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« In Which We Plumb The Diaries of Cesare Pavese For Your Reading Pleasure »

It Is Easy To Be Good When One Is Not In Love


These diaries were written in Italy, starting in 1935. Pavese was an antifascist and was arrested that year from having letters from a political prisoners. He was sent into exile in Southern Italy for the trouble. Once back in Turin, Pavese worked for a publisher as an editor and translator. All the while, he wrote his diary.

10th November

Why am I forever insisting that the subject in my poem must be treated exhaustively, ethically, critically? I, who cannot feel it is right for one man to judge another? This pretension of mind is nothing more than a vulgar desire to "have my say." Which is far from dispensing justice. Do I live justly? Does justice mean anything to me in human affairs? Then why claim to pass judgment on matter of poetry?

If there is any human figure in my poetry, it is that of a truant running back, full of joy, to his own village, where to him everything is picturesque and full of color; a man who likes to work as little as he can; finding great pleasure in the simplest things; always expansive, good-natured, set in his views; incapable of deep suffering; happy to follow nature and enjoy a woman, but also glad to be free and on his own; ready every morning to start life afresh. As in Mari del Sud.

20th December

Of the two things, writing poetry and studying, it is the second that gives me greater and more constant comfort. However, I do not forget that my pleasure in studying is always with a view to writing poetry. But, fundamentally, writing poetry is an ever-open wound whence the health-giving life blood drains away.

15th March

Today my imprisonment ends.

10th April

When a man is in such a state as I am, there is nothing left for him to do but examine his conscience.

I have no grounds for discarding my own firm conviction that whatever happens to a man is conditioned by his whole past. In short, it is deserved. Evidently, I must have been an utter fool to find myself at this point.

First, moral irresponsibility. Have I ever really asked myself what I ought to do according to conscience? I have always followed sentimental, hedonistic impulses. Of that there is no question. Even my period as a woman-hater (1930-1934) was in essence self-indulgent. I wanted to avoid becoming involved and the pose pleased me.How spineless that attitude was soon became apparent. And even when my work is concerned, have I ever been anything but a hedonist? I enjoyed working feverishly by fits and starts, under the spur of ambition, but I was afraid, too; afraid of getting tied up. I have never really worked and in fact I have no skill in any occupation.

Another fault is quite apparent. I have never been a single-minded, easygoing sort of fellow who enjoys his pleasures without a second thought. I haven't the nerve. I have always flattered myself with the illusion that I am a man of moral sensibility because I spend delicious moments - that's the right term-inventing conscientious scruples without pluck enough to solve them by action. I have no wish to resurrect the complacency that at one time I felt at this moral cowardice from aesthetic motives - hoping it meant my career would be that of a geniuis - but I still have not yet passed that stage.

Having reached such utter abjectness, morally, the thought seems to me that there should be material abjectness, too. How fitting it would be if, for example, my shoes were in holes!

Only so can I explain my actual suicidal urge in life. I know that I am forever condemned to think of suicide when graced with no matter what difficulty or grief. It terrifies me. My basic principle is suicide, never committed, never to be committed, but the thought of it caresses my sensibility.

24th April

The self-destroyer is a different type, more despairing but more practical. He has a compulsion to discover every fault, every baseness in his own nature; then he views these tendencies so leniently that they become mere nothings. He looks for more, enjoys them, finds them intoxicating. He is more sure of himself than any conqueror of the past, and he knows that the thread connecting him with tomorrow, with the potentialities of life, with a prodigious future, is a stronger cable - when it comes to the ultimate strain - than any faith or integrity.

25th April

Today, nothing.

27th April

He says: "She told me, one day, how she would have treated me. We were at that uneasy stage when nothing had happened, but was likely to. I made her talk about her past, so eager was I to know all I could about her, to amplify my daydreams.

"She was talking of a nice young man who made a pass at her in a train. She described him as common and persistent, and without much trouble she infatuated him. With words and actions. (She went on a trip with me, too.) Then she broke off, giving him a false name.

"And the young man had written asking her to marry him."

8th January

Mistakes are always initial.

3rd August

A woman, unless she is an idiot, sooner or later meets a piece of human wreckage and tries to rescue him. She sometimes succeeds. But a woman, unless she is an idiot, sooner or later finds a sane, healthy man and makes a wreck of him. She always succeeds.

31st October

One stops being a child when one realizes that telling one's trouble does not make it better.

16th November

Surely all his destiny is revealed when a child of three, while being dressed, wonders anxiously how he will manage to dress himself when he is grown up, he who does not know how?

To possess something or someone, we must not surrender ourselves to it completely or lose our heads; in short, we must remain superior to it. But it is a law of life that we can enjoy only what we can give ourselves up to completely. Those who invented the love of God were pretty shrewd; there is nothing else we can possess and enjoy at the same time.

28th November

In love, all that counts is having a woman in one's home, in one's bed. All the rest is a pack of nonsense, pernicious nonsense.

The most commonplace kind of love is fed by what one does not know about the loved one. But what can surpass a love based on what one does know?

I knew an idiot who refused to learn the rules of the game when he was young, lost as he was in fantasies. Now the fantasies are vanishing and the game is shattering him.

Problem: woman is she the prize of the strong or the prop of the weak, depending on how the men want her?

The irony of life: woman gives herself as a prize to the weak and as a prop to the strong. And no man ever has what he should have.

1st December

I should be perfectly happy if it were not for the fleeting pain of trying to probe the secret of that happiness, so as to be able to find it again tomorrow and always. But perhaps I am confused and my happiness lies in that pain. Once more I find myself hoping that, tomorrow, the memory will suffice.

2nd December

Today you have talked too much.

13th December

Try to do someone a good turn. You will soon see how you will hate his radiant, grateful face.

25th January

Actually, I am living like the most contemptible wastrels that ever roused my scorn when I was young.

19th February

Those philosophers who believe in the absolute logic of truth have never had to discuss it on close terms with a woman.

24th May

It is a fine thing when a young fellow of eighteen or twenty stops to think about his confused state of mind, clenches his fists and tries to grasp reality. But it is not so good to be doing it at thirty. And doesn't it turn you cold to think you will still be doing it at forty or later?

14th July

To understand why a woman seems thoughtful, embarassed and apologetic when she is with several young men, think how you feel yourself among five or six prostitutes, all watching you and waiting for you to make your choice.

7th August

A really lovely bosom consists of the entire chest, culminating in two peaks whose roots spring from the ribs. They are beautiful additions, but beneath them lies the chest.

16th October

It is not the actual enjoyment of pleasure that we desire. What we want is to test the futility of that pleasure, so as to be no longer obsessed by it.

Cesare Pavese died in 1950. You can buy The Burning Brand here.

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Reader Comments (1)

"13th December

Try to do someone a good turn. You will soon see how you wil hate his radiant, grateful face."

I am convinced this man is my late uncle Walter.

March 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersteven augustine

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