His isolation, his rootless existence 'swimming in water' had honestly convinced him that it was sometimes actually possible, without any hint of scorn, to regard with enthusiasm the everyday activity of normal citizens, for instance the way I went to work punctually in the office, or some expression used by a servant or the conductor of a tram. To begin with this struck me as a quite ridiculous and exaggerated response, the kind of whimsical sentimentality typical of a gentleman flâneur. However, I was increasingly forced to recognize that because of his very nature as alienated lone wolf, living as in a vacuum, he did in fact positively admire and love the small world most of us conventional people inhabit. It represented all that was solid and secure, homely and peaceful, but it was remote and unattainable since, for him, there was no road leading there.
Nothing that was over and done with was a matter for regret. What I did regret was the here and now, all the countless hours and days lost to me because I just endured them and they brought neither rewards nor profound shocks to my system. Yet, praise be to God, there were also exceptions. There were occasional, rare hours that were different, that did bring shocks and rewards, tearing down walls and taking me--lost soul--back again to the living heart of the world.
I was thinking to myself: just as I am now getting dressed, going out to visit the professor and exchange polite remarks with him — all the opposite of what I really want to do — so most human beings spend their lives acting compulsorily, day after day, hour after hour. Without really wanting to, they pay visits, hold conversations, work fixed office hours — all of it compulsorily, mechanically, against their will. It could all be done just as well by machines, or not done at all. And it is this perpetual mechanical motion that prevents them from criticizing their own lives in the way that I do, from realizing and feeling just how stupid and shallow, how horribly, grotesquely questionable, how hopelessly sad and barren their existence is. And oh, how right they are, these people, a thousand times right to live the way they do, playing their little games and pursuing what seems important to them instead of resisting this depressing machinery and staring despairingly into the void as individuals who have gone off the rails do, like me. If from time to time I seem to despise and even pour scorn on such people in these pages, let no one think that I wish to accuse others of being responsible for my personal misery or put all the blame on them. However, once you have got to the point where you are standing on the very edge of life like me, gazing down into a dark abyss, it is wrong and dishonest to attempt to deceive yourself and others into believing that life's machinery is still running smoothly, that you can still be a party to that blissful, childlike world of endless game-playing.
'Seriousness, my lad, is a function of time. It arises--this much I'll divulge to you--when the value of time is overestimated. I too once overestimated the value of time; that's why I wanted to live to be a hundred. But, you see, there is no time in eternity. Eternity is an instant, just long enough for a prank.'
I would have been capable of making the most intelligent and discerning observations about the circumstances and causes of my suffering, my mental ailment, my bedevilment and neurosis. Their mechanisms were quite transparent to me. However, knowledge and understanding were not what I needed. Instead, what I was desperately longing for was experience, decisive action, the cut and thrust of life.