energy and great intellectual intensity. When we meet at J. de G. we will fix a date on which we can see each other and talk about your book. See you soon then. Transmit my salutations to your Sister.”

In spring 1930 I found work as an assistant-director at the Paramount Studios where I later became a scriptwriter. We worked by day and by night, sometimes 12 hours in a row, sometimes on Sundays and on holidays – I had no time left to see Shestov very often and no time at all for my own writing. In the summer that year he left for Châtel-Guyon (Mme Shestov worked there year round [Anna Shestov’s diploma was not recognized in France and she had to re-train as a medical massage technician]) and it was there that I sent him a letter which was probably full of desperation, judging from the reply that followed:

Châtel-Guyon (Puy-de-Dome), August 22, 1930

“Finally a word from you, my dear friend! But what a sad word! Always the same story – lose your life to earn your living! And not a word on your book about Rimbaud – bad sign ! Or am I mistaken? You didn’t receive a definitive reply yet? I am impatient for the news about your negotiations with la Nouvelle Revue Française. If you receive any news, do not forget to appraise me too. A postcard cannot take too long to write.
Regarding my article for the Revue Philosophique [“Parmenides in Chains”, july-august 1930], Tatiana wrote that they sent us one copy of the issue, only one… I received a letter from Leipzig with the news that the issue of Forum Philosophicum which contains my article is out (“To look behind and to struggle”, no.1, july 1930). I will ask them to send you a copy so you may review it in the “Cahiers de l’Etoile”. Agreed?
No other news here. Presently it is my wife who earns our bread and I do nothing. I go for walks and watch movies! Do not envy me: this winter I will go to Krakow to earn my living too.”

[Shestov read a lecture at the “Internationaler Verband fur Kulturelle Zusammenarbeit” congress in Krakow, Oct 23-25, 1930]

19, rue Alfred-Laurent, Boulogne-sur-Seine, November 12, 1930

“I am back in Paris, my Dear Friend. When will I see you? Are you still as busy as you were before my departure? In any event, do your best to come and see me – I am eager to hear your news. Make sure to warn me by letter so I may wait for you.”

September 22, 1930, Boulogne

“Eight days ago I sent you a postcard, Dear Fondane, to let you know that I am back in Paris and inviting you to come and visit as soon as possible. Not only you didn’t come – you didn’t even reply. Have you received the postcard at all? Do answer! Or come when you are free… To get here, you need to take bus no.25 at Saint-Sulpice. It will bring you to blvd Jean-Jaures (Boulogne) – walk further in the same direction. The second street on your left will be Alfred-Laurent, no.19 is the building I live in.”

There are no more letters throughout that year. Then summer came.

Châtel-Guyon, August 8, 1931

“My Dear Friend, a few days ago we received the postcard where you announce the good news of your marriage. I am answering only now because I was not sure whether you were still at the Hotel Bellevue in St-Jean-D’Arve, which is shown on the postcard. Now that your eight vacation days are over, I can write to your Paris address to congratulate you on my own behalf and that of my wife and to wish you and your wife all the happiness one can have on earth. I hope that on our return we will see you at our place and congratulate you in person rather than by letter…
Not many news here. I follow my treatment – it is quite annoying. In a week it will be over – which is already more pleasant. My wife is working, as always. At the end of next week my daughter Nathalie is due to arrive with her husband with whom I hope to study the quantum theory a little bit. He’s a good physicist and has the kind of education that is necessary to master this theory. When you and I meet, I will hopefully be less ignorant about it […] If you can find a moment to write to me, I will be very pleased…”

[Marriage took place on July 28, 1931. On the official document of the 5th District of Paris City Hall marked January 14 (1931) Lev Shestov and Constantin Brancusi are inscribed as witnesses. This document was reprinted in no.2-3 of the review Non Lieu dedicated to Benjamin Fondane.]

September 1931, Boulogne

“My Dear Friend, I was just writing to say that I am back in Paris when your letter arrived. Do come by as soon as possible…Bring your article on Heidegger – I am very eager to read it. Til soon then, tomorrow I hope…”

November 1, 1931, Boulogne

“My Dear Friend, I am unclear about your reasons for disliking that article so much [“Une Heure avec Léon Chestov”, by Fr.Lefevre, Les Nouvelles litteraires, 24 oct. 1931]. Also, I do not quite understand what you are trying to say about your own article. But since you promised that you will come to visit me soon, I am not going to ask any more questions. At the very least try to honor your promise and come as soon as you can. Til soon then.”

November 6, 1931, Boulogne

“Your silence, my dear friend, is beginning to worry me. Is everything alright? Everybody is in good health? Do write if only a few words, so I know what is going on with you – or better still, come to see me when you have a free moment.”

December 5, 1931, Boulogne

“My Dear Friend, as you can imagine I was not pleased to read in your letter that Gallimard has refused to publish your book – but, to be honest, it was to be expected. Business is bad everywhere, everybody only thinks about saving money, and of course, since one can’t possibly afford not to go to cafes or to the dancing club, so naturally one has to do without buying books! I am somewhat comforted by what you write about the “Cahiers du Sud”. If your article is published there [“Sur la route de Dostoievski: Martin Heidegger”, no.141, june 1932], maybe they will find some space for your future articles too. Maybe you will even be able to publish a few chapters from your book there… I expect to see you this Sunday or the Sunday after.”

February 15, 1932, Boulogne

“Only a few lines, my dear friend, to let you know that the “Cahiers du Sud” have announced your article – as proof (sometimes proofs are useful and even pleasant) I am sending you a cutting from the review. I have also something else to offer you – a flat! In the building where my sister, Mme Mandelberg, lives, 15 avenue Reille…
That’s all! Finally, I would like to add that in my opinion enough time has already gone by since our last encounter, so that you might start thinking about our next meeting…”

I do not remember on what occasion I gave him to read the manuscript of my dramatic poem “Le Festin de Balthazar”, which I first drafted in 1922 and have then completely rewritten. He read it and probably suggested some changes, which is why I sent him the manuscript a second time. As the following letter testifies:

April 23, 1932

“Forgive me, my dear friend, for delaying my reply. I’ve re-read your play as soon as I received it. But these days I get tired quickly – it is very annoying and prevents me from making even such small effort as writing a letter. I hope to get better after my summer vacation – but for now there is nothing else I can do but resign myself.
I think you did well to change the ending of your play. Except that there is one word that I find not so well chosen. It’s the word “miracle”. In my opinion it would have been better not to emphasize too much Balthazar’s deepest thought. Instead of saying: “There is no miracle! No miracle!”, wouldn’t it have been better to just let Daniel remember? and omit entirely the preceding explanation: “the king has just discovered…” I am not sure that I will be able to explain myself fully in this letter, but in any case, I believe it would have been better to show that for Balthazar his victory was in fact a defeat and that, in the innermost of his soul and unbeknownst to himself, he would have preferred to let Daniel win. We shall discuss this in detail when we meet.
I thank you also for the issue of Nouvelles Litteraires, the article by Brunschvicg there is very telling. Especially the conclusion where he makes Bergson say: “I’ve always taught that it is spirit that should rule over body”. But who on earth has not taught this same great truth? Was it really worth it to write a book [Henri Bergson,”On two sources of morals and religion” (1932)] so as to repeat again what has been said and re-said a thousand times over already throughout the centuries? It seems to me that Brunschvicg is making fun of Bergson, while he’s obviously only been trying to praise him!
How are you doing these days? Transmit my salutations to the ladies. Yours…”

[Unfortunately I could not recall the conversion that followed. The draft of my “Balthazar” that I have to this day ends as previously with the words: “there is no miracle”. But today Shestov’s critique seems to me better justified than it did then. And since the manuscript remains unpublished… I remember that after the first reading, Shestov didn’t like one of the four symbolic characters that surround Balthazar (Reason, Madness, Pride, Death) – that of Pride. “I know, he said, that you took it from the Bible but there it had a meaning that it does not have today; the thing which makes a Nietzsche or a Tolstoy refuse God cannot be fully expressed by the word “prideful”. I pondered Shestov’s remark and renamed my character “Spirit”, changing some of his dialogue. And still it’s not precisely what I was trying to convey – it’s not the Spirit but the “concupiscentia irresistibilis” of Spirit, its desire to be God… (N.A.)]

May 12, 1932, Boulogne

“If you come to see me, my dear friend, it will please me greatly, as always, but not if we talk about my health. At my age to be somewhat ailing is nothing much at all. One might say that it would be outright indecent to always remain in good health. Your case is quite different: a young man has all the rights and is practically obliged to be in good health, which is why I found what you wrote about your own health so worrying. Not to mention that, from what I could gather, you have always neglected your health – and are not taking better care of it now. So do come to visit as soon as you can: my wife will reprimand you according to desert and will also give you good advice that will make you feel better – not because you deserve it but to save her own soul as do all virtuous and reasonable human beings.
I am very curious to see what changes you made to the ending of your “Balthazar”. I will be home this Sunday after 5 o’clock. You may come then … if you feel well enough. Til soon then”.

June 15, 1932

“A few words, my dear friend, to tell you that, firstly, I am not leaving Paris before 3 or 4 weeks, so that we may count on one or two more encounters before then and, secondly, that five or six pages to talk about Kierkegaard’s Despair is not much – even though one can, with a certain determination, say something even in five or six pages. Sometimes it can even be useful, as an exercise in style. But as soon as you are in Paris, make sure to come and see me (do not forget to send a warning) so we may talk it over. Until then…”

June 28, 1932

“I haste to respond to your letter, my dear friend, to tell you that you should by all means come to see me next Sunday for I will be leaving for Châtel at the end of the week. It would be too sad to go without having seen you. I was very happy to read what you wrote concerning the “Cahiers du Sud”. It is quite important that they were so welcoming towards you and that they have agreed to publish excerpts from you book on Rimbaud. As to your chronicle – it is interesting (you did what was “possible”, which is not what Kierkegaard meant by it – there was simply not enough space for such an article) – but I have a few remarks to make. We will talk it over next Sunday. My best wishes to the ladies and ‘til Sunday, I hope.”

July 11, 1932, Châtel-Guyon

“Here’s a very interesting article on Heidegger by Louis Lavelle [“L’angoisse et le néant”, le Temps, 3 july 1932] – I am sending it along with this letter, my dear friend. According to Berdyaev (he is also here at Châtel) Louis Lavelle, whose name is absolutely unknown to me, has written a number of important works on philosophy. You will see yourself, having read this article, that its author is not one of those who write for the sake of writing. I believe that you will find it especially interesting, now that your own article is going to be published. I also think that you should send your “Heidegger” to this man – before all others – as soon as you receive your own copies.
Also, I would like to ask you to send Lavelle’s article over to Schloezer, once you’ve read it. I will be very curious to hear your impressions – I hope you will forgive my curiosity.
Keyserling has just sent me his book (in French), “South-American Meditations” [ed.Stock, 1932]. I haven’t read it yet, but Berdyaev has leafed through it and finds that the book is very interesting.
Anything new with you? Myself I’ve spent three days already at Châtel and am very happy that I am entitled to a few weeks of doing nothing at all…”

July 29, 1932, Hotel Palais-Royal, Châtel-Guyon

“You may be wondering, my dear friend, why I am emphasizing Palais-Royal. It is because you wrote “Royal Hotel” and it is lucky, very lucky, that the issue of “Cahiers du Sud” you sent to this address has found me and was not returned to you. So do not forget that I live in the Palais [Palace].
Your article – I’ve read it twice – looks like a total success [“Sur la route de Dostoievski”]. You were able to put forth the problem of pure reason so subtly with those quotes from Dostoevsky! Heidegger himself shows that reason cannot critique itself and that philosophy must provide an independent counter-principle to reason. It is a shame that the quote from Dostoevsky, on page 386 (first line), should be so weakened in translation. In Dostoevsky, instead of “I dislike them”, the line reads: “I loath them”. Also, I would have liked it better if, instead of declaring that Heidegger is afraid of the critique of reason, you would have asked him whether he’s afraid of following Dostoevsky to the end or not. After all, we cannot be sure where Heidegger’s philosophy is going to go… Otherwise the article is excellent and hopefully it will be of use to those who are interested in the same questions… Have you noticed the poems by Jean Wahl in this issue? Is this the same Jean Wahl who wrote an article on Kierkegaard and Hegel in the Revue Philosophique [“Hegel and Kierkegaard”, nov-dec. 1931]? I cannot be a good judge of French verse, but it would be odd if they were written by the author of the article in question. In any case you should send him a copy of your “Heidegger” as well.
I also read Audard’s note on Bergson. [Jean Audard, “Bergson: les Deux Sources de la morale et de la religion”, june 1932] It is pitiless and if Bergson gets to see it he is sure to feel bad about it. Bergson shouldn’t venture into areas where he doesn’t really feel at home.
As far as my treatment permits, I am reading bit by bit Keyserling’s book. You must read it too and it would be nice if the “Cahiers du Sud” made some space for you to write a short notice on it. The book is really quite intriguing.
You are asking about my health. All is going well. My wife once worked for a famous physician who used to say to one of his patients, to whom he forbade everything the man liked and prescribed only the most disagreeable things: “At our age (both doctor and patient were old men) one should continue to strive for perfection”. This is what I do – I strive for perfection, and I might as well tell you, without false humility, that I am on the verge of becoming a model of perfection: I shall go to bed early, I shall smoke little, I shall avoid coffee, I shall only read Keyserling etc. And since I know that you are also striving for perfection, all you have to do now is follow the lofty model soon to appear before you…
Anything new with you? Have you gotten a reply from the Commerce? [my poem “Ulysses” was to be published there] And what about Paramount? How are you doing in general? Do not forget to answer my questions.”

August 9, 1932

“Your letter, My poor dear friend, broke my heart – it is so revolting to have to spend all day doing some work that is totally foreign to you, only to earn a few cents necessary for survival ! But you really should not despair so much over it ! Everything always changes and the present conditions, hard as they are, are going to change too ! You are still you and you have a whole future in front of you. You should not say: “what an incredible impoverishment since I’ve been spending all my time in this horrible job !” On the contrary: I would rather say that even in these terrible circumstances you were able to find a means to follow your own way – and that’s something, it’s a lot even. It’s a sign that you will come out a winner out of this stubborn struggle with fate’s hardships. Proof – everything you’ve done over these years has been appreciated ! and not only by me – in case my appreciation doesn’t matter all that much : you and I, we belong to the same world of ideas and my judgment might not be impartial. But look at how the editors of “Cahiers du Sud” treat you. They are absolutely foreign to what you and I do – and yet, how readily did they welcome your articles! Not only that – even Jean Wahl who is part of this milieu of university professors who, in general, do not even want to hear what is being said in our world – even Jean Wahl was moved by your article on Heidegger. And I am convinced that your article on Rimbaud will make an even greater impression. There is in your manner of writing an intensity, an inner strength which is sure to help you make your way in the world. And each year, despite being caught in such an exhausting and exterior work that would have ground to nothing someone weaker than yourself, despite all that you keep improving in every sense. Of course, you are absolutely right to curse the exterior conditions of fate, you are right to complain against it. But you are wrong, very wrong when you talk of being horribly impoverished. On the contrary, one should talk of enrichment in your case. I must tell you in all honesty that were I in your shoes I wouldn’t be able to write a single line – while during all these years you managed to write articles, poems and even a book! My wife and I, we’ve often wondered how you were able to carry on with your literary projects under such adverse conditions – we do admire you quite a bit. And I am sure that you will emerge a triumphant victor out of this horrible struggle. This is what I wish for you from the depth of my heart, my Dear Friend. Let me embrace you amicably…”

October 12, 1932

“I thank you, my dear friend, for the copies of you article on Heidegger which have just arrived. [“Sur la Route de Dostoievski”] I’ve read it once more and I can reiterate that you were able to express yourself beautifully on very difficult questions – I congratulate you. Maybe you will be free next Sunday. Come to see me and we will talk a bit…”

January 4, 1933

“For a long time already I haven’t had any news from you, my dear friend. I was so sure that you would come to see me over the holidays, but Christmas and the New Year day have passed and you have not come. If you have no free time for a visit, do write at least a few lines so I may know that “all is fine” with you and your family. I wish you and the ladies a happy new year and I hope that it will be kinder to you than the last, that it brings you better health too, as it is such a necessary thing to all of us.”


February 1933

Wonderful winter sunset in the Bois de Boulogne. As we walk Shestov speaks:– Shakespeare recounts [“Troilus and Cressida”] that every time Thersite and Ajax had a discussion, Thersite would mock him savagely; Ajax could not answer him in the same tone and would finally hit him. “Ah! Why can’t I get back at him in the same way!” Thersite complained. I am often told that one can answer all my mockery and my absurdities in the same manner. And this is supposed to offend me. But not at all ! Let them mock me, good luck ! But they hit me instead ! When Dostoevsky shows his tongue to the wall, he’d be only happy if the wall did the same to him. He would kiss it out of sheer joy ! But the wall did not mock him, it did not show him the tongue, the wall could not answer in the same tone – and so it hit him… Just as Thersite, Dostoevsky wished he could be like the wall… [+]


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