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The Individual and the Masses



Democritus, 400,000.
St. Francis of Assisi, 50,000,000.
Kosciuszko, 500,000,000.
Brahms, 1,000,000,000.
Gombrowicz, 2,500,000,000.
The numbers next to the name are supposed to indicate the ‘human horizon’ of a given man, that is, how he imagined, more or less, the number of people in his time—how he felt as ‘one of many.’ Of how many? I am jotting the numbers down haphazardly ... but I believe that one should supply figures for the names so that not just the name be known, but its ‘place among people.’
This is the ‘singular’ of a man, this is his ‘number.’ Will I be understood? […] If I am one of two billion it is not the same as if I were one of two hundred thousand.
Diary, 1962 [Trans. Vallee]
Why aren’t they capable of noticing the most important fact—that during the discussion more and more people are boarding the train? What sort of unsubstantiated devil does not allow them to realize the numbers? Tell me, what good will your most just systems and the most egalitarian division of property be if in the meantime your neighbor divides herself into twelve, the cretin on the ground floor makes his old lady into six, and eight are born from two on the first floor? Not counting the Negroes, Asians, Malays, Arabs, Turks, and the Chinese. Or the inhabitants of India. What are your speeches if not the blather of idiots, ignorant of the dynamics of their own genitalia?
What are they if not the clucking of a hen sitting on an egg—that most terrifying of bombs?
Diary, 1962 [Trans. Vallee]
In the great procession of all the dead of the world, I would recognize none except the Great. I like arithmetic, it lets me face certain issues squarely. How many people die daily? Two, three hundred thousand? Every single day, an entire army, approximately twenty divisions, marches into the grave. I am unfamiliar with them, I know nothing, I am not au courant ... nothing ... nothing ... all of it happens somewhere beyond me. The discretion of death (and the discretion of illness!)! Someone who did not know that people die in this world could spend years roaming our streets, roads, parks, fields and squares before he discovered that such a thing as death was taking place.
Diary, 1966 [Trans. Vallee]