Conversations with Lev Shestov
by Benjamin Fondane

Full version of "Entretiens avec Léon Chestov" from Rencontres avec Léon Chestov
Edited and annotated by Nathalie Baranoff and Michel Carassou, Paris, Plasma, 1982

The text in this edition is slightly different from the excerpts published as introduction to the the French edition of Shestov's "Potestas Clavium", 1967.

English translation by ArianeK

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Leon Chestov photo

[ Dossier Fondane ]    

I first met Shestov in the spring of 1924 at Jules de Gaultier's home. Two years earlier I published, in Romanian, six chronicles dealing with his latest work translated into Romanian - "Revelations of Death". I had no idea whether he was dead or alive, whether he was from this century or the past century. I never imagined him in any context, except maybe in Russia. And now suddenly I had in front of me this tall lanky old man, in that old-fashioned drawing room at de Gaultier's.

I was truly moved and expressed as much, I think.

I let de Gaultier and Shestov talk and all I remember is that de Gaultier had trouble understanding Shestov's French pronunciation (which he later improved) and that Shestov had difficulty understanding de Gaultier's metaphysics. I had no problem with either and so I translated for de Gaultier what Shestov was saying, and explained to Shestov what de Gaultier was trying to convey.

I think Shestov was impressed with my sharpness and also with that spark of enthusiasm and combative spirit that I brought to the discussion. We left together.

For he first time in my life I felt intimidated. His daughter Tatiana took down my address and it was decided that I will be invited at the first opportunity.

From 1924 to 1929 I could locate only one note from Shestov among my papers.

7, rue Sarasate, Mai 3, 1924

"Dear Sir,
Tomorrow, May 4, at 4pm we are holding a small party for our French and Russian friends. We will be delighted to have you among us. Cordially."

     Most of the time invitations were written by Tatiana Shestov who summoned me first to rue Sarasate, then to rue de l'Abbé-Grégoire, rue d'Alboni, rue Letellier. I remember little of those visits. At Shestovs I was considered a friend of Tatiana. Shestov himself rarely talked philosophy with me, I hardly ever saw him one-on-one, almost never in fact. He showed a certain sympathy towards me but without much hope. Especially after a certain conversation we had (on the Passy bridge, I think) when he asked me directly what philosopher I liked most. I felt intimidated - I was too aware of my lack of philosophical background. At that time the only philosopher I really knew was Jules de Gaultier and it is through him that I discovered Nietzsche of the "Birth of Tragedy" period. But I did not want to mention de Gaultier, as it was apparent to me that Shestov did not rank him very high, as a philosopher that is.

     I answered that up til then I had learned my philosophy from writers, poets even, and I mentioned Remy de Gourmont whose name was unknown to Shestov. I was afraid to tell him that it was Shestov himself that I knew best as a philosopher: my deep sympathy for him was bridled by the feeling I had that he would not appreciate my choosing him. Shestov was disappointed, I blushed. This blunder pursued me for a long time, became a self-punishment.

It was only in 1926 that a serious contact was established between the two of us. He presented me with a copy of the French translation of his "Dostoevsky and Nietzsche: philosophy of tragedy" that had just been published by La Pleiade. I wrote him a thank-you letter where I said more or less how difficult it was to follow him, for to really penetrate his thought, as he himself said, one must have lived through some personal disaster... And I added: what man would want such disasters upon himself out of love for Truth? Who, of his own will, would want to become his disciple?

A few days later I received an invitation from his daughter Tatiana and that night, at rue de l'Abbé Grégoire, Shestov took me apart among the guests:

- I am so used to receive letters where I am told how talented I am, how deeply I understand Dostoevsky, how my style is so etc, and now, for the first time maybe, I meet someone who understands the question itself.

And he proceeded to show my letter around.

[ Fondane's letter to Shestov ] [ Annex I ]

January 17, 1927

Dear Friend and Master,
     I just finished reading "Dostoevsky and Nietzsche" - the book lost in the mail was replaced by Schloezer, though of course it lacks your inscription on the title page.
     I cannot express the passionate curiosity that moves me to follow your thought, all of it. But I am not a professional reader and I must ask you to forgive me this. Copeau, the founder of the "Vieux Colombier" [famous theater in Paris], made it a principle to only employ people who knew nothing of the drama techniques and have never acted on stage. Perhaps you have the same view of the philosopher (for I am not one, as you know only too well) and will allow me not to understand a thing and still read you.
     Do you remember how one day, on the Passy bridge, you asked who made the deepest impression on me up til now? I still wince at the answers I gave you. But what could I say? I walk barefoot across the moral crisis of this century, I struggle against the suicidal tendencies of an artistic movement I am closest to, I try to give Art an importance that is being refused to it more and more - and for this I need to strengthen my thought and attack, and sometimes I have to let go of all my weapons and run. I've adopted and tried many an idea that seemed invigorating, I wanted to hold on to the old idols of logic which promise little yet keep their promise, but I've always recoiled in dread when faced with the arbitrary - and yet it is all around me and it has for me a strange attraction. Who will win me over? Which of my beloved masters will spawn revelation, who will become an enemy? I should have mentioned Nietzsche but, thanks to you, I have understood since that I read him badly, that it was his style I loved, his profession of orgiastic logic, I loved the artist in him - but not what he called the tragic artist, as you have so ably revealed.
     Yet it was not only Nietzsche and Tolstoy that you made me understand, but also writers you haven't thought about - Rimbaud, Baudelaire. For a brief moment I even imagined to give you a few texts to read, to interest you in Rimbaud for instance - it seems to me that your ideas could really contribute to illuminate some ancient mysteries here.
     I've spent my youth being in awe of skeptics. Even in Pascal I chose only one passage which I misunderstood so as to believe that he was mocking the relativity of all things while it was reason itself he was mocking. Today I understand that skeptics are in fact believers who go down on their knees in front of Reason and experience. I used to think this was the noblest posture of all, today I want none of it anymore. Yet I'd like to finally discover what it is I really want. I find you alone on this path and I am delighted I found you but I am also scared. With you I can define the question but I cannot go through with it. I am still reluctant to follow you but my fear is full of delight. Do not smile at me. I wish all this were nothing but amateur talk. You yourself say that one needs to have gone through a disaster to overcome the obstacle and I do not dare to wish a disaster on myself. Would I ever get there on my own?
     Asking you to forgive so much talk of himself and wishing the best to you and your family for the new year,


At this time I had not yet conceived the idea to take notes of our conversations. I was even very far from this thought for I've always detested private diaries. And so our early encounters, which became more and more frequent throughout the years, are lost to memory.

     It was only in 1934 that a deep and shattering realization dawned on me - that nobody really understood Shestov's thought, that his books were little read or not read at all, that he lived in a horrible and total isolation, that I was the only one who was allowed into his presence to listen and understand, and that if I did not decide to write down our conversations nobody else would. It was then that, despite my misgivings, I first tried to put down some of the most striking ideas he had introduced during our encounter that day. But it was so unpleasant to actually fix down a living thing (which, in any case, I was certain I would not forget) that my notes quickly became too short and too rare.

     At the same time, his conversation, or better to say, his monologue (for I rarely ever interrupted him, just enough to revive the flow) was so full of Greek and Latin quotations and involved so many technicalities concerning the history of philosophy, that, no matter how closely I listened, I invariably had the hardest time remembering exactly what he had said. Had I tried to reproduce his words exactly I was certain to commit the most obvious blunders. Even later, when I was less of a novice in these matters, I found it difficult to follow him. At the same time, I was loath to make him repeat what he was saying or ask him to spell out names out of fear that he might discover my intentions. It was paramount that he should know nothing about my notes. I didn't want to disturb the natural flow of his lectures (oftentimes it was real lecturing) or to make him self-conscious in case he imagined that in my notes I distorted and massacred his ideas.

     I kept a hundred and twenty letters he wrote to me between 1929 and 1938, while only one remains from the period between 1924 and 1929 - I just quoted it above. I must say that none of these letters are of special interest. Long developments were unnecessary given my frequent visits, not to mention that Shestov detested writing and finished most of his letters with a "come to see me and we will talk about it". Another reason is that I was one of the rare correspondents to whom he was obliged to write in French. This he found tiresome as he was aware that he handled French badly. Therefore he tried to keep letter-writing to a minimum - as for example during my two trips to Buenos Aires, or during his yearly vacations at Châtel-Guyon in the Puy-de-Dome region.

     Half of these letters are invitations, reminders or notes on small services that he asked of me and such. I decided not to include them here. Others deal with subjects that I did not record in my notes and which today recall some forgotten conversations we had. Since I started my diary only in 1934, I thought it opportune to include excerpts from the letters I received from him between 1929 and 1934. Their interest is relative since they mostly deal with my affairs and my writings, but they should serve as pathmarks for that period void of other memories. I hope the reader will forgive me this long preface in the anticipation of the real feast that, I trust, he will find in these conversations. Nevermind that these conversations are presented mostly as monologues for I judged superfluous to record my own contributions - something I regret today.

At this time already Shestov decided to orient me towards a serious study of philosophy. He often talked about Husserl and suggested I wrote a short article about him in the "Europe" magazine, taking for material the long passages from the German philosopher he cited in his essay on Husserl ["Memento Mori"]. Meantime Husserl himself came to Paris to give a talk at the Sorbonne. This visit coincides with the postcard I received from Shestov:

1, rue de l'Alboni [February 27][1929]

Dear friend, Sunday March 3, at 4 o'clock, Husserl is coming to visit. You are also invited. You must take a look at his person.

And so I went. Husserl talked and was asked questions. Shestov was a perfect host and did not interfere in the conversation. He was rather embarrassed when Mme Rachel Bespaloff, taking Husserl up in a brilliant and vivid attack, decided to produce Shestov as her ally. Fortunately she referred to Shestov as Lev Isaakovich (his name and patronymic, as is customary between Russians) and so Husserl never had an inkling that this other detractor constantly referred to by Mme Bespaloff was no other than his friend Shestov. I can't remember anything else. Shortly after "Europe" magazine published my article on Husserl ["Edmund Husserl et l'oeuf de Colomb du réel", no.XX, 1929] (I reworked this article for my "Conscience Malheureuse" and this time based it on the recently published French translation of Husserl's "Cartesian Meditations"). I remember that Shestov was astonished that I was able to manage so well in such a "technical" field where he counted me a green novice. He congratulated me with real warmth.

3, rue Letellier [June 28, 1929]

"No news from you, my dear friend, where are you. I expected to see you at de Gaultier's last Monday. You were not there. I hoped you would come to see me, but you didn't. I have plenty and pleasant things to tell you about your two articles, the one from "Cahiers" [Cahiers de l'Etoile, "Léon Chestov, témoin à charge", may-july 1929] and the one from "Europe" ["Un philosophe tragique: Léon Chestov", no.XIX, jan.15, 1929]. The latter is really excellent, even though the former is also good. Do come by so we may discuss it. Make sure to send a card first so I would wait for you."

I must note here, for memory's sake, that I wrote the article for "Europe" of my own accord. It was different with the one for "Cahiers de l'Etoile". Mme de Manziarly asked Shestov to suggest somebody who might write about him; he spoke of me. I remember that he had already recommended me for the same task to another magazine that was to be called "La Pensée Française". I wrote the article but it was never published. I seem to remember that though he liked it, he found some fault with it. I was reluctant to change anything and Shestov let me send it as is.

In July 1929 I left for Buenos Aires to present a series of lectures, on Victoria Ocampo's invitation. I met her at Shestov's where she accompanied Ortega y Gasset whom Count Keyserling specifically directed to visit Shestov and Berdyaev when in Paris. I was talking with her in a corner of the large drawing room at rue de l'Alboni (Shestov lived then at his sister's, Mme Balachowski) when Shestov came by and said to her:

- "Beware of this assassin - he likes to make heads roll."

This made her laugh quite a bit.

[Adolfo Bioy Casares on Victoria Ocampo and Review SUR: "Victoria Ocampo was an impossible woman. Very overbearing. She had no friends, only vassals. All those around her had to accept her orders. But she played quite an important role at the helm of the Review SUR. The Review survived for many long years. I did not belong to Victoria's group because my tastes in literature were different from hers." - my note - A.K.][French original of this comment]

I stayed in Argentine only a month and a half which goes to explain why I can find nothing in my correspondence related to that period. While my lectures in Buenos Aires concerned abstract films, I used the occasion to present a lecture at the Faculty of Arts entitled "Lev Shestov and the struggle against self-evidences" [September 12, 1929]. The text was never published. I sent Shestov a copy of the program for the conference where the name of my lecture appeared. As soon as I returned to Paris, I received a postcard from him:

3, rue Letellier, Sunday, [Oct 14] 1929

"Finally, Dear Friend, you are back. We are very eager to see you and hear the story of your extraordinary, even supernatural journey. Do come two days from now (Tuesday) so we may spend the evening in your company..."

Upon my return from Buenos Aires I wrote, almost back to back, a book of poems, "Ulysses" (which I didn't show to Shestov) and also the first draft of "Rimbaud le Voyou" which I pretty much abandoned later on. I gave Shestov the manuscript of the draft.

3, rue Letellier, March 13, 1930

"Dear Friend, this is only a brief note. I hope we will meet at Jules de Gaultier's two days from now. I would like to congratulate you - in my opinion your book is excellent. I already read it all through and I found there something I appreciate most - a real energy and great intellectual intensity. When we meet at J. de G. we will fix a date on which we can see each other and talk about your book. See you soon then. Transmit my salutations to your Sister."

In spring 1930 I found work as an assistant-director at the Paramount Studios where I later became a scriptwriter. We worked by day and by night, sometimes 12 hours in a row, sometimes on Sundays and on holidays - I had no time left to see Shestov very often and no time at all for my own writing. In the summer that year he left for Châtel-Guyon (Mme Shestov worked there year round [Anna Shestov's diploma was not recognized in France and she had to re-train as a medical massage technician]) and it was there that I sent him a letter which was probably full of desperation, judging from the reply that followed:

Châtel-Guyon (Puy-de-Dome), August 22, 1930

     "Finally a word from you, my dear friend! But what a sad word! Always the same story - lose your life to earn your living! And not a word on your book about Rimbaud - bad sign ! Or am I mistaken? You didn't receive a definitive reply yet? I am impatient for the news about your negotiations with la Nouvelle Revue Française. If you receive any news, do not forget to appraise me too. A postcard cannot take too long to write.
     Regarding my article for the Revue Philosophique ["Parmenides in Chains", july-august 1930], Tatiana wrote that they sent us one copy of the issue, only one... I received a letter from Leipzig with the news that the issue of Forum Philosophicum which contains my article is out ("To look behind and to struggle", no.1, july 1930). I will ask them to send you a copy so you may review it in the "Cahiers de l'Etoile". Agreed?
     No other news here. Presently it is my wife who earns our bread and I do nothing. I go for walks and watch movies! Do not envy me: this winter I will go to Krakow to earn my living too."

[Shestov read a lecture at the "Internationaler Verband fur Kulturelle Zusammenarbeit" congress in Krakow, Oct 23-25, 1930]

19, rue Alfred-Laurent, Boulogne-sur-Seine, November 12, 1930

"I am back in Paris, my Dear Friend. When will I see you? Are you still as busy as you were before my departure? In any event, do your best to come and see me - I am eager to hear your news. Make sure to warn me by letter so I may wait for you."

September 22, 1930, Boulogne

"Eight days ago I sent you a postcard, Dear Fondane, to let you know that I am back in Paris and inviting you to come and visit as soon as possible. Not only you didn't come - you didn't even reply. Have you received the postcard at all? Do answer! Or come when you are free... To get here, you need to take bus no.25 at Saint-Sulpice. It will bring you to blvd Jean-Jaures (Boulogne) - walk further in the same direction. The second street on your left will be Alfred-Laurent, no.19 is the building I live in."

There are no more letters throughout that year. Then summer came.

Châtel-Guyon, August 8, 1931

     "My Dear Friend, a few days ago we received the postcard where you announce the good news of your marriage. I am answering only now because I was not sure whether you were still at the Hotel Bellevue in St-Jean-D'Arve, which is shown on the postcard. Now that your eight vacation days are over, I can write to your Paris address to congratulate you on my own behalf and that of my wife and to wish you and your wife all the happiness one can have on earth. I hope that on our return we will see you at our place and congratulate you in person rather than by letter...
     Not many news here. I follow my treatment - it is quite annoying. In a week it will be over - which is already more pleasant. My wife is working, as always. At the end of next week my daughter Nathalie is due to arrive with her husband with whom I hope to study the quantum theory a little bit. He's a good physicist and has the kind of education that is necessary to master this theory. When you and I meet, I will hopefully be less ignorant about it [...] If you can find a moment to write to me, I will be very pleased..."

[Marriage took place on July 28, 1931. On the official document of the 5th District of Paris City Hall marked January 14 (1931) Lev Shestov and Constantin Brancusi are inscribed as witnesses. This document was reprinted in no.2-3 of the review Non Lieu dedicated to Benjamin Fondane.]

September 1931, Boulogne

"My Dear Friend, I was just writing to say that I am back in Paris when your letter arrived. Do come by as soon as possible...Bring your article on Heidegger - I am very eager to read it. Til soon then, tomorrow I hope..."

November 1, 1931, Boulogne

"My Dear Friend, I am unclear about your reasons for disliking that article so much ["Une Heure avec Léon Chestov", by Fr.Lefevre, Les Nouvelles litteraires, 24 oct. 1931]. Also, I do not quite understand what you are trying to say about your own article. But since you promised that you will come to visit me soon, I am not going to ask any more questions. At the very least try to honor your promise and come as soon as you can. Til soon then."

November 6, 1931, Boulogne

"Your silence, my dear friend, is beginning to worry me. Is everything alright? Everybody is in good health? Do write if only a few words, so I know what is going on with you - or better still, come to see me when you have a free moment."

December 5, 1931, Boulogne

"My Dear Friend, as you can imagine I was not pleased to read in your letter that Gallimard has refused to publish your book - but, to be honest, it was to be expected. Business is bad everywhere, everybody only thinks about saving money, and of course, since one can't possibly afford not to go to cafes or to the dancing club, so naturally one has to do without buying books! I am somewhat comforted by what you write about the "Cahiers du Sud". If your article is published there ["Sur la route de Dostoievski: Martin Heidegger", no.141, june 1932], maybe they will find some space for your future articles too. Maybe you will even be able to publish a few chapters from your book there... I expect to see you this Sunday or the Sunday after."

February 15, 1932, Boulogne

     "Only a few lines, my dear friend, to let you know that the "Cahiers du Sud" have announced your article - as proof (sometimes proofs are useful and even pleasant) I am sending you a cutting from the review. I have also something else to offer you - a flat! In the building where my sister, Mme Mandelberg, lives, 15 avenue Reille...
     That's all! Finally, I would like to add that in my opinion enough time has already gone by since our last encounter, so that you might start thinking about our next meeting..."

I do not remember on what occasion I gave him to read the manuscript of my dramatic poem "Le Festin de Balthazar", which I first drafted in 1922 and have then completely rewritten. He read it and probably suggested some changes, which is why I sent him the manuscript a second time. As the following letter testifies:

April 23, 1932

     "Forgive me, my dear friend, for delaying my reply. I've re-read your play as soon as I received it. But these days I get tired quickly - it is very annoying and prevents me from making even such small effort as writing a letter. I hope to get better after my summer vacation - but for now there is nothing else I can do but resign myself.
     I think you did well to change the ending of your play. Except that there is one word that I find not so well chosen. It's the word "miracle". In my opinion it would have been better not to emphasize too much Balthazar's deepest thought. Instead of saying: "There is no miracle! No miracle!", wouldn't it have been better to just let Daniel remember? and omit entirely the preceding explanation: "the king has just discovered..." I am not sure that I will be able to explain myself fully in this letter, but in any case, I believe it would have been better to show that for Balthazar his victory was in fact a defeat and that, in the innermost of his soul and unbeknownst to himself, he would have preferred to let Daniel win. We shall discuss this in detail when we meet.
     I thank you also for the issue of Nouvelles Litteraires, the article by Brunschvicg there is very telling. Especially the conclusion where he makes Bergson say: "I've always taught that it is spirit that should rule over body". But who on earth has not taught this same great truth? Was it really worth it to write a book [Henri Bergson,"On two sources of morals and religion" (1932)] so as to repeat again what has been said and re-said a thousand times over already throughout the centuries? It seems to me that Brunschvicg is making fun of Bergson, while he's obviously only been trying to praise him!
     How are you doing these days? Transmit my salutations to the ladies. Yours..."

     [Unfortunately I could not recall the conversion that followed. The draft of my "Balthazar" that I have to this day ends as previously with the words: "there is no miracle". But today Shestov's critique seems to me better justified than it did then. And since the manuscript remains unpublished... I remember that after the first reading, Shestov didn't like one of the four symbolic characters that surround Balthazar (Reason, Madness, Pride, Death) - that of Pride. "I know, he said, that you took it from the Bible but there it had a meaning that it does not have today; the thing which makes a Nietzsche or a Tolstoy refuse God cannot be fully expressed by the word "prideful". I pondered Shestov's remark and renamed my character "Spirit", changing some of his dialogue. And still it's not precisely what I was trying to convey - it's not the Spirit but the "concupiscentia irresistibilis" of Spirit, its desire to be God... (N.A.)]

May 12, 1932, Boulogne

     "If you come to see me, my dear friend, it will please me greatly, as always, but not if we talk about my health. At my age to be somewhat ailing is nothing much at all. One might say that it would be outright indecent to always remain in good health. Your case is quite different: a young man has all the rights and is practically obliged to be in good health, which is why I found what you wrote about your own health so worrying. Not to mention that, from what I could gather, you have always neglected your health - and are not taking better care of it now. So do come to visit as soon as you can: my wife will reprimand you according to desert and will also give you good advice that will make you feel better - not because you deserve it but to save her own soul as do all virtuous and reasonable human beings.
     I am very curious to see what changes you made to the ending of your "Balthazar". I will be home this Sunday after 5 o'clock. You may come then ... if you feel well enough. Til soon then".

June 15, 1932

"A few words, my dear friend, to tell you that, firstly, I am not leaving Paris before 3 or 4 weeks, so that we may count on one or two more encounters before then and, secondly, that five or six pages to talk about Kierkegaard's Despair is not much - even though one can, with a certain determination, say something even in five or six pages. Sometimes it can even be useful, as an exercise in style. But as soon as you are in Paris, make sure to come and see me (do not forget to send a warning) so we may talk it over. Until then..."

June 28, 1932

"I haste to respond to your letter, my dear friend, to tell you that you should by all means come to see me next Sunday for I will be leaving for Châtel at the end of the week. It would be too sad to go without having seen you. I was very happy to read what you wrote concerning the "Cahiers du Sud". It is quite important that they were so welcoming towards you and that they have agreed to publish excerpts from you book on Rimbaud. As to your chronicle - it is interesting (you did what was "possible", which is not what Kierkegaard meant by it - there was simply not enough space for such an article) - but I have a few remarks to make. We will talk it over next Sunday. My best wishes to the ladies and 'til Sunday, I hope."

July 11, 1932, Châtel-Guyon

     "Here's a very interesting article on Heidegger by Louis Lavelle ["L'angoisse et le néant", le Temps, 3 july 1932] - I am sending it along with this letter, my dear friend. According to Berdyaev (he is also here at Châtel) Louis Lavelle, whose name is absolutely unknown to me, has written a number of important works on philosophy. You will see yourself, having read this article, that its author is not one of those who write for the sake of writing. I believe that you will find it especially interesting, now that your own article is going to be published. I also think that you should send your "Heidegger" to this man - before all others - as soon as you receive your own copies.
     Also, I would like to ask you to send Lavelle's article over to Schloezer, once you've read it. I will be very curious to hear your impressions - I hope you will forgive my curiosity.
     Keyserling has just sent me his book (in French), "South-American Meditations" [ed.Stock, 1932]. I haven't read it yet, but Berdyaev has leafed through it and finds that the book is very interesting.
     Anything new with you? Myself I've spent three days already at Châtel and am very happy that I am entitled to a few weeks of doing nothing at all..."

July 29, 1932, Hotel Palais-Royal, Châtel-Guyon

     "You may be wondering, my dear friend, why I am emphasizing Palais-Royal. It is because you wrote "Royal Hotel" and it is lucky, very lucky, that the issue of "Cahiers du Sud" you sent to this address has found me and was not returned to you. So do not forget that I live in the Palais [Palace].
     Your article - I've read it twice - looks like a total success ["Sur la route de Dostoievski"]. You were able to put forth the problem of pure reason so subtly with those quotes from Dostoevsky! Heidegger himself shows that reason cannot critique itself and that philosophy must provide an independent counter-principle to reason. It is a shame that the quote from Dostoevsky, on page 386 (first line), should be so weakened in translation. In Dostoevsky, instead of "I dislike them", the line reads: "I loath them". Also, I would have liked it better if, instead of declaring that Heidegger is afraid of the critique of reason, you would have asked him whether he's afraid of following Dostoevsky to the end or not. After all, we cannot be sure where Heidegger's philosophy is going to go... Otherwise the article is excellent and hopefully it will be of use to those who are interested in the same questions... Have you noticed the poems by Jean Wahl in this issue? Is this the same Jean Wahl who wrote an article on Kierkegaard and Hegel in the Revue Philosophique ["Hegel and Kierkegaard", nov-dec. 1931]? I cannot be a good judge of French verse, but it would be odd if they were written by the author of the article in question. In any case you should send him a copy of your "Heidegger" as well.
     I also read Audard's note on Bergson. [Jean Audard, "Bergson: les Deux Sources de la morale et de la religion", june 1932] It is pitiless and if Bergson gets to see it he is sure to feel bad about it. Bergson shouldn't venture into areas where he doesn't really feel at home.
     As far as my treatment permits, I am reading bit by bit Keyserling's book. You must read it too and it would be nice if the "Cahiers du Sud" made some space for you to write a short notice on it. The book is really quite intriguing.
     You are asking about my health. All is going well. My wife once worked for a famous physician who used to say to one of his patients, to whom he forbade everything the man liked and prescribed only the most disagreeable things: "At our age (both doctor and patient were old men) one should continue to strive for perfection". This is what I do - I strive for perfection, and I might as well tell you, without false humility, that I am on the verge of becoming a model of perfection: I shall go to bed early, I shall smoke little, I shall avoid coffee, I shall only read Keyserling etc. And since I know that you are also striving for perfection, all you have to do now is follow the lofty model soon to appear before you...
     Anything new with you? Have you gotten a reply from the Commerce? [my poem "Ulysses" was to be published there] And what about Paramount? How are you doing in general? Do not forget to answer my questions."

August 9, 1932

"Your letter, My poor dear friend, broke my heart - it is so revolting to have to spend all day doing some work that is totally foreign to you, only to earn a few cents necessary for survival ! But you really should not despair so much over it ! Everything always changes and the present conditions, hard as they are, are going to change too ! You are still you and you have a whole future in front of you. You should not say: "what an incredible impoverishment since I've been spending all my time in this horrible job !" On the contrary: I would rather say that even in these terrible circumstances you were able to find a means to follow your own way - and that's something, it's a lot even. It's a sign that you will come out a winner out of this stubborn struggle with fate's hardships. Proof - everything you've done over these years has been appreciated ! and not only by me - in case my appreciation doesn't matter all that much : you and I, we belong to the same world of ideas and my judgment might not be impartial. But look at how the editors of "Cahiers du Sud" treat you. They are absolutely foreign to what you and I do - and yet, how readily did they welcome your articles! Not only that - even Jean Wahl who is part of this milieu of university professors who, in general, do not even want to hear what is being said in our world - even Jean Wahl was moved by your article on Heidegger. And I am convinced that your article on Rimbaud will make an even greater impression. There is in your manner of writing an intensity, an inner strength which is sure to help you make your way in the world. And each year, despite being caught in such an exhausting and exterior work that would have ground to nothing someone weaker than yourself, despite all that you keep improving in every sense. Of course, you are absolutely right to curse the exterior conditions of fate, you are right to complain against it. But you are wrong, very wrong when you talk of being horribly impoverished. On the contrary, one should talk of enrichment in your case. I must tell you in all honesty that were I in your shoes I wouldn't be able to write a single line - while during all these years you managed to write articles, poems and even a book! My wife and I, we've often wondered how you were able to carry on with your literary projects under such adverse conditions - we do admire you quite a bit. And I am sure that you will emerge a triumphant victor out of this horrible struggle. This is what I wish for you from the depth of my heart, my Dear Friend. Let me embrace you amicably..."

October 12, 1932

"I thank you, my dear friend, for the copies of you article on Heidegger which have just arrived. ["Sur la Route de Dostoievski"] I've read it once more and I can reiterate that you were able to express yourself beautifully on very difficult questions - I congratulate you. Maybe you will be free next Sunday. Come to see me and we will talk a bit..."

January 4, 1933

"For a long time already I haven't had any news from you, my dear friend. I was so sure that you would come to see me over the holidays, but Christmas and the New Year day have passed and you have not come. If you have no free time for a visit, do write at least a few lines so I may know that "all is fine" with you and your family. I wish you and the ladies a happy new year and I hope that it will be kinder to you than the last, that it brings you better health too, as it is such a necessary thing to all of us."


February 1933

Wonderful winter sunset in the Bois de Boulogne. As we walk Shestov speaks:

- Shakespeare recounts ["Troilus and Cressida"] that every time Thersite and Ajax had a discussion, Thersite would mock him savagely; Ajax could not answer him in the same tone and would finally hit him. "Ah! Why can't I get back at him in the same way!" Thersite complained. I am often told that one can answer all my mockery and my absurdities in the same manner. And this is supposed to offend me. But not at all ! Let them mock me, good luck ! But they hit me instead ! When Dostoevsky shows his tongue to the wall, he'd be only happy if the wall did the same to him. He would kiss it out of sheer joy ! But the wall did not mock him, it did not show him the tongue, the wall could not answer in the same tone - and so it hit him... Just as Thersite, Dostoevsky wished he could be like the wall.

March 6, 1933, Boulogne

"Your silence, my dear friend, is beginning to worry me. How are you doing? And your family? If you are too busy to come, then at least write a few lines to tell me how things are with you..."

March 18, 1933

"My dear friend, would you please come (with your wife and sister) on Friday, 24 March, to spend the evening with us? Jules de Gaultier will be here too. I think you will be pleased to see him. Do not forget to offer him your new book ["Ulysses"], unless you've done so already. I hope he will be able to appreciate it better than I can. Unfortunately, French verse is very hard to understand for me. On the other hand, I read your chapter on Rimbaud with great interest, I find it very well done. I will tell you more on Friday."

April 13, 1933

"A few days ago, my dear friend, I received and read your article on Rimbaud [in "Cahiers du Sud", X, 1933] and if I haven't written to you already, it is because I was hoping to see you in person. But you did not come - and so I am writing to say that your article is very well done in every respect and that all the rewriting has served it well. If the whole book ["Rimbaud le voyou", Denoël, 1933] is like this chapter, then it's going to be excellent. We will talk it over some more when you come to see me. Enough said for now. Til soon, I hope."

[Fondane tells of another conversation with Shestov concerning the manuscript of this book that was then being considered at Gallimard: "I tell Shestov about my book on Rimbaud which Gallimard is in no hurry to publish. I tell him that I can wait, that I have all the time in the world... Shestov answers: It is obvious that you are a true philosopher - you resign yourself so readily!"]

Conversation on April 17, 1933

- It is good to read second-rate philosophers from time to time. They're excellent: they are not as slick, as masterful, as cautious as the greats... For example our Russian Solovyov, disciple of Hegel, makes the blunder of saying aloud what Hegel was thinking but would never have said himself. Hegel puts Socrates between two principles that clash and grind against each other... These principles are dialectically right; Socrates, however, is also right; if Socrates dies, it's nobody's fault - it could not have happened otherwise!... On the other hand, as soon as Solovyov applies this reasoning to Pushkin's death, he reveals by the same token that the poet's morals were not as lofty as his genius - if he dies, it is a just punishment for his transgressions. Hegel would never have said something like that, even though he thought exactly in the same way as Solovyov did.
     Or take Epictetus. Most of the time he tries to follow Aristotle or Socrates... But sometimes he is short of arguments, becomes exasperated, and then tries to convince us by making confounding statements: let us abuse our hearing, our sense of smell, let us drink vinegar instead of wine etc.. Aristotle would never have made such an error, though he thought in the same way. He too is tempted to cut off our ears, but he resists the temptation of saying it aloud.
     You can give me torture, slavery, death, said Epictetus, but none of it will affect me - I have my magic wand ! What is death after all? A whole disintegrating etc.; in the same manner as it once was made into a whole etc. Death would be nothing were it not for our opinion which sees evil in it. But our opinion is in our power - we can change it; we can think that death is bad or nothing much at all. I have my magic wand ! But what is this magic wand worth? Epictetus did not ask this question ! Even Kierkegaard cannot bring himself to believe in miracle, when Regina Olsen is betrothed to another man; he knows that there's nothing to be done about it; then he notices that his suffering is after all nothing else but an "opinion"... something he can control. And now he too has a magic wand ! He then decides that he did the right thing by not marrying, that he was right to leave Regina, that she was not good enough for him... etc.
     It is absolutely remarkable that Kierkegaard started out believing that Abraham could have completed his sacrifice, without anything having been changed. Once Isaac has been murdered, God could have resuscitated him, not abstractly, reviving his soul etc, but his very body on earth, immediately after... Later on Kierkegaard stopped believing in this possibility - in miracles. He was content to have his magic wand.

June 10, 1933

"My Dear Friend,
Finally - you found a publisher for your book ! ["Rimbaud le voyou"] Congratulations - I understand and share your joy. I hope that with the kind of welcome that your last book received ["Ulysses"], this one will find its readers too... I expect to see you one of these days so we may talk about it. In the meantime, a cordial handshake..."

August 12, 1933, Châtel-Guyon

"My Dear Friend,
You are leaving for Nice! It seems that Paris weather is not hot enough for you! If I understand correctly, your nascent fame requires high temperatures. But do not expect me to understand. My treatment has once again transformed me into a pure being and, as you know, according to the teaching of our Master Hegel, pure being is a most empty concept. Which is why I have no news to report: there are none. I exist - and no more. It is your turn to give me news. Write some about yourself - and my void shall be replenished. I am eager to see your "Rimbaud" come out - it seems you found a good editor. Best wishes from me and my wife and also from Tatiana..."

September 17, 1933, Châtel-Guyon

"You ask for "news" from Châtel-Guyon, my dear friend? But what news have there ever been in Châtel-Guyon? It is for you to give me news! You are told that as a rule there is nothing new under the sun? But you are making a film... I, and especially - and particularly - my wife, want to know whether it's your own film or somebody else's, whether there are only "girls" or maybe also tigers and lions... You must understand how important it is to know for me. So do hurry to answer these pressing questions - or else my wife shall never forgive you."

December 16, 1933

"I have just re-read your "Snake" for a second time and I have a lot to tell you about this article. ["Shestov, Kierkegaard and the Snake", Cahiers du Sud, n.164, aug-sept.1934 / in "Conscience Malheureuse"] But not in a letter: what can one ever say in a letter? So do come to see me any day next week...Also, I just received a letter from Mme Bespaloff. She has read your "Rimbaud" and asked me to give her your address so she might write to you: your book has made a profound impression. 'Til soon I hope..."

Friday, April 13, 1934

At Mme Lovtzki's, Shestov's sister. Reception in honor of Martin Buber. Were present Edmond Fleg, de Schloezer, a German theologian in exile, doctor Lieb etc. Wonderful visage of the old rabbi Buber - beautiful wiseman's face covers a deep inner ocean, out of which slowly words emerge - in an excellent melodious French, slightly softening the R's - words well thought out, distracted from their inner movement, carried away for a moment from their own course to be thrown into conversation. The talk centers on German and European events, on Hitler, fascism, communism.

- We are wrong to believe ourselves superior to these events, to believe that we know what is bad, that we possess the light, to talk about Spirit. We cannot be superior to Hitlerism as long as we do not know what is there to do. I have lost most of my faith in the individual and even more in the collective. We have reached a frontier. It is the end of the road. We do not know where to go next. We must find what must be done - but nobody has found as yet. It is very different from the advent of Christianity; then John the Baptist announced that the Kingdom of God was approaching; something was on its way, something one was going to be able to touch... Today the pillar that was holding the ceiling has crumbled... Nothing is approaching. It is again the same darkness as was then but without the pillar, without a way to follow. Clearly, I am not talking about miracles, the possibility of being saved by God; I am talking about man's part in the human action and today that part is compromised. To begin with, one should become conscious of darkness, to let sink in the idea that it's only a darkness - that alone would allow to start searching for a way out, for light.
     In any case, dualistic efforts towards a solution, neatly separating spirit from work, will not save us. I am not saying that I am against work. Work is fated to us. It is the concept of work that is wrong: man is seen as an extension of the machine, this is hell. It does not matter whether one works for a year or for a day of one's life, it's still the same thing; quality of work is the issue, not duration. This concept of work is like an acid that corrodes everything, it penetrates free time too, the hours of leisure and joy. Even when a worker goes to the movies he goes to movies of hell; and his wife is an infernal wife. There will be no autonomy of the Spirit as long as there will be autonomy of the concept of work. With all that, I cannot say that I know what must be done. I can only say that we must search. Maybe we will find... It would be good to be able to decentralize, to go back to the freedom of corporations, communes. Communism started out with it and began to realize the oldest dream of humanity. Unfortunately it recentralized everything shortly after and made the dream into a caricature. Our time is a time of action, where mankind realizes its dreams; except that these realizations turn into caricatures. Still I believe that mankind could achieve happiness - to a certain extent. Earth is wide enough, its fruits are abundant, but then - how to do it? Out of despair mankind attempts the most absurd things. It is as if we wanted to attempt the murder of the biblical snake.
- And that is precisely what should be done, says Shestov. Day and night, year after year, I've been struggling against the snake. What is Hitler next to the snake of knowledge?
- But the snake is only an accident, says Buber. It was different before, even though I do not know in what way.
- Before, says Shestov, there was no you, Mr Buber, and no me either. We are only *after* the snake. Which is why one must kill it.
- I must admit that I do not really understand and I have no idea whether it would do any good to go back or even to kill the snake.
- But that is precisely my meaning. The snake is speaking through you, it prevents you from trying.

May 14, 1934, Boulogne

"Finally a word from you, my dear friend. You say your problems are "ordinary"! Thank God you've been spared the extra-ordinary ones! I would love to see you, but I cannot accept your invitation at present. I too have my "problems": I am forced to create. And though it is certain that you are going to derive some pleasure from it, I must say that my problems are not terribly difficult. Gallimard has accepted to take my Kierkegaard and I must give de Schloezer a final draft before I leave. This means I must write (create!), write and write, otherwise I won't be able to make it before the 20th of July. Could you find a free moment to drop by? We will exchange complaints about our problems - you, about the difficulty of earning your living, I about the difficulty of creating: not out of nothing but for nothing (Gallimard will not pay a cent, I think). Goodbye for now..."

June 11, 1934, Boulogne

"It has been five weeks since I last saw you. I was expecting a visit, or a letter, but nothing came - not you nor your letter. I am beginning to worry. Do write a letter at least or better still, come to see me if you are not too busy. But without delay."

July 14, 1934, Boulogne

"Dear friend, I am finally free to leave next Saturday. However, since I am still too busy to visit you and your family, I invite you to come by this Tuesday or Wednesday - I do not want to go without having seen you. Do write as soon as possible..."

August 9, 1934, Châtel-Guyon

     "Your letter came, my dear friend, just in time. A great event occurred in my life and I was going to write to tell you all about it. Yesterday my wife went to the Casino and saw a poster announcing a film at the local movie theater - "La Châtelaine du Liban". As is customary, the poster had pictures representing nothing but desert sands and camels. "This is something that you might like", my wife told me. We went there the very same night, arriving early, like a good bourgeois couple, so as to be sure there will be enough seats available. My wife brought some candy in case I got thirsty - she doesn't want me to drink coffee. And what luck! The desert and the camels were only for the posters - the show was about high life, the very life you promised to introduce me to and never did. My wife wanted to leave on the spot but I resisted and she was forced to stay until the end of the show because she was afraid to leave me alone there. In this way I was finally initiated into that very same high life I've dreamed about all my life.
     What are you doing in those mountains? You say not a word about it. Are you making a new film? [Fondane left for Switzerland to film "Rapt", adapted by Dmitri Kirsanoff from the novel "La Séparation des Races" by C.F.Ramuz] Are you going to make some money? Do not forget to write - as you know I am extremely interested in all this. Though I am neither a communist nor a marxist, I do know that after all - "primum vivere, deinde philosophare".
     You did well to write to Mme Ocampo that you have complete authority to negotiate my affairs with Mallea. I have only one thing to say: if it is about translating the English version of my book "In Job's Balances", you must insist that they do not also translate the English introduction to the book. If they are bent on some sort of "presentation", let them use your article about "Kierk. and Sh." ["Léon Chestov, Soeren Kierkegaard et le Serpent"] instead of the English introduction, it does not do a good job of informing the reading. Accept my warmest handshake."

[It was in fact about translating into Spanish a book by Shestov. It was later decided to translate "Revelations of Death": SUR, Buenos Aires, 1938, without any introduction]

September 19, 1934, Bourbon-L'Archambault

     "My Dear Friend, my wife has sent over your book to Bourbon where I've been residing for 4 days now. I thank you for the effort you put up and I hope that it will all work out in the end. My English publisher is Dent - one of the better known publishers in England. But I don't have his address with me here. If you need it, write to Tatiana...
     It would be of course much better in every respect to translate "In Job's Balances" rather than "Apotheosis of Groundlessness" which has been translated by Lawrence. [actually D.H. Lawrence wrote the introduction to the English translation by S.S.Koteliansky, "All things are possible", London, Martin Secker, 1920] Even more so since, as much as I can judge, the English translation of "Apotheosis" is not a very good one. If you can, try to insist that they let you write the "presentation". Otherwise they will find some Spanish celebrity who will leaf through the book and will write badly about it.
     And your own affairs are still not going well ! And I was convinced of the contrary when I read in our Russian newspaper an article by de Schloezer about the success of your latest film in England ! When will your luck finally turn ?!
     I will be back in Paris in three weeks - either the 26, 27 or 28 September. I am sorry I did not see either Mme Ocampo nor Mallea. Do say hello to them on my behalf, and also to your ladies. Accept my warmest handshake."

October 6, 1934

Aquinas' "Summa Theologiae" is on the table:
- After reading Gilson's book, I took up the Summa once again. What a thing! A true cathedral ! Every detail, each page, each piece is completed; and yet it all makes up a whole. What art ! But unfortunately it is only art. I suggest you read it - it will make you think!... It is a good thing to read one's enemies and to admire them. When Malraux asked me about my essay on Husserl: why fight him? I saw that he understood nothing. One should not disrespect one's adversaries. And Husserl against whom I fight has been a master for me, a teacher. Without him I would never have found the courage to struggle against the self-evidences!

On Gilson:
- An excellent work, penetrating, well-informed; he speaks of the metaphysics of Exodus but he says nothing of the metaphysics of the Fall. He has no understanding of it. To exchange paradise for a fruit, for a nothing ! He cannot quite see that it is Knowledge that is meant. The Greeks speak through him, there are even textual passages from Spinoza, and he thinks that he has authority from the Bible ! Once again it is Leibniz who rules the show, just as with Baruzi. After I've read his "John of the Cross", I told Baruzi: Why take Leibniz as a guide when you wanted to speak of John of the Cross? Why not do it on your own? He stopped calling after that.
[Jean Baruzi: Saint John of the Cross and the problem of mystical experience, Alcam, 1924]

Talking about Jean Wahl's article on Kierkegaard:
- It is good, very good. He knows Kierkegaard through and through, and everything that has been written on him too... But he does not understand that one cannot write that way on Kierkegaard... With a man of this caliber one must take a stand: love him or kill him... He would not have written that way if Kierkegaard were alive - he would have thought him a madman. It is easy a hundred years later... It's like the book of Koyre about Jacob Boehme. If today a shoemaker wrote something like Boehme did, can you imagine a university professor writing a book about him! He would have been seen as a madman, a regular madman, or at best a poet! Kierkegaard used to rage when people wrote about him that he was a begabter Schriftsteller... I too receive such letters all the time, to tell me how very talented I am...
     It is easy to talk about Kierkegaard now that he is well accepted. I remember a professor in Kiev, the poor man gave lectures on subjects that were popular - to earn his leaving. Nietzsche was popular then, so he talked about Nietzsche. Not long before a Trubetskoy, brother of the famous Moscow professor, was reprimanded by the latter for having spoken of Nietzsche, a writer of aphorisms. Then one day I visited the said professor. He was all pumped up. Look, he said, here is the latest book by Wundt. In his introduction there are four pages on Nietzsche!... From then on one had the right to talk about Nietzsche.

October 23, 1934, Boulogne

"My dear friend. Could I burden you with a small service? You often go to bookstores to pick up new books. Perhaps you could inquire whether the August 1904 issue of the "Etudes Franciscaines" is available. An article has been published there called "Hegel and Bonaventura". It might interest me and you too perhaps. If possible, buy it for me, I will be very grateful. In the meantime do write a few words, unless you are planning to visit soon..."

(I remember that I could not find the issue in the bookstores and finally went to the Catholic Institute's library. It was a short article, a few pages only, I copied it by hand - we both then found that it was of no interest.)

October 27, 1934

I direct Shestov to talk about his memories of the Russian Revolution. A year and a half after the Revolution Shestov is in Kiev and is invited to a public meeting where marxist ideas are to be discussed. He didn't really want to go but... his reputation was high in Kiev and it grew even more after the Revolution. Thanks to this reputation his flat was not taken away from him - it was returned after each expropriation.

     One after another the "envoys" [of revolution] came to the stage, to say that Revolution will sweep away past philosophers and writers. They alluded to Shestov but did not call him by name. Shestov said nothing. Then the Chairman of the meeting finally showed some intelligence. He spoke of Revolution sweeping away the Aristotles, the Platos... and even the Shestovs of the world, if they refused to lend their talent to the Revolution's task. In the future they will have no need to search for what to say. They will be told what to say. Only their talent will be demanded of them. If not...
     Shestov felt personally concerned and spoke up. He said that this Revolution was not the first one. There have been other revolutions which time after time swept away Aristotles and Platos even more radically. He added that Revolution thus understood was not a dictatorship of the people but a dictatorship over people.

- If a worker comes to me, it is to learn what I myself have to say. He wants to know the outcome of my sleepless nights and not what I might say on order from authorities. On the other hand, if the said worker wants to know what these "envoys" here have to offer, he will go to them directly instead of demanding that I explain to him other people's ideas, with only my talent as a supplement. He will want our own ideas, otherwise, as you said yourself, he will sweep us away."
- I admit, Shestov continued, that I had no merit in saying this for in those days I was well shielded from attacks by the many friends I had among the revolutionaries. They all professed to be my admirers even though they understood none of it. Aristotle, Plato, Shestov - it was all the same for them!

November 18, 1934

"Do not torture yourself, my dear friend, over not having been able to keep your promise to visit. I was sorry you couldn't come, but I was still more worried about the possible cause of this failure. Otherwise it did not disturb my schedule: I rarely go out on Fridays, and so I continued to decipher the texts of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, St-Augustine, Boetius etc. I will be awaiting you - but not on Tuesday. There is a meeting at the Russian Faculty on Tuesday and I cannot miss it. See you Wednesday then."

November 21, 1934

     Paulhan acknowledged Shestov's desire to write a small book on Kierkegaard and the N.R.F. promised to publish it. Shestov wrote the book, made a fair copy, gave it to de Schloezer for translation purposes, brought it to Paulhan. In the end it turned out that it all depended on Malraux who had previously manifested respect and admiration for Shestov.
     [Malraux's inscription to Shestov on a copy of his "Voie Royale": I believe, Monsieur, that you have no time for novels, but this one is among the few in French that is informed by tragedy out of which your own philosophy emerges. This is why I dare to present it to you. Signed Andre Malraux.]
     Malraux had reproached Shestov three years earlier for concerning himself with such characters as Bergson and Husserl who did not deserve, he said, to monopolize such a lofty mind. He told me (Fondane), that he wrote his "Voie Royale" with Shestov in mind and that this guided his conclusions. But now this same Malraux, who has just attended the Writers Congress in URSS [Moscow, 17 august-september 1st, 1934] and spoke there of writer's freedom and said that Nietzsche spoke to Napoleon as an equal - now he vetoes Shestov's book, despite Paulhan's promise to publish it.

Shestov is not indignant, only bitter:
- It is a fact that in the bourgeois society a writer is not free and even less loved. It is by a sort of luck that he gets the opportunity to speak freely. A Schopenhauer, a Nietzsche were fortunate enough to have a little bit of money - they published their books at their own expense. Likewise I am fortunate to have a wife who has a job - I would go hungry were it not for her. I was lucky to meet Levy-Bruhl who is now publishing my writings through I do not know which misunderstanding. It is highly probable that he is not even reading my articles. But under a Hitler or a Stalin even such luck is eliminated. Neither money nor misunderstanding are possible.
     I have no right to complain, even if the book never gets published. I am old, I already said almost everything I had to say. My books came out, were translated in several languages. They can be found... One book more, one less... But you, what are you going to do? Malraux used to treat me almost as if I were a Plato or an Aristotle, and hardly even "almost". But now he must obey Stalin. That is how he speaks to Napoleon as an equal...

No date

- Nietzsche was in the same situation as Kierkegaard. But at times he burst into songs. Kierkegaard never sang.

- It is of no interest to say about Bergson's "The Two Sources of Morality and Religion" that it is a weak book. One must rather ask: why? Why is it that a good philosopher and a good writer like Bergson should have written a weak book as soon as he ventured to speak of religion and morality? He has always claimed to be an irrationalist but look what happens: when he talks of God, he is speaking from reason.

- The most underground thing about Kierkegaard, yet something one always grasps about him in the end, is his impotence. Of course he says of himself that he is a great writer. He impresses upon his readers that he shall be immortal, but he does this precisely because he feels impotent: otherwise why talk about it at all? He would like to be a great writer in the eyes of others, but for himself his writings are worthless, and he knows it. Every freedom is refused to him. It is as if something paralyzed him. Like in a nightmare where horrible faces press upon you and you cannot move a finger or even scream. You are paralyzed, impotent. He would like to explain his impotence to marry Regina by saying that their union would have resembled a million of other bourgeois marriages, or that he sacrificed Regina "of his own will", like Abraham sacrificed his son Isaac. He knows he is no Abraham, he knows that he is not saying the truth, that he sacrificed nothing at all for he had nothing to begin with. It is the same story with Nietzsche. An impotent man wrote "The will to power", an impotent man who made the whole world believe - as was his aim! - that Nietzsche was a magnificent engine full of power.

About Martin Buber:
- He says that Hasidism is the best Jewish response to Spinoza. But he cites and subscribes to a Hasidic legend that has Baal Shem, the originator of Hasidism, escape Adam's plight - that is original sin. I think that Spinoza would have been entirely satisfied with such an explanation: he too wanted to escape from the original sin.
     On the other hand, the Hasidim - according to Buber - say that prayer is not simply a communion with God etc, but that prayer is God. But that is pure Spinoza.
     I am different from Buber in that he would like to avoid original, hereditary sin etc. I am as aware as he is how absurd this idea of original, hereditary sin really is - it is shocking, incredible. And I told him so. He answered that for him original sin did not start at the tree of knowledge but at Cain's crime. To me this makes no sense. Sin is Knowledge. I would even say that it wasn't Dostoevsky who wrote the first "Critique of Pure Reason" - it was God himself, when he said: "if you have knowledge, you will die." I know that I will be answered that this is no critique.
     When man first ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge, he gained Knowledge and lost Freedom. Man has no need of knowing. Asking, formulating questions, demanding proofs, answers, all this means that one is not free. To know is to know necessity. Knowledge and Freedom are at odds. And Berdyaev tells me - "why do you want to deprive me of the "freedom of knowing"!
     I only first learned of Hasidim through Buber. I heard some about them from my father, who was knowledgeable in Hebrew things, but he was indifferent to religion. He gave me the idea that among "dirty Jews" these ones were still dirtier.

December 19, 1934, Boulogne

- You are perfectly right, my dear friend: if you can't come to me, I should go to you - we must try to see each other one way or another. Thus I will come to your place after my lecture, Saturday, 22 December, most likely at about 6:45-7pm because I often stay to talk after class. Also, I presently give my lectures at the Russian Institute (rue Michelet) which is a bit farther from you than Sorbonne. See you Saturday then...

January 1935

About Honegger and music from "Rapt" [film] that he did not like:
- Most of the time, when I don't like some music, I tell myself: I don't like it, therefore it must be excellent. And that is what I say. This way I am mistaken for a great connoisseur of modern music.

- One day Charles du Bos called me twice to invite me to a party. I went. There was a lot of people. Among others a famous Russian scientist, Rostovtzev, who wrote a "History of the Scythes" which is said to be very good but I never read it. He approached me and as soon as we were introduced launched an attack against my person and my ideas. This made me very uncomfortable but I tried to avoid a debate, out of respect for his personality and because I didn't want to provoke a scandal. Rostovtzev noticed my reluctance but thought that it was a sign of weakness and that I had nothing to reply. He thought he had embarrassed me. His arguments concerned the value of experiment etc, platitudes he nevertheless delivered with great conviction. Finally, I had no other choice but to retort. I did not challenge the importance of experiment and I even congratulated him on his strong convictions: how can one be a scientist if one does not believe in experiment?
     Instead I told him that our problematics started before experience: "We had to ask ourselves: what is experience? What is theory? What is fact? A fact is nothing. I could have made a mistake, it could have been a mirage, I must isolate something out of a multitude of material; this something is based on contradictions etc. Thus, to have a fact I could use, there must first be a theory which would decide what is and what is not to be considered a fact. Therefore fact is not the starting point of theory but the other way around etc."
     But Rostovtzev, like most scientists, had no background in philosophy. He started the attack and was now the one under siege. In ten minutes he had lost all his self-assurance. He never forgave me this lesson - as if it was I who provoked it and was impolite! When I saw him seven years later he barely said hello to me!

- Every time I am attacked, people try to demonstrate to me that two by two make four. I told you once how when I was only eight years old I had to learn addition and subtraction to pass the admission exam to enter high school. But I also already knew multiplication. Then, when I was asked how much six by eight would make I answered that it made forty-eight. As you can see, I was eight and I knew already what they are now trying to teach me at sixty.

March 1935, at Mme Lovtzky, Shestov's sister

Shestov tells me that the negotiations concerning his trip to Palestine are going well. Traveling expenses will be paid. In exchange Shestov would have to give a lecture in every town and colony in Palestine. The negotiations concerned two things: 1) pounds sterling 2) what general public wants, desires, understands etc.
     Shestov first thought of a theme like: Abraham and Socrates. But he was soon persuaded that the "general public" would not take the bait. Even when he talked about his students in Paris (at the Russian Institute) he would declare that they understand Russian but no a word of what he is saying. Given which... He bought a number of books by Maimonides and decided to talk about him when his anniversary was celebrated.
     I wondered about his decision. Shestov protested
- No, I am simply going to recount Maimonides' biography, without adding anything personal.
- It is impossible, I said.
- But on the contrary! I must not! I really want to travel to Palestine, therefore I will restrain myself... I will do it this fall. Six months is not too long to study Maimonides, I know him about as well as you do.
- Your decision is sound, but I do not believe you will be able to make good of your promise. You will certainly happen on some text that will provoke you.
- I already did. He says that "when the Bible is in contradiction with the evidences of reason, it must be interpreted according to these evidences."
- Here is your trigger - you will end up suggesting that maybe it would have been better to renounce evidences in this case.
- No at all, it would do no good. I would have placed this text at the heart of my lecture - but since this is not possible... For once I will appear as a man of wisdom. It's not too early.

And with a charming irony, he turns towards his brother-in-law and continues:
- My brother-in-law here present often tells me: "You will never wise up. Who listens to you? Nobody. Of course there is Fondane, but he's the only one, and he's young and dumb. If he were less dumb he would have followed [Jean] Wahl or Berdyaev, who is a model of all virtues and has even been honored by the Academy - and then he would have become a wiseman himself." But my brother-in-law is wrong. You, Fondane, you are indeed young and dumb, but I... I am old and intelligent.
-You'll see, I answer, one day there will be a Shestov Gesellschaft.
-Yes, with one single member: Fondane.
-On the contrary, there will be many members of all walks of life who will defend your ideas so well that Fondane will not even be admitted.

We speak of his book on Kierkegaard. It was refused by N.R.F. [Nouvelle Revue Française] and now Grasset too doesn't want it: it is not for the masses. Schloezer, who takes care of these matters, has been told that the book is certainly very good but that it is about Shestov, not about Kierkegaard.

- You see, when Wahl writes about Kierkegaard, it is sure to be about Kierkegaard. Gallimard bought the rights to Charles Andler's book on Nietzsche because it is about Nietzsche, not Andler. Personally I think that to truly speak about Kierkegaard and Nietzsche one should not even speak about them, but rather about oneself.

- You know, I now have a radioset at home. Sometimes it's Germany, sometimes Russia. On the German channel there is nothing but "Heil Hitler!" and on the Russian "the prophetic words of comrade Stalin". Even under the old tsarist regime there has never been so much baseness and flattery. "Prophetic"! If only they had considered for an instant what this word really means - they would never have used it.

No date (miscellaneous notes, memories)

About Gide:
- He is one of the most intelligent men I've ever met, he sees through everything - it is impossible to hide anything from him. We were at Pontigny, his book on Dostoevsky has just been published ["Dostoevsky", 1923]. One day he asked what I thought of it. I told him it was well written etc. He understood right away and switched to another subject. He never talked to me after that...

Shestov was told that upon reading his "Dostoevsky and Tragedy" Gide confessed "that he has not been so shaken ever since he first read Nietzsche". Some time later (after the incident at Pontigny), Gide published an essay on Montaigne and sent it to Shestov with a charming inscription. But when de Schloezer asked Gide to write a short introduction to the "Selected Fragments" ["Selected Writings", Gallimard, 1931] of Shestov which was to appear in the N.R.F., Gide declined on the excuse that he was too busy. I personally think that his growing orientation towards USSR had something to do with it.

["Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, philosophy of tragedy", Paris, August 1926. We believe that at the time of this conversion, Gide could not have read this book but rather an article by Shestov called "Dostoevsky and the struggle against the self-evident", N.R.F., February 1922]

Shestov tells me of how a friend in Berlin had requested he write a pamphlet about the Soviets. The friend published it without reading, even though Shestov has warned him. He then read the printed book and... had to burn down all the copies.

We go together to Jules de Gaultier's lecture "The biological essence of art". As is well known, this philosopher first articulated the spectacular theory of bovarism which denies both pleasure and suffering and thus all moral valuations. The lecture is followed by an open discussion between Jules de Gaultier, Basch and Lalo. Basch defends feeling: art gives us joy. Charles Lalo believes that, on the contrary, with this kind of avoidance of pleasure and suffering through drama de Gaultier has not defined the specific nature of drama that could distinguish it from other forms of representation that are not artistic.

I leave with Shestov. He says:
- This theory is part Kant, part Schopenhauer. From Kant he took "the altruistic moment" and from Schopenhauer the avoidance of pleasure and suffering. But why has he not gone to the end of schopenhauerian thought? He keeps repeating "I hate morality" ! But in truth he hates existence and loves morality. He rejects existence because it does not please morality. He would have done better to go all the way and, in order to get rid of pleasure and suffering, to declare that the world is evil and to summon nirvana to the rescue. Morality against life: that is what Nietzsche reproached to Schopenhauer.

June 14, 1935, Boulogne

"Once again I am completely uncertain about your circumstances, my dear friend. I understand that you have no time to come to my place, but do try to find a few minutes at least to write a postcard and tell me about your health! What do the doctors say? Surely they had enough time by now to find a diagnostic! I am eager to hear it!
I have some pleasant news: Mme Bespaloff will be visiting Paris soon, I hope you will find a way to come see her..."

July 16, 1935

The other day Boris de Schloezer and Mme Bespaloff were at Gabriel Marcel's. They remarked to Marcel that in his last book ("The broken world", drama in four acts, followed by "Position and concrete approach of ontological mystery", 1933) one noticed obvious shestovian motives. G.Marcel acknowledged his debt:

- This book was written a long time ago. I was then very taken with Shestov's ideas. But at the right moment I saw that he was knocking at the wrong door. And later I realized that where he is knocking there is no door at all.

- Marcel's formula is subtle indeed. But if he wanted to see, he would have noticed that this very discovery is proposed in my own writings. All I ever did was to repeat endlessly that, precisely, there is no door - but that one must knock on that door which does not exist. "Knock and it will be open for you" says the Gospels. It doesn't say: knock here, at this particular place. It is obvious that if a door was given, if we could see that door, we would knock - it wouldn't matter then whether the door would open or not, or if even one were thrown out altogether! There would be a door one could knock at. But here's the problem: it is demanded of us that we should knock without knowing where to knock - this is the important thing to understand. If I chose to struggle against somebody or something, Marcel's argument would stand. But I chose to wage war against the self-evident, against the all-powerful might of the impossible.

- Take a look at this book by Rudolph Otto. I must confess to you that I've known about this author for a long time but never read him. He published a popular book called "Das Heilige" [sanctity]. You understand - "DAS"! So, either through lack of time, or because I disliked the title so much, I never read him. But the other day I saw a book by Otto at Mme de M.., about Western and Oriental mystics. Of course I never let down my philosophical dignity in front of her as I do in front of you, and so I didn't tell her that I've never read Otto - I think I even suggested that I've read "Das Heilige".

- Well, I borrowed that other book and I read it in one shot. Remarkable! Of course there I found everything I dreaded to find. He is talking about Sanctity instead of the Saint. For instance, he compares Sankara (whose ideas, as you know, are considered decadent compared to the Vedas) to Master Eckhart. He finds innumerable similarities and points of contact. He also admits that there are certain differences. But he never talks about these differences. All he says about these is that Eckhart's thought is based in the biblical ground while Sankara's sources are rooted in India's soil... I must add that in this big book the Bible is mentioned at best three or four times. I should also add that Master Eckhart's thought, though remarkable, avoids just as much to touch on the biblical ground. In both cases one is talking about divinity rather than God. Divinity admits of speculation. In the presence of God all speculation ceases.

- Kierkegaard says: "God is your mortal enemy". What speculation could there be in the presence of such a God? Also, the prophets and the Psalmist talk about "clamare" - they "cry out" to God, they do not speculate. One may speculate about divinity because it is immutable, it does not move, it does not answer, it lets one do. But God, if he is (were he even mean, capricious, unpredictable, still he is), today he may not hear you, but tomorrow maybe he will. If there were a divinity, there would be a door... With a capricious God, when you cry out to him and knock - there is no door.

[Das Heilige. Uber das Irrationale in der Idee du Göttlichen und sein Verhaltnis zum Rationalen, Breslau, 1922, 1st ed. 1917, Klotz, 1927]

- Dostoevsky was in his forties when he met Vladimir Solovyov and he appointed Solovyov his master. Dostoevsky was an ignorant man, he too thought that Solovyov, who had learning, would be able to prove what Dostoevsky himself was only vaguely perceiving and guessing at. I was more fortunate than Dostoevsky because I met Husserl, who is my second master after Dostoevsky, my veritable master. There was no chance I could have been mistaken about Husserl the way Dostoevsky was about Solovyov. I understood that not only Husserl would not want or be able to prove what I was feeling but that proof itself was a constraint and was to be avoided at all costs.

- It is interesting that no one understands such a simple thing. Otto, like many others, talks about Hindus' contempt for Western logic. But without logic one can't take one step, not make a single affirmation! If I say: "this ashtray exists", I am required to accept all the consequences implied by the existence of this ashtray. Of course at this particular moment this ashtray serves to collect ash falling off from the cigarettes we smoke, you and I, it is useful to us. And so I am willing to admit that it should exist. But what if this ashtray were transformed, what if it became a Hitler or the plague - now I am forced to admit existence to a Hitler and to plague. At the same time I think that ashtray-Hitler was put here for a purpose, just as much as plague. They may linger on for a moment longer or disappear on the spot: nothing authorizes or forces me to think that plague is. And yet - there is nothing to be done to make it not be: it is, therefore it has been, and it shall be. Speculation requires that it be so. But if Master Eckhart had any basis in the biblical ground, he would have known that I can change to another method: I can renounce speculation that forces me to accept plague, I can resort to crying out, and that alone allows me to refuse plague. There is no "fact". There is only logic that poses "fact", sanctifies it and makes it eternal.

- Dostoevsky, even in his last book "Brothers Karamazov", kept expressing ideas that had nothing to do with Solovyov's - he lost Solovyov along the way. He knew as I know myself that "fact" is all-powerful precisely because it is posed by logic. If it were not all-powerful there would be an abundance of doors. But this limitless power [of logic] makes it impossible for me to find doors. And so I can only cry out, knock where there are no doors. Husserl was the only one who understood the distinction I make between these two facts, both all-powerful and eternal, that is: Socrates is dead, a mad dog is dead. To the eyes of speculation these two truths are identical. However, I am willing to admit that a mad dog is dead and that this should be an eternal fact. But I cannot accept that be eternal the fact of Socrates' death. When I struggle so it is not against something out there, it is against myself that I must struggle, it is inside myself that I must kill the truth of "fact". I keep knocking even though I do not know where God is.

- I don't like war. But if there was a war against Hitler, I would take up arms, even at my age. You know what I think of bolshevism. And yet, if Hitler were to attack the Soviets, we would have to defend them, to prevent Hitler from becoming the master of all of Europe. Between two evils I choose the lesser.

I tell him about the International Congress of Writers where Alexei Tolstoy declared that the idea of death is nothing but a bourgeois obsession.

Shestov's comment:
- Alexei Tolstoy is an excellent writer who has never been intelligent or particularly inclined to think. I remember how once, in Russia, we were invited at Gershenzon's who was a celebrated historian in those days. Gershenzon and Tolstoy were sitting together at one end of the table, I was with Berdyaev and Ivanov at the other. Gershenzon should have been a professor, he liked lecturing. At one point a general silence occurred and one heard the following conversation. Gershenzon was telling Tolstoy that though he was very talented but lacked thought. "Do you believe one must think?", asked Tolstoy with an annoyed expression and brushed his forehead. I cried to him from the other end of the table: "If you want to believe me, I grant you permission to do away with thinking; write what you feel the way you feel." At that Tolstoy crossed himself and said: "So you believe I don't have to think? Thank you!" At the same time this man is quite successful, he knows how to do business better than a Cirtoën.

- Read what Mme Bespaloff writes about Malraux: she puts him on the same level as Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. I find this somewhat offensive. Yes, Malraux and Gide would go very well together - but not next to a Dostoevsky!!!

- Levy-Bruhl told Mme Bespaloff: "I disagree entirely with Shestov. But he is a man of talent and he has the right to express his ideas." I find this beautiful of him. This kind of attitude tends to disappear in this world.

- Gide is too intelligent, it is his intelligence that prevents him from seeing clearly.

- Do you like writing? I hate it. There are times when I quit in the middle of an unfinished phrase, out of complete disgust.

- I am happy that the "Cahiers du Sud" want to publish my lecture about Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky (which was to become the introduction to "Kierkegaard and the existential philosophy"). Certain things had to be said. One must prevent Wahl's "interpretation" from going unchallenged. I might be wrong, but this interpretation offends me.

[Lecture "Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky", given on 5 Mai 1935, published in "Cahiers du Sud", March 1936, no.181]

September 1, 1935, Bourbon-l'Archambault (Allier)

"My dear friend, you will probably be far away from Paris when this letter reaches you - I hope you left a forwarding address and my letter will follow you there. I am very happy you were able to arrange a vacation for yourself. I wish you nothing but finest weather. As you can see my own vacation at Bourbon is practically over and I should be back in Paris on the 14th or 16th. In the meantime, I am preparing a brief review of Levy-Bruhl's "Primitive Mythology" ("Myth and Truth" in Russian, for Berdyaev's magazine). The book is enormously interesting and, if this is at all possible, I suggest you reserve a place for a short review in the "Cahiers du Sud". You will not regret it and neither will the "Cahiers du Sud". It would be a pity if somebody else reviewed it. Therefore you must write it immediately.
I just received a letter from de Schloezer: the translation of my article will arrive on the 29th. Not too late?"

[Put' 1936, under the title "Mif i Istina". French translation "Le Mythe et la Vérité" was published two years later in "Philosophie", Yougoslavia, 1938, III, 1/4 ]

No date, 1935, Boulogne

"Are you in Paris yet, my dear friend? I am about to leave for Palestine, therefore you must come to see me. Also, the translation of my article for the "Cahiers du Sud" is ready to be sent to the editor. When are you going to come? I am waiting for you."

September 1935

- A friend from Czechoslovakia was in Paris and went to a lecture by Pierre Janet about mysticism. He said that Janet had mentioned me and called me a "great mystic". Meaning - a great idiot. One is allowed to - and even must - describe mysticism, but one is not supposed to discuss its ideas.

Shestov was astonished by the ideas Levy-Bruhl had expressed in his new book "The Primitive Mythology" and was eager to see the author so as to question him: How did these ideas occur to him? How did it happen that he abandoned theory for the sake of the metaphysics of knowledge?

- Koyre arrived while I was talking with Levy-Bruhl. He seemed to say: one can do philosophy, write books, talk - but to take all this seriously would be an exaggeration.

October 4, 1935

- Do congratulate me, Shestov says, I am not going to Palestine. The Jews could not manage a 4000 francs deposit requested by England. If it was for a Christian, a Merezhkovsky or a Bunin, they would have done the impossible. I never had any luck with the Jews. I complain about it so often that my brother-in-law is beginning to worry that I have become an antisemite.

Shestov talks philosophy without my prompting him. But I have to show a lot of skill in directing our conversation if I want to make him talk about himself, his early days, his memories.

- I arrived at my vocation as a writer and philosopher late in life. I was already 29 years old when I published my "Shakespeare and his critic Brandes" [published in 1898, Shestov was in fact 32 years old - no translation exists]. Before that all I have written was a Ph.D. thesis in law school about the new work laws. In those days I was reading Kant, Shakespeare and the Bible. I immediately felt that I was against Kant. As to Shakespeare, he moved me so much I could hardly sleep nights. And then one day I read a translation of a few chapters from a book by Brandes about Shakespeare. It got me really angry.
     Some time later I was living in Europe and I read Nietzsche. I felt that a great upheaval of the whole world happened inside this man. I can't really convey to you the impression he made on me.
     Then one day I saw Brandes' book on Shakespeare in a bookseller's window. I bought it, read it and felt the same anger as the first time. In those days Brandes was an important figure. He had discovered Nietzsche, he had connections with Stuart-Mill etc. But he was a sort of a sub-Taine, a small Taine, gifted yes, but his reading was superficial, it skimmed on the surface of things. "We feel with Hamlet, we are experiencing with Shakespeare" as he liked to put it. In other words, Shakespeare did not disturb his sleep.
- And what about you? What was the point of view in your book?
- I was still speaking from a moral perspective which I abandoned shortly after. But even then, this perspective was pushed to such limits it was fairly obvious that the frame was going to crack soon enough. You remember the verse "the time is out of joint". Well, I was then trying to put time back in its joint! Only later did I understand that it was better to leave time out of joint, to let it break to pieces! Needless to say, Brandes was not concerned with this kind of thing, he was quite far from asking such questions.

- After I wrote that first book and tried to approach Nietzsche once more, it occurred to me that with my moral questions I would never be able to understand him. Moral issues did not hold when faced with Nietzsche. This was very different from Brandes for whom Shakespearian tragedy was entertainment, an artistic distraction. Against Brandes I defended myself with an epigraph: "Ich hasse die lesende Müssiggänger" (I hate these reading idlers).
- Have you written anything else than a thesis before your first book?
- Yes, a few short stories. They were quite bad.
[in 1895 Shestov also published an article on Vladimir Solovyov and an article called "Georg Brandes on Hamlet"]
- And what about your thesis?
- I was finishing law school. I must have been 24 years old. I got almost perfect marks on my exams (4.5 out of 5) and to become a doctor of law I wrote a thesis on the new work laws that have just been introduced and which have been recently reviewed by the Inspectors. I could have gotten a diploma without a thesis because "real" students (as they were called in Russia [from German]) enjoyed pretty much the same rights as the doctors of law - only "lovers of culture" and those who flunked their exams were not allowed into official positions. I defended my thesis in Kiev but to publish it I had to submit it to the Censors Council in Moscow. But the commissioner at the Censors Council decided that if ever my thesis were published it would provoke immediate revolution in all of Russia. I went to Moscow to defend my submission. A member of the Council suggested I retrieve my manuscript and redraft it in the suited style. But the commissioner declared that no corrections could make my thesis any less subversive. The manuscript was never given back to me. The only other copy belonged to the University. I could not find my drafts either. The thesis was never published... It discussed the extreme poverty of the Russian peasantry...
- Have you ever studied philosophy at university?
- Never. Never went to a single lecture. I did not think myself a philosopher. In any case, since I started with articles on Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Chekhov, I was considered a literary critic, and I think I believed I was one too.
- Self-taught all through then?
- Yes. Like Meyerson. But while Meyerson read a lot - he read everything - I studied what I read. Once I became attached to an author, be it Kant or Nietzsche, I would study at length everything related to him.

- I was thirty years old when I met Berdyaev. He must have been twenty-four then. We celebrated the New Year 1900 together. In those days when I had drunk I'd become a bit silly and I'd go around mocking people. My friends knew about it and always managed to get me drunk. That night Berdyaev was sitting next to me. And so I mocked him horribly. I made everybody laugh. But after I've sobered up I thought that Berdyaev must have felt offended. And so I asked him to forgive me and drink to friendship [Bruderschaft trinken]. I also told him that he could visit me the next day, if he wanted to show that he had forgiven me. He did. That's how our friendship started. We never understood each other. We quarrel all the time, we yell at each other... He accuses me all the time of making all the writers I talk about into my own image: he says that neither Dostoevsky, nor Tolstoy, nor Kierkegaard ever said what I make them say. I answer every time that he gives me too much credit, that if I really invented everything I say, I should bloat with vanity. That's also why he became a model my wife holds me up to all the time: "do as Berdyaev does, Berdyaev wouldn't do that, Berdyaev says you can eat drink this and not that, etc." Had Berdyaev said that coffee is metaphysical and I agreed with him, my wife would allow me coffee.

Mme Shestov who is present at this conversation laughs goodheartedly. I tell her:
- Between us, I prefer Shestov's philosophy to Berdyaev's.
- I do too, she says.
Now it's Shestov laughing, while Mme Shestov adds:
- Every time Berdyaev visits there are horrible debates. They both get all red in the face. And it's been like that for the last 30 years...

[The dates given by Fondane do not seem exact. Berdyaev and Shestov most likely met at the celebration of New Year's Eve 1902. Shestov was then 36 and Berdyaev 28 years old.]

- It is a pity that Berdyaev was so influenced by German philosophy. I did not study philosophy at university and this allowed me to keep my freedom of thought. I am often chastised for quoting passages that nobody ever quotes, for uncovering texts that were left ignored. It is just possible that, had I gone through a proper training in philosophy, I too would only cite "authorized" texts. By the way, that's one of the reasons why I always quote everything in Latin and Greek. So as to not let them say that I am shestovizing.

December 14, 1935

After his lectures at the Russian Institute, Shestov came to have supper with us. He had warned me the other day at Tatiana's (his daughter, Mme Rogeot) that he would come alone because that way "we talk better".
We discuss my "Heraclitus the Poor" (published in the "Cahiers du Sud") and the reviews it provoked. He congratulates me for once for remaining so calm and on my efforts to tone down my violence.

- As to the Protestants and the Kierkegaardians who call themselves Christian, you could have reminded them what Kierkegaard said about Christians killing Christianity. There is only one thing that I regret in your article: why have you reported our conversations? These are things that I can say in private, not publicly. After my death, if you are still so inclined - that would be a different story...

["Heraclite le Pauvre - ou la nécessité de Kierkegaard", Cahiers du Sud, nov.1935, no.177]

One day I found Shestov tired and worn out, he told me:
- It's nothing. It's the struggle with Kierkegaard that did this to me...

At dinner, in a humorous tone:
- You should know the great event of the day. Tonight we are celebrating Merezhkovsky's 70th birthday... [Dimitri Merezhkovsky, born in Saint-Petersburg in 1865, died in Paris 9 December 1941. His anniversary was celebrated on the 14 December 1935]
- Speaking of which: Schiffrin tells me that Merezhkovsky once wrote a very good book about Tolstoy...
- That's true. About Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. A nietzschean book, imitating even Nietzsche's faults, underlining in Russian translation even the Latin words Nietzsche italicized in the German editions simply to differentiate them from the German text. In those days I have just published my "The Good in the teaching of Tolstoy and Nietzsche" and was looking, unsuccessfully, for a publisher for my "Philosophy of tragedy". Then one day I receive a letter from Diaghilev who was an editor of a Russian art magazine, before moving on to ballet productions. This letter tried to reach me in a number of places as I was traveling across Europe then. It finally found me in Switzerland, I think. Diaghilev has read my essay on Tolstoy and was asking that I collaborate in his Review.
     Forgive my lack of humility in speaking so much of myself. But at the time I had the manuscript of the "Philosophy of Tragedy" ready to go. I sent it to Diaghilev. He said he liked it. I asked for 50 rubles in advance payment and he obliged immediately. I was better off then than I am now but those 50 rubles certainly didn't go unnoticed. Diaghilev warned me however that because of the publication of two books by Merezhkovsky mine would not appear before January (we were in May). In the meantime he asked me to write a review of the first book by Merezhkovsky. I wrote the review, omitting the negatives and concentrating on the positives. I must tell you that Merezhkovsky had read my "Tolstoy" when he was already finishing his first book. He was impressed with my "we must seek God" and with a sort of salto mortale he tried to make some place for God in his own essay. Berdyaev, who was a young man then (he must have been 27) told me: "Merezhkovsky's God comes from you..." Well, in his second book this idea became central. Merezhkovsky put God in every phrase, he spoke of God the way Nietzsche spoke of Antichrist - in a loud voice, with screams and anger... But Nietzsche was already half-mad when he wrote "The Antichrist". Yet even in his madness there was still something of Nietzsche. Merezhkovsky was hardly a Caruso however - he was a small tenor.
     When I returned to Moscow, I went to see Diaghilev. He welcomed me in a friendly manner and immediately began to praise Merezhkovsky's second book which was going to appear in his magazine. I told him directly what I thought of it. He was somewhat shocked but asked nevertheless that I write another review for it and I did. Later on Merezhkovsky came to the Review's office and made a scandal bordering on hysteria.

[The first review was published in "Mir Iskusstva" under the title "Concerning a book by Merezhkovsky", 1901, no.8/9; the second review was called "The Power of Ideas", 1903]

- I forgot to tell you that I had previously met Merezhkovsky at a party. He asked me to visit. I did. He told me that he was going to a reception in Rozanov's honor and asked whether I would like to go with him. I agreed. We arrived at Rozanov's. Merezhkovsky introduces me to everybody but it turns out that no one has heard of me yet. Merezhkovsky got angry and exclaimed: "What is it ! Haven't you heard of the best writer on Nietzsche in all of Russia...!" That was after my review of his first book. But after the second review, he was mad at me for a long time. I told him too many truths. Besides he got on my nerves with his "God" and when he said that Tolstoy deserved a beating for having written that...[I can't remember what]. This review is in my book "Apotheosis of Groundlessness". I did not include it in the French translation. What for? After all we're just two Russian writers in exile. It might have caused him some problems, who knows.
     I never visit him. The other day I saw him in the street, with his wife. "How are you etc". Then he asks me: "Have you decided to go back to Russia?" -" What do you mean? I said. Remizov could go back, he didn't choose sides as yet. But I, after all I've said on bolshevism..." - "No, no!" he tells me, "I am not talking about the Soviets; but in case the government would change..." - "You're still hoping it would?" I answer. -"But Laval's policy is pro-German; Hitler will conquer Russia and will replace the government." To which I replied that, as much as I disliked Stalin, I liked Hitler even less and that this sort of solution was not one to please me... He got angry and we parted on bad terms.
     This is why I did not go to his anniversary today even though I did receive an invitation. I didn't even write him a card.

- Well, you know my politics. I don't understand capitalism and socialism. But after all I did live under capitalism and I suffered from it. Socialism has not had time to do as much evil yet and one can still put some hope in it. But unfortunately, people are being executed by both. Stalin is just as authoritarian as the Tsar...

He speaks about Remizov's extreme poverty and that of Heinemann, and he tells me a couple of interesting anecdotes about it that I did not write down.

- The doctor examined me, put me on a diet for three 8-day periods and once a week I must stay in bed 36 hours in a row, eating nothing but fruit. And in any case, what else is there to do? But my wife is not happy with this. She secretly doubts that the soul is really immortal and, consequently, if one doesn't nourish the body...

- After all, as somebody has said, philosophers made themselves responsible for all the stupidities, so we may be exempted.

- Yes, today a philosopher is a miserable being. Then Hitler comes and the philosopher becomes even more miserable. He is not even allowed to say what he thinks anymore; and he can't change his way of thinking because [voice flexing with irony] Kant is there to remind him that one should not lie.
     Kant once published a short study on religion at the boundaries of Reason - inside, at the boundaries, wherever you wish, but not beyond. He took Jacobi's side against Spinoza, because Spinoza, according to the prevailing opinion, is still too attached to the Old Testament. But read Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. He talks about "tolerance" there... but inside, at the boundaries of reason - not beyond. Thus what Kant serves us is still Spinoza, but a well hidden Spinoza - Kant hides him deeper and deeper in his pockets, at the very bottom even.

I tell Shestov that de Schloezer had a talk with Levy-Bruhl about an article Shestov wrote on Bruhl. Bruhl said: "Sure, sure, but Shestov pulls the blanket to his side." Shestov's reaction:

- So: I've written all the texts of Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, even Kierkegaard, and now I am also appointed Levy-Bruhl's editor.

- Speaking of which. One day Berdyaev was telling me about originality of thought, that one should not hide etc. I went home and for the first time in my life I asked myself: am I original? As I analyzed myself I kept thinking: "this you took from Dostoevsky, this from Shakespeare (a lot), this comes from the Old Testament, etc. All I say has been said by others before - therefore I am not original." But the question of originality itself has always seemed to me, not secondary, but without importance. What matters is to say what must be said, to search what one must search for. Little does it matter whether it has been done and said before. And then I am accused of discovering what I did not discover - Dostoevsky's ideas, Shakespeare's and even the Bible's!

- I told Levi-Bruhl years ago: you are a metaphysician. He denied it. I reminded him of this once more in my review of his latest book "Primitive Mythology" - yes, a metaphysician, but clearly not in the sense of Leibniz for whom metaphysics are an apriori; yet a metaphysician all the same, and a thousand times more so than Leibniz.

Talking about biographies, we discuss the one by Nietzsche's sister who refused to publish her brothers Diary:
- It was probably not noble enough, it did not contribute to raise his prestige. And so... All the biographers do the same; if they believe in courage, honesty etc. They falsify the writer's biography so as to save his prestige. And the writer himself, when he talks about his own life, does the same... most of the time, if not always.

- Bruhl asked Koyre to publish my article about him in Koyre's magazine [Les Recherches Philosophiques]. Koyre, who was originally supposed to do the review himself, was likely quite happy to be relieved of this duty. He must have thought to himself: "The old fool! and here is another fool who wants to talk about his book. But the old fool is at least prudent; the other one is not even prudent, he openly admits to his own silliness. What is Faith? A stupidity! And the Bible? Another stupidity..." Such is their idea.

- When I married my wife all was going well. But ever since she became a doctor, she treats me like one. Of course, I don't really have to obey my wife; but I am definitely obliged to obey the doctor. I should have foreseen this!

Mme Chestov, who is present, reacts:
- He always invents everything! (she seems upset)
- But it is only a joke! I tell her.
- Indeed, I let him talk, I don't get mad, do I? she says.

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When Shestov met with Husserl in Amsterdam during festivities in Husserl's honor. [Shestov met Husserl at a philosophy congress in Amsterdam, 15-23 April 1928]

Husserl to Shestov:
- Why did you attack me [in "Potestas Clavium"]? You know all too well that when I took up professorship I felt I had nothing to go by, nothing to teach, nothing to cling to - and I had to rediscover philosophy bit by bit... What price I had to pay for my first evidences!..

[in Potestas Clavium: "Memento Mori. On Edmund Husserl's theory of knowledge." Revue Philosophique, jan.-feb. 1926, published in Russian in "Voprosy Psikhologii", sept-dec.1917]

Shestov to Husserl:
- I do know! I too, I would never have taken up the struggle against those evidences if your manner of posing them had not provoked me, forced me to even... It is your autonomous evidences, outside of reason and outside of man, true even if man did not exist, that forced me into opposition... Also, if ever, in the other world, I am accused of having opposed the self-evident, I would make you responsible for it! It is you who will burn in my stead!

Shestov about Husserl:
- It is the one man in the whole world whom I thought incapable of understanding my questions. And it is one of the few who understood. Even more - who was able to hear these questions...

December 21, 1935

Shestov on his visit with Husserl in Freiburg, in November 1928.

Husserl is always on his feet and Shestov, despite fatigue, does not sit down. This is out of reverence for old age, says Shestov (although Shestov himself is 63 and Husserl is about 73), and for one's Master. Though Husserl's ideas were very nearly the opposite of Shestov's, he recognized to Husserl the immense merit of having had the courage to think through the demands of Reason - which ultimately created for Shestov a wall of resistance to push against and devise the fundamentals of his opposition. Without Husserl's universal evidences, without his angels, monsters, gods and beasts, there would be no "struggle against the self-evident".

They spent all night talking and continued into the next day without pause. Husserl's wife used to say: "They're like two lovers - inseparable."

Some American philosophers came to see him. Husserl says to them: "Allow me to introduce Mr. Shestov. This is the man who dared to write the most violent critique ever made against me - and that's the reason for our friendship."

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Shestov talks:
- My father had a gift for telling stories. He often told the story of a Jew who was greatly esteemed by everybody as a man knowledgeable in holy things. One day this Jew wanted to publish a book about it. It had to be approved by a Rabbi. He went to see the Rabbi, gave him the manuscript and eagerly awaited the answer. But after six months there was still no reply, despite many and pressing reminders. The Jew got angry and went to see the Rabbi. The latter admitted that he had read the manuscript long ago but, said he: "Forgive me for being so frank. Everybody considers you a very learned man. If you want to stop this, go ahead and publish your book!"
- Quite similarly, everybody waited 20 years for Bergson to publish his book about morality and religion [Les Deux Sources de la Morale et de la Religion, 1932]. If it had not been published, everybody would be lamenting the fact that such a book has not been written, published or finished... And now it's been published and it became clear that Bergson was not a real Scholar, that he had nothing to say! Not only his ideas are common, even his erudition is spurious... He does not dare to consider the Jewish prophets, the apostles, all those uncultured people as "real" mystics - they had no philosophy. He only quotes from such late figures as Master Eckhart, Christian saints, philosophers etc - at least one can talk to such people. What a pity indeed that one cannot abolish at least the Old Testament, if not the New! Hitler could have asked for this."

- In my In the Bull of Phalaris ["Revue philosophique", jan.-feb. et march-apr. 1933, later included in "Athènes et Jérusalem"] I wanted to speak openly about Kierkegaard's story with Regina. But too many people are keen on such stories and they would have laughed at this one. I hate people who find this kind of thing amusing! I told the story all the same but not as openly... And now I am afraid that it might not be clear enough and will be misunderstood!

No date, another time

Cassou in his book "Grandeur et Infamie de Tolstoy" [1932] wrote thus: "the great Russian mystic, Lev Shestov".

- I don't like to be called a mystic and even less "great". This means: understand what you will and in any case there is not much to understand at all. Mystic - it explains everything for it means nothing... "Mystic" means that one's questions are outside philosophy and there is no need to strain oneself to understand them... You remember, Renan used to say that, compared to the Prophets, we are only pygmies. At the same time, in Renan's eyes the prophets were ignorant, vulgar men without any access to truth, while he, Renan, was a learned man, a real scholar... Then why would he, Renan, be a pygmy compared to these obscure and ignorant men? What did they have, those vulgar folks, that made them different and so superior - superior to Renan himself? Renan could not admit that discovery of truth, granted only to the learned, could be revealed to such men and this put him into an untenable position - the only way out would have been to call them mystics! It explains everything since it explains nothing. But if truth is only given to the learned, while mystics only know God knows what, why is it exactly that we, the scholars, should be like pygmies near them?

- I would have preferred that Cassou took all my ideas without mentioning my name. I find it offensive that he names me (together with Keyserling, Paul Valery, Kierkegaard and a bunch of others - all in the same bag!) and understands almost nothing of my ideas... What "infamie" [shame] of Tolstoy is he talking about? Where did he find this? He quotes one phrase of mine: "When philosophy is incapable of answers, when there are no more answers, no way out, then preaching begins." This does not mean, it seems to me, that then "shame" begins. On the contrary, one should see here the great compassion of Tolstoy. One resorts to preaching, to Good and Evil, only when philosophy cannot provide answers - because it is impossible to live without answers... Tolstoy's tension is immense... It is to misunderstand Tolstoy completely to talk about his "shame" and to say that Diaghilev could not have done better publicity for his Russian Ballets than Tolstoy did for his preaching...

- You have read in [Maxim] Gorky's memoirs what Tolstoy thought of my book "The Good in Tolstoy and Nietzsche". It seems to me that Tolstoy has only read the first chapters directly related to him. He had no interest in Nietzsche. Otherwise he would not have said: "Shestov is a Jew... How can a Jew manage without God?" After all my book ends with the phrase: "We must seek God!

[M. Gorky, "Les Trois Russes: L.N.Tolstoy, A.Tchekhov, Leonid Andreev", Gallimard, 1935]

About Goethe:
- Goethe was a disciple of Spinoza, he stopped where Spinoza has stopped. But Spinoza knew why he had to stop where he did, he knew what was on the other side...
Curtius says of Goethe that he was a Protestant... Picture this: Goethe and Luther!

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- The French do not really understand philosophy. Take Gilson. He is an excellent scholar of medieval philosophy. After I published my essay on Pascal ["Gethsemani Night", Les Cahiers Verts, June 1923] he sent me his own article on Pascal. Do read it. It demonstrates that "to stupefy" does not mean "to stupefy" but on the contrary (he finds the article and shows me the phrase): "to fix the instability of reason under the stability of the automaton, that is to submit it to the dumb animal, to stupefy it..." I wonder what he thought my answer would be? That I would agree with him? I replied that what he said was rather interesting. He was offended... His article appeared in a Protestant theology magazine... Remarkable!

- Bergson could have been an excellent philosopher with his first book ["Essays on the immediate data of consciousness", 1889]. I read it when I lived in Switzerland [probably in 1920] and it gave me great pleasure. But then he wrote "Evolution créatrice" [1906]. After that it became obvious that writing "The Two Sources" [1932] would be absolutely unnecessary.

- They never understood Pascal, except in the way Valery understood him: where Pascal saw an abyss, Descartes saw a bridge to build etc.

- If Levi-Bruhl had understood my article "On the sources of metaphysical truths" [Parmenides in chains] he would not have published it in the Revue Philosophique. But he thought I was very talented... And so... It was but a folly! And I say nothing of Brunschvicg...

["Parménide enchaîné. Sur les sources de la vérité métaphysique", Revue philosophique, jul.-aug., 1930. Later included in "Athènes et Jérusalem"]

- They want to explain to me that two plus two make four after all. They think I am unaware of this... Unfortunately, I know this only too well ! All my life I struggled against that part of me which believed precisely that two plus two make four...

- One should abolish proofs in philosophy!

- Once you have wisdom, you have everything, you become God. They may burn you alive and you still have the summum bonum, you are the happy one - and those others are the unrighteous, the miserable ones...

- The Bible attributed a historical mission to the Jews. And so Hegel thought that if the Jews had a historical mission, then the Greeks, the Germans would necessarily have one too. That's how Philosophy of History was born!

- Religions know that man has lost his freedom when he ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge... Nevertheless even the most daring theologians persist in trying to prove God through reason, through science, through the very thing that is forbidden and deprives one of freedom. All the theologians claim that they believe in God - but it is in Socrates that they really believe!!!... And, what's more - in a Socrates corrected by Aristotle !

- Kierkegaard begins by saying that Abraham was the father of Faith and he ends by calling him "the knight of Faith". Do you understand? It is already Socrates speaking!

- Nobody loved the Bible more than Kierkegaard did. But he was afraid of it. And so he always went back to Socrates. It is a strange thing but it's just so: Nietzsche had more faith in God than Kierkegaard!

January 13, 1936

- Koyre has promised to publish my article on Levy-Bruhl. And now he wants to submit the article to his editorial board.
- Maybe it's just a formality.
- No, he's concerned that the article might not be right for his magazine, that it's "tref" [impure], as the Jews say - and it is "tref".

- I look at the students who come to my lectures. They hope that I will do for them the difficult work and will give them easy answers. But as I grow old it becomes harder and harder for me to find answers, there are more and more difficulties... Once upon a time a Russian philosopher read my books and came to see me. "What am I to do after reading your books?" he asked. I almost answered: "And now, it is your turn to try and convince me of the very things I tried to convince you!"

- Kierkegaard suffered from sexual impotence. I have always suffered from a general impotence, from the feeling of being bound, of not being able to move.

- I remember John Gabriel Borkman (Ibsen). He leaves his fiancée. Later on, when he explains to her why he had left her, she says: "That's what the original sin is all about." She understood that to prefer ideas to life is what original sin is all about.

- My sister [Mme Lovtzky] was a student (in psychoanalysis) of Dr Eitingon who once hesitated between Freud and myself - he was reading me at the same time. He wrote to me about this and also wanted to translate my book on Tolstoy and Nietzsche into German. But it never happened, I can't remember why. Later he told me that Freud was obliged to think the way he did because he was of the medical profession. Nowdays Dr Eitingon is himself a good freudian; he must be thinking now that my philosophy is nothing but "Schwärmerei", as Kant used to say of Swedenborg.

- Kant used to say that there were three things most important to man: God, immortality of the soul and free will. But how does one determine the value of these important things? Let's go see a judge on this, Reason of course. But why do I need a judge between myself and what I want? Sometimes Kant says that reason gives him a certain feeling of contentment. However in his "Why is there no theodicy?" he says that "all men who've lived a long life (he was 70 at the time, like myself now) would not want to live their life again" if they were given such an opportunity. Now, he is not talking about contentment anymore, he is talking about refusal of the will to live. Very much like Schopenhauer. Yet Nietzsche wanted to live, he wanted to live the same life, the eternal recurrence. Therefore even if there were only one Nietzsche who's lived a long life and still did not share Kant's opinion, how can one talk about "all men..."

- Heine was right to say that Kant was more of a fearsome revolutionary than Robespierre. Robespierre only cut off people's heads, Kant beheaded God Himself.

I submit to Shestov's approval my introduction to my "Conscience Malheureuse". He says of the first part, entitled "Preface for Today": it's ok.
But the second part makes him uneasy. He begins by pointing out that I contradict myself, weaken my own position when writing: "man's interests, the interests of existence are above those of knowledge; we are ready, if need be, to sacrifice knowledge, just as knowledge has decided to sacrifice existence..."

- I wouldn't have pointed this out to you if I didn't know what you say in the essays collected in this volume, what you are trying to say there. It is not about the sacrificio intellectus. What you want is not to renounce knowledge but to overcome it. You are not renouncing knowledge, you are asking: what is knowledge? by what right does it interfere in our questions? who is knowledge? For us knowledge is supression of freedom. It is not a matter of improving it, perfecting it, and still less of letting it do everything by itself, while we somehow develop our existence on the side, as it were.

This reminds me that Shestov has already made the same remarks concerning a similar passage in my "Rimbaud le Voyou". I have quoted Pascal's "real eloquence mocks eloquence, real morality mocks morality; to mock philosophy is to philosophize for real" and I've concluded with real morality, real philosophy. Shestov stopped me:

- But that's exactly what they want! If there exists somewhere a real morality, a "real" philosophy, then we agree with them! As long as there is still some morality, some philosophy to salvage!

I've corrected this passage to the following: "Rimbaud might mock morality, but he is no less a philosopher for that..."

Shestov also doesn't want me to write as I do that I am fairly ignorant in philosophy, that I know neither Greek nor Latin.

- But you are not ignorant in philosophy! You must not, out of modesty, let them think that if only you knew... You did not arrive at philosophy by the usual road, that's true. But fortunately this allows you to be more daring in questioning, to question knowledge... Do not let them off the hook so easily by making them treat you as a poet, a mystic. You are a philosopher. Lazareff told me about your polemics with Wahl, how you destroyed Wahl.

[B. Fondane, "Héraclite le pauvre, ou nécessité de Kierkegaard", Cahiers du Sud, Marseille, nov. 1935, XIII, no. 177, pp. 757-770. In this article Fondane analyzes essays on Kierkegaard published by Jean Wahl, Rachel Bespaloff and Denis de Rougemont, confronting their views with Shestov's.]

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Just as William James and Kierkegaard rejected Hegel's ideas, so did Shestov find in Husserl an adversary to fight against. "Whatever you want to make of it, I am still your disciple", said Shestov to Husserl who, at age 70, could not comprehend how he could have a disciple, let alone an anti-disciple, in this old Russian philosopher who was himself nearing 60 at the time.

One night we were discussing Freud whom I accused of being too scientific in philosophy, too optimistic, like a Haeckel, a Buchner, a Darwin. Shestov's sister, Mme Lovtzky, herself a psychoanalyst and a pupil of Freud, protested against my remarks and Shestov told us that once, at the instigation of his sister, he sent to Freud his book "Potestas Clavium". Freud took up the book, looked through at random and chanced on a passage where Shestov spoke of Darwin in an irreverent manner. Whereupon Freud threw the book away in indignation and never looked at it again. At the same time he had read "Gethsemani Night" [Shestov's essay on Pascal] cover to cover and without any displeasure.

- If Christ came today, for Hegel he would only be a poor Jew, a madman in need of a straight-jacket etc. But two thousand years later, with all that perspective in time, the "historical event" of it, Hegel cannot refuse Him his audience. If nothing else, He must have had genius. It is for the very same reason that official academia today feels authorized to discuss Boehme, Kierkegaard. But, were they our contemporaries...

January 18, 1936

An unforgettable evening! Shestov came to have dinner with us, directly after his lecture at the Slavic Institute. I read to him the post-scriptum to my preface for "Conscience malheureuse" and he later re-read it himself. This time it's ok, he said. After dinner we went up to my room, just the two of us, and tackled again some old questions, about the writer's plight in particular.

- I don't like writing. I only got down to it at age 28, and by pure chance at that. If I had to make my living as a lawyer, it's very likely that it would never have occurred to me to write. For me writing is not even work - it is torture. When, after I had long reflected on something, I have to start writing it down, I first need to repeat to myself over and over again: it's time to write, it's time to write. I have to do violence to myself, to literally nail myself to the desk - and I am always in such a hurry to be done with it. Which is why I never work on my writing. I have no notion of the joy of writing. I write from memory but the writing process itself seems to me a waste of time. I used to imagine that my books would convey the same boredom as I suffered in writing them. And since I don't work on my style, I imagined that my style must be quite mediocre. It was such a surprise the first time, when I published my "Tolstoy and Nietzsche" and some Russian students in Bern (I stayed in a village near Bern then) told me that it was unheard of to treat of such serious matters in such a beautiful style. It left me speechless... But with me even reading is mechanical. I record, without getting too deep. Only later do I get back in memory to what I have read and then thinking kicks in.

- While I was writing my book on Kierkegaard, I took the time to re-read Kant, Schopenhauer. I've already re-read all of Leibniz for my article on Gilson, and lately Plotinus. It's absolutely remarkable! Plotinus respected the great Greek tradition, he talked quite a bit of Noûs (intelligence) and epistheme (knowledge), even more than some others at times. One could say he exaggerated it all on purpose. But there comes a moment in his philosophy when he wants to be rid of Noûs, when he defies Greek thought as a whole - this is something nobody wants to see in him. Of course Aristotle did say that nobody can be happy inside a Bull of Phalaris. On the other hand, the Stoics knew better, they understood that ethics is autonomous, that one had to be happy even inside the Bull of Phalaris. Aristotle came to the conclusion that necessity could not be opposed, one could only submit to it, and therefore philosophy had to be built on something else than virtue. But the Stoics saw that if virtue alone, duty alone, could be taken as an answer to necessity, then one had no right to give in, even inside the Bull. It might be less honest of a position, but it is certainly more consequential!
- But Plotinus tried to go beyond the Noûs of Aristotle and the Stoics. Tradition says that he was a happy man. But this is not true. His biographers (his disciples) do say that he was ailing, his ailments tormented him... After all, Plotinus understood that as long as he is confined to the body, he has no other choice but to obey Noûs, to do his best of his Bull of Phalaris, not because beatitude proemium virtutis est but rather because there is nothing else to be done about it. But after, after... beyond the after Noûs will have no more power.

Benda told Schloezer that it was a shame for the Jews to have produced a Bergson.
- Speaking of Schloezer. You see, Schloezer too tells me that what I am doing is perhaps better than philosophy, but that it's not philosophy as such.

Turkish coffee is brought to my room. My wife and her sister spend the rest of the evening with us. For half an hour and with wonderful humor, Shestov tells us a lovely story about how he was made into a grand-grand-father (when we asked how his grand-daughter was doing):

- If you want to be patient with me, I'll tell you... Well... You know that in our household Berdyaev is revered as the model of all virtues... Berdyaev here, Berdyaev there - I am always measured against his example. "You see, you've achieved nothing, you've never been wise, what have you gotten out of all this? Of course (forgive me for reporting it) there is Fondane; but he's young and somewhat dumb. And what sort of future can he hope for with you?" Do forgive me.. You are probably wondering what it is I am driving at here. But be patient...
- When I got married it all went very well at first. Four years later we already had our two children. But then my wife got her two diplomas as a doctor, one in Bern, another in Moscow. And then she started to boss me around, not as my wife but as my doctor she said. "It's no good this way, I told her, according to the Bible it's for the wife to obey!". But such was not her view. I had to comply. Are you bored yet? No? Then I'll continue.
- About eight years ago we were as usual spending the summer at Châtel-Guyon. My wife has her clients there. Fine. You probably know that there is this magazine that everybody in France seems to read - I wasn't aware of that - it's called "Les Annales". One day we are having our lunch at the hotel and a woman comes to our table with this magazine in hand: "Do you know, the Countess of Noailles is talking of Monsieur Shestov here". She left us the issue and went her way. Ten minutes later there comes another lady with the same magazine in hand. I began to worry. Finally there came a note from a third lady, a very important lady this time, who was staying at the Grand Hotel and, having read that article in the "Annales" about the husband of Mme Shestov, now desired to meet Monsieur Shestov in person - which is why she was inviting us to have dinner with her this very same night. I hesitated but my wife gave me orders... as my doctor of course, not as my wife. This woman was her client. Very well then.
- "You must go have a haircut at the best barber in town, she tells me, not the cheap 4-cent barber you usually go to." Then she looks at my tie and sees that it is not a very good tie. "I will go buy you a new tie in the meantime". Fine... Be patient with me, I will get to that grand-grand-father part eventually. Well, I must tell you that I don't like those expensive barbers. I avoid spending money on futilities. But I had no choice. Then we went to the Casino. And at the Casino there was this very important looking man strolling around.
- You see, my wife tells me, this must be some minister.
- No, I said, it is probably just a Russian Jew.
- Can't be.
- But I am telling you!
- No way.
- So he is.
A moment later in the garden we walk past the "minister" and his wife. He had an umbrella hanging from his shoulder and we overheard his wife telling him in a very yiddish Russian: "How many times do I have to tell you that an umbrella is not a rifle? You must carry it on you arm!" I turn to my wife and say: "You see, I was right! And it's not for man to obey but for his wife. I was right all through!..." My wife acted as if my words meant nothing. Then we parted ways - I had to go to the barber, and she to buy me a tie. You must never disclose this to her but I really don't like useless expenses... Why pay ten or twelve francs rather than five! All barbers are the same. And thus I went to my regular barber. On my way back who is it I see coming my way and with an umbrella still hanging from his shoulder? The "minister" of course. I couldn't resist the temptation. I went to him and said:
- "Don't you know that an umbrella is not a rifle and must be carried on the arm?" But as soon as I blurted this out I realized how very improper it was of me to act this way and I fled on the spot. I arrived at the hotel and found my wife on the couch, reading a magazine, with the new tie at her side.
I told her:
- "You see how disastrous it is to act against the Bible! I am so used to obey now that even a few minutes ago, when I met your minister, I could not bear that he would disobey his wife and I had to remind him that an umbrella is not a rifle. And now I am afraid that he might send the police after me!"
- Are you sure that's all you said to him? my wife asked. You are quite sure you didn't call him an idiot or an imbecile?
- No, I did not!
- In that case you have nothing to worry about, there will be no retaliation.
So I stopped worrying. In the evening we went to visit the lady from the Grand Hotel who told me that Countess of Noailles has spoken of me in the "Annales". This made me very happy. "You'll never be wise! my wife said to me. Perhaps only when you'll get to be a grand-father." But now I am finally a grand-father and I am not any wiser. Berdyaev is still the model of all virtues and I can't compete. Of course - do forgive me - there is Fondane... but he is young and dumb... As to his future...! One would think it was enough of a lesson. But no, there were still hopes as to my getting wiser with age. One day the idea surfaced that were I a grand-grand-father, things would change perhaps... And everybody began trying to convince me that I was indeed a grand-grand-father. But when I presented myself as such at a social gathering, everybody mocked me.
- "You see, I said to my wife, what a bad thing it is not to follow the Bible! I obeyed you, I believed myself to be a grand-grand-father and everybody mocked me!"
- "You shall never be wise", my wife concluded.

We laugh ourselves into tears. Shestov adds:
- Don't pass this story around. Imagine what Jean Wahl would think! He is already saying that "Notes from the Underground" are nothing but kid stuff. He will surely think I am just a kid if he hears this!"

No date

About Bergson's book, "The two sources of morality and religion":
- Schopenhauer says of love that when Nature works at her goals, generation for instance, it makes John believe that Mary is beautiful and makes Mary think of John as a hero... But us, we know that it's all a fake, that Mary is ugly and John is a coward... In the same way we know, according to Bergson, that God is nothing less than a hero...
- It seems that human intelligence was created (by Nature, apparently) in view of action only. And then all of a sudden this intelligence found itself superior to the tasks originally prescribed to it. It started to think on its own. That's how it arrived at creating gods.
- According to Bergson, gods were thus created at the College de France [where Bergson gave his lectures], those gods at least that are called idols in the Bible. And what if men did not want of those gods created in batches at the College de France? However Bergson is reverent to gods, he lets everything pass, nothing offends him, he even demonstrates a great respect for the Bible. But after all - why preserve gods and show respect to them when our "free" opinion sees them as ugly and cowardly? And how does he know that John is a coward? Who appraised him about the designs of Providence? Who gives him the certainty that what he sees is really as he sees it? Yes - Facts! But I do not know, and I don't think Bergson knows either, what is a Fact. To have facts, one must already know what fact is, one must have already decided on what is possible and what is impossible, on the principle of contradiction etc.
- For the past two years I've been reading only Kierkegaard, Luther, Plato, Nietzsche. And when I left these giants to read Bergson I hit the ground. Why did Bergson even write this?

No date.
After the Writers' Congress in USSR [Moscow, August 17 - September 1st, 1934]

On Gorky and what he said about Dostoevsky:
- He dares to say it now. He is happy to take his revenge on Dostoevsky after forty years of incomprehension. He thought the same things thirty years ago but did not dare to voice them. In those days he was easily frightened, humiliated, his ignorance embarrassed him. One day a friend asked me to send to Gorky a manuscript by a young writer who had no money. I did send it. Gorky wrote back and asked for my own books. I sent those too. He replied in a humble evasive tone, because he was afraid to let show his ignorance. I lost this letter during the war - with the rest. Gorky has a certain talent but that's all one can say about him as a writer. How can one compare him to Chekhov? He never understood Dostoevsky, and in the same way he never understood Nietzsche. He thought it was about physical power, slaps in the face... He constructed a female character in one of his novels with this very idea in mind.

- In 1919 I was teaching philosophy courses in Kiev. We were going hungry. Tatiana and Natasha worked for peasants and were paid in food. I disliked teaching but asked for additional lectures to read. The word of our situation got around. Some young communists came to see me and asked whether I had a book ready to print. Conveniently enough I had just finished my "Potestas Clavium". They offered to publish it. A month later they came back, all embarrassed, and asked whether I would mind very much to add a page at the end of the book where I would declare myself a materialist...

Shestov went to Berlin to give a lecture at the Nietzsche-Gesellschaft and at the reception that evening found himself sitting next to Einstein [probably 1927]. Shestov has heard of Einstein but knew nothing of theoretical physics, and Einstein was vaguely aware of Shestov's existence, if only from the introductions that evening: a great Russian philosopher, a friend of Husserl etc. Since they were sitting next to each other, Einstein asked Shestov to explain to him Husserl's philosophy, preferably in a few words or less.

- But I couldn't possibly do it in a few words, Shestov replied. It would take a good hour or two..
- I have time, Einstein said.
How to begin? Shestov wondered.
- If you were given to meet Newton, here now or in the other world, what would you talk about with him? About evidence, proofs, truth, or rather about the mass of light, the curvature of the earth etc.
- Yes, about these very things, Einstein agreed.
- Well, Shestov replied, if a philosopher met Newton he would rather ask about truth, the immortality of the soul, about God... But you, you assume that these things are well known and need no discussion...
- Obviously so, Einstein replied.
- Well, Shestov continued, these very things that are obvious to you are not obvious to a philosopher. He asks these questions as if they never had an answer.

After which Shestov tried to explain to Einstein what Husserl meant by his evidences, and even touched on his own struggle with these evidences as posed by the great Freiburg philosopher. But Einstein had a hard time following him. They met a second time and Einstein asked Shestov to continue with his lecture. But he could not remember a thing of what was said during their first encounter.

February 1st, 1936

Shestov came to have supper with us after his lecture. He has been appraised of the preparations surrounding the celebration of his seventieth anniversary. As I have predicted and told Tatiana, Shestov readily accepted that his book on Kierkegaard be published, but refused the idea of a reception at the "Young Russians" society.

- Why a reception? he said. Everybody will want to talk. I will be compared to Plato, Aristotle and thereafter everybody will feel satisfied. I am quite sure they will all put a lot of zeal into this and will imagine that they have understood it all. Levy-Bruhl, Jean Paulhan and Jules de Gaultier readily accepted to participate on the committee that will be publishing my book... at the expense of the subscribers, if such are found.
Shestov doesn't seem to believe there will be any.

We are talking about Max Scheler whose book "The nature of sympathy" has just been published in French translation.
[Nature et forme de la sympathie. Contribution a l‘étude des lois de la vie émotionnelle, Paris, Payot, 1928, 384 p.]

- He's a charming individual. I first met him at Pontigny [summer 1923]. I've just read his "Das Ewige im Menschen" in a German newspaper then. [Vom Ewigen im Menschen, Leipzig, 1923 Berlin, 1933, 725 p]. A catholic and a husserlian - I found the combination bizarre and I told him so. "I'm over this", Scheler replied. He was not a catholic anymore. I was later told that he became a catholic because of his marriage and that he ceased to be one as soon as he divorced. This sounds a bit like malicious gossip. But it's also true that women played an important role in his life, he talked a lot about women. I saw him again in Frankfurt, after his visit to Paris [April 21, 1928]. He was together with some professors and he wanted to invite us all to a good dinner. He took an inordinately long time to choose a restaurant. Finally he brought us to a place called "Falstaff". The portions there were enormous and it was all way too much for me. I only tasted two choices from the menu, the others ate it all. Scheler too ate a lot, despite his heart condition which demanded a strict diet. He forgot he was a philosopher and ate like a poet. He died two weeks later.[in Frankfurt, on May 19, 1928].

- Scheler was a disciple of Husserl, but Husserl did not like him very much. His manner of thinking and writing was not rigorous enough, not serious enough for Husserl's taste. And in any case he never understood Husserl. When I told him about those worries Husserl had, he refused to admit that anything at all could worry Husserl. Why worry? He did not understand that Husserl went to the roots of things out of desperation - the roots of things did not ring a bell with Scheler. At the same time he was very talented, had sharp insights. But he just never understood these things. Husserl did understand however and Husserl also understood my own questions, even though he was neither a believer nor a catholic.

February 5, 1936

I went to see Shestov to give him a check Victoria Ocampo has sent to my address, to pay for Shestov's article published in her Review Sur.
[« Kierkegaard y Dostoievsky », SUR, Buenos Aires, nov. 1935, no. 14, pp. 7-39.]

Shestov showed me an essay by Marcel de Corte about mystical experience, published in the "Revue Carmélitaine":
- I read an article by Marcel de Corte about St John of the Cross and Plotinus. I am in general rather suspicious of John of the Cross - he is too much of a darling with the philosophers. (And he cites a text where John of the Cross reminds us that God told Moses to look at his back. John of the Cross then adds that for the mystical union to occur one has to look at God's face.) He wanted to see more than Moses did. But he forgot what God has added: "if you look at my face you will die". Marcel de Corte says of St John of the Cross and of Plotinus that they were both sincere. I should think they were! But what a strange term to describe it! In any case there is no connection between this sincerity and "philosophical honesty".

[Marcel de Corte, "L‘expérience mystique chez Plotin et saint Jean de la Croix", Revue carmélitaine, Paris, 1932 (2), pp. 164-215.]

- It's surprising that Marcel de Corte talks phenomenology and appeals to Husserl. I even have the feeling that his quotes from Plotinus are taken from my second essay on Husserl [*], even though he doesn't mention me - I am not an academic, am I... But since I was confronting Plotinus and Husserl, it seems that this gave him the idea to demonstrate that there is no real opposition there. He certainly has enough texts to cite in defense of his thesis. Plotinus has always hidden under the cover of platonic and even aristotelian tradition. He passed under this label everything he had to say which was not always as orthodox as we are led to believe. He was afraid to be branded a "misologos" [hater of reason]. And so he always knew when to use those irrefutable arguments of his - "one must", and "necessity". Look at the naïveté of de Corte, such an able and experienced commentator, who nevertheless writes that while philosophy cannot know the mystical experience as it is lived by a mystic, it can still describe it, and that such a description will be valid given the "sincerity" of a Plotinus or a John of the Cross. But if he understands sincerity (and he does) as equivalence between inner experience and its explicit confession, then what candor on his part!

- How is it possible to be sincere in such a manner? It was impossible for Plotinus to express his thought directly without being branded a "misologos" - and to be called a "misologos" was a grave matter in his time, much more so than today. He thus tried to pose his questions as if they were orthodox, the way Aristotle would have posed them. But didn't he say that philosophy was the most important thing in the world? Didn't he talk about the "ultimate struggle" [ultimate struggle awaits the soul]? He also said that in the presence of One all understanding comes to an end, that rising above understanding is the goal to strive for. Yes, he explained the world as an emanation from One, that One was overflowing with its own fullness and had to originate the world which is thus only a downward flow... But how could he know that One had overflown out of its own fullness? that it was obliged to engender anything? Doesn't this idea come from empirical facts?...
- Plotinus' "sincerity" went beyond his own writings and look what happened! Just as Socrates did, Plotinus' disciples went to consult the Delphic oracle. And what were they told there? Look here (Shestov takes the first volume of the "Enneads" in French translation). It talks about love, not about necessity, and yet nobody took notice of these profound words of the oracle.

[« Qu‘est-ce que la vérité ? » (Shestov's reply to an article by Jean Hering about Shestov and Husserl), Revue philosophique, jan.-feb. 1927, pp. 36-74. The Russian original was published in Sovremenniya Zapiski, no. 30, 1927. Article later included in Shestov's book In Job's Balances (Russian version) and Le Pouvoir des Clefs (French edition).] [See the English version]

- I know that Plotinus' biographers, including Porphyry, say that he was "ashamed of his body". Do you know that towards the end of his life Plotinus became ill, his body was covered with ulcers, and as he was fond of embracing his friends, the stench from his ulcers and from his stomach (he had gastric problems) bothered them and drove them away, so he was left all alone and retired from the world into his country home. It was not a sense of shame that he felt towards his body - it was a sense of powerlessness! He was powerless, just as Kierkegaard with his sexual impotence, and I with my... Not to be able to do anything when one is burdened with hardships and wounds - of necessity! Then of course one is moved to "rise above" these things, one "dominates" necessity saying that one is ashamed of one's body, one's sex. That's how "greatness" is reached, the sublime...
- I too reached for the sublime in my first book ("Shakespeare and his critic Brandes")... I was dealing with exactly the same problems as today but I solved them philosophically: I explained King Lear through Brutus, and when speaking of Job I sided with Job's friends. Later I abandoned "the sublime". After the publication of my "The Good in the teaching of Tolstoy and Nietzsche", "Philosophy of Tragedy" and "Apotheosis of Groundlessness", a Russian professor told me with a certain bewilderment that he could understand if I had moved from these writings towards the "sublime" of my first book on Shakespeare, but not the other way around!

- It's true that I am usually forgiven a lot of things on account of my "honesty" (that's not very far from de Corte's "sincerity"). Indeed, I've always said that "the wall" remains, it is the head that hits against it that gets broken... and since it's only the head that gets broken, nothing is lost. The wall remains - that's the important thing...
- One talks about "description". But what's a description? Each person sees in it what imports to her. For instance, in this room what is important to me is a portrait of Tolstoy over there. But this portrait is smaller than the other portraits around it, it is so small it is barely noticeable among the others. On the other hand, this room contains (he looks around and counts) one, two, three - four chairs. One could discuss these chairs, infer conclusions about my "taste" etc. But these chairs do not matter to me one bit! While that small, insignificant portrait of Tolstoy, or Chekhov's maybe too, these are the things that really matter to me...

- Yes, write to Wahl. Provoke him! So that he might finally write what he thinks about me, let him define my "stature". He can do it as violently as he pleases, and with insults too! I understand that by my "stature" he means my lack of grandeur, of sublimity. But as I told you already - I too was sublime once...

[I can't recall to what refers this allusion about "stature". It was certainly in some text by Wahl, but which one?]

- When my book "The Good in the in teaching of Tolstoy and Nietzsche" was published, a student asked if she could read it: "Is it a difficult book?" I told her I did not really know. It was up to her to try and see. And she did. Some time later I met her again and she said: "But your book is very easy to read. I was even wondering whether a philosopher is allowed to write in such a simplistic manner." The very same day I met a Russian philosopher who said to me:
- Your book is really very good! But I have a remark to make: why don't you give some slack to the reader? Your book is too tightly packed, too concise. One gets lost in it. On the other hand, some other reader told me once:
- How strange: your books are so easy to read, everything seems obvious and then, when the reading is done, one hasn't understood anything.

- Strange! Just like Kierkegaard, but without knowing him, I wrote that the gods of Olympus must be laughing at Hegel. I had no knowledge of Kierkegaard. During my visit to Frankfurt everybody was talking about Kierkegaard [after the philosophy congress in Amsterdam (see conversation on December 21, 1935), Shestov went to Frankfurt at the end of April 1928.]. There was no way this name could be avoided. So I admitted that I haven't read him since this author was unknown in Russia. And I added: "Even Berdyaev who reads everything has not heard of him."
- Then, when I met Heidegger at Husserl's [in Freiburg, November 1928], I cited to Heidegger a few of his own passages which, according to my understanding, had the potential to collapse his system. I was deeply convinced of this. I had no idea then that these passages in Heidegger were due to Kierkegaard's influence and that all Heidegger had done was to try and fit these ideas into a husserlian context. After Heidegger had left, Husserl approached me and made me promise that I would read Kierkegaard. I couldn't understand why he was so insistent about it - Kierkegaard has nothing to do with Husserl's concerns, I don't think Husserl even liked him. Today I think that he probably wanted me to read Kierkegaard so I may better understand Heidegger.

[In another conversation Shestov specifies:
-I don't know if Heidegger's lecture "What is metaphysics?" is a follow-up to our encounter but in any case it does seem that something has collapsed. I am still waiting for it...]

February 28, 1936

"My dear friend, your letter brought me a great joy. Having had no news from you for so long I was about to lose all hope. But you already have the proofs - which means that your book ["Conscience malheureuse"] is going to be published soon and I congratulate you from the depth of my heart. What a struck of luck it is to have such a loyal editor! As to your doubts, those are only normal and unavoidable. It's the eternal law: no matter how much others might praise you and show their appreciation, you will always be dissatisfied with yourself and blame your own faults. Such is the destiny of a writer and more so of a philosopher. But you chose this destiny for yourself, nobody forced you. Everyone of us can say to himself: 'Tis your own fault, George Dandin!' I am also sending you..."

March 6, 1936
[Wrong date. Shestov and Fondane visited Maritain on Saturday, March 6, 1937. Shestov's letter to Fondane from March 2, 1937.]

Mme Maritain wrote to invite me to their home in Meudon on Sunday. She said there will also be a young Hinduist, Olivier Lacomb, who expressed the desire to meet Shestov, since Masson-Oursel had asked him for some information about Ramanuja and said it was on Shestov's request. Which is why Mme Maritaine was now inquiring whether Shestov would be willing to accompany me to Meudon on Sunday. We both went. A long conversation took place about translations and various editions of Shankara and Ramanuja.
- I certainly hope you are going to write a book on this subject, Maritain said.
- Perhaps, but in the next world, Shestov replied. It would require so much work, so much reading that I could not possibly pull it off. But I derive a great pleasure from reading the Hindus, they make me see clearer on certain points of our own thought.

After Lacomb left, Shestov elaborates on other questions:
- According to Aristotle, the world has not been created, and everything created is imperfect. But according to the Bible, God created the world and man in his own image, and after each day of creation He said: valde bonum, all this is perfect. It is the original sin that has corrupted this perfection and not the fact that these beings were imperfect because of their having been created. I am not saying whether Aristotle or the Bible is right; I am saying that these approaches are very different.

No date

- To understand Kierkegaard, let me tell you of a passage in Deussen's "History of Philosophy" where Deussen says that in Christian prayer there are seven requests and that it is a great honor for this prayer that only one request out of seven deals with lowly, material matters: "give us our daily bread". The rest is thoroughly concerned with the purely ideal - the sublime. But Kierkegaard was not fond of finding so much sublimity in prayers, even with the mystics. He regretted the lack of lowly prayers. Philosophy has always thought that lowly things do not depend on God, that God has no say in base matters. If you want bread, get to work or steal it etc. It's not through prayers that you are going to get it. If we pray, God will give us eternity, infinity, beatitude, love etc. But not bread - God can't give you bread.

No date

- I've been a revolutionary ever since my eighth year, my father didn't know what to do with me. I ceased to be a revolutionary much later, when "scientific" socialism, marxism, became popular.

About Socrates:
- To establish a sure criteria of Good and Evil, Socrates referred to the art of the cook who can either poison you or procure you healthy and sustaining food. Isn't that the philosopher's role too? The comparison seems justified. But this same Socrates has said that philosophy is a preparation for death, so one has to disregard flesh etc. In which case, the example of the cook's art is wrong since it is in poisoning us that the cook would be working towards our good and it is in flattering our appetites and insuring our health that he would be doing us harm. What is then the value of criteria obtained in this manner?

[see Potestas Clavium, Part II, "Music and Phantoms"]

March 21, 1936

I told Shestov that I could not understand how he could be so young at seventy years of age...
- Yes, I am young in a certain sense. But not in the sense that you think. Forty years ago I was just as powerless against things, suffered the same torments as today. Nothing has changed it seems, except my hair going white. But what does it matter, those white hair, don't you think?

I give him to read the proofs of my article: "Shestov in search of lost Judaism" [Chestov à la recherche du judaisme perdu. La Revue juive de Genève, IV, no. 37, april 1936]. Shestov sees a quote from Nietzsche which I found in the recent edition of Nietzsche's Nachlass - he is startled:
- Where did you find this text?
I tell him where.
- You see! And they keep saying that I make Nietzsche speak in my own words! But this quote - this is the whole of my book on Tolstoy and Nietzsche!
To which I reply:
- That's precisely what I am saying in my essay about you, "La Conscience malheureuse" [Unhappy Consciousness].

(Nietzsche's quote referred to here: "Refutation of God: on the whole, it is only the *moral god* that is being refuted.")

No date [March 20, 1936]

Shestov asked me to come see him before his departure for Palestine. He is finally going! I've seen him last week when the Russian Academic Union was celebrating his 70th anniversary - Milyukov, Lazareff and Levy-Bruhl gave talks. Shestov has initially refused to participate in these "festivities" but had to change his mind at last because of the presence of Levy-Bruhl. He was afraid to offend him. Levy-Bruhl has once again shown an inexplicable kindness, just as he has when he decided to open his Revue Philosophique to Shestov's long articles. In his talk he wondered whether Shestov was or was not a philosopher and concluded that indeed he was. He even instituted Shestov as "historian of philosophy", with all the dignities implied. Of course, Shestov was a bit too original in this role, this originality rendered his "models" almost unrecognizable. But it was a bona fide talk of support - Levy-Bruhl clearly wanted to please Shestov. He said as much in front of me to Jules de Gaultier afterwards: "I especially wanted to please him".

[Shestov's 70th anniversary (13 February 1936), celebrated at U.A.R. (Russian Academic Union) on 14 March 1936.]

To introduce his question about whether Shestov was or was not a philosopher, Levy-Bruhl alluded to a certain conversation with Meyerson. Shestov explained:
- Meyerson said something like that to me too, but it was in a mocking tone. We were talking about how philosophers didn't want to read my books. "Perhaps they don't know you are a philosopher and think of you as a fiction writer?" Meyerson is a very intelligent man and an incredibly well-read one at that. But of all his readings he's only remembered the scientific bits because that's what imports to philosophy in his view. Everything else is simply not "rigorous" enough. And who reads Meyerson today?
I said that Meyerson's critique of science remains valid.
- But he did not care about that, he was concerned with its "construction". He was convinced that his philosophy was the best, the most original. According to him Spinoza was not a scientist, because Spinoza did not take into account astronomy etc. He effectively demonstrated that science was powerless to reach at truth and yet he refused to concede the right to look for truth to anything else but reason. I told him one day that in his philosophy reason itself lost its mind. He got so mad he frightened me...

I tell Shestov that I've been asked to write a long article on Julien Benda for the "Cahiers du Sud" magazine. I would have written it with delight were it not for the need to read and re-read Benda's boring books. Shestov replied:
- I'll tell you a joke my father liked to tell, a Jewish joke of course:
"One day an omnibus was going up a steep hill and in the omnibus there was a famous rebbe [rabbi]. All the passengers alighted for the length of the climb and the rebbe did too. "Why didn't you stay in?", the others asked. "We are just common people, it's normal that we should disembark, we have nothing better to do. But you! You really should not tire yourself so." "I have an answer for you", says the rebbe. "I am afraid that on the day of judgment in heaven the horse might complain against me...". "But then you will only need to say that you were meditating on great and holy things during the ride. Surely that will exonerate you." "Maybe", says the rebbe, "but I much prefer to walk now than argue with a horse later."

I tell Shestov that I've read a small article by Remizov in "Hippocrate".
- It's an old article from 30 years ago. It appeared when my "Apotheosis of Groundlessness" was published - perhaps the only kind article amidst the rest.
- Why?
- My book was a scandal. I dared to write aphorisms, it was unusual. Plus I mocked conclusions. I said that I would leave my conclusions for later. It was not serious - assuming that I was serious up to then. Even Aikhenvald who was an excellent professor and had a lot of sympathy for me, was angered. He was a baptized Jew, this Aikhenvald, and a respectable critic, even though life could not have been all that pleasant for a Jew - baptized or not. But he had an audience, all those women... His wit had a sort of a "tickling" something that excited his listeners.
- Well, he read my book and when he saw what I wrote about Socrates and Xanthippe ("After one's philosophical exercise, one feels as if one had had slops emptied over one's head", aph.57), he wrote ten lines in a big magazine where he stated that I was wasting my "talent" on frivolous things - not serious for a bit. Everybody loved his review.
[J. Aikhenvald, Rousskie Vedomosti, Moscow, 7 march 1905.]

About Remizov:
- He used to be a first rate writer - oftentimes. But often enough he publishes really mediocre stories. It is also true that the mediocre stories are much easier to publish and be paid for, while a story like "Death of Abraham" for instance, which he wrote after a XIV century Bulgarian manuscript - well, as far as I know, he couldn't find a taker for it...

March 1936

A few days after our last meeting Shestov left for Palestine.

Jerusalem, [April] 1936

"I am in Jerusalem at present and I've already given a talk here - in German. And now I am going to give one in Russian. But I must confess that Palestine is beyond words. Today I went to the Gethsemani Garden... I'll tell you all when I am back in Paris. Yours etc."

Shortly after his departure I myself left for Buenos Aires, to make a film there. We met again only seven months later and we didn't talk of Palestine. While I was away Shestov engaged in a long correspondence with my sister and my wife - to have news of me? He also wrote to me in Buenos Aires, first from Palestine, then from Paris.

Tel-Aviv, May 10, 1936

     "My dear friend, I received your letter and your article [probably "Chestov à la recherche du judaisme perdu"] two weeks ago already but I delayed my reply until my departure so as to tell you all I've seen in Palestine, even though it is a strange experience to write to such a far away place on the planet. Will my letter even reach that far? I am very happy that Mme Ocampo invited you a second time [*]. You say that it's not a big project but perhaps will you find something else there. In any case, I hope that this trip, like the first one, will give you a chance to rest, which is something you are probably in need of.
     And now I must tell you about my "impressions of Palestine". Not an easy thing to do at all, because I've seen a lot. You probably read in the papers about the Arab riots here. Even though, contrary to what has been reported, there were no actual "fights" between Arabs and Jews, life in the last few weeks here has been quite hard. Everybody was talking about those riots and I was stuck in Tel-Aviv because it was too dangerous to travel around the country. I was lucky enough to be able to visit Jerusalem and a few neighboring villages (as far as the Red Sea), because my first lecture was scheduled in Jerusalem. But I haven't moved anywhere for three weeks now. When I arrived in Haifa the riots started. My lectures went on as scheduled but everybody was far more preoccupied with the riots than with my lectures. Right now things seem to have calmed a bit and my two lectures in Tel-Aviv gathered enough people. We are leaving in three days. Maybe when I am in Paris I will write more of my "impressions of Palestine" - but somehow I am not so sure of that. I detest writing on the whole and I especially hate letter-writing. What is there to do?
     I hope I will find your book already published in Paris. I am very eager to read it and also to read what others have to say about it, if anything. And Jean Wahl? Will he write about it? Also, I await your letters with impatience. Will you actually receive mine?"

[in 1929 Fondane was invited to Buenos Aires by Mme Ocampo to read a series of lectures on cinema. In 1936 he went to South America on request from his friends the Aguilhar - to make a film where the Aguilhar Quartet was featured (note by Genevieve Fondane). The film, called "Tararira", did not make a good impression on the producer and was not distributed.]

June 2, 1936, Boulogne

     "My Dear Friend, I've been in Paris for ten days now. I haven't written from here yet (I wrote two letters from Palestine: one was a postcard to your Paris address and I sent a letter from Tel-Aviv to Mme Ocampo's address. Did you receive them?) because I was waiting for your book to come out around the 10-15 of May. I finally received it two days ago, read it all already and now, to thank you for the book and for the really touching note that you sent along with it, I would like to tell you about my impressions after the reading.
     On the whole, this is a success. You dared to undertake an enormous, formidable task, and you were able to deal with it honorably. Of course, with you as with all writers who attempt difficult tasks, all pages are not of equal quality. There are great passages and others that are less intense and weaker. For instance your post-scriptum to the foreword ("Nietzsche and supreme cruelty") which I consider rather as a second foreword, you managed to do it marvelously. "The unhappy consciousness" in my opinion is not strong enough, even though some of the ideas there are of great significance. "Gide after Montaigne" is also very well written. The passage from Nietzsche (page 85) and your interpretation of it are unforgettable. I think that Gide himself, even though spoiled by his enormous success (as a writer) and always rather self-assured and content, will feel something like a tinge of remorse after reading all this - and will be forced to tell himself that you were right to write a few pages earlier and with such fine irony that: "Only God knows how much fervor Gide put into letting himself be moved by Dostoevsky and Nietzsche". [*] Sure enough, he will never admit this to others - but he will never forgive you, I think, even though you tried to soften your tone in the last pages, to "sugar the pill".
     The same thing can be said about the two essays that follow - "Bergson, Freud and the gods" and "Martin Heidegger". Everybody will be indignant that you dared not only to criticize but also to be ironic about men so famous around the world, so full of great merits. You made a lot of changes in your essays about Husserl and Heidegger and you were right to do so, especially since it gave you a chance to discuss in "Husserl" his "Cartesian Meditations" which were published only recently.
     As to your two essays on Kierkegaard - here I must express a few reservations. In these essays too there are some excellent pages, but I think that, although you were able to touch at the very roots of Kierkegaard thought, he doesn't really deserve your reproaches of him! This is because you forgot his manner of "indirect speech", or rather because, as you admit yourself, this manner irritates you. What a strange thing! Berdyaev told me too: "Why speak indirectly? If you want to say something - say it openly." But I don't think that Berdyaev is right. There are things that can only be said indirectly. This is also true of Nietzsche and Dostoevsky. It is important not only to "forgive" them this manner of speech but also to know how to appreciate it and understand the secret meaning of their writings. If you were able to do that, you would have sensed perhaps that Kierkegaard and I have much more in common than you tend to believe. And in many respects this is quite important, as you yourself remark. "Fear of nothingness" as source of original sin is the beginning of a true critique of pure reason.
     Nevertheless, the second half of your book shows that the questions you discuss, you have not read about them in books, that those are your own questions, that you want and can take full responsibility for everything you say in your book. This is your greatest merit.
     I don't believe that your book will have a lot of good reviews, or that it will have any reviews at all for that matter. Perhaps you will need to remember Lovtzky's words: "Fondane is young and dumb..." Best wishes to Mme Ocampo. I await your letters with impatience. Tell me of all that's been happening with you in Argentine. Have you found some success there?
     PS: My book on Kierkegaard has not been published yet. It will be out in two or three weeks."

["La Conscience Malheureuse", Paris, Denoël et Steele, 1936, reed. Plasma, 1979]

June 3, 1926, Boulogne
The next day.

     "My Dear Friend, your sister just gave me a rose ticket for airmail, this just after I've dispatched my letter to you, addressed to Mme Ocampo - but by regular mail. To save some time, I will tell you in a few words what you will later find in my other letter but in much more detail. Your book is written with a lot of energy and it shows that the things you are discussing there are not for you a matter of theory, or, to put it otherwise, that it is a book of existential philosophy. I think this is a great merit. Which is why I believe you will not have a good press, as they say. Your book will most likely irritate your critics. It is even more likely that you will have no press at all. With books such as yours the preferred choice is always silence. And your editor who was bold enough to publish it will be badly punished for his [illegible word].
     In your letter you're talking about leaving us to make your life elsewhere. What is your meaning? Is somebody offering you to stay in Argentine? I hope that your sister will clarify these mysterious words for me. In any case, I hope you will explain this in your next letter.
     Nothing new here. De Blum, strikes, you read more than enough about it in the papers. As to personal news, they are not very joyous - in a few days Schloezer will go into surgery - a very serious one. Let us hope that all goes well. Yours..."

July 3, 1936

     "You were absolutely right, my dear friend, to write to me what you think of Kierkegaard. But one must be patient with thinkers who are destined to confusion so they may tell what they have to say. You remember perhaps that article by Marcel de Corte about Plotinus and Saint John of the Cross (I think you borrowed it from me). The author is well-informed but he insists too much on Plotinus' "sincerity", his ability to express his ideas adequately - and sometimes he loses his Plotinus that way. Thinkers who are bold enough to speak of their "timiôtaton" (the most important), one has to figure them out rather than study them.
     Nevertheless there are many very good passages in your article on Kierkegaard. And you have your readers. Even de Schloezer and Berdyaev (and I am not even talking of Jules de Gaultier) have praised your book to me. Both told me that you have talent. With some reservations of course, but that was more about me than about you. In any case, praises from people like Berdyaev and de Schloezer are worth something - they are severe judges. And Mme Lovtzky is not happy: you offended her master [Freud].
     Do you have the June issue of "Nouvelle Revue Française" where Denis de Rougement talks of you in a P.S. to his article "Kierkegaard in France"? He says that your article in the "Cahiers du Sud" [*] is violent but he adds immediately after: "I don't think this violence is out of place and neither is the injustice that accompanies it more damning to truth than a pretence at impartiality would have been; and I do not think that Fondane's question is useless - they watch Kierkegaard make his way but what about their own ways? Yes, it is an embarrassing and serious question, and this is why I return it to the author. But is it even possible to answer such a question in words? Many of the "Upbuilding Discourses" are designed to prepare for the communion, therefore I personally see no other way than to follow Kierkegaard with all of one's life."
     How extremely naive! As if Kierkegaard did not thunder against all those "baptized" and "communiating" (sic) Christians etc, and all those pastors who registered those baptisms, communions etc. Going to communion is easier (more comfortable) than to glorify the Absurd, than to take Job for one's master instead of Hegel and suspend the ethical ! One goes to the priest and takes communion - and one becomes a perfect Christian, finds peace...
My book will come out next week. Yours."

[«Léon Chestov, Kierkegaard et le Serpent », Cahiers du Sud, Aug-Sept. 1934, no. 164. pp. 534-554.]

November 12, 1936

I am back in Paris. While I was away, my "Unhappy Consciousness" has appeared and Shestov wrote to me in Buenos Aires a charming letter, mostly laudatory on the whole. He was not very fond of compliments and in the ten years that I've known him I haven't heard many from him. The only time when he really complimented me was many years ago, when the French translation of his Philosophy of Tragedy was published.

His trip to Palestine is already a distant memory, I can't count on too many fresh impressions.

- My lectures were interrupted... Those riots I told you about. For three weeks I had absolutely nothing to do, quite literally. I have this rare capacity that few people possess of doing absolutely nothing. I remember, once - that was a long time ago, just after my Dostoevsky and Nietzsche was published - I was in Switzerland and I met Anski, the author of "Dybuk" [*]. He was a poor chap who made a lot of noise and performed incredible acrobatics - just to survive. If only he had then the money that his play brought later ! And so Anski comes to me and directly asks whether I have anything in the works. I was so far removed from having anything in the works, I could not even conceive how it is I could have had anything in the works - I was so free, so detached from everything - it took some time before I even understood his question. For me writing is pure torture!

[Anski (pseudonym of Semen Akimovitch Rappaport): Der Dybuk, dramatische Legende in vier Akten, Berlin-Wien, B. Harz, 1922]

We speak of Hindu metaphysics which Shestov began to study before his departure for Palestine.
- As you see, my library is growing. I've been reading books about the Hindus, now I am reading primary sources. It is absolutely remarkable! I am developing the impression that their knack for speculation is greater than in Greek philosophy. I don't think I will have enough time to do a due report on these studies, but I find all this extremely interesting...

I tell Shestov about my conversation on the boat with Jacques Maritain, on our way back from Argentine. I told Maritain that, according to Shestov, a saint is a saint because God loves him and not that God loves him because he is a saint. Maritain said that this is what Saint Thomas of Aquinas thought too.
- Very well, Shestov tells me, but why is it then that he has such a deathly distaste for the arbitrary?

Concerning a correspondence between Shestov and Jean Wahl regarding Shestov's book "Kierkegaard and the existential philosophy":
- You see, Wahl talks incessantly about immutability, the immanent, he avoids talking about Kierkegaard's impotence. I do discuss it however. I even talk about a visit Kierkegaard made to his doctor... That's the difficult thing to understand. Had Kierkegaard's doctor been intelligent, he would have said: "there is nothing wrong with you" (for Kierkegaard was not really impotent) and probably, certainly even, all would have developed quite differently - Kierkegaard would have married Regina, he would have discovered that Regina was like all other women, his love for her would not have developed into that great love etc, and he would not have thought all those things he writes about. You remember what Schopenhauer says about John and Mary. Kierkegaard, had he married Regina, would have probably seen that Regina was stupid, a perfectly ordinary woman in short. Well, she was certainly charming but, had you met her, you would not have understood "why" Kierkegaard loved her so. In any case you could not have understood how one could throw away all the fundamentals for such a woman. But who can tell which of the two possible Kierkegaards is in the right? Who is to say that John is not more in the right when he sees Mary's beauty through his love for her, than when he sees her stupidity and ugliness when he loves her no more?

November 1936

- I've seen horrors under the Tsars but also courageous men who never gave in, who were not afraid of death itself. What is especially frightening about Stalin is not that he kills people: it is that he kills courage in them. Take Prince Mirsky, for instance. He is a brave man. He is not afraid of death. He is in prison. But worse than prison is the making of men into cowards.

About de Blum:
- He was elected. He should know how to give orders, but instead he asks and begs. Just like Kerensky used to do.

- In 1919 one could still speak in Russia. There were one or two independent newspapers. In one such paper they polled writers as to what they thought about the [new] regime. I replied in very few words: "In our revolutionary party of old we asked for two things only - freedom and bread. One thing should be remembered: where there is no freedom, there is no bread either."

About Jaspers:
- I have his short book on Nietzsche and Kierkegaard ["Vernunft und Existenz", Groningen. Verlag Wolters, 1935, 115 p]. It took me a long time to understand his language at first. Like all German philosophers he has his own. He extols Nietzsche and Kierkegaard - they are great, they are magnificent, but... they leave us empty handed and empty hearted... Of course he makes a show of refusing self-evident truths - but without these truths, how, in the name of what, can he decide that Nietzsche and Kierkegaard leave us empty-handed? He is a pragmatist and I know that it would offend him to hear me say this. In the end, it's yet another "return to Kant".

- He is in awe of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. And yet he says that they are empty. If I were convinced that Nietzsche and Kierkegaard have nothing much to say I would not be in awe of them. And in any case one is not to be in awe of anyone else. I know that these were men who searched and did not find. Jasper is willing to grant that Kierkegaard had faith. How nice! It's like beheading a man and then telling him - and now go on and live! Faith is possibility, powerless faith is worse than death for Kierkegaard. His hands are empty but he has faith. Thank you very much!

- I have the feeling that in his big book which I did not have a chance to read (it costs something like 400 francs!), Jaspers takes me to task, without naming me - he never names anybody in any case. I've been asked to send him one of my books, I sent "In Job's Balances" (in German). He never replied.

[The book in question is probably "Nietzsche. Einführung in das Verstandnis seines Philosophierens", Berlin und Leipzig, W. de Cruyter, 1936, 437 p.]

- Jaspers probably thinks that Nietzsche and Kierkegaard should be killed. But he doesn't want to do it himself... He will only say that they have nothing to offer. That's why I called my article about Jaspers "Sine effusione sanguinis" [without bloodshed]. He kills in spirit only and leaves the rest to others.

[«Sine effusione sanguinis. Sur la probité philosophique", (an essay on Jaspers' book "Vernunft und Existenz"), Hermés, Bruxelles, jan.1938, pp. 5-36. Russian version in Put', Aug-Dec. 1937]

- I was young, I was searching, I did not have the daring yet. And then I found that text by Tertullian (et mortuus est Dei filius: non pudet quia pudendum est. Et sepultus resurrexit: certum est quia impossibile). You know where I found it? In a big book by Harnack, in the footnote, at the bottom of the page. Harnack cites it as some sort of oddity - good enough for the basement, not good enough to insert in the main text.

[Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930), German protestant theologian who considered Christian dogmatics an hellenization of the original teaching of Christianity.]

About a young peasant, destitute writer who came to see him:
- A reader of mine... I can count them...

January 5, 1937 at Mme Lovtzky's

Shestov talks about his lectures at the Slavic Institute:
- What do you want? After all I couldn't quite talk to them about the "suspension of the ethical". They would have left me there and gone to a music-hall.

About Berdyaev and Maritain:
- They are professors. They must teach. Which is to say - they must answer that silent question from the student: "what am I to do?" How can one be free under such conditions?

- I remember once (it was a long time ago) a reader wrote to me saying that I was a "hero of thought" etc. Then some time later he wrote again. This time he was asking: "what to do?" That's exactly the question I was going to ask of him myself.

- It happened now and then that I felt my audience aloof, hostile. In such cases I would imperceptibly change to another subject - teachers too, like musicians, sometimes resort to those intermediary chords. And so, all of a sudden, instead of Kierkegaard I was talking of Solovyov. The audience would start breathing. The attendance for the next lecture would double. There would be up to 80 people in the room.

January 18, 1937, Boulogne

When he visited me a week ago Shestov asked me to read to him my article "A propos du livre de Léon Chestov : Kierkegaard et la philosophie existentielle" which I was going to publish in Revue Philosophique [Sept-Oct 1937], a magazine of catholic and thomist inspiration. Shestov found my essay badly constructed, my polemics with Maritain having overshadowed Kierkegaard. I redrafted the article. In the meantime a letter from Shestov arrived inviting me to come by.

"My dear friend, after you've read your article to me, I've been thinking about it a lot and I believe that it would be a good thing - and even a necessary thing - if we could discuss it together once more. Therefore, choose a day when you can come see me and warn me beforehand, as usual. Til then etc."

January 21, 1937

I go to see him. He reads the typescript, a pencil in hand.

- You're not quite there yet. Too many extrapolations, the important bits get lost. There are things that must be said... since nobody reads me and since everybody reads you, it's up to you to say these things. People are in too much hurry to get rid of Kierkegaard; he is dangerous, and they are trying to make him less nefarious. Which is why it is important to insist on what existential philosophy represents (he pronounces "existentianel"). One must not contemptuously abandon philosophy to them. One must attack their philosophy but also insist that existential philosophy is a philosophy. Their philosophy has always ignored the fact that philosophy has two dimensions; faith is the second dimension of thought - and not of mysticism.
- I've told you how in one of his lectures Janet called me not only a mystic but a great mystic. This means: "He talks nonsense but he's a mystic, he's allowed to. But we who are intelligent, we must avoid nonsense." This reminds me of a story Madame Gippius, Merezhkovsky's wife, told me once. She was an attractive woman once upon a time, Zinaida Gippius. A certain young man pursued her but she kept him at a distance. So one day this young man wrote her a letter: "If you forbid me from seeing you, I will go home, I will...(I can't remember what)... and I'll read Shestov." It was the silliest thing he could think of doing!

Shestov then tells me about Sankara's Hindu philosophy:
- Imagine! These people were as ignorant as the prophets of the Bible. They knew nothing of chemistry, physics etc, but in pure reasoning they reached a power, a finery that is truly remarkable. Elegance, precision - Sankara reminds me of Thomas of Aquinas. It's almost a system of thought.

February 17, 1937

- You remember Casseres (the American writer). I told you once that he had published a book on four or five big names: Buddha, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Jules de Gaultier. I can't remember who was the fifth there. J. de Gaultier probably sent him my "The Good in the teaching of Tolstoy and Nietzsche", judging from the foreword he wrote. I suppose this is how Casseres discovered my books. He just published an article about me, "Samson in the Temple of Fatality" [*]. Seeing the title, I thought he understood what it was all about. But from what I could decipher (it's in English), he begins with a discussion of my style; I immediately saw that it was not going to be good. I remember a philosopher who once wrote to me that my style is so impressive that it makes one forget all the rest.

[Benjamin De Casseres, "Chestov: Samson in the Temple of Fatality", chapter 3 of the book "Raiders of the Absolute", New York, The Blackstone Publishers, 1937, 56 p]

- That's the way Jaspers talks about Nietzsche. Because he worships Nietzsche, I tell you, he worships him. I don't think I ever worshipped Nietzsche; and neither have you, though you love him dearly. Jaspers worships him but... alas, from a dogmatic point of view he is forced to admit that in the end he is left with empty hands and an empty heart. Same thing about Kierkegaard's style. I don't remember ever discussing that in my book. It is true that Kierkegaard's style is not that of Nietzsche; but even with Nietzsche I never gave a moment thought to his style. I remember how once upon a time I read Nietzsche, in German of course. And then one day, when I was back in Russia, a read a translation of Nietzsche and the translator was calling him a German philosopher. It really hit me - I never thought of Nietzsche as a German philosopher, even though I've been reading him in German.

- Do you know Louis Guilloux? The other day I received a notice from the Ministry of Finances demanding payment of some back taxes. Fine. Then the next day I receive another letter stamped by the Ministry of the Postal Service. I thought it was another hit on the head. But no, it was only Guilloux asking that I read five lectures on the radio, quarter of an hour each, on Dostoevsky. Copeau would read short passages, quarter of an hour each, just after. I asked him [Copeau] to come see me. He wants me to discuss some excerpts from "Notes from the underground", "The Humble", "Dream of a ridiculous man"... This made me suspect that perhaps he's read some of my books. You know that these texts are not very popular with commentators: of all that Dostoevsky wrote nobody ever cites "Notes from the Underground", not even Gide.

I tell him that Copeau has one adapted "Brothers Karamazov" in theater and has himself played Ivan.
- Yes, I thought about "Brothers Karamazov" but it's hard to choose an excerpt... The dream of the Inquisitor is way too long. Strange! Dostoevsky, who had such knack for creating powerful characters, who composed such a fine Hyppolite, the Inquisitor and so many others, when he arrives at Staretz Zosima it is as if all his powers had abandoned him. He has nothing to say. I don't know if you remember his foreword to "Brothers Karamazov". He announces that this book is only the first volume, where he describes evil, but that there will be a second volume that will put everything right. At the time of writing, Dostoevsky has already made the acquaintance of Solovyov, he was frequenting the future tsar Alexander III, and the head of the Synod... The latter remarked, after reading "Brothers Karamazov", that, no matter what, it would be impossible to repair with a second volume the harm Dostoevsky has done in writing the first book. He was right.
- What can I say in a quarter of an hour? and on the radio at that? Nothing of what I've wrote is fit for this. I'd have to re-read all of Dostoevsky. In any case, it's impossible to do anything meaningful in this format. But I have to earn my living.

[These radio-lectures were aired between April 3 and May 10, 1937 and the text was published in "Cahiers de Radio-Paris" for May 15, 1937 under the title "L'oeuvre de Dostoievski"]

- Do you know Bulgakov? Together with Plekhanov, Berdyaev and Bukharin he was among the first socialist-marxists in Russia. They opposed the social-revolutionaries who were not marxists, if not from economical point of view, at least from the metaphysical and ethical standpoint. Later on Bulgakov discovered Kant and tried to make peace between Marx and Kant, just like they once tried to reconcile Marx and Nietzsche. In the end, he and Berdyaev became Russian orthodox.
- Bulgakov is very well known here and especially in England. He gave a lecture recently on the miracles in the Gospels. Guess what! He explained those miracles in the most natural way... What can I say. It is a known fact that to have bread one has to work, or beg, or even steal - mere praying is insufficient: "Our Father who are in Heaven, give us our daily bread".

- I was talking with Schloezer about Mme Bespaloff the other day. "I must tell you, he says, she is resistant, just as I am myself. But you, you resist and you know you do. That's fine. With her, she resists and yet tries all she can to ignore her own resistance. She says that even without Knowing there would be a fracture in being." But isn't it Knowing that makes her believe that? You remember the citation from Leibniz that I discuss in "Athens and Jerusalem": truth wants not only to constrain but also to persuade us. This is a fundamental problem. As long as truth wants to constrain it succeeds. And if it wants to make me declare, through constraint, that I am persuaded, it succeeds in that too. But to really persuade, to persuade me, no, it can't do that: I can always refuse, I can show it the tongue just like Dostoevsky did. How come nobody notices that this is a crucial argument - a perfectly philosophical argument? I can be constrained to admit that existence is fractured. But I cannot be persuaded. That's where ethics intervene, ethics know that this is an argument to contend with, that if we refuse to be persuaded there is something wrong here. And so duty and obligation are introduced.

June 15, 1937, Boulogne

     "My dear friend, contrary to habit, I am a bit late in replying this time. But before I wrote I wanted to collect the necessary information to answer your questions - Tatiana had to call Vrin [editor] and I had to go to the Argentine consulate. At Vrin they said that the manuscript [Athens and Jerusalem] has been sent to a printer in Belgium and they are now awaiting the proofs... And at the consulate they told me: we do not understand why you need to certify the signature. But if it is absolutely necessary, they require that we bring in three other certificates - from the Police, from the Prefect, and from the Foreign Ministry, then pay 75 francs and the consulate will appose its signature. Which means that I'd have to spend a week running around and if the other places ask for as much money as the consulate, I'll end up spending the equivalent of what I am supposed to receive for the publication. And to top it all I really don't have the kind of strength to run around town that much. Which is why I am simply sending you the signed document and I pray you to write to Mme Ocampo...
     I've been looking for your Chronicles of the New Order [about "Unhappy Consciousness"] in my papers and I couldn't find it, but I hope to locate it eventually. As to Mme Bespaloff, it seems that in your article about Jean Wahl you've guessed at what she was going to write about me. You can be content now. When you're back in Paris, come by and we'll talk. I am sorry I am burdening you with all this business etc."

[All this to certify Shestov's signature on the contract with the publishing house of SUR in Buenos Aires, about to publish the Spanish translation of "Revelations of Death".]

July 7, 1937, Boulogne

     "I received your postcard, my dear friend - I am extremely embarrassed, I feel that I am abusing your friendship already. You correspond with Mme Ocampo for me, you read the proofs [Athens and Jerusalem], all this creates too much work for you. But how to do it differently? "Sur" [the review] contacted you directly and with my bad eyesight and my insomnia (which tires me out considerably) I am absolutely incapable of doing a lot of things that I used to do myself. I hope that this will be the last time and that in future you will not be so burdened with my business. In the meantime I thank you with all my soul for everything you've been doing for me - the only thing I still have in my power is my profound gratitude towards you.      Needless to say, I am extremely pleased that your article was found to be magnificent (by the editors of "Revue de Philosophie") and that it will appear in a catholic journal. It's not that I am hopeful that after your "presentation" anybody would make the effort to reflect on Kierkegaard's problematics - in that respect one can be certain that they will continue to look at Kierkegaard through Jaspers and Wahl. But you've put so much work into that article that I am delighted to know that even foreign judges found it magnificent. And do you think Maritain will keep his word about replying to you "with violence"? etc."

July 26, 1928

I tell Shestov about a Romanian book by A.L. Zissu "Freemasonry, Israel, Church". In a nutshell: Paul falsified texts to be able to replace levitic priesthood with spiritual priesthood (since Jesus was of the Juda tribe who could not be priests according to the Law - hence the new order of Melchidesek). Also, the suppression of the Law is not in line with the New Testament etc.

Shestov comments:
- I think that Hitler really has a lot of intuition - he hates St Paul: it's true Jewish thinking. Yes, I think that St Paul is right to say that Law came to make Sin be. Of course it would be a good thing if the Bible began with the Decalogue - in Moses' time already the story of the original sin was forgotten. It is important to remember that Moses did not only bring faith but also a whole legislation - civil and criminal. What's more, the Old Testament has always undergone interpretation, not only later but even at the time of the writing. Every scribe indulged in "interpretation". There are also a number of interpolations.
- Do you think, I said, that Paul has betrayed the spirit of the Bible when he opened to the Gentiles the privileges of the chosen people? Didn't God say: "I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated"? [Malachi 1:2,3] Which means that he made a distinction between people.
- Of course! And yet... in the beginning there was no such thing as Jews and non-Jews... God also wanted to destroy Sodom and you remember how Abraham intervened. And this too: "I revealed myself to those who did not seek me." People need to relate to a certain structure of the world, be it a Law. Nobody wants an arbitrary God.

- I received many letters from a Belgian named Gilbert. He wrote that while reading my Bull of Phalaris it occurred to him that Samson must have been the one major character in the Bible, that he represented best its significance. I answered that by a strange coincidence an American writer, Benjamin de Casseres, has published an article about me called "Samson in the temple of Fatality". Since then Gilbert has described his own philosophy to me. He was an atheist, he said, and that's why he came to believe in Christ. That's the very thing. They believe in Christ the way they believe in Socrates - a Socrates multiplied by a hundred, a thousand, it doesn't really matter. One believes in Christ to avoid believing in God. They know that Christ died for our sins but they only remember this: that he died, that he gave satisfaction to the ethical. But that he died for our sins, somehow they always forget that. And yet this is the important part. Because in that case it is he and not David who committed adultery, it is he and not Peter who has betrayed, it was he and not Adam who ate the fruit: all this so that these men may not have sinned, so that sin was not.
- Look, it's like Berdyaev: for a long time he talked in his books about God-Man and suddenly I have the feeling that he's only talking about Man-God now. This young Gilbert is a thinking man. I only hope that he will not send me his manuscript. I am so tired, my eyes can barely see.
- Can't you cheat a little bit? Just leaf through it.
- No. I told you - this man is a real thinker...

[In 1937, Louis Gilbert published a book called "les Chants d'Odin, ou Vie et Liberté" (Gand, imprim. S.C. Les Invalides Réunis, l2, 121 p.). The introduction ends with this phrase: "...the wonderful essay by Shestov 'In the Bull of Phalaris' which proved a precious guideline for me." When a year later Gilbert wrote a short book in which a chapter was supposed to promote Shestov's ideas, the latter was profoundly disappointed with it. I did not write down the conversation that we had on that occasion.]

[Léon Chestov, « Dans le taureau de Phalaris », Revue philosophique, Paris, jan-feb.1933 / mar-apr. 1933.]

- With each book I've felt myself more and more isolated. I am lucky I can still publish here and there. But I feel the isolation.

I tell Shestov that Zissu's book is excellent but hard to translate because he does not manage either St Paul or the Church and speaks of them in a violent language.
- He's wrong to despise his enemy. It is because I am myself in struggle that I understand a Husserl, a Jaspers. I can see that for them honesty (die Redlichkeit) is a quality, even though for me it's not. I can see that they can't think otherwise. I do not attack this or that of their ideas - I attack this particular idea of theirs because they defend it.

- Yes, I struggle and yet: the wall is still up and standing. So the wall is right: muro locutus, causa finita. If I acknowledged defeat, it would be ok - everybody would be happy. But they can't understand how it is that one can start the battle anew at the very same point every day. You see, there is no age for struggle. I too used to think that with time, perhaps... But the more time goes by, the more struggle is left, the harder it gets...

- I have a lot to do but I am tired. I have to write an article on Berdyaev to whom the Russian press has done a great injustice by not publishing anything serious about him as yet. I also have to prepare a few radio-lectures on Kierkegaard... I am not sure that I will be able to do any of it...

[« Nikolai Berdyaev ». In Russian, "Sovremennye Zapiski", Paris, oct. 1938, no. 67. In French, "Revue philosophique", jan.-march 1948]

[On July 17, 1937, Radio-Paris sent Shestov a letter asking to prepare a few talks on Kierkegaard. Published as « Soeren Kierkegaard, un philosophe religieux", Cahiers de Radio-Paris, 15 Dec. 1937. (Five lectures aired on Radio-Paris from October 21 to November 25, 1937.)]

We discuss Bergson's conversion to catholicism. Two professors from the rabbinate academy, one being Levinas, assured Shestov that Bergson has indeed converted. I express my surprise that this event found no publicity.
- He must have asked that it not be discussed before his death. He is old, he is waiting to die. I sense that Shestov is thinking about his own death. I remind him that Levy-Bruhl or Husserl are older than he.
- Doesn't matter, these two are tough chaps. But at my age... They will continue to falsify my thought after my death too. They will make me say what I did not say. (I insist on the purity, on the lack of contradictions in his doctrine.) And yet, he replies, look what they've done to Kierkegaard.

- I was despondent the other day. Schloezer told me and even insisted that my "In the Bull of Phalaris" was inferior, completely botched, compared to the first chapter, "Parmenides in Chains" [Shestov's book "Athens and Jerusalem"]. It means that I was not able to express what I wanted to convey. It really threw me off because that's where I first discuss Kierkegaard. And now that Schloezer read through the proofs, he tells me that he's changed his mind... I am relieved.

[Revue philosophique, july-aug. 1930. Both essays were incorporated into the book "Athens and Jerusalem", of which Shestov is then reading the proofs.]

August 20, 1937, Boulogne [probably July]

     "Your letter, my dear friend, has arrived in time this once! It's been a while since I had news of you and I was beginning to worry. As to your reproaches, perhaps they are justified indeed! Because of my own general state of feebleness and my weak eyes, I imagined that the work you're doing for me was so enormous that it made me believe I was abusing your friendship... I await your arrival with impatience, you can come any day and at any hour: if only you can come, I will be waiting for you.
     Tatiana left for the holidays. The proofs will be sent to her in Villeneuve... and from Villeneuve she will send them over to Schloezer. There has been a small interruption but now the printer is sending them out regularly once again. I hope to be able to leave for Châtel in two weeks, I will not even wait for the Congress to end - from what I could gather it is nothing very interesting. Until soon then..."
[The international philosophy congress, about Descartes, I believe.]

September 6, 1937, Châtel-Guyon

"Well, my dear friend, this is my last letter from Châtel-Guyon. Next Sunday we are returning to Boulogne. To tell you the truth I think it would be better to discuss this question about "refusal" face-to-face, when we get to see each other. So I will only say that to me this "refusal" seems rather natural now. When you are told that the truth "Socrates was poisoned" is not as indisputable as the truth "a dog was poisoned", ordinary mind is shocked and indignant (among the philosophers Husserl was the only exception), and it is even less tolerable that we should be able to say that Socrates has never been poisoned. That's where the cause of this "refusal" ["to understand me, to follow me"] you're talking about in your last letter should be looked for, I think. We'll talk about it in Boulogne. The payment (from "Sur") is long overdue... As to the proofs, I am not sure you've got all of them; the forth part (The Second Dimension of Thought) is missing, as well as the foreword. In any case, unless something comes up, the book [Athens and Jerusalem] should be out this fall. Yours etc."

September 23, 1937

- You cannot understand why it is that the question is not heard even when it is clearly explained. And yet, that's very possible. When I reminded Wahl of what Kierkegaard wrote - that whoever has not understood his suspension of the ethical, understands nothing of his thought - Wahl confessed that he could not remember this passage. And yet he certainly knows his Kierkegaard inside out! But just like Berdyaev, Wahl cannot stop at texts like this one, where the private thinker Job is pitted against Hegel. They skip over these passages, they close their eyes, they try to ignore the fact that their author could have said such nonsense: inwardly, they are ashamed for him."

- Kierkegaard had ten thousand books in his library. There was everything there: philosophy, sciences. He's read it all. He knew perfectly well what it is that all those others pretended to teach him. For me it's hard - I know that two by two makes four, I know it only too well. Only at times and through a tremendous effort am I able to overcome this. I think that people who are aware of these things can see that.

October 4, 1937, Boulogne

     "My dear friend, thank you for your letter. I've written to "Sur", as you've advised me to do - perhaps they will even answer! Thank you also for your articles. You were able to show, with such elegance, how Levy-Bruhl is both a philosopher and a metaphysician, that he himself will be finally persuaded of it, after reading your article. Have you sent it to him yet? You must, absolutely. And if you attach a letter addressed to the "Dear Master", I am pretty sure he will answer in no time - and the answer might be very interesting!
     As to the other article, about Luther, it is also well written, but I have the feeling that the first part is not sufficiently developed. Your ideas are so foreign to the general public that you should have prepared the reader a bit better for the second part (which is magnificent) - better than you have. But on the whole, perhaps your series of articles will awaken some readers, even Belgians - you should write more often in this newspaper. Of course, it is sad that your articles should appear in a daily instead of some magazine, specifically a philosophy revue. But what is there to do? One must always resign oneself... I shake your hand cordially..."

November 16, 1937

- As the years go by it becomes harder and harder for me to keep believing that the wall can be broken down, that one can defeat impossibility. I did not grow used to this struggle, it does not pacify me, on the contrary every day it becomes harder, more laborious, painful to carry on. But as long as I have the least shred of hope I will refuse to "sanctify" necessity (as Schelling does)... and I shall refuse even when there is no more hope left...

- Berdyaev calls himself an existentialist. But he always goes back to the same questions: "Did Kierkegaard regain Regina Olsen? Did Job recover his dead children? Has there ever been a single Christian who actually moved mountains? You know as well as I do that none of these came to be." And I answer him: "Don't you think that Kierkegaard was fully aware of that? But that's precisely the starting point of his philosophy - he sets out on a war against what he knows only too well. That's what makes him into an existentialist. But you can't follow him there, that's the very thing that makes you turn back - so how come you call yourself and existentialist?"

- As the time goes by I incline more and more to believe that all these mysteries have one single explanation: sin.

- Keyserling once asked me to write an article for his Revue (he was publishing one in those days) but he ordered the theme and almost the contents too. I answered that if he wanted an article from me, I would be happy to write one, but I would write what I was intending to write. He got angry. Later on he sent me his book and attached a letter where he warned that it was there his "revelation". I've replied with some praises but I added that his revelation was still of the "natural" order. He put me through a letter of ten pages of which he made a number of copies. One went to Berdyaev.

[Shestov met Hermann Keyserling in May 1926. Keyserling asked him to come to Darmstadt and read a lecture at the Schule der Weisheit (School of Wisdom) which he headed, but there was a disagreement as to the contents of the lecture which never took place for that reason (Letter from Shestov to Herman Lovtzky).]

- Nobody wrote about my book on Kierkegaard, except you (I don't count articles like the one in N.R.F. where Wahl's thought is discussed rather than my own). How can it be that there is still more talk about your book, that you are welcomed everywhere, despite the fact that you have compromised yourself by exposing your friendship for me?"

[Jean Grenier, « Kierkegaard et la philosophie existentielle », la Nouvelle Revue française, Paris, nov. 1936.]

- Schloezer told me, after your "Unhappy Consciousness" appeared and was welcomed in the catholic philosophy circles: "I think that your philosophy has a better chance of entering the world through Fondane than through your own books."

- Some catholic journal asked Schloezer to write an article about my book on Kierkegaard. But since his conversion to catholicism, he became hesitant - he doesn't dare to anymore.

- Your article is remarkably well done (my review of Shestov's "Kierkegaard and the Existential Philosophy")[Revue de philosophie, Paris, sept./oct. 1937.]. This time the question is put right and expressed very concisely. You see, I've underlined the better passages. You say that you have not followed me to the end, but at least you did not refuse to hear me.
(I reassure him that it is not a matter of "refusal" in my case, and even less of having reservations, but rather something like Kierkegaard's "I don't have the courage of faith".)

- I know full well that Necessity reigns now, that it has existed a thousand and two thousand years ago. But who can prove to me that it has always been? that it was not something else before? or that there will not be something else afterwards? It's up to men to side with Necessity, perhaps... But a philosopher must search for Sources - beyond Necessity, beyond Good and Evil...

Shestov often quotes Heine's verses:

"Oh weh! Oh weh! Philosophie ist ein schlechtes Metier."

and Baudelaire's:

"Résigne-toi, mon coeur ! Dors ton sommeil de brute!"
and "Dis, connais-tu l'irrémissible?"
and also
"Enfin je m'en vais de ce monde,
Où il faut que le coeur se brise ou se bronze."
[these last lines added by Shestov's wife]

December 4, 1937

I read to Shestov a letter Jean Wahl wrote to me about my article in the "Revue de Philosophie": "To which book of the Bible does Shestov refer?" asks Wahl.
[« A propos du livre de Léon Chestov Kierkegaard et la philosophie existentielle », Revue de philosophie, Paris, sept./oct. 1937.]

- Your essay shows that you understood and that Wahl did not. For me the Bible is not an "authority". I've read the Bible like I read Plato; and I saw that it was answering questions that philosophy not only did not ask but actually forbids to ask.

- Schloezer tells me that your essay is the best introduction to existential philosophy that has ever been written up til now.

Mme Bespaloff sent Shestov a draft of her essay about him, "Shestov before Nietzsche". Shestov found it utterly disappointing. From what I understand Shestov has always had a sincere sympathy for her and expected to be better understood, if not followed.

- If only she had said: I can't go beyond necessity and understand Shestov psychologically (that is - I can carry 50 kg, but not 60), that would be natural. But she says it differently. She says: I can't understand because it cannot be understood, there is nothing there to understand. Read this paragraph: she says here that, while a man is struggling for his life in the water, Shestov stands on the bank and orders - "do not drown: you can do it!" I've never been so badly misunderstood! I, standing on the bank! watching idly!*= while somebody drowns! giving orders! and saying on top of that - "you can do it"! But this is precisely where the problem is! I cannot, everybody knows that I cannot, I myself know only too well that I cannot! And yet - maybe I can after all? Maybe I've been deceived about it, maybe - if I tried...? But to try already means to suspend ethics, reason, it's already a tragedy... If only she had said that I came running as soon as I heard of a man drowning, that I tried to help the poor chap instead of consoling him saying: there is nothing to be done against necessity! A Russian joke tells of a man drowning and from the bank somebody cries out to him: "spare your health - drown already!" Meaning: spare your energy, quit fighting uselessly.
- At the end of her essay she writes: "perhaps I am wrong." And she adds: "Shestov is but a witness to his own truth." Then why is she saying "perhaps I am wrong"? when she knows full well that she is not wrong - she knows well enough that I am witness to no possible truth? And yet she is sincere, she likes me. Why not write then what she thinks! But why is she sending me her book? And how can I tell her now: "you have understood, that's exactly it"?

January 5, 1937

Shestov is again bedridden, after two weeks of illness. I tell him that his great wish has been realized. On his request, I've asked Levy-Bruhl if he would like to publish in his Revue Philosophique my essay about Shestov's upcoming book "Athens and Jerusalem". Levy-Bruhl welcomed my offer and I went to see him. He allotted 40 pages for my essay which was a lot more than I hoped for. Shestov is delighted and continuously points out the importance of this event for him and for me: it is a de facto admission of me to the rank of a philosopher by the first philosophical journal of France! And Shestov insists:
- You'll have to write tightly, a purely philosophical article. It will be hard - no fancy style. You'll need to grab eloquence and break its neck, you know. [Verlaine's famous line: "Prends l'eloquence et tord lui le cou."] I try to tease him:
- Allow me at least a tiny little bit of fancy!
- No, none of this... Have you thought about the plan for your article? If so, do tell!
I tell him.
- Excellent, you've got it! I myself wrote down the most important points that I would like you to emphasize. And first of all, the title: "The sources of metaphysical truth".
I protest:
- No, really, this is too pretentious for me, too bold. If you really want it this way, I suggest we call it "Shestov and the sources"... it limits the subject and gives the frame.
Shestov agrees.
- I also want you to put two epigraphs to the article: Spinoza's "non ridere" and a phrase from the foreword to my "Kierkegaard": "Job's wails are more than mere wails, i.e. meaningless, useless, tiresome cries." [see Foreword, sect.II] By the way, it would be good to add a sub-title, something like: Zur Kritik des Reinen Vernunft.
- But this can never pass in French!
- Well, in that case: The problem of knowledge [Le savoir en tant que problème].
I rebel again. Madame Shestov is there too. Yes, I'd like to please him but I can only write what I feel, like I feel it. I ask him not to demand of me that I gloss over my insufficiencies, that I plug up the holes of my ignorance. I can't cite Greek and Latin texts, only some phrases, the strictly necessary. I don't want to give myself an appearance of erudition which is not mine. He smiles, debates, insists, then finally accepts my arguments.
- However, he says, if I ask you to quote Greek, it is only because you will not be believed otherwise: it would be so easy to accuse you of inventing things!
He then pulls out his paper with notes in Russian which he translates for me. On his request, I copy them down. I've thought of most of these myself. But there is way too much there for an article of 40 pages.
- I've written these down, he says, because nobody ever says these things. Even Bespaloff doesn't want to discuss these questions. But while I was relating all this to you, it occurred to me that you've heard these questions, that you know them by heart. Which means that it will not be as hard for you as I've thought at first. The only difficulty will be to collect all this into a whole and to write it out.

[B. Fondane, « Léon Chestov et la lutte contre les évidences », Revue philosophique, july/aug. 1938, pp. 13-49.]

- Do you know how I started writing for Levy-Bruhl? When I came to France, Russians were received everywhere (the communists were not in fashion yet), we were in vogue. So once I was at a Boyer's evening, I was introduced to a host of people and here comes Levy-Bruhl. And from the go: I've read your two books translated into French, he says [*]. There is no way to convey what you had to say otherwise than you have expressed it. And immediately after: But don't you imagine that you were able to convince me! And then: What it's the use of all this? In reply to which I raised my right hand and pointed to heaven.

["Revelations of Death" and "Gethsemani Night", published in Paris in 1923 and later included in the book "In Job's Balances".]

- I thought that after this display he would not want of me as a collaborator. However later on, when I helped Koyré to become a teacher at the Russian department [Sorbonne], I asked him to mention my name to Levy-Bruhl when he saw him. He did nothing. Then, when Jules de Gaultier was going to see Levy-Bruhl, I asked him the same thing. Contrary to Koyré, Jules de Gaultier was not afraid to speak up. And the very next day Levy-Bruhl invited me to come by. When I told him what my article about Husserl was about, he got a bit scared. But he was reassured when I told him that this article has been published in a Russian philosophy journal sponsored by the University of Moscow.

[« Memento Mori. A propos de la théorie de la connaissance d‘Edmund Husserl", Revue philosophique. Paris, jan./feb. 1926. This article was first published in Russian in "Voprosy filosofii i psikhologii", Moscow, sept./dec. 1917.]

- You know that Koyré did not publish my article about Levy-Bruhl [« Myth and Truth »] in his "Recherches Philosophiques". Some pious Jews there do not want to publish anything that is not kosher enough for their taste. But it so happens that to them only speculative philosophy is considered kosher. So...

- I got a letter from Mme Bespaloff, in response to mine, about her essay. She can't understand my disappointment - even though I tried to conceal it as best I could. "But I compare you to Nietzsche, this is how much I admire you", she says. Yes, that's true, she was comparing me to Nietzsche but I didn't even notice it. As if that was the point!

- My first master was Shakespeare. When I read the line "The time is out of joints", I began to understand.

January 17, 1938

- The conflict between Descartes and Leibniz concerning created and uncreated truths is of such primary importance that it actually deserves the oblivion which was reserved to it in the History of Philosophy.

January 21, 1938

- I was twenty-eight years old when I first read Nietzsche. I started with "Beyond Good and Evil" but I didn't really understand well, maybe because of the aphoristic style... It took me a while to grasp what it was about. Then it was "Genealogy of Morals". I started reading at 8 o'clock in the evening. I finished the book at 2 o'clock in the morning. It shook me terribly, I couldn't sleep, I was looking for a way to resist this terrifying, cruel thinking... Yes, nature is harsh, indifferent. It kills calmly, implacably... But thought is not nature - there is no reason why it should kill the weak, write them off: why would one want to help nature in its ruthless task? It made me mad. At that time I knew nothing of Nietzsche, I had no idea what his life had been. Then one day I read a biographical notice on Nietzsche, I think it was in the Brockhaus dictionary. He too was one of those whom nature has been cruel with, implacable: it found him weak, wrote him off. That day I understood.
- Nietzsche was so weak, so ill, so miserable... But he believed he had to right to talk about all this - so he spoke of the Superman...

February 15, 1938

Shestov shows me a text by Maritain about him, that Lazareff read and copied for him... It was an article published in the book "The Jews": "It is a Faith that violates the whole order of things so as to give me today and tangibly (underlined by Shestov) the substance I expect from it, that accomplishes the desire God put inside me and which thus makes me reacquire everything - that is the kind of faith (that of Judaism) he ardently wishes to have and at the same time doubts that he has it - for if he knew he had it, he could have anything. Shestov's philosophy is an unmatched witness of this idea of faith, so profoundly Jewish at heart."

- Sure, Shestov says, "unmatched witness" etc. What is clear to me is that Maritain never read any of my books - this is so obvious. Otherwise he would have understood that it is the structures, the truths, the certitudes of which reason is so avid that are those tangible things, and that it is there and not in Job that concupiscentia irresistibilis is to be found.

[J. Maritain, « L'impossible antisémitisme » in "Les Juifs". Paris, Librairie Pion, 1937, p. 53.]

Then he talks to me about my article (the one to be published in Revue Philosophique) which he has just read a second time and among other things he points out a quote from Maritain that I give there.
- Talk about him in some other article, I have no problem with that; but if you want to please me, take out that quote from this article - I think it is out of place here. However, when you talk of Jaspers, of his inexpressible satisfactions, of the "full hands" that he demands of philosophy, place the word "tangible" there somewhere to signify the riches of reason - and underline it.

February 26, 1938

Shestov has re-read my article for a third time and he is finally pleased with it. He's been constantly asking that I emphasize, that I go deeper into the questions I am tackling - the moment of struggle, Socrates poisoned - and he made me take out a few words I wrote: "honest Jaspers! daring Jaspers! etc..."
- This is not good. When you choose an opponent, it is because you respect him, that you don't consider him a negligible quantity. So you must show respect. And also... the type of thinking you're fighting against is also mine and yours too. Don't flatter yourself that you were able to overcome it... It is still inside us...

- I am still immersed in Hindu thought. Remarkable. Europeans always explain it away the way they explained away the Bible: put aside everything embarrassing, keep the rest. At the same time, if the exoteric part of their thinking corresponds to the Greek thought, the esoteric part certainly does not. They were able to see the difficulties, there is a great intensity in them, a great will for freedom. In the Rig-Veda and the Upanishads one senses a totally different kind of thinking, nobody talks about it, even your Guénon, although he never tires of saying that the Europeans can never understand anything of it. And even in Sankara... Yes, they don't always stop at the impossible - they want to go further. Alas, I do not think I will have the strength to write about this. I am not as physically resilient as Levy-Bruhl. But I am extremely interested. Yes, I am immersed in it. But unfortunately I am always so tired and there is so much to read still.

- Yes, your article says what has to be said. Nothing of this showed up in Mme Bespaloff's essay, none of these questions. She still writes to tell me that I am great, the she admires me, but... I think that she might be simply missing on some philosophical preparation: she never read Leibniz, Aristotle...

I protest and cite my own case in example. Have I not written a number of articles about him, even before I met him, when I was still in Romania 16 years ago? My philosophical education in those days was almost nil. And yet I was already able to see the question even if I resisted it. I rebelled against his struggle against the self-evident, but I immediately understood that it was there his central idea. "Shestov and the struggle against the self-evident" was the title of my lecture which I delivered in 1929, in Buenos Aires.
- You made me understand what History of Philosophy was all about, how much tension, cheating, powerlessness was concealed behind the mortal boredom that it exulted for me in those days.

Shestov does not debate boredom. He tells me about a Russian philosopher who told everybody how much pleasure he derived from reading Kant.
- I've always doubted that he's actually read him... One can be interested in Kant, one can learn from Kant, one can feel this and that, but there is no way one can actually enjoy Kant.

- Mme Bespaloff is about to publish her book [Cheminement et Carrefour, Paris, Vrin, 1938]. I will be in there - together with Gabriel Marcel, Malraux and Julien Green! Right... (in a bitter, resigned tone, with a sigh)

Shestov insists again that I quote Aristotle's texts in Greek:
- Otherwise you will not be believed. You must quote in Greek and give the precise reference.

March 9, 1938, Boulogne

     "My dear friend, thank you for your letter: we can of course send the French translations to "Sur", if they want my articles. I just got a letter from Levy-Bruhl where there are a few lines about you: "I have Mister Fondane's article [« Léon Chestov et la lutte contre les évidences»] and at first glance I can say that it's very good, just as I expected, and that you will be happy with it." That's all one could ask for!
     Have you seen the last issue of "Hermes"? [Hermès, Bruxelles, jan. 1938.] Among other things there is also a short review of my "Kierkegaard" which looks very interesting, and also something about your latest articles in the "Cahiers". I also received a small book by Gaston Derycke ("Le Rouge et le Noir") where there is talk of you and me, a small book that is well worth reading! When you come to see me, and I hope this will be soon, I will show you all this. Until then etc."

[Gaston Derycke, "Puissance du mensonge. Contribution à l'étude des mythes", Bruxelles, "Le Rouge et le Noir", 1938, 51 p.]

March 26, 1938

Shestov is tired, haggard, his voice is weak. The latest political events - Hitler taking over Austria, persecution of the Jews, Moscow trials - made a deep impression. As always, the brutal intrusion of reality strikes at the very heart of his philosophical struggle.
- Hitler entered Austria [March 11, 1938.]: I am forced to admit that this did happen, that it is. But I am not persuaded.

- There is a great difference between Stalin and the Tsarist regime, to the latter's advantage. Of course there was censorship then - it was known that certain things could not be said, but they would never have dreamed of forcing people to write this or that, to think in such and such way. At least we had the "freedom" not to say what we didn't want to say.

March 1938

- My book was ready to be printed in Austria: translated, proofs corrected, the translator has been paid in full, I was given half of my due. And now - silence. I wanted this book to come out [Athens and Jerusalem], because it seems to me that I was able to really define the problem in it. But what does it matter after all? And even if it has never been published, not even in French... What's important is that the problem has been defined: what is all this - is it the self-evident or is it nothing but a nightmare?
- This is why I insisted so much, as you've almost reproached me for doing, that you stay on track in your essay and keep to what is essential. I know that your original plan was to allow a better understanding, to make it all more accessible. But if I insisted that you skip on some accessories, certain trails of thought, it is because I am not concerned about the reader only. The most important is not the reader, the most important is to be able to define the problem, for yourself... and for me. That's all that counts.
- You say I insist? Well, yes - I insist! Why use other words? Socrates was poisoned, it is a fact of experience. But that he has been poisoned in all eternity, that there is no way he could not have been poisoned, that nobody can ever change this truth become eternal - where from do we derive this evidence? Is it at the source of truth that we have found it? Is this truth ontological in nature?

- I am immersed in Hindu writings. I can't read much because I get tired quickly. But I re-read all the time Saint John of the Cross, Master Eckhart and Thomas de Kempis - to compare. In essence it's the same thing. For instance John of the Cross wants to rid the mind of all images, visions... Of course there are differences but those are secondary. Think about it: Sankara and Ramanuja disagree over Prakrit, Ramanuja accuses Sankara of material ties... He replaces them with spiritual ties... But ties are ties. Leibniz had an issue with the Greeks who claimed that matter was the source of evil, that matter put limits to the will of gods. Leibniz says that evil is contained in the eternal truths which insinuated themselves into the mind of God, against his will... In both cases God is limited, by material ties in one case, by spiritual ties in the other. How is it worse that those ties should be material! After all, Jesus' prayer says: give us our daily bread... Deussen found this revolting. Everybody finds this revolting. [Jacques] Maritain says that I want only tangibles! Berdyaev gets mad every time we discuss Kierkegaard: he is deprived of grace, he says of Kierkegaard... - The thought of Jerusalem is totally different. You remember Apocalypses. The Beast, the plagues, the calamities... Then comes the prophet and wipes away all tears. This idea is unknown to Greeks, to Hindus. It's only in the Bible.

- What did I do for forty years? They will tell you: nothing. And yet in all those years every event, every thought of my life was an occasion of struggle, this constant struggle: all those things we hold to be true, do we actually derive these from *the source of truth*? I've been asking this question for a long time. Then I thought of the original sin. Oh! It's very hard to think this... to keep to it... which is why it is important to go back to it all the time, for oneself... Don't be so sure that you were able to defeat this difficulty. You too think like all the others. But at the very least the problem must be defined: that after all the self-evident is nothing but a nightmare!
- Plato thought of it. Why then, after having said that philosophy is a preparation for death, hasn't he developed this idea? Instead he began organizing life, the republic!

About Gaston Derycke's essay "The power of lies":
- He read Kierkegaard. He read my books. He even calls us titans of thought... But what does he do with these titans? He has not even an inkling..."

May 18, 1938

We talk about Vienna, Nazi persecution of Freud, Neumann.
- And Husserl, I ask, where is he right now?
- In heaven, Shestov replies.
He says it without humor, without irony, but also without any sort of exaltation. I do not understand. Shestov explains:
- So it hasn't been announced in French papers? A Russian paper did mention it though. He died eight days ago, in Freiburg. A few years back, at his 70th anniversary, there was a big celebration in Freiburg. People were getting drunk all over town. American delegations... And today he's nothing but a dirty Jew.
- Our encounter was extraordinary and yet we happened to be on either side of the barricade. I thought that if knowledge could decide of everything, have the last word, then everything was lost. And Husserl thought that if knowledge was not the ultimate thing, then he would lose all ground, he would be lost... Sure enough he had gained fame. But he is still largely misunderstood. He will not be understood until the day when they will grasp in his work what he had confessed to me once: "When I began to teach, I felt my hands were empty... there was nothing real, nothing certain... the ground was shaking under my feet..."

Despite Hitler's takeover of Austria, Shestov's book "Athens and Jerusalem" which was being printed there and which we thought lost, has finally been published.
- They sent it out to everybody, to the libraries... Even if it is confiscated now, the most important has been salvaged... You see, it's still possible in Hitler's Germany that such a book as this be published. And yet they could very well have opened our letters. In Russia, this book could not have appeared.
- These days Hitler only imitates Stalin. But before Stalin it was almost the same thing. And even under the mensheviks. Under the Tsar we protested for things much less important... But they say that you can't make a revolution with gloves on. So...

And we talk again about bolshevik Russia of 1919, in Kiev.
- What is going on in Austria now, it was already happening then..., and under Lenin. The old Jews, the rabbis, were jailed. If somebody was suspected of having money, they went for him directly. Myself I was fortunately a persona grata. Some of the leaders of the [bolshevik] movement were among my readers... They thought that, since I was a revolutionary in philosophy and they were revolutionaries in politics, we were in the same boat. They have not lost hope that I would convert one day. But the horrors I saw there... I avoided crossing the streets. I still had to go read my lectures at the University, but I chose quiet streets to get there.
- And how were you able to leave Russian? They just let you go?
- Oh no! But the Whites came. I knew a priest who used to be a socialist leftist and then became a white. He gave me a document which stated that I was on a mission for them. If I had shown my passport where it was written that I was of Jewish religion, it would have been over. But with this document I was able to go through. First Crimea, then Constantinople...

- Berdyaev told me that he spoke with Gilson about my essay on Medieval Philosophy. But Gilson said nothing about the ideas I expressed there... I showed there that catholic philosophy was under Aristotle's judgment: "poets lie a lot". It did not bother him. "On the other hand, he said, I have only this reproach to make: why didn't he talk about the nominalists and the realists?"

["A propos du livre de E. Gilson, l'Esprit de la philosophie médiévale", Revue philosophique, nov./dec. 1936. This essay is included in Shestov's book "Athens and Jerusalem" (chap. 3, « On the Philosophy of the Middle Ages»).]

I opened a French translation of Heidegger on his table and chanced on the essay about Holderlin and the essence of poetry:
- He talks about language. But language is nothing, less than nothing...

May 28, 1938

I tell Shestov about a conversation I had with Jean Wahl and about an article by Derycke. Both say that Kierkegaard did not have faith.

- I know, they all say that. Kierkegaard himself says that if he had faith, he would have regained Regina. But he never did regain Regina. And so all is lost. But for Kierkegaard life does not end at death. The other world is still life, continuation...

- They talk about faith but already in my "Revelations of death" I say that truth begins at death. Faith is only a preparation for death, that is to say - to truth, of which Socrates spoke. It is only at death that the domain of constraint ends for good, only then begins the reign of freedom. Socrates knew very well that in his trial against Anytos, Meletos and the Athenians power was against him. And how could he defeat such power? He had to submit! But with his preparation for death he learned that at death all this will change. And indeed - Socrates died, and Anytos and Meletos died almost at the same time, not to say at the very same moment. To us today it's all the same. With Anytos and Meletos also died the constraint that served them against Socrates. And now, what is the relation of power between Socrates and Anytos-Meletos, is it the same relation? That's what Socrates probably thought about alone, at night. But during the day, when he was with his disciples, he had to transform his thoughts into teachings, he had to console them.... One always has to console people. And what a strange thing! The more a consolation is manifestly false, the better it works!

- You see, I am still preoccupied with the Hindus. The deeper I get into them, the more I am driven to read on. People only have eyes for their "metaphysics" - but the Hindus themselves only want to find a solution, a way out! What thirst for freedom! Even in the Upanishads and the Vedas there are texts written by men who were searching with lamentation [as Pascal says] - and some of the other texts written by amateurs, who preferred to look on while their peers suffered and searched. A Sankara does his best to make our natural light into a source of truth, but when he comments on the Upanishads where Brahma is given as the only source of ultimate truth, he has to desist. He even goes further, he doesn't want this truth of the Brahma to be proved, imposed by force. At the stage of Brahma, he says, one is free to choose whether one wants to acquire a body or not. One is even free to ask for what Deussen calls "gross materialism": a good meal, a beautiful woman. Our western commentators of the Hindus, be it Deussen, Grousset or Guénon, they all avoid these questions: it's not "scientific" enough for them. And so they reduce the Hindus to the Greeks. But the Hindus, they go much farther than Athens...

- You remember in my book "In Job's Balances" there is this parable about the queen of England and her ladies-in-waiting. In the theater box the queen sits down without looking to check if there is a chair waiting for her, and there is one. The ladies-in-waiting look round to make sure there is a chair waiting... Such are the two sources of truth: according to one, there is a chair because I want to sit down, and according to the other, I can only sit down if there is a chair.

[Part II, aph.18 "Quasi una Fantasia"]

June 6, 1938, Boulogne

     "My dear friend, you probably left already, but I do not know your address at La Varenne. I write from Paris to congratulate you on the great success that Masson-Oursel has announced to you. It is obvious that Levy-Bruhl liked your article since he is allocating space for it in the next issue of the Revue Philosophique: from now on you belong to the high society of "learned" philosophers!
     As to myself, things are going so-so, the usual. I will stay in Boulogne until July 16 - and on Saturday 16 I should be leaving for Châtel, presumably. I hope that we will meet one more time before that - you are coming to Paris after all ! Goodbye for now and my salutation to the ladies. And your book, when is it coming out? [Faux Traité d‘esthétique]

July 10, 1938

Saturday Shestov is leaving for Châtel-Guyon, he is very tired. I came from La Varenne where I am spending my vacations, to see him before he left. We talk about political events. These days almost all our conversations center around the tragedy unfolding daily in Europe. We chat on about the horrible matters newspapers are stuffed with. I've recorded almost nothing of these talks.

- How is one to reconcile Christianity and Greek philosophy? You see, Heraclitus says that war is the father and the lord of all things (Shestov cites Heraclitus in Greek), while the New Testament says clearly that the first commandment of God is: "you shall love your God", and the second: "you shall love your neighbor". But you see, even the mystics, Eckhart and Tauler, or Ruysbroeck the Admirable, they only talk about the first commandment - that's what is called a theocentric doctrine. They sacrifice the second commandment to the first. The "neighbor" is contingent, perishable, he doesn't really exist. Berdyaev tells me: "you always talk about actual people, but Buddha has proved a long time ago that people do not exist. And having proved that, Buddha rescued not only men but also God". But what do I need Buddha? Spinoza says the same thing. God is substance, men are only *attributes* of that substance. Spinoza fought such a war inside himself between substance and attribute that eventually he overcame the attribute in himself and became substance. It is true that once we remove the "neighbor", it becomes possible, with a number of difficulties of course, to reconcile things: we still haven't found truth, but we will find it one day, we are looking etc. But if the "neighbor" really exists, then it's not a question of truth anymore, one has to come to his rescue, one has to save him! But this is impossible and the problem becomes insoluble. And yet Jeremiah lamented.

- In the "City of God" St. Augustine tells the story of the siege of Sagont by Hannibal (after Titus Livius). They were allied with the Romans. Hannibal demanded that they betray the Romans, but they were honest and refused. So he put their city under siege which lasted a year. They ate dead bodies, each other, etc. Finally they asked for peace. Hannibal demanded unconditional surrender. They accepted. Their city was plundered, there were rapes and citizens were murdered freely. St. Augustine wonders: how come their God did not come to their rescue? It doesn't occur to St. Augustine to ask - why is it that our God did not help them? They were innocent, it was before the Revelation. St. Augustine doesn't want to admit that our God does not help us either. Nietzsche knew that though, he saw that nature was cruel but it was not enough for him to see that - he wanted to glorify cruelty. But why should one glorify it? Jeremiah too knew that our God does not help us out. The Jews had a long history to learn about it - the Maccabees etc. Jeremiah said: "be damned the day of my birth!" But despite all that evidence, he laments towards God, he asks to be rescued, he believes that God can... I too, I could not resolve this difficulty, I could only struggle.

- I am afraid that my writings will be misunderstood against the goal I set for myself. The dilemma - Knowledge or Faith - will be accepted perhaps: that knowledge is cruelty. But this understanding will not move one to take refuge in Faith. One will rather accept cruel knowledge, even if it kills. People will say: why talk about all this since one has to live somehow? "Yes, you are right, it's all true, but better not talk about it!"

- Do you know that the Dutchman who wrote an essay about me has already changed his mind? He says in his letter that he fears one would waste too much energy struggling against the self- evident while this energy is needed to struggle against the empirical. But he did not notice this: *to start on a war against the self-evident one must first have lost the war against the empirical*. Until then, of course, one has to do as one can.

[Dr.J.Suys, "Leo Sjestow's protest tegen de Rode", Amsterdam, N. v. Seyffardt's boek, 1931, 232p.]

- To study Lequier, Lazareff engaged in a serious study of Renouvier, and he told me this story. Renouvier died in an advanced age, he was almost 90 years old. And just before his death he told one of his disciples (who recorded these words): "Being a philosopher, I know that all these things, like death for instance, are supposed to be indifferent to me, that they are without any significance. And yet, I would give everything in the world only to be able to go down into my garden once again."

- Mme Bespaloff's book has come out: about Malraux, Green, Gabriel Marcel, Kierkegaard and myself. She even wrote a preface where we are all aligned in the same perspective: Malraux says... Kierkegaard says... etc. And this book is dedicated to me. I can't understand why. Gabriel Marcel, on the other hand, was delighted with the essay she wrote about him. She should have dedicated the book to him instead. I don't understand why I am in that book at all. I suppose that when she wrote that preface, she must have been very tired, annoyed - otherwise she would have understood that it made absolutely no sense.

[Rachel Bespaloff, "Cheminement et Carrefour", Vrin, Paris, (june) 1938.]

July 10, 1938

Shestov is very tired. Last night he's only slept an hour and the night before even less than an hour. He took no medicine against insomnia. Because Mme Shestov is away, Tatiana will accompany him almost to Châtel-Guyon.
He gives me a kiss on both cheeks, as he does before each departure and after each return. I do not dare to do what I want to do - to clasp him in my arms with all my strength - I am afraid he might notice my apprehension.

End of July, 1938

The issue of Revue Philosophique (July-August 1938) has come out with my article in it: "Léon Chestov et la lutte contre les évidences". I send a copy to Shestov in Châtel-Guyon. In the same issue there is a review by Brehier of Shestov's "Kierkegaard". In Brehier's opinion, Kierkegaard is engaged in intimate confessions, it has nothing to do with philosophy. After this it is easy to understand what he thinks of Shestov who mistook these intimate confessions for genuine philosophy. I write to Shestov. He responds.

July 31, 1938, Châtel-Guyon

     "On the contrary, me dear friend, your essay has only gained from your decision to bridle in, as you say, your penchant for fancy writing. I will use this occasion to remind you once more of my literary testament: take eloquence and break its neck [prends l'éloquence et tord-lui le cou]. Perhaps the general public would have preferred to keep the eloquence. But is the general public an impeccable judge? Your article is a great success - and this is not just my personal impression! This view is shared by my sister and Mister Lovtzky. Mme Lovtzky is so delighted with your article she is absolutely set on writing you a letter!
     As to Brehier and Mme Bespaloff, what can you expect? The most beautiful girl in the world can only give what she's got to give. They are both truly and very sincere. But neither of them can tolerate that the supreme rights of reason should be questioned. It's education, tradition, perhaps even the nature of their spirit - and there is nothing to be done about it! Wahl too has finally sent me a copy of his "Etudes kierkegaardiennes", with an inscription where he says that he is neither from Athens nor from Jerusalem. And he too is sincere!
     I am following my treatment - it's half done already and there is hope that it will provide some relief. Let us hope so! The weather is wonderful. My wife works. Tatiana is in Bourbon-l'Archambault. That's all my news. And what about you? How are you doing and your folks? Do write a few lines now and then, so I know what's happening with you. I shake your hand cordially. Say hello to the ladies. Yours faithfully, Léon Chestov."

[Jean Wahl, Études kierkegaardiennes, Paris, Aubier, 1938, 2nd ed. Paris, Vrin, 1949, 745 p. with an afterword by Victoria Ocampo.]

August 31, 1938

     "Your silence, my dear friend, was beginning to worry me and I started writing a letter when yours arrived. You read too many newspapers and this is draining your strength - what for? You should do like I do - read only one newspaper and in a hurry too! There is no way to know with newspapers where "politics" end and truth begins!
     Nothing new with me. In two weeks, around September 15, I will leave here and, once in Boulogne, I'll see if the change of air has made a difference - that is, if I can work again.
     My wife - she too - has finally finished your article and she is happy with it, as much as my sister and my brother-in-law. She says you have an extraordinary gift for presenting clearly the most complex ideas and that this proves that you make those ideas your own. I was once again very much impressed to hear, coming from her, that there is no fancy writing in your article and that this shows how philosophy for you is not an entertainment but something that is necessary for your soul ! A very keen insight! When I told her about that letter you received from an unknown girl, she saw in it a confirmation of her impression. And she's right.
     When are you returning to Paris? Also towards mid-September probably? I suppose we will see each other soon. So for now I say goodbye. Until then, say hello to the ladies. My wife would like to say hello to you and your ladies, and also to thank you for your article. I shake your hand cordially."

Friday, September 1938

"Rain and cold weather have chased me out of Châtel-Guyon, my dear friend, and I am now back in Boulogne - as I would like to let you know as soon as possible. And I have a small request: if you still have some copies of your article about my "Kierkegaard", would you please send one to Mme Babachowsky [Shestov's sister], Paris, 1 rue d'Alboni. It may prove useful. I shake your hand - and say hello to the ladies. Yours faithfully."

September 23, 1938

I leave La Varenne St-Hilaire where I spent the summer and where I still am (waiting for the Sudete conflict to end), and I go see Shestov in Paris - he is just as weak and haggard as before his departure. We kiss each other on both cheeks. And we restart the conversation on the spot.

- You remember that I first offered my article on Jaspers (Sine effusione sanguinis: on philosophical honesty) to Levy-Bruhl, but it appeared in the January 1938 issue of "Hermes". He already had an article on the same subject and his Revue avoids speaking twice of the same thing... Nevertheless, I decided I would write to Levy-Bruhl about Husserl. I told him that Husserl deserved that two writers of the Revue spoke about him, and that I wanted to be that second writer, since there surely was somebody else who took the initiative already. I said I would like to recount my memories of Husserl, speak about our meetings, I can't really take up again my previous study of him ["Memento Mori"]. Levy-Bruhl agreed.
- Unfortunately, I am so tired I can barely write half a page each day. It's not much. But I am still happy to do it.
- The thing is: people still do not understand Husserl, and even less the point of my struggle against him. Look at this short book by a Portuguese writer, it's in French, he speaks well of me in it. You see, in the footnote, he says that I was the first to give "the right answer to a somewhat philistine thinker". But you know very well that this is not it at all. I am so sorry people understand me so badly. People who claim to have read my books, and perhaps to even like me...

[Vieira de Almeida, Opuscula Philosophica, Lisboa, III, 1936.]

- The Christians talk about Jesus the way they talk about Buddha. Of course they say that Jesus is greater, a hundred times greater, that his thought is deeper, more humane... But as to giving us our daily bread, Jesus can't do it, just as Buddha can't. Take a look at these passages by Heiler - and this in a book that is called "Das Gebet" [Prayer] - it's a very good book otherwise...

Mme Shestov comes in and our talk takes a different turn. She asks me whether I feel any inclination towards becoming a teacher. "No. Why?" Shestov explains:
- My wife really liked your article about me. She says that you are skilled in presenting things so clearly, so perfectly, that my thought is understood better in your writings than in my own books. I seize the occasion to tell Shestov that he is responsible both for my virtues and my philosophical vices. I've become a philosopher almost despite myself, simply because he wanted me to. It was only in order to please him, because I liked him so much, that I embarked on my study of Husserl, Heidegger - I wrote my first essays because he thought that these exercises would be useful to me, while I was of a completely opposite view. I thought I was only a poet, a critic, and I wrote those philosophical essays as a compromise, because I felt that he would be happier to have a disciple who was a philosopher, not a poet. Therefore, if I became a "philosopher", it was thanks to him, I had no merit in it. Shestov is very moved. But he was aware of this before I told him.

October 24, 1938

Shestov is still studying the Hindus.

- I recently wrote that article about Husserl ["To the memory of a great philosopher, Edmund Husserl"], but it made me realize that if I went beyond half-an-hour of writing per day, I'd be dead before I could finish. And so I had most of the day free and I read the Hindus. I can see from that experience with the Husserl article that I will never be able to write about the Hindus. Well, somebody else will write, you will maybe... It doesn't matter so much what one might write about them - it's the questions themselves that are important...

[« In memory of a great philosopher: Edmund Husserl. » In Russian: Russkie Zapiski, XII (dec. 1938) and XIII (jan. 1939). In French : Revue philosophique, jan. to june 1940, pp. 5-32. This article was later included in "Speculation et Revelation".]

- For instance, the case of Buddha is truly remarkable. For the most part we do not know the real authors of the Vedantas. But with Buddha we can be fairly certain that he was a real person, not some mythical author of holy books. You know that there was a debate about whether Buddha actually originated a whole religion, whether a religion without God can be called a "religion", just like in the case of psychology without the soul. Well, some say that it is not God that is the basis of a religion but "das Heilige" - sanctity. I quoted a text from Heiler to you the other day where he says that humanity has never produced greater genius than Buddha and Jesus. Of course, Jesus is somewhat and even much greater, but a "genius"... Today the Pope fights against the Germans, Russians and Italians because they are a threat to christianity. Empirically speaking that is true: persecutions, tortures, concentrations camps... But such a way to conceive of christianity is a much greater threat...

- It is said of Buddha, and he himself says it, that he had defeated death. But look how death proceeds. It starts by taking from us our health, makes us lose taste for the things of life, accustoms us to indifference etc. And what does Buddha do? The same thing exactly. He introduces death into us, before its appointed time. He works for death. But look what a genius he was! He actually persuaded people that he had defeated death while all he did was serve it. Plato himself wrote that philosophy is a preparation for death, but instead of taking up this problem he busied himself with the Laws, the Republic etc... I wonder what he is thinking about it now.

- Lazareff's article on Lequier is excellent. He wanted to talk about me but I did all I could to discourage him. I asked that he not even mention my name. To compare Lequier to Kierkegaard, who is well known even in France, that's fine... Those who know my ideas would understand anyway. The important thing is to define the problem!

[A. Lazareff, « L'entreprise philosophique de J. Lequier. » In Russian : Put', aug/oct. 1938, pp. 29-.47. In French : Revue philosophique, sept./oct. 1938. The article was later included in the "Vie et Connaissance", Paris, Vrin, 1948. This book also contains an essay on Shestov.]

- You haven't read the account of my "Athens and Jerusalem" by Jules de Gaultier published in the Revue Philosophique? His article is fairly good but he ends it pretty much in the same way as Jean Wahl ended his inscription to me: he is neither from Athens nor from Jerusalem. I am not surprised to hear Jules de Gaultier say such a thing, but I am still surprised at Wahl: he is very well educated, he knows the Greeks, the Germans... To even say such a thing, he needs some sort of criterion. Where does he take it from? I know well enough that he could claim to be a skeptic. But skepticism itself is of the Greeks... What nonsense has been said about me, even by Mme Bespaloff, who claims that I would say to a drowning man - you can, you must, save yourself! As if it was not I who has written forty years ago, in my first book about Nietzsche, that with him atheism was not a result of a duty forsaken but of a right lost.

[Revue philosophique, no. 9-10, sept/oct. 1938, pp. 242-243.]

We talk about war, persecutions etc. Shestov muses:
- But perhaps there is more to this world than just killing.

November 3, 1938

I send Shestov a copy of my "False Treaty of Esthetics" with a simple inscription: "To Léon Chestov, to whom I owe everything..."
[B. Fondane, Faux Traité d'esthétique, Paris, Denoël, 1938, reed. Paris, Plasma, 1980.]

November 5, 1938

The first letter I receive about my book is from Shestov. He writes:

"My dear friend, I just got your "Faux Traité". Thank you and congratulations - how lucky to be able to publish a book! Unfortunately I will not be able to read it right now. I do not feel well, I am very weak and tired, stay in bed all day long - that's the price of my article on Husserl. But I am taking my measures, maybe I'll feel better soon and have enough strength to read at least. Best wishes and hope to see you again soon..."

November 10, 1938

I wait a few days and then write to say that I was afraid I might tire him if I visited too soon, but will come to see him Thursday.

November 14, 1938

I receive a letter from his daughter, Natasha Baranov:

"Dear friend, our father is ill, he will have to spend some time at the Boileau Clinic, to get treatment. Do not come to Boulogne. Give a call to Tatiana one of these days, she will tell you whether you can visit him at the clinic."

November 16, 1938

I call Tatiana. The doctors forbid all visitors. He is given shots of salycil. He is doing a bit better. He was very upset about having to leave home for the clinic. But what is there to do?

November 18, 1938

Tatiana calls me and says that Shestov was very happy to learn that I inquired about his health. He still cannot receive visitors but feels a bit better. I do not dare to ask Tatiana to call me immediately in case he gets worse - I am afraid this might frighten her. But she tells me she will send a telegram if there are changes, or when he asks to see me.

November 19, 1938

Nothing new.

November 20, 1938

I receive a telegram: "Call Tatiana (Rageot)". Shestov died.
In the afternoon we all go to the Boileau Clinic. He lies on the bed, calm, pacified, his face is relaxed, beautiful. Mme Shestov tells me that yesterday night he still felt fairly well. And this morning, before she arrived, the nurse went in to take his temperature. He turned over - and died. The heart gave up. "He loved you so!" she says and starts sobbing. Then she shows me on the small table next to the bed two books. A Russian bible, open, and "Das System der Vedanta" (Brahma-Sutra) translated by Deussen. The book is open at the chapter "Brahma als Freude" where Shestov has just underlined (or maybe re-read) the following passage:

Nicht trübe Askese kennzeichnet den Brahmanwisser, sondern das freudig hoffnungsvolle Bewusstsein der Einheit mit Gott. [It is not somber asceticism that marks a sage but a confident and joyous awareness of unity with God]

We go down the stairs, wait for Tatiana in the hall. She says that there was no hope, the tests showed that Shestov has had tuberculosis of old age for at least a year. The funeral will take place Tuesday, at the new Boulogne-Baillancourt cemetery, at 9 o'clock in the morning.

Our conversation of October 24 was our last. The letter I received from him on November 5 was the last he ever wrote.

[Paul Deussen, Das System des Vedânta, Vierte Auflage, Leipzig, F.A. Brockhaus, 1923, 540 p.]

November 21, 1938

I didn't write yesterday about that peace, that radiance on his face. I entered the room with some sort of revulsion (my old fear of carrying away the vision of death from the face of those I loved), I sobbed when I saw him so rigid, and after a moment I was almost ashamed of my sobs. I was screaming inside myself while I cried, but it was only a silent dialogue of the soul with itself: "Where are you? Do you know now?"

I am torn between a desire to go see him again and my revulsion against it. [In another version, Fondane wrote: ..."and the shameful feeling of being attached to something that is going to rot away".] I call Tatian who tells me that the coffin will be open for display at a quarter to 7 in the evening. I go there. It turns out I misheard the time. It has taken place at a quarter to 8 in the morning. I am let inside a small room. The coffin is on the table, closed, covered up, a bouquet of flowers on top.

November 22, 1938

The funeral takes place at the New Cemetery of Boulogne Billancourt, the South-East corner, in the mausoleum where his mother and brother already repose. Since only Russian papers announced the event, no French writers are present, except for Jules de Gaultier. There is a crowd about a hundred strong. To my surprise a rabbi reads the Kadish. Unfortunately he switches from Hebrew to French and reads away in a melodious voice, without any conviction (aren't these people trained to be good actors at the very least?). He quotes Job: God gave, God took away... and he has no inkling of all the thinking Shestov put into it. But I am very moved that Shestov wanted to keep this visible link to Israel. I ask Mister Lovtzky if this was done on Shestov's formal request. Lovtzky explains: last year, when Shestov's brother was buried, a rabbi read the Kadish, and then some prayers in French that moved Shestov and which he found "beautiful". And so...

The rabbi reads a last prayer for the one whose name was Leiba Yitzchok Schwarzmann (the family omitted to tell him that it was the philosopher Shestov, to avoid a sermon) and then everybody throws a bit of earth into the grave, and it's now my turn...

[ Dossier Fondane ]

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