Marmoutier. Thursday 14 September. footnote1 A curious connection between stoicism and optimism. It’s already there in the Stoic of antiquity, who needed to believe the world is good. More of a psychological device than a theoretical connection. Another ruse to tranquilize oneself, another trap of inauthenticity. I set out for the army stoically, meaning that on the one hand I blocked out everything that made up my former life, and on the other hand accepted a future in which my own possibilities would no longer exist. ‘Readied up’, as they call it here. I was glad to be readied up, but didn’t realize that the essence of this state implies a kind of admiring docility towards the military authorities in charge of me. By placing myself in their hands, I trusted them and ceased to be a ‘man against’. This obviously came from the fact that I had freely tendered my resignation. I lost my critical spirit, and surprised myself in the first few days by being disagreeably affected when officers were criticized in front of me. Certainly the famous attitude of ‘saying no’ already implies doubt and reservation. Acceptance, on the contrary, leads to that admiration on principle which is everything I most detest.
Too concerned with being well adapted in myself, for myself, in other words not being despairing or cowardly, I’ve not known how to choose between ‘saying yes’ and ‘saying no’, I’ve not been concerned about the objective situation. Fortunately I found myself in contact with Corporal Paul, a Socialist and thus dissatisfied and confused. Not someone who says ‘no’, but someone who gets mad and bitter, is sometimes afraid of the senior officers and sometimes curses them. The result is that I’ve begun to see the real situation. The pitiful transport from Ceintrey to Marmoutier also opened my eyes: the army has remained in war what it was in peace. Acceptance, then, should be dissociated from admiration. That is now done. What remains is to see the objective situation.
I have not seen the war, which seems impossible to grasp, but I have seen the world of the war. It’s simply the militarized world. The meaning of things has changed. An inn is still there, it’s still decked out and welcoming, but its welcome is empty; in other words this possibility self-destructs and becomes absurd. An inn welcomes people in exchange for money and evokes a bourgeois freedom, the freedom of money. But the world of war is a world without money and without freedom. This inn has been requisitioned by the Administration. Soldiers are staying in it, they don’t pay and they don’t stay there freely. For anyone who reads the word ‘Commissariat’ written on its front door, the inn evokes a new meaning: that of gratuitous compulsion. At the same time it has become a pure implement—in other words, whatever former luxury the object possessed, it has now been made to serve solely as a necessity. The pretty room designed to charm the traveller is simply a den for the soldiers occupying it. They sleep there, but on straw. The bed is removed or not touched. And so, long before a bomb destroys the man-made object, the human meaning of the object is already destroyed. In wartime we wander through an implement-world. Exactly as in the barracks. It’s just that, since the pretty charms of things remain, the result is at each moment a kind of evanescent appeal of a world that has disappeared, a continual illusion.
Objects are not the same distance away in war as they are in peacetime. I felt this the other day at Arzwiller: there was a forest of oak trees on red rock some fifty metres from the road. We had lain down on the edge of the road, crushed by our rifles, our backpacks, our greatcoats, like upside-down mayflies. I would have liked—not to go into the wood, but to think that I could do so. But it was impossible to think such a thing, it lay outside my possibilities. Fifty metres was enough to put a place out of reach. It was nothing but scenery. And so for me Marmoutier does not have surroundings, since I cannot get out of the town. This world of war has its heavy, serious roads, and then its scenery. By having ceased to be within my possibilities, these remote places lose their reality. The fellows here translate this by saying of a pleasant landscape or an agreeable village: ‘I’ll come back when it’s peacetime.’
War is a form of socialism. It reduces man’s individual property to nothing, and replaces it with collective property. My clothing, my bedding and my food no longer belong to me; I don’t have a home any more. Everything I use belongs to the collective. And I cannot form an attachment to it precisely because it is the collective, as such, it is impersonal. For me, it is true, going off to war does not involve a suppression of my individual belongings, since I’ve never had any. I don’t have a house, or furniture, or books, or knick-knacks. I eat in restaurants, I have clothes—just what is strictly necessary. But the war has lumbered me with a heap of implements that belong to the collective and which I just use—helmet, mask, belt, boots, rifle, etc. Here I am in socialism, whether I like it or not. And cured of socialism, if I needed to cure myself of it.
All these implement-objects refer to a primary meaning. In peacetime just as in war, a hammer is to strike in a nail, a nail is to hold down a roof, etc. But in peace, the final meaning is always the same: the protection of human life. The final meaning of these implements in wartime is destruction. This is clear enough for guns and rifles. But in the world of war, what is striking is that all these objects whose purpose was to protect people are still there, intact, yet their final meaning now is destruction. This inn, this hammer, this nail, this roof still serve to protect, but such protection is no longer the ultimate purpose. Protection itself is only for the sake of destruction. All this is not a logical argument, it’s something that is felt on the objects, and is again one of the causes of the essential ambiguity of objects in wartime: objects of luxury that become pure implements while keeping their luxury aspect, objects of protection that continue to protect while acquiring a sinister and secret sense of destruction.
Saturday 16th. To rely on other people. I think I can say that this has never happened to me before; I would have been horrified. And now here I am calmly wondering whether Saarbrücken has been taken. Which means: I hope the High Command will have had the intelligence, and the front-line troops the courage, to take Saarbrücken. We are not far away from the idiocies of the rear: the old lady counting on ‘our brave little soldiers’ and rejoicing to know that she’s defended.