In the kitchens of love, after all, vice is like the pepper in a good sauce; it brings out the flavor, it's indispensable.
I never saw Princhard again. He had the same trouble as all intellectuals - he was ineffectual. He knew too many things, and they confused him. He needed all sorts of gimmicks to steam him up, help him make up his mind.
War stories, like dirty stories, appeal to the military of all countries. The best way to make a sort of peace, a fragile armistice to be sure, but precious all the same, with men, officers or not, is to let them bask and wallow in childish self-glorification. There's no such thing as intelligent vanity. It's an instinct. And you'll never find a man who is not first and foremost vain. The role of admiring doormat is about the only one that one man is glad to tolerate in another.
The worst part is wondering how you'll find the strength tomorrow to go on doing what you did today and have been doing for much too long, where you'll find the strength for all that stupid running around, those projects that come to nothing, those attempts to escape from crushing necessity, which always founder and serve only to convince you one more time that destiny is implacable, that every night will find you down and out, crushed by the dread of more and more sordid and insecure tomorrows.
I couldn't help realizing that there were other reasons than malaria for my physical prostration and moral depression. There was also the change in habits; once again I was having to get used to new faces in new surroundings and to learn new ways of talking and lying. Laziness is almost as compelling as life. The new farce you're having to play crushes you with its banality, and all in all it takes more cowardice than courage to start all over again. That's what exile, a foreign country is, that inexorable perception of existence as it really is, during those long lucid hours, exceptional in the flux of human time, when the ways of the old country abandon you, but the new ways haven't sufficiently stupefied you as yet. At such moments everything adds to your loathsome distress, forcing you in your weakened state to see things, people, and the future as they are - that is, as skeletons, as nothings, which you will nevertheless have to love, cherish and defend as if they existed. A different country, different people carrying on rather strangely, the loss of a few little vanities, of a certain pride that has lost its justification, the lie it's based on, its familiar echo - no more is needed, your head swims, doubt takes hold of you, the infinite opens up just for you, a ridiculously small infinite, and you fall into it... Travel is the search for this nothing, this bit of intoxication for numbskulls...
Study changes a man, puts pride into him. You need it to get to the bottom of life. Without it you just skim the surface. You think you're in the know, but trifles throw you off. You dream too much. You content yourself with words instead of going deeper. That's not what you wanted. Intentions, appearances, no more. A man of character can't content himself with that.
It's a good habit to get into: when somebody comes to see you, quick, reduce him to nakedness, and you'll see through him in a flash, regardless of who it is, you will instantly discern the underlying reality, namely, an enormous, hungry maggot. It's good sleight-of-the-imagination. His lousy prestige vanishes, evaporates. Once you've got him naked, you'll be dealing with nothing more than a bragging, pretentious beggar, talking drivel of one kind or another. It's a test that nothing can withstand. In an instant you'll know where you're at. There won't be anything left but ideas, and there's nothing frightening about ideas. With ideas nothing is lost, everything can be straightened out. Whereas it's sometimes hard to stand up to the prestige of a man with his clothes on. Nasty smells and mysteries cling to his clothes.