Pain Speaks

“Life is will-to-live, will is a lack, lack is pain, all life is pain.”
― Carlo Michelstaedter, La melodia del giovane divino: Pensieri, racconti, critiche

So the blind and mute pain of all the things that, in wanting to be, are not, will be farsighted and eloquent for the one who has taken on its persona, for in gray pleasure, in the finite pains of all things that, for fear of death, always repress it, he will hear it speak and see it… watch in anticipation,’ a good that those things do not have the courage to want. He will see that what men suffer for is not hunger, thirst, disease, or misfortune. Nor are food, drink, apparent health, what is in their hand but is not theirs (for they do not possess its power) what can make them content. He will see that obtuse pain suffers in them in every present, equally empty in abundance or privation. He will suffer at one and the same point of his deficiency and theirs: speaking the voice of his own pain, he will speak to them the distant voice of their own pain. Just as in his intense activity he will be close to satiating his own pain, so he will place near them a life by which they will see the weave of what presses and distracts them gradually unravel; they will find themselves being stable without the fear of instability; they will see the walls of the tiny room of their misery torn asunder at a stroke and their tiny light grow dim when he appears like the dawn of a new day and the outside darkness is no longer there to press them with its terror. Freed from what they believe indispensable, from cares, from the weight of the myriad little things in which their life always dissipates and around which it always turns, from all the misery of their pettiness, they will taste the joy of a fuller present in the impossible, the unbearable. They will see that there is nothing to fear, nothing to seek, nothing to flee from—hunger is not hunger, bread is not bread; for they will experience their hunger in another manner, and other bread will have been offered to them. No longer will they feel cold or fatigue, pains here and desires there; nor will they be frustrated by need but will feel their life gathered in the present, for at one point they will have been made participants in a vaster and deeper life.

from Persuasion and Rhetoric by Carlo Michelstaedter

Michelstaedter killed himself in 1910, at 23. The reason for his action, as is often the case with suicides, remains purely speculative. Yet he left enough material to give some support to conjectures on the existential crisis that brought him to his precocious end.

In a letter to his sister Paula, who, like the Paolina of Leopardi, was also his confidant, Carlo made a lucid diagnosis of his illness:

It is in part an individual condition, in part the illness of the age [la malattiad ell’e poca] insofar as moral balance is concerned, because we are presently living in an age in which changes in society seem to go hand-in-hand with a dissolution of all bonds . . . and the pathways of existence are no longer sharply drawn . . . and it depends upon personal initiative to create the luminous path through universal chaos.


  1. Michelstaedter, Carlo. Persuasion and Rhetoric. Yale University Press (September 10, 2004)

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