The Individualism of Joy
A painful misadventure had just befallen me, to which I owe the addition of some new wrinkles. It was not the first time in my life that I have, as the saying goes, “left some flesh among the brambles.” But this time, I felt that I risked leaving more than my fleece or my blood: I risked leaving my love for the joy of living. And that is serious. It is the worst that can happen to us, to you or to me, to no longer feel love for the joy of living. It matters little if we lose our reputation or our money, or the esteem of those around us, or, in the worst case, our liberty (and that is still a terrible thing.) But there is no loss that can compare to those of the love of the joy of living.
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Our individualism is not an individualism of the cemetery, an individualism of sadness and shadow, an individualism of pain and suffering. Our individualism creates joy — within us and beyond us. We want to find joy wherever possible. In relation to our power as seekers, discoverers and achievers, we want to create it wherever possible — that is, wherever we find the absence of prejudices and conventions, of “good” and “evil.” We others, we evolve under the sign of the joy of living. And it is in this way that we recognize that we are doing well internally: when we want to give and receive joy and enjoyment, to flee for our own sake and to spare those who give us tears and suffering in return.
Our inner health is measured by this: that we are not yet bored with the experiences of life; that we are individually and always ready to try a new experience, to start again one that did not succeed or did not give us all the pleasure that we expected; that there is love within us, infinite love for joy, for the joy of living. When it’s not the spring that sings in our innermost depths—as at the heart, at the very heart of our internal being, there are neither flowers, nor fruits, nor voluptuous aspirations—things are going badly and it is time to think, I am afraid, of embarking for the shadowy country from which no one has ever returned.
Yes, our individualism is based on the love of the joy of living — the joy of living outside the law and beyond morals, outside of tradition and slavery to social or civic prejudices. It is not a question of greater or lesser years. Like those of Olympus, our “gods” are eternally beautiful and eternally young. It doesn’t matter that our fall is coming to an end and that we don’t know if tomorrow we will see dawn rise for the last time : what is essential is that again today, we feel ourselves capable of the joy of living.
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There are young people who call themselves individualists, but their individualism certainly does not appeal to us. It is petty, shriveled, timid, incapable of considering experience for its own sake; pessimistic, pedantic by dint of being documentary and documented; hazy, neurasthenic, colorless and without heat; it does not even have the strength it needs, once it has entered “on the wrong path,” to follow it to its end. Ah! A dreadful individualism; a dull, gray and morose individualism! Let them keep it to themselves; we won’t begrudge it.
There is the individualism of those who want to create joy for themselves by dominating, managing and exploiting their fellows, by using their social power — governmental, monetary, monopolizing power. It is the individualism of the bourgeoisie. It has nothing in common with ours.
There is the individualism of the high-perched who want to crush those with whom they come into contact—under the weight of their moral superiority, of their intellectual culture; the individualism of the “hard” (for others of course), of the insensitive—conceited people who do not stoop to picking up “golden pebbles;” the individualism of those who shed no tears and who hover in the seventh heaven beyond the reach of human forces. I fear that it is quite simply the individualism of the smug and the pretentious, of the angels that, in the end, you will encounter one day splashing about in the pool of uniform mediocrity, the individualism of herons who wind up being satisfied with a snail to soothe their ambition. This individualism does not interest us either.
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We want, on the contrary, an individualism that radiates joy and benevolence, like a warm hearth. We want a sunlit individualism, even in the dead of winter. An individualism for disheveled and delirious Bacchantes, which expands and spreads and overflows, without priests and without masters, without borders and without shores. An individual that does not want to suffer or carry burdens, but does not want to make others suffer or to inflict burdens. An individualism that does not feel humiliated when called upon to heal the wounds it may have thoughtlessly caused along the way. Ah! What a rich, what a beautiful individualism that is!
What then is the individualism of the “makers of suffering,” of those who leave in the lurch the very hopes they have aroused (I am not talking about those for whom causing suffering and rejoicing in it is a morbid obsession, a pathological state), if not a pitiful doctrine for the use of poor people who hesitate and vacillate, who dread giving of themselves, so poor is their inner health? They are the ones that disillusionment leaves confused and nine times out of ten this disillusion exists only in their feeble imagination; they are the ones who “take back” what they give; those who would like the river without meanders, the mountain without cliffs, the glacier without crevasses, the ocean without storms, and dreams without awakenings. Their individualism refuses battle because victory appears doubtful. Ah! Paltry individualism!
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I assure you, compagnons, that in order to live our Individualism, which wants to radiate and create the love of the joy of living, it is necessary to be strong, truly strong within; you must enjoy good health and a rich, robust internal constitution. Not everyone is able to satisfy the appetites of the sensibility of those in whom it has been set to work. I repeat: all must be well within yourself. And this health does not depend on a therapeutic regimen, is not a work of the imagination, and cannot be learned in textbooks. To possess it you must have been forged and reforged on the anvil of variety and diversity in life experiences; you must have been soaked and re-soaked in the torrent of actions and reactions of enthusiasm for life. You have to have loved the joy of living to the point of preferring to perish rather than renounce it.
Let us be careful not to lose the love of the joy of living. It would be a sign of decay, of irreversible senility, even if we were not yet twenty years old.
E. Armand, “L’individualisme de la joie,” l’en dehors 3 no. 32 (31 Mars 1924): 1.
Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur.
[Parallel French/English on next page]