European Diary

A Sad Denouement

The greatness of man, writes Pascal in his Pensees, is great so long as man is conscious of his own insignificance.  “A tree, by contrast, is not conscious of its own insignificance.”  In other words, man feels his insignificance; he is aware of it; and he is made great by his awareness of it.  “But to consider one’s insignificance, one must be able to think in the first place; for a ruined house feels nothing of the kind; and only man is capable of experiencing his own insignificance.  Ego vir videns.”  To put it another way, the 17th-century savant goes on, the greatness of man lies solely in his capacity for thinking.  “I can easily imagine a man without arms, or without feet; but never a man incapable of thought, for a such a man would differ but little from a stone.”

Last month, I perplexed the faithful with some autobiographical musings, the point of which was to show how a man who derides experience in his misty youth is likely to feast himself upon it in his life’s scorching summer.  And the decisive moment, for me, came on the night I found myself at a roulette table in a seedy London casino.

I realized then, as I gazed into the spinning blackness before me, how little I knew myself.  But hardly at all!  I am not sure if anyone but a fellow gambler can fathom the horrible truth of what I am about to say,...

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