Sunday, September 21, 2008

Balzac – On New York

Alas! The colonel no longer loved anyone in the world except for one person and that person was himself. His misfortunes in Texas, his stay in New York, a place where speculation and individualism are carried to the very highest level, where the brutality of self-interest reaches the point of cynicism, and where a man, fundamentally isolated from the rest of mankind, finds himself compelled to rely upon his own strength and at every instant to be the self-appointed judge of his own actions, a city in which politeness does not exist; in other words, the whole voyage, down to its very slightest details, had developed in Philippe the pernicious inclinations of the hardened trooper. He had started to smoke and drink; he had become brutal, impertinent and rude; he had been depraved by hardship and physical suffering. Moreover, the colonel considered himself as having been persecuted. The consequence of such a view is to make unintelligent people hostile and intolerant themselves. In Philippe’s eyes, the whole universe began at his head and ended at his feet, and the sun shone only for him. Finally, life in New York – as seen and interpreted by this man of action – had removed all his remaining scruples in matters of morality.

from The Black Sheep by Honore de Balzac