European Diary

Of Chance and Memory

Coincidence is the smile of luck, but it is also the laughter of misfortune.  A smile is singular, rather like tears; it appears meaningful insofar as it seems to have a precipitant cause.  Laughter, by contrast, is repetitive and mechanical; automatons may laugh, but they can scarcely be imagined smiling.  Thus, hysterical laughter is common enough, while collective laughter—from kindergarten to the circus and the cinema—is the mother’s milk of a commercial civilization, which raises taxes and sells tickets to make it flow.  A smile may be forced or feigned, but it is always the product of an individual consciousness.

Something similar is observable in the workings of fate.  When all is well, and one is feeling lucky, one tends to believe in the existence of a single benevolent influence over one’s life, whose unseen, though deeply reasoned, volition stacks the deck in one’s favor and produces the right card at just the right moment.  Then a Dickens character runs smack into another Dickens character.  Then the woman in Stendhal drops her glove, or the man with prickly whiskers picks up the handkerchief.  Then the idiot beloved of Dostoyevsky inherits a million rubles.

But when fortune turns, deus withdraws into the machina.  At once, one feels oneself at the mercy of a vast chord of influences, varying in pitch from indifferent...

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