Simple merchants

“I want to tell you something,” he continued after a pause, during which he tossed his cigarette through the wrought-iron grate into the stove. “I have occasionally given some thought to that sort of useless curiosity and preoccupation with one’s self — because I tended to be that way myself at one time. But I realized that it left me unstable, erratic, out of control. And for me the important thing is control and balance. There will always be people for whom this sort of interest in oneself, this probing observation of one’s own sensibilities, is appropriate — poets, for instance, who are capable of expressing the inner life, which they prize so much, with assurance and beauty, thereby enriching the emotional life of other people. But we are just simple merchants, my dear; our self-observations are dreadfully petty. At the very best, all we are capable of saying is that we take some special delight in hearing the orchestra tune up, or that we sometimes can’t bring ourselves to swallow. But what we should do, damn it, is to sit ourselves down and accomplish something, just as our forebears did.”

This is a passage from Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, translated by John E. Woods (Part 5, Chapter 2). It illustrates rather well a feeling that steals over me quite regularly when pondering what to write here, whether I am writing about myself (which I probably do rather too often) or about other people or things. I would like to think myself a poet, but in fact I am much more like the simple merchant Thomas paints himself as in his conversation with his sister. Still, in spite of my inclination to do so, I can’t quite bring myself to sit down and accomplish something, which is why I am writing this, and running the risk of becoming unstable, erratic, and out of control.


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