During a period of crisis I experience more acutely the contradiction between subjective and objective time: between the time I experience, personally and privately, and the time witnessed by generations, epochs and history. The more ruthless we perceive history to be in realizing its grand, long-range goals, the less chance we have of fulfilling our own individual lives in it. The more space history usurps for itself, the less there is for us. We feel redundant, having always to justify our existence (the very fact of which, the fact that I am, is, in any event, sufficient reason for me to be accused and persecuted). Your plans, your ambitions, your dreams? All appear trivial, a stage-set shredded by a bomb. Without meaning, a raison d’être, a purpose, to whom does one turn? What can one say?

In an epoch of lawlessness, the ordinances and decrees are so thick on the ground that, often without realizing, you step into a trap every day. Every day you end up infringing some law. You are meant to live with a constant sense of guilt, and you grow weaker and weaker. To confront authority – or even the thought of the authorities themselves – inspires fear, terror and humility. And in you – deformed, humiliated – the half-formed thought occurs that perhaps you really are guilty, and that perhaps the authorities may, to an extent, actually be in the right. Among them, we tolerate lawlessness far more than we ever would among private individuals. Imagine: a man, completely innocent, is arrested. We know he is innocent, but at least once, even if only momentarily, we reflect: perhaps he really has done something wrong, broken some law. Official lawlessness feeds on the moments of our imbalance and confusion.

But then there is what the authorities think of you. And there are the rules of the game that have to be followed. They know that you break the law daily, that you, therefore, are a criminal. They wait, perfidious and self-assured. They watch, studying your movements, listening to your words. Do not be misled by the fact that you are at liberty and relatively free; that for the moment you are not under lock and key: you have simply been granted a reprieve. But take care! You will continue to be at liberty provided you don’t take a step that the authorities will question and judge as hostile. Then comes the blow, and you realize that your whole life has been a series of unpardonable errors and serious, punishable crimes.


Joint Stock: A Memoir
The Waste Land