1. The earth teaches us more about ourselves than all the books in the world, because it is resistent to us. Self-discovery comes when man measures himself against an obstacle. (p.3)

2. But among these living stars, how many closed windows, how many extinct stars, how many sleeping men… (p.3)

3. ‘Sometimes the storms and the fog and the snow will get you down. But think of all those who have been through it before you, and just tell youself: “They did it, so it can be done again.”‘ (p.7)

4. The antiquated bus appeared at last at the street corner, in a fracas of metallic noise, and now it was my right to squeeze onto the bench between a sleepy customs man and a group of clerks. That bus had a stale smell of dusty bureaucracies, old offices where a man’s life sinks into the peat. Every five hundred yards it stopped to take on board another secretary, another customs man, an inspector. Those who were already asleep responded with a vague grunt to the greeting of the newcomer, who squeezed in wherever he could and then dozed off in his turn. (p.9)

5. Old bureaucrat, my companion here present, no man ever opened an escape route for you, and you are not to blame. You built peace for yourself by blocking up every chink of light, as termites do. You rolled yourself into your ball of bourgeois existence, you built your humble rampart against winds and tides and stars. You have no wish to ponder great questions, you had enough trouble suppressing awareness of your human condition. You do not dwell on a wandering planet, you ask yourself no unanswerable questions; lower-middle-class Toulouse, that’s you. No man ever grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time. Now the clay that formed you has dried and hardened, and no man could now awaken in you the dormant musician, the poet or the astronomer who perhaps once dwelt within you. (p.12)

6. Then darkness fell, drawing a curtain on this prologue. (p.13)

7. An old peasant woman finds her God only through a painted image, or a primitive medallion, or her rosary; we too must hear a simple language if we are to hear truly. And so the joy of being alive was gathered in that aromatic and burning first taste, in that blend of milk, coffee and wheat which brings communion with peaceful pastures, with exotic plantation and with harvests, communion with all the earth. (p.15)

8. Nothing, in truth, can ever replace a lost companion. Old comrades cannot be manufactured. There is nothing that can equal the treasure of so many shared memories, so many bad times endured together, so many quarrels, reconciliations, heartfelt impulses. Friendships like that cannot be reconstructed. If you plant an oak, you will hope in vain to sit soon in its shade. (p.20)

9. (…) there is only one true form of wealth, that of human contact. (p.21)

10. When we work merely for material gain, we build our own prison. We enclose ourselves in isolation; our coins turn to ashes and buy nothing worth living for. (p.21)

11. But on that poorly lit patch, six or seven men who possessed nothing in the world but their memories were sharing invisible riches. (p.22)

12. He is far above that mediocre virtue. (p.28)

13. To be a man is, precisely, to be responsible. It is to know shame at the sight of poverty which is not of our making. It is to be proud of a victory won by our comrades. It is to feel, as we place our stone, that we are contributing to the building of the world. (p.29)

14. I once knew a young suicide. Some disappointment in love had driven him to fire a bullet into his heart. I have no notion of the literary temptation to which he had succeumbed as he drew on a pair of white gloves, but I remember having felt in the face of this sorry spectable an impression not of nobility but of wretchedness. Behind that pleasant face, then, under that human skull, there had been nothing, nothing at all. Except perhaps the image of some silly girl no different from the rest. (p.29)

15. Like a poet, you are a connoisseur of the first signs of dawn. (p.30)

16. If we believe that machines are ruining mankind, it may be that we are lacking a little in distance and cannot judge the effects of transformations as rapid as those that we have undergone. What are the hundred years of mechanical history when set against the two hundred thousand years of the history of man? We have scarcely begun to settle in this landscape of mines and power stations. Our life in this modern house has only just begun, and the house is not yet even complete. Everything has changed so rapidly around us: human relationships, working conditions, social customs. Our very psychology has been rocked on its most intimate foundations. The words denoting separation, absence, distance, and return remain the same, but the ideas reflect a different reality. To grasp the world of today we are using a language made for the world of yesterday. And the life of the past seems a better reflection of our nature, for the simple reason that it is a better reflection of our language. (p.30)

17. Every step forward has removed us a little further from habits barely acquired; truely we are emigrants, still to found our homeland. (p.31)

18. No doubt our house will gradually become more human. The more perfect machines become, the more they are invisible behind their function. (p.31)

19. I landed in the gentleness of evening. Punta Arenas! With my back against a fountain, watching the girls and so close to their grace, my sense of the human enigma is stronger still. In a world where life reaches out so readily to life, where flowers are joined with flowers in the very bed of the wind, where the swan is known to all swans, only man constructs solitude for himself. (p.35)

20. Punta Arenas! With my back against a fountain, I watch old women coming to draw water; of their drama I shall know nothing but these servant gestures. A child, his head against the wall behind him, is weeping silently; nothing of him will remain in my memory but a beautiful child for ever inconsolable. I am an outsider. I know nothing. I cannot enter their Empires. (p.35)

21. A sheet stretched beneath an apple tree can gather only apples, (…) (p.37)

22. Forced down once more in a landscape of deep sand, I was waiting for the dawn. (p.38)

23. (…) for I was lying on a ridge with my arms stretched out, facing that hatchery of stars. (p.38)

24. You are the prisoner of a patch of grass in a sleeping park. (p.42)

25. I used to love that ironic grass in Paraguay, pushing its nose up between the cobblestones of the capital to see, on behalf of the invisible yet always present virgin forest, whether men still hold the city, whether perhaps the hour has come to shove all these stones aside. I loved that form of dilapidation which expresses merely an excess of wealth. But here I was overcome with wonder.

Here everything was dilapidated, but most attractively so, in the way of an old tree covered in moss, its surface cracked by time like a wooden bench where lovers have been sitting together for ten generations. All the panelling was decayed, the doors were pitted, the chairs were rickety. But if nothing here was repaired, it was polished with passion. Everything was clean, waxed and gleaming.

This gave the drawing-room an extraordinary intensity, like the face of a wrinkled old woman. I was in awe of it all, of the cracked walls, the torn ceilings, and above all the wooden floor; it caved in here, wobbled there, but everywhere it was polished, varnished, glossy. This bizarre house suggested no neglect, no casualness, but a remarkable reverence. No doubt each passing year added something to its charm, to the complexity of its face and the intensity of its welcoming atmosphere, as well as to the risks run in journeying from the drawing-room to the dining-room. (p.43)

26. What is frightening is not the consuming of youth out there in that mineral landscape, but the perception that far away from you the whole world is growing old. (p.47)

27. The trees have formed their fruit, the earth has brought forth its wheat, the women are already lovely. The season is moving on, you want to hurry home… (p.47)

28. In normal life men do not experience the passage of time. They live in a provisional stillness. (p.47)

29. (…) maintaining an uncivil taciturnity (…) (p.57)

30. (…) the dark wreckage (…) (p.63)

31. But in the death of a man an unknown world is dying, and I wondered what images were sinking into oblivion with him. (p.63)

32. The dancers of Agadir had treated old bark with tenderness, but he had left them as easily as he had come to them; they had no need of him. The Arab waiter, the people in the streets, everyone had respected the free man that he was and shared their sunlight equally with him, but not one had showed that in any sense he needed Bark. He was free but in an infinite way, so that he felt weightless above the earth. He lacked that weight of human relationships that inhibits free movement, those tears and farewells, those reproaches and those joys, everything that a man strokes or tears apart each time he forms a gesture, those thousand chains that bind him to others and make him heavy. (p.69)

33. My heart tightens. In the peaceful light of evening, fate has carried out a successful raid. A beauty destroyed, or an intelligence, or a life… Just like the bandits as they moved about the desert, with no one hearing their supple steps on the sand. That’s how it came, the brief sound of the raid on the camp. Then everything returned to the same gilded silence, the same peace… Someone close to me is talking about a fractured skull. I don’t want to know about that lifeless, bleeding forehead. I turn my back on the road and climb into my place. But in my heart I am carrying a sense of threat. I’ll recognize that sound in a while. When I screap my black plateau at a hundred and seventy miles an hour I’ll recognize that same hoarse cough: that same grunt of destiny keeping its appointment with us.

And on to Benghazi. (p.72)

34. The moon is dead. (p.73)

35. I am a man raking through ashes, a man struggling to find the embers of life in the bottom of a fireplace. (p.77)

36. Reality is losing ground to dreams… Ah, it was so different when the daylight came! (p.80)

37. I only half believe in torture. (p.83)

38. (…) and I start out with my hands in my pockets, like a thief on the prowl. (p.85)

39. I stand there lost in thought. It seems to me that you can adapt to anything. The idea that he may die thirty years later doesn’t spoil a man’s pleasures. Thirty years, or three days…it’s a question of perspective.

But certain images must be forgotten… (p.86)

40. Only today do I understand the condemned man’s cigarette and glass of rum. (p.91)

41. What they do not grasp is that his perspective has shifted, and that out of his final hour he has created a human life. (p.91)

42. I cannot run, I have no strength left to flee the assassins, and I fall to my knees with my head in my hands, as the sabre stroke descends! (p.95)

43. …We cannot see the rope that attaches him to the well, that binds him like an umbilical cord to the womb of the earth. If he takes one step too many, he dies.

Apart from your suffering, I have no regrets. When all’s said and done I’ve had the best of it. If I could go back, I would start it all again. I need to live. There is no human life in cities now.

Flying is not the point. The aeroplane is a means, not an end. It is not for the plane that we risk our lives. Nor is it for the sake of his plough that the farmer ploughs. But through the plane we can leave the cities and their accountants, and find a truth that farmers know. (p.97)

44. I can no longer understand those dense crowds on the suburban trains, those men who think they are men and yet who are reduced like ants, by a pressure they do not feel, to the use that is made of them. When they are free, on their absurd little Sundays, how do they fill their time? (p.97)

45. I feel myself to be a ploughman of the skies. (p.97)

46. All my friends and all my enemies are walking towards me in your person, and I have no enemy left in the world. (p.102)

47. You give a man his daily bread so that he can be creative and he just goes to sleep; the victorious conqueror grows soft, the magnanimous man turns miser as he gains in wealth. (p.103)

48. Where is man’s reality to be found? (p.103)

49. I can sense how close they are to purification. But still they are dancing, for as long as they can dance it, the ballet of the drunkard and the bottle. Playing the chess game for as long as they can play it. Making life last as long as they can. But high on a shelf they have set an alarm-clock, and it will ring. And then these men will stand up, stretch themselves, and buckle on their ammunition-belts. The captain will take his revolver from its holster. The drunkard will be sober. And without undue haste they will enter that corridor that slopes gently up to a blue rectangle of night sky. They will say something simple like: ‘Bloody stupid attack…’ or: ‘God, it’s cold.’ And then they will plunge. (p.106)

50. Though you had been poor in Barcelona, perhaps alone after your day’s work, with no refuge even for your body, here you experienced a sense of fulfillment as you become part of universality: you, the outcast, were brought within love. (p.110)

51. You can line up men as right wing and left wing, hunchbacks and non-hunchbacks, fascists and democrats, and those distinctions are unassailable. But truth, as we know, is that which simplifies the world and not that which creates chaos. Truth is the language that identifies what is universal. Newton did not ‘discover’ a law long hidden like the answer to a rebus; Newton carried out a creative operation. He founded a human language which could express simultaneously the falling of an apple in a meadow and the rising of the sun. Truth is not that which can be demonstrated, it is that which simplifies. (p.112)

52. All of us, in ways more or less obscure, feel the need to be born. But there are deceptive solutions. You can certainly bring men to life by putting them in uniform. They will sing their war psalms and break bread together as comrades. They will have found what they are seeking, a taste of universality. But of the bread they are given they will die. (p.113)

53. In a world turned to desert, we thirsted for comradeship: (…) (p.114)

54. Too many men are left sleeping. (p.117)

55. And as I looked, they seemed in part to have lost their human quality, tossed as they were from one end of Europe to the other by economic currents, torn away from their little houses in northern France with their tiny gardens and the three pots of geraniums that I had seen in Polish miners’ windows. (p.117)


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