Crushing Necessity

Okay… it’s Friday. Time for your medicine, all you busy people.

This is from that studied misanthrope, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Voyage au bout de la nuit, somewhere about page 170. Translation by Ralph Mannheim (New York: New Directions, 1983)

What horrified me most was all of that Elevated Railway. On the other side of the court, which was more like a well shaft, the wall began to light up, first one, then two rooms, then dozens. I could see what was going on in some of them. Couples going to bed. These Americans seemed as worn out as our own people after their vertical hours. The women had very full, very pale thighs, at least the ones I was able to get a good look at. Before going to bed, most of the men shaved without taking the cigars out of their mouths.

In bed they first took off their glasses, then put their false teeth in a glass of water, which they left in evidence. Same as in the street, the sexes didn’t seem to talk to each other. They impressed me as fat, docile animals, used to being bored. In all, I only saw two couples engaging, with the light on, in the kind of thing I’d expected, and not at all violently. The other women ate chocolates in bed, while waiting for their husbands to finish shaving. And then they all put their lights out.

There’s something sad about people going to bed. You can see they don’t give a damn whether they’re getting what they want out of life or not, you can see they don’t even try to understand what we’re here for. They just don’t care. Americans or not, they sleep no matter what, they’re bloated mollusks, no sensibility, no trouble with their conscience.

I’d seen too many puzzling things to be easy in my mind. I knew too much and not enough. I’d better go out, I said to myself, I’d better go out again. Maybe I’ll meet Robinson. Naturally that was an idiotic idea, but I dreamed it up as an excuse for going out again, because no matter how much I tossed and turned on my narrow bed, I couldn’t snatch the tiniest scrap of sleep. Even masturbation, at times like that, provides neither comfort nor entertainment. Then you’re really in despair.

The worst part is wondering how you’ll find the strength tomorrow to go on doing what you did today and have been doing for much too long, where you’ll find the strength for all that stupid running around, those projects that come to nothing, those attempts to escape from crushing necessity, which always founder and serve only to convince you one more time that destiny is implacable, that every night will find you down and out, crushed by the dread of more and more sordid and insecure tomorrows.