Thursday, 13 June 2013

IN VINO VERITAS (or THE BANQUET) -- by Soren Kierkegaard -- from his book "Stages on Life's Way"

It was on one of the last days in July, at ten o'clock in the evening, when the participants in that banquet assembled together.  Date and year I have forgotten; indeed, this would be interesting only to one's memory of details, and not to one's recollection of the contents of that experience.  The "spirit of the occasion," and whatever impressions are recorded in one's mind under that heading, concerns only one's recollections; and just as generous wine gains in flavor by passing the Equator, because of the evaporation of its watery particles, likewise does recollection gain by getting rid of the watery particles of memory; and yet recollection becomes as little a mere figment of the imagination by this process as does the generous wine.

The participants were five in number: John, called the Seducer, Victor Eremita, Constantine Constantius, and yet two others whose names I have not exactly forgotten - which would be a matter of small importance - but whose names I did not learn.  It was as if these two had no proper names, for they were constantly addressed by some epithet.  The one was called the Young Person.  Nor was he more than twenty and some years, of slender and delicate build, and of a very dark complexion.  His face was thoughtful; but more pleasing even was its lovable and engaging expression which betokened a purity of soul harmonizing perfectly with the soft charm, almost feminine, and the transparency of his whole presence.  This external beauty of appearance was lost sight of, however, in one's next impression of him; or, one kept it only in mind whilst regarding a youth nurtured or - to use a still tenderer expression - petted into being, by thought, and nourished by the contents of his own soul - a youth who as yet had had nothing to do with the world, had been neither aroused and fired, nor disquieted and disturbed.  Like a sleepwalker he bore the law of his actions within himself, and the amiable, kindly expression of his countenance concerned no one, but only mirrored the disposition of his soul.

The other person they called the Dressmaker, and that was his occupation. . . .

. . . They were seated.  In the same moment the little company were launched into the very middle of the infinite sea of enjoyment - as if with a single bound.  Each one had addressed all his thoughts and all his desires to the banquet, had prepared his soul for the enjoyment which was offered to overflowing and in which their souls overflowed. . . .

. . . Thus they banqueted.  Soon, conversation had woven its beautiful wreaths about the banqueters, so that they sat garlanded.  Now, it was enamored of the food, now of the wine, and now again of itself; now, it seemed to develop into significance, and then again it was altogether slight. . . .

. . . After a couple of courses had been served Constantine proposed that the banquet should conclude with each one's making a speech, but that precautions should be taken against the speakers' divagating too much.  He was for making two conditions, viz., there were to be no speeches until after the meal; and no one was to speak before having drunk sufficiently to feel the power of the wine - or else he was to be in that condition in which one says much which under other circumstances one would leave unsaid - without necessarily having the connection of speech and thought constantly interrupted by hiccoughs.  Before speaking, then, each one was to declare solemnly that he was in that condition.  No definite quantity of wine was specified, capacities differed so widely.  Against this proposal, John entered protest.  He could never become intoxicated, he averred, and when he had come to a certain point he grew the soberer the more he drank. . . .

. . . As to the contents of the speeches, Constantine proposed that they should deal with love, that is, the relation between man and woman.  No love stories were to be told though they might furnish the text of one's remarks.

The conditions were accepted.  All reasonable and just demands a host may make on his guests were fulfilled: they ate and drank, and "drank and were filled with drink," as the Bible has it; that is, they drank stoutly.

The desert was served.  Even if Victor had not, as yet, had his desire gratified to hear the splashing of a fountain - which, for that matter, he had luckily forgotten since that former conversation - now champagne flowed profusely.  The clock struck twelve.  Thereupon Constantine commanded silence, saluted the Young Person with a goblet and the words "May it be fortunate and favorable," and bade him to speak first.
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The Young Person's Speech

The Young Person arose and declared that he felt the power of the wine, which was indeed apparent to some degree; for the blood pulsed strongly in his temples, and his appearance was not as beautiful as before the meal.  He spoke as follows: .  .  .

(Editors note: The Young Person began his speech by speaking about the comical and contradictory nature of love.  I have chosen to exclude the early part of his speech insofar as it does not relate immediately to the subject of woman.  - KS)

. . . No, love anyone I will not, before I have fathomed what love is; but this I cannot, but have, rather, come to the conclusion that it is comical.  Hence I will not love - but alas!  I have not thereby avoided the danger, for, since I do not know what the lovable is and how it seizes me, or how it seizes a woman with reference to me, I cannot make sure whether I have avoided the danger. . . .

. . . Look you, for this reason have I forsworn all love, for my thought is to me the most essential consideration.  So even if love be the most exquisite joy, I renounce it, without wishing to either offend or to envy anyone; and even if love be the condition for conferring the greatest benefit imaginable I deny myself the opportunity therefor - but my thought I have not prostituted.  By no means do I lack an eye for what is beautiful, by no means does my heart remain unmoved when I read the songs of the poets, by no means is my soul without sadness when it yields to the beautiful conceptions of love; but I do not wish to become unfaithful to my thought.  And of what avail were it to be, for there is no happiness possible for me except my thought have free sway, for it is my immortal part and, hence, of more importance than a wife.  Well do I comprehend that if anything is sacred it is love; that if faithlessness in any relation is base, it is doubly so in love; that if any deceit is detestable, it is tenfold more detestable in love.  But my soul is innocent of blame.  I have never looked at any woman to desire her; neither have I fluttered about aimlessly before blindly plunging, or lapsing, into the most decisive of all relations.  If I knew what the lovable were I would know with certainty whether I had offended by tempting anyone; but since I do not know, I am certain only of never having had the conscious desire to do so.

Supposing I should yield to love and be made to laugh; or supposing I should be cast down by terror, since I cannot find the narrow path which lovers travel as easily as if it were a broad highway, undisturbed by any doubts, which they surely have bestowed thought on (seeing our times have, indeed, reflected about everything and consequently will comprehend me when I assert that to act unreflectingly is nonsense, as one ought to have gone through all possible reflections before acting) - supposing, I say, I should yield to love!  Would I not insult past redress my beloved one if I laughed, or irrevocably plunge her into despair if I were overwhelmed by terror?  For I understand well enough that a woman cannot be expected to have thought as profoundly about these matters; and a woman who found love comical (as but gods and men can, for which reason woman is a temptation luring them to become ridiculous) would both betray a suspicious amount of previous experience and understand me least.  But a woman who comprehended the terror of love would have lost her loveliness and still fail to understand me - she would be annihilated, which is in nowise my case, so long as my thought saves me.

. . . If there be no one who laughs at my speech - well, then laugh a little at me, dear fellow banqueters, and I shall not wonder; for I do not understand what I have occasionally heard you say about love.  Very probably, though, you are among the initiated as I am not.


. . . Thereupon the Young Person seated himself.  He had become more beautiful, almost, than before the meal.  Now he sat quietly, looking down before him, unconcerned about the others.  John the Seducer desired at once to urge some objections against the Young Person's speech but was interrupted by Constantine who warned against discussions and ruled that on this occasion only speeches were in order.  John said if that was the case, he would stipulate that he should be allowed to be the last speaker.  This again gave rise to a discussion as to the order in which they were to speak, which Constantine closed by offering to speak forthwith, against their recognizing his authority to appoint the speakers in their turn.

Constantine's Speech

Constantine spoke as follows:

There is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak, and now it seems to be the time to speak briefly, for our young friend has spoken much and very strangely.  His comical power has made us struggle in uncertain battle because his speech was full of doubts, as he himself is, sitting there now - a perplexed man who knows not whether to laugh, or weep, or fall in love.  In fact, had I had foreknowledge of his speech, such as he demands one should have of love, I should have forbidden him to speak; but now it is too late.  I shall bid you then, dear fellow banqueters, "gladsome and merry be," and even if I cannot enforce this I shall ask you to forget each speech so soon as it is made and to wash it down with a single draught.

And now as to woman, about whom I shall speak.  I too have pondered about her, and I have finally discovered the category to which she belongs.  I too have sought, but I have found, too, and I have made a matchless discovery which I shall now communicate to you.  Woman is understood correctly only when placed in the category of "the joke."

It is a man's function to be absolute, act in an absolute fashion, or to give expression to the absolute.  Woman's sphere lies in her relativity.  Between beings so radically different, no true reciprocal relation can exist.  Precisely in this incommensurability lies the joke.  And with woman the joke was born into the world.  It is to be understood, however, that man must know how to stick to his role of being absolute; for else nothing is seen - that is to say, something exceedingly common is seen, viz., that man and woman fit each other, he as half man and she as half man.

The joke is not an aesthetic, but an abortive ethical, category.  Its effect on thought is about the same as the impression we receive if a man were solemnly to be making a speech, recite a comma or two with his pronouncement, then say "hm!" - "dash" - and then stop.  Thus with woman.  One tries to cover her with the ethical category, one thinks of human nature, one opens one's eyes, on fastens one's glances on the most excellent maiden in question; an effort is made to redeem the claims of the ethical demand; and then one grows ill at ease and says to one's self: ah, this is undoubtedly a joke!  The joke lies, indeed, in applying that category to her and measuring her by it, because it would be idle to expect serious results from her; but just that is the joke.  Because if one could demand it of her it would not be a joke at all.  A mighty poor joke indeed it would be to place her under the air pump and draw the air out of her - indeed it were a shame; but to blow her up to supernatural size and let her imagine herself to have attained all the ideality which a little maiden of sixteen imagines she has, that is the beginning of the game and, indeed, the beginning of a highly entertaining performance.  No youth has half so much imaginary ideality as a young girl, but: "We shall soon be even" as says the tailor in the proverb; for her ideality is but an illusion.

If one fails to consider woman from this point of view, she may cause irreparable harm; but through my conception of her she becomes harmless and amusing.  For a man there is nothing more shocking than to catch himself twaddling.  It destroys all true ideality; for one may repent of having been a rascal and one may feel sorry for not having meant a word of what one said; but to have talked nonsense, sheer nonsense, to have meant all one said and behold! it was all nonsense - that is too disgusting for repentance incarnate to put up with.  But this is not the case with woman.  She has a prescriptive right to transfigure herself - in less than twenty-four hours - into the most innocent and pardonable nonsense; for far is it from her ingenuous soul to wish to deceive one!  Indeed, she meant all she said, and now she says the precise opposite, but with the same amiable frankness, for now she is willing to stake everything on what she said last.  Now in case a man in all seriousness surrenders to love he may be called fortunate indeed if he succeeds in obtaining an insurance - if, indeed, he is able to obtain it anywhere; for so inflammable a material as woman is most likely to arouse the suspicions of an insurance agent.  Just consider for a moment what he has done in thus identifying himself with her!  If, some fine New Year's night she goes off like some fireworks he will promptly follow suit; and even if this should not happen he will have many a close call.  And what may he not lose!  He may lose his all; for there is but one absolute antithesis to the absolute, and that is nonsense.  Therefore, let him not seek refuge in some society for morally tainted individuals, for he is not morally tainted - far from it; only, he has been reduced in absurdum and beatified in nonsense; that is, has been made a fool of.

This will never happen among men.  If a man should sputter off in this fashion I would scorn him.  If he should fool me by his cleverness I need but apply the ethical category to him, and the danger is trifling.  If things go too far I shall put a bullet through his brain; but to challenge a woman - what is that, if you please?  Who does not see that it is a joke, just as when Xerxes had the sea whipped?  When Othello murders Desdemona, granting she really had been guilty, he has gained nothing, for he has been duped, and a dupe he remains; for even by his murdering her he only makes a concession with regard to a consequence which originally made him ridiculous; whereas Elvira (in Mozart's "Don Giovanni") may be an altogether pathetic figure when she arms herself with a dagger to obtain revenge.  The fact that Shakespeare has conceived Othello as a tragic figure (even disregarding the calamity that Desdemona is innocent) is to be explained and, indeed, to perfect satisfaction, by the hero being a colored person.  For a colored person, dear fellow banqueters, who cannot be assumed to represent spiritual qualities - a colored person, I say, who therefore becomes green in the face when his ire is aroused (which is a physiological fact), a colored man may, indeed, become tragic if he is deceived by a woman; just as a woman has all the pathos of tragedy on her side when she is betrayed by a man.  A man who flies into a rage may perhaps become tragic; but a man of whom one may expect a developed mentality, he will either not become jealous or he will become ridiculous if he does, and most of all when he comes running with a dagger in his hand.

A pity that Shakespeare has not presented us with a comedy of this description in which the claim raised by a woman's infidelity is turned down by irony; for not everyone who is able to see the comical element in this situation and is capable also of developing the thought can give it dramatic embodiment.  Let one but imagine Socrates surprising Xanthippe in the act - for it would be un-Socratic even to think of Socrates being particularly concerned about his wife's fidelity, or still worse, spying on her - imagine it, and I believe that the fine smile which transformed the ugliest man in Athens into the handsomest would for the first time have turned into a roar of laughter.  It is incomprehensible why it never occurred to Aristophanes, who so frequently made Socrates the butt of his ridicule, to have him come running on the stage, shouting: "Where is she, where is she, so that I may kill her, ie., my unfaithful Xanthippe."  For really it does not matter greatly whether or not Socrates was made a cuckold, and all that Xanthippe may do in this regard is wasted labor, like snapping one's fingers in one's pocket; for Socrates remains the same intellectual hero, even if he is cuckolded.  But if he had in fact become jealous and had wanted to kill Xanthippe - alas! then would Xanthippe have exerted a power over him such as the entire Greek nation and his sentence of death could not - to make him ridiculous.

A cuckold is comical, then, with respect to his wife; but he may be regarded as becoming tragical with respect to other men.  In this fact we may find an explanation of the Spanish conception of honor.  But the tragic element resides chiefly in his not being able to obtain redress, and the anguish of his suffering consists really in its being devoid of meaning - which is terrible enough.  To shoot the woman, to challenge her, to despise her, all this would only serve to render the poor man still more ridiculous; for woman is the weaker sex.  This consideration enters in everywhere and confuses all.  If she performs a great deed she is admired more than man, because it is more than was expected of her.  If she is betrayed, all the pathos is on her side; but if a man is deceived one has scant sympathy and little patience while he is present - and laughs at him when his back is turned.

Look you, therefore is it advisable betimes to consider woman as a joke.  The entertainment she affords is simply incomparable.  Let one consider her a fixed quantity and one's self a relative one; let one by no means contradict her, for that would simply be helping her; let one never doubt what she says but, rather, believe her every word; let one gallivant about her, with eyes rendered unsteady by unspeakable admiration and blissful intoxication and with the mincing steps of a worshiper; let one languishingly fall on one's knees, then lift one's eyes up to her languishingly and heave a breath again; let one do all she bids one, like an obedient slave.  And now comes the cream of the joke.  We need no proof that woman can speak, ie., use words.  Unfortunately, however, she does not possess sufficient reflection for making sure against her in the long run - which is, at most, eight days - contradicting herself, unless, indeed, man, by contradicting her, exerts a regulative influence.  So the consequence is that within a short time confusion will reign supreme.  If one had not done what she told one to, the confusion would pass unnoticed; for she forgets again as quickly as she talks.  But since her admirer has done all and has been at her beck and call in every instance, the confusion is only too glaring.

The more gifted the woman, the more amusing the situation.  For the more gifted she is, the more imagination she will possess.  Now, the more imagination she possesses, the greater airs she will give herself and the greater the confusion which is bound to become evident in the next instant.  In life, such entertainment is rarely had, because this blind obedience to a woman's whims occurs but seldom.  And if it does, in some languishing swain, most likely he is not qualified to see the fun.  The fact is, the ideality a little maiden assumes in moments when her imagination is at work is encountered nowhere else, whether in gods or man; but it is all the more entertaining to believe her and to add fuel to the fire.

As I remarked, the fun is simply incomparable - indeed, I know it for a fact because I have at times not been able to sleep at night with the mere thought of what new confusions I should live to see, through the agency of my sweetheart and my humble zeal to please her.  Indeed, no one who gambles in a lottery will meet with more remarkable combinations than he who has a passion for this game.  For this is sure, that every woman without exception possesses the same qualifications for being resolved and transfigured in nonsense with a gracefulness, a nonchalance, an assurance such as befits the weaker sex.

Being a right-minded lover one naturally discovers every possible charm in one's beloved.  Now, when discovering genius in the above sense, one ought not to let it remain a mere possibility but ought, rather, to develop it into virtuosity.  I do not need to be more specific, and more cannot be said in a general way, yet everyone will understand me.  Just as one may find entertainment in balancing a cane on one's nose, in swinging a tumbler in a circle without spilling a drop, in dancing between eggs, and in other games as amusing and profitable, likewise, and not otherwise, in living with his beloved the lover will have a source of incomparable entertainment and food for the most interesting study.  In matters pertaining to love, let one have absolute belief, not only in her protestations of fidelity - one soon tires of that game - but in all those explosions of inviolable Romanticism by which she would probably perish if one did not contrive a safety valve through which the sighs and the smoke, and "the aria of Romanticism" may escape and make her worshiper happy.  Let one compare her admiringly to Juliet, the difference being only that no person ever as much as thought of touching a hair on her Romeo's head.  With regard to intellectual matters, let one hold her capable of all and, if one has been lucky enough to find the right woman, in a trice one will have a cantankerous authoress, whilst wonderingly shading one's eyes with one's hand and duly admiring what the little black hen may yield besides.  It is altogether incomprehensible why Socrates did not choose this course of action instead of bickering with Xanthippe - oh, well! to be sure he wished to acquire practice, like the riding master who, even though he has the best trained horse, yet knows how to tease him in such fashion that there is good reason for breaking him in again.

Let me be a little more concrete in order to illustrate a particular and highly interesting phenomenon.  A great deal has been said about feminine fidelity, but rarely with any discretion.  From a purely aesthetic point of view this fidelity is to be regarded as a piece of poetic fiction which steps on the stage to find her lover - a fiction which sits by the spinning wheel and waits for her lover to come; but when she has found him, or he has come, why, then aesthetics is at a loss.  Her infidelity, on the other hand, as contrasted with her previous fidelity, is to be judged chiefly with regard to its ethical import, when jealousy will appear as a tragic passion.  There are three possibilities, then, and so the situation is favorable for woman; for there are two cases of fidelity, as against one of infidelity.  Inconceivably great is her fidelity when she is not altogether sure of her cavalier; and ever so inconceivably great is it when he repels her fidelity.  The third case would be her infidelity.  Now granted one has sufficient intellect and objectivity to make reflections, one will find sufficient justification, in what has been said, for my category of "the joke."  Our young friend whose beginning in a manner which deceived me seemed to be on the point of entering into this matter, but backed out again, dismayed at the difficulty.  And yet the explanation is not difficult, providing one really sets about it seriously, to make unrequited love and death correspond to one another, and providing one is serious enough to stick to his thoughts - and so much seriousness one ought to have - for the sake of the joke.

Of course, this phrase of unrequited love being death originated either with a woman or a womanish male.  Its origin is easily made out, seeing that it is one of those categorical outbursts which, spoken with great bravado on the spur of the moment, may count on a great and immediate applause; for although this business is said to be a matter of life and death, yet the phrase is meant for immediate consumption - like cream puffs.  Although referring to daily experience, it is by no means binding on him who is to die, but only obliges the listener to rush posthaste to the assistance of the dying lover.  If a man should take to using such phrases, it would not be amusing at all, for he would be too despicable to laugh at.  Woman, however, possesses genius, is lovable in the measure she possesses it, and is amusing at all times.  Well, then, the languishing lady dies of love - why certainly, for did she not say so herself?  In this matter she is pathetic, for woman has enough courage to say what no man would have the courage to do - so then she dies!  In saying so, I have measured her by ethical standards.  Do ye likewise, dear fellow banqueters, and understand your Aristotle aright, now!  He observes very correctly that woman cannot be used in tragedy.  And very certainly her proper sphere is the pathetic and serious divertissement, the half-hour farce, not the five-act drama.  So then she dies.  But should she for that reason not be able to love again?  Why not? - that is, if it be possible to restore her to life.  Now, having been restored to life, she is of course a new being - another person, that is, and begins afresh and falls in love for the first time: nothing remarkable in that!  Ah, death, great is thy power; not the most violent emetic and not the most powerful laxative could ever have the same purging effect!

The resulting confusion is capital, if one but is attentive and does not forget.  A dead man is one of the most amusing characters to be met with in life.  Strange that more use is not made of him on the stage, for in life he is seen now and then.  When you come to think of it, even one who has only been seemingly dead is a comical figure; but one who was really dead certainly contributes to our entertainment all one can reasonably expect of a man.  All depends on whether one is attentive.  I myself had my attention called to it one day as I was walking with one of my acquaintances.  A couple passed us.  I judged from the expression on his face that he knew them and asked whether that was the case.  "Why, yes" he answered, "I know them very well, and especially the lady, for she is my departed one." - "What departed one?" I asked - "Why, my departed first love," he answered.  "Indeed, this is a strange affair.  She said: I shall die.  And that very same moment she departed, naturally enough, by death - else one might have insured her beforehand in the widow's insurance.  Too late! Dead she was and dead she remained; and now I wander about, as says the poet, vainly seeking the grave of my ladylove that I may shed my tears thereon."  Thus this brokenhearted man who remained alone in the world, though it consoled him to find her pretty far along, if not by, yet with another man.

It is a good thing for the girls, thought I, that they don't have to be buried every time they die; for if parents have hitherto considered a boy child to be the more expensive, the girls might become even more so!

A simple case of infidelity is not as amusing, by far.  I mean, if a girl should fall in love with someone else and should say to her husband: "I cannot help it, save me from myself!"  But to die from sorrow because she cannot endure being separated from her lover by his journey to the West Indies, to have put up with his departure, however - and then, at his return, be not only not dead but attached to someone else for all time - that certainly is a strange fate for a lover to undergo.  No wonder, then, that the heartbroken man at times consoled himself with the burthen of an old song which runs: "Hurrah for you and me, I say, we never shall forget that day!"

Now forgive me, dear fellow banqueters, if I have spoken at too great length; and empty a glass to love and to woman.  Beautiful she is and lovely, if she be considered aesthetically.  That is undeniable.  But, as has often been said, and as I shall say also: one ought not to remain standing here, but should go on.  Consider her, then, ethically and you will hardly have begun to do so before the humor of it will become apparent.  Even Plato and Aristotle assume that woman is an imperfect form, an irrational quantity, that is, one which might some time, in a better world, be transformed into a man.  In this life one must take her as she is.  And what this is becomes apparent very soon; for she will not be content with the aesthetic sphere, but goes on, she wants to become emancipated, and she has the courage to say so.  Let her wish be fulfilled and the amusement will be simply incomparable.


When Constantine had finished speaking, he forthwith ruled Victor Eremita to begin.  He spoke as follows:

Victor Eremita's Speech

As you know, Plato offered thanks to the gods for four things.  In the fourth place he is grateful for having been permitted to be a contemporary of Socrates.  For the three other boons mentioned by him (that he had been made a man and not an animal, a man and not a woman, a Greek and not a barbarian), an earlier Greek philosopher had already thanked the gods, and so I conclude that they are worthy of our gratitude.  But alas! - even if I wanted to express my gratitude like these Greeks, I would not be able to do so for what was denied me.  Let me then collect my soul in gratitude for the one good which was conferred on me also - that I was made a man and not a woman.

To be a woman is something so curious, so heterogeneous and composite that no predicate will fully express these qualities; and if I should use many predicates they would contradict one another in such fashion that only a woman would be able to tolerate the result and, what is worse, feel happy about it.  The fact that she really signifies less than man - that is not her misfortune, and still less so if she got to know it, for it might be borne with fortitude.  No, her misfortune consists in her life's having become devoid of fixed meaning through a romantic conception of things, by virtue of which now she signifies all, and now, nothing at all, without ever finding out what she really does signify - and even that is not her misfortune but, rather, the fact that, being a woman, she never will be able to found out.  As for myself, if I were a woman, I should prefer to be one in the Orient and as a slave, for to be a slave, neither more nor less, is at any rate something, in comparison with being now heyday, now nothing.

Even if a woman's life did not contain such contrasts, the distinction she enjoys, and which is rightly assumed to be hers as a woman - a distinction she does not share with man - would by itself point to the meaninglessness of her life.  The distinction I refer to is that of gallantry.  To be gallant to woman is becoming in men.  Now gallantry consists very simply in conceiving in fantastic categories that person to whom one is gallant.  To be gallant to a man is, therefore, an insult, for he begs to be excused from the application of fantastic categories to him.  For the fair sex, however, gallantry signifies a tribute, a distinction, which is essentially its privilege.  Ah me, if only a single cavalier were gallant to them the case would not be so serious.  But far from it!  At bottom every man is gallant; he is unconsciously so.  This signifies, therefore, that it is life itself which has bestowed this perquisite on the fair sex.  Woman on her part unconsciously accepts it.  Here we have the same trouble again; for if only a single woman did so, another explanation would be necessary.  This is life's characteristic irony.

Now if gallantry contained the truth, it ought to be reciprocal, ie., gallantry would be the accepted quotation for the stated difference between beauty on the one hand, and power, astuteness, and strength on the other.  But this is not the case.  Gallantry is essentially woman's due, and the fact that she unconsciously accepts it may be explained through the solicitude of nature for the weak and those treated in a stepmotherly fashion by her, who feel more than recompensed by an illusion.  But precisely this illusion is her misfortune.  It is not seldom the case that nature comes to the assistance of an afflicted creature by consoling him with the notion that he is the most beautiful.  If that is so, why, then we may say that nature made good the deficiency since now the creature is endowed with even more than could be reasonably demanded.  But to be beautiful only in one's imagination, and not to be overcome, indeed, by sadness, but to be fooled into an illusion - why, that is still worse mockery.  Now, as to being afflicted, woman certainly is far from having been treated in a step- motherly fashion by nature; still she is so in another sense inasmuch as she never can free herself from the illusion with which life has consoled her.

Gathering together one's impressions of a woman's existence, in order to point out its essential features, one is struck by the fact that every woman's life gives one an entirely fantastic impression.  In a far more decisive sense than man she may be said to have turning points in her career; for her turning points turn everything upside down.  In one of Tieck's Romantic dramas there occurs a person who, having once been king of Mesoptamia, now is a greengrocer in Copenhagen.  Exactly as fantastic is every feminine existence.  If the girl's name is Juliana, her life is as follows: erstwhile empress in the wide domains of love and titulary queen of all the exaggerations of tomfoolery; now, Mrs.  Petersen, corner Bathhouse Street.

When a child, a girl is less highly esteemed than a boy.  When a little older, one does not know exactly what to make of her.  At last she enters that decisive period in which she holds absolute sway.  Worshipfully, man approaches her as a suitor.  Worshipfully, for so does every suitor, it is not the scheme of a crafty deceiver.  Even the executioner, when laying down his fasces to go a-wooing, even he bends his knee, although he is willing to offer himself up, within a short time, to domestic executions which he finds so natural that he is far from seeking any excuse for them in the fact that public executions have grown so few.  The cultured person behaves in the very same manner.  He kneels, he worships, he conceives his ladylove in the most fantastic categories; and then he very quickly forgets his kneeling position - in fact, he knew full well the while he knelt that it was fantastic to do so.

If I were a woman I would prefer to be sold by my father to the highest bidder, as is the custom in the Orient; for there is at least some sense in such a deal.  What misfortune to have been born a woman!  Yet her misfortune really consists in her not being able to comprehend it, being a woman.  If she does complain, she complains rather about her Oriental, than her Occidental, status.  But if I were a woman I would first of all refuse to be wooed and resign myself to belong to the weaker sex, if such is the case, and be careful - which is most important if one is proud - of not going beyond the truth.  However, that is of but little concern to her.  Juliana is in the seventh heaven, and Mrs.  Petersen submits to her fate.

Let me, then, thank the gods that I was born a man and not a woman.  And still, how much do I forego!  For is not all poetry, from the drinking song to the tragedy, a deification of woman? All the worse for her and for him who admires her; for if he does not look out he will, all of a sudden, have to pull a long face.  The beautiful, the excellent, all of man's achievement, owes its origin to woman, for she inspires him.  Woman is, indeed, the inspiring element in life.  How many a lovelorn shepherd has played on this theme, and how many a shepherdess has listened to it!  Verily, my soul is without envy and feels only gratitude to the gods; for I would rather be a man, though in humble station, but really so, than be a woman and an indeterminate quantity, rendered happy by a delusion - I would rather be a concrete thing, with a small but definite meaning, than an abstraction which is to mean all.

As I have said, it is through woman that ideality is born into the world and - what were man without her!  There is many a man who has become a genius through a woman, many a one a hero, many a one a poet, many a one even a saint; but he did not become a genius through the woman he married, for through her he only became a privy councillor; he did not become a hero through the woman he married, for through her he only became a general; he did not become a poet through the woman he married, for through her he only became a father; he did not become a saint through the woman he married, for he did not marry, and would have married but one - the one whom he did not marry; just as the others became a genius, became a hero, became a poet through the help of the woman they did not marry.  If woman's ideality were in itself inspiring, why, then the inspiring woman would be the one to whom a man is united for life.  But life tells a different story.  It is only by a negative relation to her that man is rendered productive in his ideal endeavors.  In this sense she is inspiring; to say that she is inspiring, without qualifying one's statement, is to be guilty of a paralogism which one must be a woman to overlook.  Or has anyone ever heard of any man having become a poet through his wife?  So long as man does not possess her, she inspires him.  It is this truth which gives rise to the illusions entertained in poetry and by women.  The fact that he does not possess her signifies, either, that he is still fighting for her - thus has woman inspired many a one and rendered him a knight; but has anyone ever heard of any man having been rendered a knight valiant through his wife? Or, the fact that he does not possess her signifies that he cannot obtain her by any manner of means - thus has woman inspired many a one and roused his ideality; that is, if there is anything in him worth-while.  But a wife, who has things ever so much worth-while for her husband, will hardly arouse any ideal strivings in him.  Or, again, the fact that he does not possess her signifies that he is pursuing an ideal.  Perchance he loves many, but loving many is also a kind of unrequited love; and yet the ideality of his soul is to be seen in this striving and yearning and not in the small bits of lovableness which make up the sum total of the contributions of all those he loves.

The highest ideality a woman can arouse in a man consists, in fact, in the awakening within him of the consciousness of immortality.  The point of this proof lies in what one might call the necessity of a reply.  Just as one may remark about some play that it cannot end without this or that person getting in his say, likewise (says ideality) our existence cannot be all over with death: I demand a reply!  This proof is frequently furnished, in a positive fashion, in the public advertiser.  I hold that to be entirely proper, for if proof is to be made in the public advertiser it must be made in a positive fashion.  Thus: Mrs.  Petersen, we learn, has lived a number of years, until in the night of the 24th it pleased Providence, etc.  This produces in Mr.  Petersen an attack of reminiscences from his courting days, or, to express it quite plainly, nothing but seeing her again will ever console him.  For this blissful meeting he prepares himself, in the meanwhile, by taking unto himself another wife; for, to be sure, this marriage is by no means as poetic as the first - still it is a good imitation.  This is the proof positive.  Mr.  Petersen is not satisfied with demanding a reply, no, he wants a meeting again in the hereafter.

As is well known, a base metal will often show the gleam of precious metal.  This is the brief silver gleam.  With respect to the base metal this is a tragic moment, for it must once for all resign itself to being a base metal.  Not so with Mr.  Petersen.  The possession of ideality is by rights inherent in every person - and now, if I laugh at Mr.  Petersen, it is not because he, being in reality of base metal, had but a single silver gleam, but, rather, because just this silver gleam betrays his having become a base metal.  Thus does the Philistine look most ridiculous when, arrayed in ideality, he affords fitting occasion to say, with Holberg: "What! if that cow doesn't wear a fine dress, too!"

The case is this: whenever a woman arouses ideality in man, and thereby the consciousness of immortality, she always does so negatively.  He who really became a genius, a hero, a poet, a saint through a woman, he has by that very fact seized on the essence of immortality.  Now if the inspiring element were positively present in woman, why, then a man's wife, and only his wife, ought to awaken in him the consciousness of immortality.  But the reverse holds true.  That is, if she is really to awaken ideality in her husband she must die.  Mr.  Petersen, to be sure, is not affected, for all that.  But if woman, by her death, does awaken man's ideality, then is she indeed the cause of all the great things poetry attributes to her; but note well: that which she did in a positive fashion for him in no wise roused his ideality.  In fact, her significance in this regard becomes the more doubtful the longer she lives, because she will at length really begin to wish to signify something positive.  However, the more positive the proof the less it proves; for then Mr.  Petersen's longing will be for some past common experiences whose content was, to all intents and purposes, exhausted when they were had.  Most positive of all the proof becomes if the object of his longing concerns their marital spooning - that time when they visited the Deer Park together!  In the same way one might suddenly feel a longing for the old pair of slippers one used to be so comfortable in; but that proof is not exactly a proof for the immortality of the soul.  On the other hand, the more negative the proof, the better it is; for the negative is higher than the positive, inasmuch as it concerns our immortality and is thus the only positive value.

Woman's main significance lies in her negative contribution, whereas her positive contributions are as nothing in comparison but, on the contrary, pernicious.  It is this truth which life keeps from her, consoling her with an illusion which surpasses all that might arise in any man's brain, and with parental care ordering life in such fashion that both language and everything else confirm her in her illusion.  For even if she be conceived as the very opposite of inspiring, and rather as the wellspring of all corruption; whether now we imagine that with her, sin came into the world, or that it is her infidelity which ruined all - our conception of her is always gallant.  That is, when hearing such opinions one might readily assume that woman were really able to become infinitely more culpable than man, which would, indeed, amount to an immense acknowledgment of her powers.  Alas, alas! the case is entirely different.  There is a secret reading of this text which woman cannot comprehend; for, the very next moment, all life owns to the same conception as the state, which makes man responsible for his wife.  One condemns her as man never is condemned (for only a real sentence is passed on him, and there the matter ends), not with her receiving a milder sentence; for in that case not all of her life would be an illusion, but with the case against her being dismissed and the public, ie., life, having to defray the costs.  One moment, woman is supposed to be possessed of all possible wiles; the next moment, one laughs at him whom she deceived, which surely is a contradiction.  Even such a case as that of Potiphar's wife does not preclude the possibility of her having really been seduced.  Thus has woman an enormous possibility, such as no man has - an enormous possibility; but her reality is in proportion.  And most terrible of all is the magic of illusion in which she feels herself happy.

Let Plato then thank the gods for having been born a contemporary of Socrates: I envy him; let him offer thanks for being a Greek: I envy him; but when he is grateful for having been born a man and not a woman I join him with all my heart.  If I had been born a woman and could understand what now I can understand - it were terrible!  But if I had been born a woman and therefore could not understand it - that were still more terrible!

But if the case is as I stated it, then it follows that one had better refrain from any positive relation with woman.  Wherever she is concerned one has to reckon with that inevitable hiatus which renders her happy as she does not detect the illusion, but which would be a man's undoing if he detected it.

A negative relation to a woman may arouse the highest ideality in a man.  Let that be said once for all, and let it be said in honor of woman; and it may be said without reservation.  For it depends not on the particular quality of the woman concerned, her loveliness, or the persistence of her loveliness.  Rather does it depend on her appearing at the right moment, when ideality is glimpsed.  That is but a short moment, and then she had better disappear again, because a positive relation to a woman renders man finite to the highest degree.  Therefore, the greatest service a woman can do a man is to make her appearance at the right moment.  But that she cannot do by herself but only through the benevolence of fate.  And now comes the greatest thing she can do for a man, and that is, to be unfaithful to him, the sooner the better.  The first ideality will assist him to attain a still higher degree of ideality - and then he is helped in an absolute sense.  This second ideality is, to be sure, purchased with the sharpest pain, but it is also his greatest bliss.  And though he may in no wise desire it before it comes to pass, yet he will thank her when it has come.  And as, humanly speaking, he has no very good reason to thank her, why, then everything is as it should be.  But woe to him if she remains faithful to him!

I thank the gods, then, that I was born a man and not a woman; and I thank them, furthermore, that no woman by some lifelong attachment compels me to be constantly reflecting that it ought not to have been.

Indeed, what a passing strange device is marriage!  And what makes it all the stranger is the suggestion that it is to be a step taken without thought.  And yet no step is more decisive, for nothing in life is as inexorable and masterful as the marriage tie.  And now so important a step as marriage ought, so we are told, to be taken without reflection!  Yet marriage is not something simple but something immensely complex and ambiguous.  Just as the meat of the turtle smacks of all kinds of meat, so likewise does marriage have a taste of all manner of things; and just as the turtle is a sluggish animal, likewise is marriage a sluggish thing.  Falling in love is, at least, a simple thing, but marriage-!  Is it something heathen or something Christian, something spiritual or something profane, or something civil, or something of all things?  Is it an expression of an inexplicable love, the elective affinity of souls in delicate accord with one another; or is it a duty, or a partnership, or a mere convenience, or the custom of certain countries - or is it a little of all these?  Is one to order the music for it from the town musician or the church organist, or is one to have a little from both?  Is it the minister or the police inspector who is to make the speech and enroll the names in the book of life - or in the town register?  Does marriage blow a tune on a comb, or does it listen to the whisperings "like to those of the fairies from the grottoes of a summer night"?

And now every Darby imagines he performed such a potpourri, such incomparably complex music, in getting married - and imagines that he is still performing it while living a married life!  My dear fellow banqueters, ought we not, in default of a wedding present and congratulations, give each of the conjugal partners, and marriage itself, demerits for repeated inattentiveness?  It is taxing enough to express a single idea in one's life, but to think something so complicated as marriage and, consequently, bring it under one head, to think something so complicated and yet to do justice to each and every element in it, and have everything present at the same time - verily, he is a great man who can accomplish all this!  And still every Benedict accomplished it - so he does, no doubt, for does he not say that he does it unconsciously?  But if this is to be done unconsciously it must be through some higher form of unconsciousness permeating all one's reflective powers.  But not a word is said about this!  And to ask any married man about it means just wasting one's time.

He who has once committed a piece of folly will constantly be pursued by its consequences.  In the case of marriage the folly consists in one's having gotten into a mess, and the punishment, in recognizing, when it is too late, what one has done.  So you will find that the married man now becomes chesty, with a bit of pathos, thinking he has done something remarkable in having entered wedlock; now puts his tail between his legs in dejection, then again, praises marriage in sheer self-defense.  But as to a thought unit which might serve to hold together the scattered members of the most heterogeneous conceptions of life contained in marriage - for that we shall wait in vain.

Therefore, to be a mere Benedict is humbug, and to be a seducer is humbug, and to wish to experiment with woman for the sake of "the joke" is also humbug.  In fact, the two last-mentioned methods will be seen to involve concessions to woman on the part of man quite as large as those found in marriage.  The seducer wishes to rise in his own estimation by deceiving her; but this very fact that he deceives and wishes to deceive - that he cares to deceive - is also a demonstration of his dependence on woman.  And the same holds true of him who wishes to experiment with her.

If I were to imagine any possible relation with woman it would be one so saturated with reflection that it would, for that very reason, no longer be any relation with her at all.  To be an excellent husband and yet on the sly seduce every girl, to seem a seducer and yet harbor within one all the ardor of Romanticism - there would be something to that, for the concession in the first instance were then annihilated in the second.  Certain it is that man finds his true ideality only in such a reduplication.  All merely unconscious existence must be obliterated, and its obliteration ever cunningly guarded by some sham expression.  Such a reduplication is incomprehensible to woman, for it removes from her the possibility of expressing man's true nature in one term.  If it were possible for woman to exist in such a reduplication, no erotic relation with her were thinkable.  But, her nature being such as we all know it to be, any disturbance of the erotic relation is brought about by man's true nature which ever consists precisely in the annihilation of that in which she has her being.

Am I then preaching the monastic life and rightly called Eremita?  By no means.  You may as well eliminate the cloister, for after all it is only a direct expression of spirituality and as such but a vain endeavor to express it in direct terms.  It makes small difference whether you use gold, or silver, or paper money; but he who does not spend a farthing but is counterfeit, he will comprehend me.  He to whom every direct expression is but a fraud, he and he only is safeguarded better than if he lived in a cloister cell - he will be a hermit even if he travelled in an omnibus day and night.

Scarcely had Victor finished when the Dressmaker jumped to his feet and threw over a bottle of wine standing before him; then he spoke as follows:

The Dressmaker's Speech

Well spoken, dear fellow banqueters, well spoken!  The longer I hear you speak the more I grow convinced that you are fellow conspirators - I greet you as such, I understand you as such; for fellow conspirators one can make out from afar.  And yet, what know you?  What does your bit of theory to which you wish to give the appearance of experience, your bit of experience which you make over into a theory - what does it all amount to? For every now and then you believe her for a moment and - are caught in a moment!  No, I know woman - from her weak side, that is to say, I know her.  I shrink from no terror, I shrink from no means to make sure about what I have learned; for I am a madman, a madman one must be to understand her, and if one has not been one before, one will become a madman once one understands her.  The robber has his hiding place by the noisy highroad, and the ant lion has his funnel in the loose sand, and the pirate his haunts by the roaring sea: likewise have I my fashion shop in the very midst of the teeming streets, seductive, irresistible to woman as is the Venusberg to men.  There, in a fashion shop, one learns to know woman in a practical way and without any theoretical ado.

Now, if fashion meant nothing than that woman in the heat of her desire threw off all her clothing - why, that would at least mean something.  But this is not the case, fashion is not plain sensuality, not tolerated debauchery, but an illicit trade in indecency authorized as proper.  And, just as in heathen Prussia the marriageable girl wore a bell whose ringing served as a signal to the men, likewise is a woman's existence in fashion a continual bell ringing, not for debauchees but for lickerish voluptuaries.  People hold Fortune to be a woman - ah, yes it is, to be sure, fickle; still, it is fickle in something, as it may also give much; and insofar it is not a woman.  No; but fashion is a woman, for fashion is fickleness in nonsense and is consistent only in its becoming ever more crazy.

One hour in my shop is worth more than days and years without, if it really be one's desire to learn to know woman; in my shop, for it is the only one in the capital; there is no thought of competition.  Who, forsooth, would dare to enter into competition with one who has entirely devoted himself, and is still devoting himself, as high priest in this idol worship? No, there is not a distinguished assemblage which does not mention my name first and last; and there is not a middle-class gathering where my name, whenever mentioned, does not inspire sacred awe, like that of the king; and there is no dress so idiotic but is accompanied by whispers of admiration when its owner proceeds down the hall - provided it bears my name; and there is not the lady of gentle birth who dares pass my shop by, nor the girl of humble origin but passes it sighing and thinking: if only I could afford it!  Well, neither was she deceived.  I deceive no one; I furnish the finest goods and the most costly, and at the lowest price; indeed, I sell below cost.  The fact is, I do not wish to make a profit.  On the contrary, every year I sacrifice large sums.  And yet do I mean to win.  I mean to, I shall spend my last farthing in order to corrupt, in order to bribe the tools of fashion so that I may win the game.  To me it is a delight beyond compare to unroll the most precious stuffs, to cut them out, to clip pieces from genuine Brussels lace in order to make a fool's costume - I sell at the lowest prices, genuine goods and in style.

You believe, perhaps, that woman wants to be dressed fashionably only at certain times?  No such thing, she wants to be so all the time and that is her only thought.  For a woman does have a mind, only it is employed about as well as is the Prodigal Son's substance; and woman does possess the power of reflection in an incredibly high degree, for there is nothing so holy but she will in no time discover it to be reconcilable with her finery - and the chiefest expression of finery is fashion.  What wonder if she does discover it to be reconcilable; for is not fashion holy to her?  And there is nothing so insignificant but she certainly will know how to make it count in her finery - and the most fatuous expression of finery is fashion.  And there is nothing, nothing in all her attire, not the least ribbon, of whose relation to fashion she has not a definite conception and concerning which she is not immediately aware whether the lady who just passed by noticed it, because for whose benefit does she dress if not for other ladies!

Even in my shop where she comes to be fitted out a la mode, even there she is in fashion.  Just as there is a special bathing costume and a special riding habit, likewise there is a particular kind of dress which it is the fashion to wear to the dressmaker's shop.  That costume is not insouciant in the same sense as is the negligee a lady is pleased to be surprised in, earlier in the forenoon, where the point is her belonging to the fair sex and the coquetry lies in her letting herself be surprised.  The dressmaker costume, on the other hand, is calculated to be nonchalant and a bit careless without her being embarrassed thereby, because a dressmaker stands in a different relation to her from a cavalier.  The coquetry here consists in thus showing herself to a man who, by reason of his station, does not presume to ask for the lady's womanly recognition, but must be content with the perquisites which fall abundantly to his share, without her ever thinking of it, or without it even so much as entering her mind to play the lady before a dressmaker.  The point is, therefore, that her being of the opposite sex is, in a certain sense, left out of consideration, and her coquetry invalidated, by the superciliousness of the noble lady who would smile if anyone alluded to any relation existing between her and her dressmaker.  When visited in her negligee, she conceals herself, thus displaying her charms by this very concealment.  In my shop she exposes her charms with the utmost nonchalance, for he is only a dressmaker - and she is a woman.  Now, her shawl slips down and bares some part of her body, and if I did not know what that means and what she expects, my reputation would be gone to the winds.  Now, she draws herself up, a priori fashion; now she gesticulates a posteriori; now, she sways to and fro in her hips; now, she looks at herself in the mirror and sees my admiring phiz behind her in the glass; now, she minces her words; now, she trips along with short steps; now, she hovers; now, she draws her foot after her in slovenly fashion; now, she lets herself sink softly into an armchair, whilst I with humble demeanor offer her a flask of smelling salts and with my adoration assuage her agitation; now, she strikes after me playfully; now, she drops her handkerchief and, without as much as a single motion, lets her relaxed arm remain in its pendant position whilst I bend down low to pick it up and return it to her, receiving a little patronizing nod as a reward.  These are the ways of a lady of fashion when in my shop.  Whether Diogenes made any impression on the woman who was praying in a somewhat unbecoming posture when he asked her whether she did not believe the gods could see her from behind - that I do not know; but this I do know, that if I should say to her ladyship kneeling down in church: "The folds of your gown do not fall according to fashion," she would be more alarmed than if she had given offense to the gods.  Woe to the outcast, the male Cinderella, who has not comprehended this!  By the immortal gods, what pray, is a woman who is not in fashion; I adjure you by the gods, and what when she is in fashion!

Whether all this is true?  Well, make trial of it: let the swain, his beloved one sinks rapturously on his breast, whispering unintelligibly: "Thine forever," and hides her head on his bosom - let him but say to her: "My sweet Kitty, your coiffure is not at all in fashion." - Possibly, men don't give thought to this, but he who knows it, and has the reputation of knowing it, he is the most dangerous man in the kingdom.  What blissful hours the lover passes with his sweetheart before marriage I do not know; but of the blissful hours she spends in my shop he hasn't the slightest inkling either.  Without my special license and sanction a marriage is null and void, anyway - or else an entirely plebeian affair.  Let it be the very moment when they are to meet before the altar, let her step forward with the very best conscience in the world that everything was bought in my shop and tried on there - and now, if I were to rush up and exclaim: "But mercy! gracious lady, your myrtle wreath is all awry" - why, the whole ceremony might be postponed, for aught I know.  But men do not suspect these things; one must be a dressmaker to know.

So immense is the power of reflection needed to fathom a woman's thought that only a man who dedicates himself wholly to the task will succeed, and even then only if gifted to start with.  Happy therefore the man who does not associate with any woman, for she is not his, anyway, even if she be no other man's; for she is possessed by that phantom born of the unnatural intercourse of woman's reflection with itself, fashion.  Do you see, for this reason should woman always swear by fashion - then were there some force in her oath; for, after all, fashion is the thing she is always thinking of, the only thing she can think together with, and into, everything.  For instance, the glad message has gone forth from my shop to all fashionable ladies that fashion decrees the use of a particular kind of headdress to be worn in church, and that this headdress, again, must be somewhat different for High Mass and for the afternoon service.  Now when the bells are ringing, the carriage stops in front of my door.  Her ladyship descends (for also this has been decreed that no one can adjust that headdress save I, the fashion dealer), I rush out, making low bows, and lead her into my cabinet.  And whilst she languishingly reposes, I put everything in order.  Now she is ready and has looked at herself in the mirror; quick as any messenger of the gods I hasten in advance, open the door of my cabinet with a bow, then hasten to the door of my shop, and lay my arm on my breast like some Oriental slave, but, encouraged by my gracious courtesy, I even dare to throw her an adoring and admiring kiss - now she is seated in her carriage - oh dear! she left her hymn book behind.  I hasten out again and hand it to her through the carriage window.  I permit myself once more to remind her to hold her head a trifle more to the right and herself to arrange things, should her headdress become a bit disordered when descending.  She drives away and is edified.

You believe, perhaps, that it is only great ladies who worship fashion, but far from it!  Look at my seamstresses for whose dress I spare no expense, so that the dictates of fashion shall be proclaimed most emphatically from my shop.  They form a chorus of half-witted creatures, and I myself lead them on as high priest, as a shining example, squandering all, solely in order to make all womankind ridiculous.  For when a seducer makes the boast that every woman's virtue has its price, I do not believe him; but I do believe that every woman at an early time will be crazed by the maddening and defiling introspection taught her by fashion, which will corrupt her more thoroughly than being seduced.  I have made trial more than once.  If not able to corrupt her myself, I set on her a few of fashion's slaves of her own station; for just as one may train rats to bite rats, likewise is the crazed woman's sting like that of the tarantula.  And most especially dangerous is it when some man lends his help.

Whether I serve the Devil or God I do not know; but I am right, I shall be right, I will be, so long as I possess a single farthing, I will be until the blood spurts out of my fingers.  The physiologist pictures the shape of woman to show the dreadful effects of wearing a corset, and beside it he draws a picture of her normal figure.  That is all very well, but only one of the drawings has the validity of truth: they all wear corsets.  Describe, therefore, the miserable, stunted perversity of the fashion-mad woman, describe the insidious introspection devouring her, and then describe the womanly modesty which least of all knows about itself - do so and you have judged woman, have in very truth passed terrible sentence on her.  If ever I discover such a girl who is contented and demure and not yet corrupted by indecent intercourse with woman - she shall fall nevertheless.  I shall catch her in my toils; already she stands at the sacrificial altar, that is to say, in my shop.  With the most scornful glance a haughty nonchalance can assume I scrutinize her appearance; she perishes with fright; a peal of laughter from the adjoining room where sit my trained accomplices annihilates her.  And afterward, when I have gotten her rigged up a la mode and she looks crazier than a lunatic, as crazy as one who would not be accepted even to a lunatic asylum, then she leaves me in a state of bliss - no man, not even a god, were able to inspire fear in her; for is she not dressed in fashion?

Do you comprehend me now, do you comprehend why I call you fellow conspirators, even though in a distant way?  Do you now comprehend my conception of woman?  Everything in life is a matter of fashion, and so are love, and hoop skirts, and a ring through the nose.  To the utmost of my ability will I therefore come to the support of the exalted genius who wishes to laugh at the most ridiculous of all animals.  If woman has reduced everything to a matter of fashion, then will I, with the help of fashion, prostitute her, as she deserves to be; I have no peace, I the dressmaker, my soul rages when I think of my task - she will yet be made to wear a ring through her nose.  Seek therefore no sweetheart, abandon love as you would the most dangerous neighborhood; for the one whom you love would also be made to go with a ring through her nose.

Thereupon John, called the Seducer, spoke as follows:

The Speech of John the Seducer

My dear boon companions, is Satan plaguing you?  For, indeed, you speak like so many hired mourners; your eyes are red with tears and not with wine.  You almost move me to tears also, for an unhappy lover does have a miserable time of it in life.  Therefore those tears.  I, however, am a happy lover, and my only wish is to remain so.  Very possibly that is one of the concessions to woman which Victor is so afraid of.  Why not? Let it be a concession!  Loosening the lead foil on this bottle of champagne also is a concession; letting its foaming contents flow into my glass also is a concession; and so is raising it to my lips - now I drain it - concedo.  Now, however, it is empty, hence I need no more concessions.  Just the same with girls.  If some unhappy lover has bought his kiss too dearly, this proves to me only that he does not know either how to take what is coming to him or how to do it.  I never pay too much for this sort of thing - that is a matter for the girls to decide.  What this signifies?  To me it signifies the most beautiful, the most delicious, and well-nigh the most pursuasive, argumentum ad hominem; but since every woman, at least once in her life, possesses this argumentative freshness I do not see any reason why I should not let myself be persuaded.  Our young friend wishes to make this experience in his thought.  Why not buy a cream puff and be content with looking at it?  I mean to enjoy.  No mere talk for me!  Just as an old song has it about a kiss: it can hardly be seen; it is but for lips which understand each other exactly - understand each other so perfectly that any reflection about the matter is but impertinence and folly.  He who is twenty and does not grasp the existence of the categorical imperative, "Enjoy thyself" - he is a fool; and he who does not seize the opportunity is and remains a Christiansfelder (a Herrnhutian Pietist).

However, you are all unhappy lovers, and that is why you are not satisfied with woman as she is.  The gods forbid!  As she is, she pleases me, just as she is.  Even Constantine's category of "the joke" seems to contain a secret desire.  I, on the other hand, I am gallant.  And why not?  Gallantry costs one nothing and gives one all and is the condition for all erotic pleasure.  Gallantry is the Masonic language of the senses and of voluptuousness, between man and woman.  It is a natural language, as love's language in general is.  It consists not of sounds but of desires disguised and of ever-changing wishes.  That an unhappy lover may be ungallant enough to wish to convert his deficit into a draught payable in immortality - that I understand well enough.  That is to say, I for my part do not understand it; for to me a woman has sufficient intrinsic value.  I assure every woman of this, it is the truth; and at the same time it is certain that I am the only one who is not deceived by this truth.  As to whether a despoiled woman is worth less than man - about that I find no information in my price list.  I do not pick flowers already broken; I leave them to the married men to use for Shrove-tide decoration.  Whether e.g.  Edward wishes to consider the matter again, and again fall in love with Cordelia, or simply repeat the affair in his reflection - that is his own business.  Why should I concern myself with other peoples' affairs!  I explained to her at an earlier time what I thought of her; and, in truth, she convinced me, convinced me to my absolute satisfaction, that my gallantry was well applied.

I concede, I have conceded.  If I should meet with another Cordelia, why then I shall enact a comedy "Ring number 2." (A comedy which employed a moderate popularity in Copenhagen)  But you are unhappy lovers and have conspired together and are worse deceived than the girls, notwithstanding that you are richly endowed by nature.  But decisiveness - the decisiveness of desire - is the most essential thing in life.  Our young friend will always remain an onlooker.  Victor is an unpractical enthusiast, Constantine has acquired his good sense at too great a cost; and the fashion dealer is a madman.  Stuff and nonsense! With all four of you busy about one girl, nothing would come of it.

Let one have enthusiasm enough to idealize, taste enough to join in the clinking of glasses at the festive board of enjoyment, sense enough to break off - to break off absolutely, as does Death, madness enough to wish to enjoy all over again - if you have all that you will be the favorite of gods and girls.  But of what avail to speak here?  I do not intend to make proselytes.  Neither is this the place for that.  To be sure, I love wine; to be sure, I love the abundance of a banquet - all that is good; but let a girl be my company, and then I shall be eloquent.  Let then Constantine have my thanks for the banquet, and the wine, and the excellent appointments - the speeches, however, were but indifferent.  But in order that things shall have a better ending I shall now pronounce a eulogy on woman.

Just as he who is to speak in praise of the divinity must be inspired by the divinity to speak worthily, and must therefore be taught by the divinity as to what he shall say, likewise he who would speak of woman.  For woman, even less than the divinity, is a mere figment of man's brain, a daydream, or a notion that occurs to one and which one may argue about pro et contra.  Nay, one learns from woman alone what to say of her.  And the more teachers one has had, the better.  The first time one is a disciple; the next time one is already over the chief difficulties, just as one learns in formal and learned disputations how to use the last opponent's compliments against a new opponent.  Nevertheless, nothing is lost.  For as little as a kiss is a mere sample of good things, and as little as an embrace is an exertion, just as little is this experience exhaustive.  In fact it is essentially different from the mathematical proof of a theorem, which remains ever the same, even though other letters be substituted.  This method is one befitting mathematics and ghosts, but not love and women, because each is a new proof, corroborating the truth of the theorem in a different manner.  It is my joy that, far from being less perfect than man, the female sex is, on the contrary, the more perfect.  I shall, however, clothe my speech in a myth; and I shall exult, on woman's account whom you have so unjustly maligned, if my speech pronounce judgment on your souls, if the enjoyment of her beckon you only to flee you, as did the fruits from Tantalus; because you have fled, and thereby insulted, woman.  Only thus, forsooth, may she be insulted, even though she is far from being ruffled by that, and though punishment instantly falls on him who had the audacity to do so.  I, however, insult no one.  That is but a notion of married men, and a slander; whereas, in reality, I respect her more highly than does the man she is married to.

Originally there was but one sex, so the Greeks relate, and that was man's.  Splendidly endowed he was, so he did honor to the gods - so splendidly endowed that the same happened to them as sometimes happens to a poet who has expended all his energy on a poetic invention: they grew jealous of man.  Ay, what is worse, they feared that he would not willingly bow under their yoke; they feared, though with small reason, that he might cause their very heaven to totter.  Thus they had raised up a power they scarcely held themselves able to curb.  Then there was anxiety and alarm in the council of the gods.  Much had they lavished in their generosity on the creation of man; but all must be risked now, for reason of bitter necessity; for all was at stake - so the gods believed - and recalled he could not be, as a poet may recall his invention.  And by force he could not be subdued, or else the gods themselves could have done so; but precisely of that they despaired.  He would have to be caught and subdued, then, by a power weaker than his own and yet stronger - one strong enough to compel him.  What a marvelous power this would have to be!  However, necessity teaches even the gods to surpass themselves in inventiveness.  They sought and they found.  That power was woman, the marvel of creation, even in the eyes of the gods a greater marvel than man - a discovery which the gods in their naivete could not help but applaud themselves for.  What more can be said in her praise than that she was able to accomplish what even the gods did not believe themselves able to do; and what more can be said in her praise than that she did accomplish it!  But how marvelous a creation must be hers to have accomplished it.

It was a ruse of the gods.  Cunningly the enchantress was fashioned, for no sooner had she bewitched man than she changed and caught him in all the circumstantialities of existence.  It was that the gods had desired.  But what, pray, can be more delicious, or more entrancing and bewitching, than what the gods themselves contrived, when battling for their supremacy, as the only means of luring man?  And most assuredly it is so, for woman is the only, and the most seductive, power in heaven and on earth.  When compared with her, in this sense, man will indeed be found to be exceedingly imperfect.

And the strategem of the gods was crowned with success, but not always.  There have existed at all times some men - a few - who have detected the deception.  They perceive well enough woman's loveliness - more keenly, indeed, than the others - but they also suspect the real state of affairs.  I call them erotic natures and count myself among them.  Men call them seducers; woman has no name for them - such persons are to her unnameable.  These erotic natures are the truly fortunate ones.  They live more luxuriously than do the very gods, for they regale themselves with food more delectable than ambrosia, and they drink what is more delicious than nectar; they eat the most seductive invention of the gods' most ingenious thought; they are ever eating dainties set for a bait - ah, incomparable delight, ah, blissful fare - they are ever eating but the dainties set for a bait; and they are never caught.  All other men greedily seize and devour it, like bumpkins eating their cabbage, and are caught.  Only the erotic nature fully appreciates the dainties set out for bait - he prizes them infinitely.  Woman divines this, and for that reason there is a secret understanding between him and her.  But he knows also that she is a bait, and that secret he keeps to himself.

That nothing more marvelous, nothing more delicious, nothing more seductive than woman can be devised, for that vouch the gods and their pressing need which heightened their powers of invention; for that vouches also the fact they risked all and, in shaping her, moved heaven and earth.

I now forsake the myth.  The conception "man" corresponds to his "idea."  I can, therefore, if necessary, think of an individual man as existing.  The idea of woman, on the other hand, is so general than no one single woman is able to express it completely.  She is not contemporaneous with man (and hence of less noble origin), but a later creation, though more perfect than he.  Whether now the gods took some part from him whilst he slept, from fear of waking him by taking too much, or whether they bisected him and made woman out of the one half - at any rate it was man who was partitioned.  Hence she is the equal of man only after this partition.  She is a delusion and a snare, but is so only afterward, and for him who is deluded.  She is finiteness incarnate; but in her first stage she is finiteness raised to the highest degree in the deceptive infinitude of all divine and human illusions.  As yet, there is no deception - one instant longer, and one is deceived.

She is finiteness, and as such she is a collective: one woman represents all women.  Only the erotic nature comprehends this and therefore knows how to love many without ever being deceived, sipping the while all the delights the cunning gods were able to prepare.  For this reason, as I said, woman cannot be fully expressed by one formula, but is, rather, an infinitude of finalities.  He who wishes to think her "idea" will have the same experience as he who gazes on a sea of nebulous shapes which ever form anew, or as he who is dazed by looking over the waves whose foamy crests ever mock one's vision; for her "idea" is but the workshop of possibilities.  And to the erotic nature these possibilities are the everlasting reason for his worship.

So the gods created her delicate and ethereal as if out of the mists of the summer night, yet goodly like ripe fruit; light like a bird, though the repository of what attracts all the world - light because the play of the forces is harmoniously balanced in the invisible center of a negative relation; slender in growth, with definite lines, yet her body sinuous with beautiful curves; perfect, yet ever appearing as if completed but now; cool, delicious, and refreshing like new-fallen snow, yet blushing in coy transparency; happy like some pleasantry which makes one forget all one's sorrow; soothing as being the end of desire, and satisfying in herself being the stimulus of desire.  And the gods had calculated that man, when first beholding her, would be amazed, as one who sees himself, though familiar with that sight - would stand in amaze as one who sees himself in the splendor of perfection - would stand in amaze as one beholds what he did never dream he would, yet beholds what, it would seem, ought to have occurred to him before - sees what is essential to life and yet gazes on it as being the very mystery of existence.  It is precisely this contradiction in his admiration which nurses desire to life, while this same admiration urges him ever nearer, so that he cannot desist from believing himself familiar with the sight, without really daring to approach, even though he cannot desist from desiring.

When the gods had thus planned her form, they were seized with fear lest they might not have the wherewithal to give it existence; but what they feared even more was herself.  For they dared not let her know how beautiful she was, apprehensive of having someone in the secret who might spoil their ruse.  Then was the crowning touch given to their wondrous creation: they made her faultless; but they concealed all this from her in the nescience of her innocence and concealed it doubly from her in the impenetrable mystery of her modesty.  Now she was perfect, and victory certain.  Inviting she had been before, but now doubly so through her shyness, and urging man on through her shrinking from him, and irresistible through herself offering resistance.  The gods were jubilant.  And no allurement has ever been devised in the world so great as is woman, and no allurement is as compelling as is innocence, and no temptation is as ensnaring as is modesty, and no deception is as matchless as is woman.  She is unaware of anything, still her modesty is instinctive divination.  She is distinct from man, and the separating wall of modesty parting them is more decisive than Aladdin's sword separating him from Gulnare; and yet, when like Pyramus (in Ovid's "Metamorphoses" IV) he puts his head to this dividing wall of modesty, the erotic nature will perceive all pleasures of desire divined within as from afar.

Thus does woman tempt.  Men are wont to set forth the most precious things they possess as a delectation for the gods; nothing less will do.  Thus is woman a showbread.  The gods knew of naught comparable to her.  She exists, she is present, she is with us, close by; and yet she is removed from us to an infinite distance when concealed in her modesty - until she herself betrays her hiding place, she knows not how: it is not she herself, it is life which informs on her.  Roguish she is like a child who, in playing peeps forth from his hiding place; yet her roguishness is inexplicable, for she does not know of it herself, she is ever mysterious - mysterious when she casts down her eyes, mysterious when she sends forth the messengers of her glance which no thought, let alone any word, is able to follow.  And yet is the eye the "interpreter" of the soul!  What, then, is the explanation of this mystery if the interpreter too is unintelligible?  Calm she is like the hushed stillness of eventide, when not a leaf stirs; calm like a consciousness as yet unaware of aught.  Her heartbeats are as regular as if life were not present; and yet the erotic nature, listening with his stethoscopically practiced ear, detects the dithyrambic pulsing of desire sounding along unbeknown.  Careless she is like the blowing of the wind, content like the profound ocean, and yet full of longing like a thing biding its explanation.  My friends!  My mind is softened, indescribably softened.  I comprehend that also my life expresses an idea, even if you do not comprehend me.  I too have discovered the secret of existence; I too serve a divine idea - and, assuredly, I do not serve it for nothing.  If woman is a ruse of the gods, this means that she is to be seduced; and if woman is not an "idea," the true inference is that the erotic nature wishes to love as many of them as possible.

What a luxury it is to relish the ruse without being duped, only the erotic nature comprehends.  And how blissful it is to be seduced, woman alone knows.  I know that from woman, even though I never yet allowed any one of them time to explain it to me, but re-asserted my independence, serving the idea by a break as sudden as that caused by death; for a bride and a break are to one another like female and male.  Only woman is aware of this, and she is aware of it together with her seducer.  No married man will ever grasp this.  Nor does she ever speak with him about it.  She resigns herself to her fate, she knows that it must be so and that she can be seduced only once.  For this reason she never really bears malice against the man who seduced her.  That is to say, if he really did seduce her and thus expressed the idea.  Broken marriage vows and that kind of thing are, of course, nonsense and no seduction.  Indeed, it is by no means so great a misfortune for a woman to be seduced.  in fact, it is a piece of good fortune for her.  An excellently seduced girl may make an excellent wife.  If I myself were not fit to be a seducer - however deeply I feel my inferior qualifications in this respect - if I chose to be a married man, I should always choose a girl already seduced, so that I would not have to begin my marriage by seducing my wife.  Marriage, to be sure, also expresses an idea; but in relation to the idea of marriage that quality is altogether immaterial which is the absolutely essential condition for my idea.  Therefore, a marriage ought never to be planned to begin as though it were the beginning of a story of seduction.  So much is sure: there is a seducer for every woman.  Happy is she whose good fortune it is to meet just him.

Through marriage, on the other hand, the gods win their victory.  In it the once seduced maiden walks through life by the side of her husband, looking back at times, full of longing, resigned to her fate, until she reaches the limit of life.  She dies; but not in the same sense as man dies.  She is volatilized and resolved into that mysterious primal element of which the gods formed her - she disappears like a dream, like an impermanent shape whose hour is past.  For what is woman but a dream, and the highest reality withal!  Thus does the erotic nature comprehend her, leading her, and being led by her true existence, being an illusion.  Through her husband, on the other hand, she becomes a creature of this world, and he through her.

Marvelous nature!  If I did not admire thee, a woman would teach me; for truly she is the venerabile of life.  Splendidly didst thou fashion her, but more splendidly still in that thou never didst fashion one woman like another.  In man, the essential is the essential, and insofar always alike; but in woman the adventitious is the essential, and is thus an inexhaustible source of differences.  Brief is her splendor; but quickly the pain is forgotten, too, even as though I had never felt it, when the same splendor is proffered me anew.  It is true, I too am aware of the unbeautiful which may appear in her thereafter; but she is not thus with her seducer.