A Hero of Our Time, part 9: The Infirmity of the Will and the Inability to Make Momentous Decisions

Two passages this time. In the first, Pechorin meditates on his cosmic insignificance and the effects of the modern mentality on his life.

————–

I returned home through the deserted side streets of the settlement. The full moon, red as the lurid glow of a fire, was just coming up over the jagged skyline of the housetops. The stars shone placidly in the dark-blue firmament, and I was amused at the thought that there once were sages who believed the heavenly bodies have a share in our wretched squabbles over a tiny territory or some other imaginary rights. Yet these lamps, which they thought had been lighted only to illuminate their battles and triumphs, still burn with undiminished brilliance, while their passions and hopes have long since died out together with them like a campfire left burning on the fringe of a forest by a careless wayfarer. But what strength of will they drew from the certainty that all the heavens with their numberless inhabitants looked down on them with constant though mute sympathy! Whereas we, their wretched descendants, who roam the earth without convictions or pride, without joys or fear other than the nameless dread that constricts the heart at the thought of the inevitable end, we are no longer capable of great sacrifices either for the good of mankind or even for our personal happiness, since we know that happiness is impossible; and we pass indifferently from one doubt to another just as our forebears floundered from one delusion to another, without the hopes they had and without even that vague but potent sense of joy the soul derives from any struggle with man or destiny . . .

Many similar thoughts passed through my mind. I did not hold back their passage, because I don’t care to dwell upon abstract ideas–for what can they lead to? In my early youth I was a dreamer. I liked to toy with the images, now gloomy, now radiant, which my restless, eager imagination drew for me. But what have I derived from it all? Only weariness, like the aftermath of a nighttime battle with a phantom, and dim memories filled with regrets. In this futile struggle, I exhausted the fervor of spirit and the constancy of will which are essential to real life. When I embarked on that life, I had already lived it in my mind, and therefore it has become as boring and repulsive to me as a poor imitation of a long-familiar book.

————–

The second passage consists of Pechorin’s reaction to a letter of farewell he received from Vera, whom he had referred to as “the only woman who has ever completely understood me with all my petty frailties and evil passions.”

————–

Now that I realized I might lose her forever, Vera became for me the most precious thing on earth, more precious than life, honor or happiness! God only knows what odd, wild ideas swarmed in my head . . . And all the while I rode on, spurring my horse mercilessly. Finally I noticed that the animal was breathing more laboriously, and once or twice he stumbled on a level stretch. There still remained three miles to Essentuki, a Cossack hamlet where I could get another mount.

Everything would have been redeemed had my horse had the strength to carry on for another ten minutes. But suddenly, at a sharp bend in the road coming up from a shallow ravine as we were emerging from the hills, he crashed to the ground. I leapt nimbly out of the saddle, but try as I might to get him up, pull as I might at the reins, my efforts were in vain. A scarcely audible groan escaped from between his clenched teeth and a few minutes later he was dead. I was left alone in the steppe, my last hope gone. I tried to continue on foot, but my knees gave way and, exhausted by the day’s anxieties and the sleepless night, I fell on to the wet grass and sobbed like a child.

I lay there for a long time motionless and cried bitterly, without trying to check the tears and sobs. I thought my heart would be torn apart. All my resolution, all my composure vanished like smoke–my spirit was impotent, my reason paralyzed, and had someone seen me at that moment he would have turned away in contempt.

When the night dew and mountain breeze had cooled my fevered brow and I had collected my thoughts once more, I realized that it was useless and senseless to pursue a happiness that was lost. What more did I want? To see her? Why? Wasn’t everything over between us? One bitter farewell kiss wouldn’t make my memories sweeter, and it’d be only the harder to part.

It’s pleasant for me to know, however, that I can weep! Although the real reason was perhaps frayed nerves, the sleepless night, the two minutes I had stood looking into the muzzle of a pistol, and an empty stomach.

Everything works out for the best. As for this new sensation of pain, it served as a happy diversion, to employ a military term. It does one good to cry, and had I not ridden my horse to death and then been compelled to walk the ten miles back, I perhaps would not have closed my eyes that night either.

————

The modern era has seen traditional faith and modes of life decay without any adequate substitute replacing them. As Bernard Wasserstein wrote in his history of Europe in the 20th century,

A variety of doctrines, mainly re-treads of old ideas, rushed into the intellectual vacuum: neo-liberalism, feminism, deconstructionism. None, however, provided the scaffolding for an alternative social morality that could satisfy a majority in society.

Not only are the bonds of community and tradition weakened, but the individual’s ability to live a life that makes sense as a whole has been lost to the contradictions of competing values. Once marriage could make sense for a man: he could be certain that society supported the institution, and was arranged so that by marrying he would be putting himself in a reasonable position – not one with any certainty of success, but not a ridiculous one either. As a result, today we are often unable to commit to anything of substance – even though without such commitment the highest fulfillment of humanity cannot be attained. Instead we spend time “Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.” We date endlessly, marry late, and meditating on the infinite possibilities of our lives, often end up falling between two stools.

Nighthawks

Waiting

Roissy wrote a story a while ago about a particularly charming girl has a liaison with who turned out to be married. He seems to have deleted it, but from what I remember, when she asked him if there was a chance they could be together, he froze. He didn’t know if he might truly be in love, truly be capable of commitment. Was it possible? After all, wouldn’t such a step be ridiculous? To give up sexual freedom and variety for what? The dubious institution of modern marriage? This one human, all too human woman? Who did she bang for free when she was younger tighter hotter?

Celebrating the Birth

The Acme of Being Ridiculous. Note the laughing maids, and the real father making the cuckold symbol. Even the boy knows what the score is. Being ridiculous was possible with classical marriage too, but at least it was properly reviled and opposed by institutions and by society.

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About Pechorin

A Hero of Our Time
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2 Responses to A Hero of Our Time, part 9: The Infirmity of the Will and the Inability to Make Momentous Decisions

  1. Pingback: A Hero of Our Time, part 12: What a Woman Sees in Pechorin | Pechorin

  2. Pingback: A Hero of Our Time: Introduction | Pechorin

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