The torture garden

"Oh, the candor of innocent youth!"

"...he reproached me, in that tone of noncommittal geniality which in him was only the refinement of hatred."

"You're a child," Clara repeated, "and talk like they do in Europe, darling. And you have stupid scruples, like in Europe. In China life is free, joyous, complete, unconventional, unprejudiced,... at least for us. No other limits to liberty than yourself... or to love, than the triumphant variety of your desire. Europe and its hypocritical, barbaric civilization is a lie. What else do you do there except lie--lie to yourself and others, lie about everything you recognize in your heart to be true? You're obliged to pretend respect for people and institutions you think absurd. You live attached in a cowardly fashion to moral and social conventions you despise, condemn, and know lack all foundation. It is that permanent contradiction between your ideas and desires and all the dead formalities and vain pretenses of your civilization which makes you sad, troubled and unbalanced. In that intolerable conflict you lose all joy of life and all feeling of personality, because at every moment they suppress and restrain and check the free play of your powers. That's the poisoned and mortal wound of the civilized world.

"Why are you so gay?" she had said to me, "I don't like people to be gay like that, darling. It hurts me. When you're gay it's because you're not in love. Love is serious, sad and profound."

Despite fatigue, danger and the accursed fever--I was not able for a day, nor for a minute, to cure myself of the frightful poison that woman had injected into my flesh--that woman to whom I felt myself attached and riveted. And I realized that the very thing that held me to her was the frightful rottenness of her soul and her crimes of love. She was a monster, and I loved her for being a monster! I had believed--had I really?--that her love could uplift me... and here I had descended even lower, to the floor of the tainted gulf out of which, having once inhaled its odor, you never climb again.

With us, eroticism is poor, stupid and frigid. It is always presented in ambiguous attitudes of sin, while here it preserves all its vital scope, all its passionate poetry and the stupendous pulse of all nature. But you are only a European lover... a poor, timid, chilly little soul, in whom Catholicism has stupidly inculcated a fear of nature and a hatred of love. It has warped and perverted the sense of life in you."

And I irritably reflected that you can't take a step from the equator to the poles without running into that suspicious face, those rapacious eyes, those clawlike hands and that vile mouth, which goes breathing the frightful verses of the Bible, in an odor of stale gin, over the charming divinities and adorable myths of naive religions. - clara

Everything which makes death collective, administrative and bureaucratic--all the filth of your progress, in fact--is destroying, little by little, our beautiful traditions of the past. It is only here, in this garden, that they are conserved as well as can be... where we try at least to maintain them as well as possible. But what difficulties! what obstacles! what continual struggles--if you knew! Alas, I feel it won't last much longer. We have been conquered by mediocrity, and the bourgeois spirit is triumphing everywhere..."

It isn't dying that's sad; it's living when you're not happy.

"Monsters, monsters! But there are no monsters! What you call monsters are superior forms, or forms simply beyond your understanding. Aren't the gods monsters? Isn't a man of genius a monster, like a tiger or a spider, like all individuals who live beyond social lies, in the dazzling and divine immortality of things? Why, I too then--am a monster!"

Then, little by little, my thoughts abandon the garden, the torture-arenas, me agony beneath the bell, the trees haunted by pain, the bloody and devouring flowers. They are trying to burst through the setting of this charnel-house, penetrate to pure light, knock once more upon the gates of life. Alas, the gates of life never swing open except upon death, never open except upon the palaces and gardens of death. And the universe appears to me like an immense, inexorable torture-garden. Blood everywhere and, where there is most life, horrible tormentors who dig your flesh, saw your bones, and retract your skin with sinister, joyful faces.

Ah, yes! the Torture Garden! Passions, appetites, greed, hatred, and lies; law, social institutions, justice, love, glory, heroism, and religion: these are its monstrous flowers and its hideous instruments of eternal human suffering. What I saw today, and what I heard, exists and cries and howls beyond this garden, which is no more than a symbol to me of the entire earth. I have vainly sought a respite in quietude and repose in death, and I can find them nowhere.

In that atrocious second I understood that desire can attain me darkest human terror and give an actual idea of hell and its horror.