Carried forward by the sweep of history and their determination to be a part of it, symptomatic individuals lead lives which are, in the main, happy and uncomplicated. A couple of pages are sufficient to summarize such a life. Janine Ceccaldi, on the other hand, belongs to a different and dispiriting class of individuals we can call precursors. Well adapted to their time and way of life on the one hand, they are anxious, on the other hand, to surpass them by adopting new customs, or proselytizing ideas still regarded as marginal. Precursors, therefore, require a more detailed study—especially as their lives are often tortuous or confused. They are, however, merely catalysts—generally of some form of social breakdown—without the power to impose a new direction on events; which role is the preserve of revolutionaries and prophets.
Kant served only to confirm what he already knew: that perfect morality is unique and universal. Nothing is added to it and nothing changes over the course of time. It is not dependent on history, economics, sociology or culture; it is not dependent on anything. Not determined, it determines; not conditioned, it conditions. It is, in other words, absolute. Everyday morality is always a blend, variously proportioned, of perfect morality and other more ambiguous ideas, for the most part religious. The greater the proportion of pure morality in a particular system, the happier and more enduring the society. Ultimately, a society governed by the pure principles of universal morality could last until the end of the world.
He was surprised at how miserable he felt. Far removed from Christian notions of grace and redemption, unfamiliar with the concepts of freedom and compassion, Michel’s worldview had grown pitiless and mechanical. Once the parameters for interaction were defined, he thought, and given the initial conditions, events took place in an empty, spiritless space, each inexorably predetermined. What happened was meant to happen; it could not be otherwise; no one was to blame.
He himself wanted nothing more than to love. He asked for nothing; nothing in particular, anyway. Life should be simple, Michel thought, something that could be lived as a collection of small, endlessly repeated rituals. Perhaps somewhat empty rituals, but they gave you something to believe in. A life without risk, without drama. But life was not like that.
Was he depressed, and did such a question have any meaning? For years he had seen posters appear in the area, asking people to be vigilant and warning them about the National Front. The fact that he had no opinion on such a subject one way or the other was already a worrying sign. Depressive lucidity, usually described as a radical withdrawal from ordinary human concerns, generally manifests itself by a profound indifference to things which are genuinely of minor interest. Thus it is possible to imagine a depressed lover, while the idea of a depressed patriot seems frankly inconceivable.