About the gradual processing of thoughts while talking
If you want to know something and cannot find it through meditation, I advise you, my dear, meaningful friend, to talk about it with your nearest acquaintance, who will be upsetting you. It does not have to be a sharp-thinking head, nor do I mean it as if you should ask him about it: no! Rather, you should tell him yourself first of all. I see your eyes wide open, and you answer me that in your early years you were advised to speak of nothing but things you already understand. Others, I want you to speak out of a reasonable intention to instruct you, and so, in different cases, both rules of wisdom may well coexist. The Frenchman says, l'appétit vient en mangeant, and this principle of experience remains true if you parody it, and says, l'idee vient en parlant.
I often sit at my business table above the files and, in a complicated dispute, I explore the point of view from which it would like to be judged. I usually look into the light, as the brightest point in the quest to clarify my innermost being. Or, when an algebraic task occurs to me, I look for the first approach, the equation that expresses the given circumstances, and from which the resolution afterwards by calculation can easily be found. And lo and behold, when I talk about it with my sister, who sits behind me, and works, I learn what I would not have been able to get out of it by brooding for perhaps hours. Not as if she told me, in the true sense of the word, because she knows neither the Code of Law, nor has she studied Euler, or Kästner. Nor, as if she had used skilful questions to lead me to the point, which is important, even if the latter may often be the case. But because I have some dark idea that is connected with what I am looking for from afar, if I make a bold start with it, it shapes the mind as the speech progresses, in the necessity of finding an end to the beginning, and this confused idea becomes so clear that, to my astonishment, knowledge is finished with the period. I mix in inarticulate tones, stretch out the connecting words, use apposition where it is not necessary, and use other, more expansive, tricks of the trade to manufacture my idea in the workshop of reason, to gain the time needed. Nothing is more salutary to me in this than a movement of my sister, as if she wanted to interrupt me; for my already strained mind is only made even more agitated by this attempt from outside to snatch from it the speech in whose possession it is, and in its ability, like a great general when the circumstances are pressing, it is stretched to an even greater degree. In this sense, I understand how useful Moliere could be to his maidservant, for if, as he pretended, he thought she could deliver a verdict that his own could report, this is a modesty whose existence in his chest I do not believe. There is a strange source of enthusiasm for the one who speaks, in a human face that faces him; and a glance that already announces to us a half-expressed thought as understood often gives us the expression for the very other half of it.
I believe that many a great speaker, at the moment he opened his mouth, did not yet know what he was going to say. But the conviction that he would draw the fullness of thought he needed from the circumstances and the resulting excitement of his mind made him bold enough to make a start, on good luck.
I remember the "thunderbolt" of Mirabeau with which he dispatched the master of ceremonies who, after the king's last monarchical session on June 23rd, in which he had ordered the booths to disperse, returned to the meeting room where the booths were still staying, and asked them whether they had heard the king's order? "Yes," replied Mirabeau, "we have heard the king's order" - I am sure that at this humane beginning he did not yet think of the bayonets with which he closed: "Yes, my lord," he repeated, "we have heard him" - one can see that he does not yet know what he wants. "But what justifies you," he continued, and now suddenly a source of tremendous ideas comes to his mind - "to give us orders here? We are the representatives of the nation." - That's what he needed! "The Nation gives orders and receives none" - to go straight to the summit of presumption.
This is a curious coincidence between the phenomena of the physical and moral world, which, if one wanted to pursue it, would also prove itself in the secondary circumstances. But I leave my parable and return to the matter at hand.
Lafontaine too, in his fable: les animaux malades de la peste, where the fox is forced to give the lion an apology without knowing where to get the material to do so, gives a strange example of a gradual development of thought from a beginning set down in adversity. One knows this fable. The plague rules the animal kingdom, the lion gathers the great ones of it and tells them that if he is to be appeased, a sacrifice must be made to heaven. Many sinners are among the people, and the death of the greatest must save the rest from destruction. They therefore wish to confess their sins sincerely to Him. He, for his part, confesses that he, in the throes of hunger, killed many a sheep, and the dog when it came too close to him; indeed, it happened to him in a tasty moment that he ate the shepherd. If no one was guilty of greater weakness, he was ready to die. "Sire," says the fox, trying to divert the storm from himself, "you are too magnanimous. Your noble zeal takes you too far. What is it, strangling a sheep? Or a dog, that unworthy beast? And: 'quant au berger', he continues, for this is the main point: 'On peut dire'; although he does not yet know what? "qu'il méritoit tout mal"; on the off-chance; and thus he is involved; "etant"; a bad phrase, but one that gives him time: "de ces gens la", only now he finds the thought that pulls him out of trouble: "qui sur les animaux se font un chimerique empire". And now he proves that the donkey, the bloodthirsty one! (who eats up all the herbs) is the most appropriate victim, and everyone will fall upon him and tear him to pieces.
Such talk is truly loud thinking. The rows of ideas and their names continue side by side, and the acts of mind, for one and the other, congruent. Speech is not then a fetter, like an impediment to the wheel of the mind, but like a second wheel running parallel to it, on its axis.
It is something quite different when the mind has already, before all speech, finished with the thought. For then he must remain with his mere expression, and this business, far from arousing him, has no other effect than to relieve him of his excitement. Therefore, if a thought is expressed in a confused way, it does not follow that it has been thought in a confused way; rather, it may well be that the most confusedly expressed ones are thought most clearly. One often sees in a society where, through lively conversation, a continuous fertilization of the mind with ideas is at work, people who, because they do not feel at home with language, usually keep themselves withdrawn, suddenly burst into flames with a twitching movement, seize language and give birth to something incomprehensible. Yes, they seem to indicate, now that they have attracted everyone's attention, through a disingenuous gesture, that they themselves no longer know what they want to say. It is likely that these people have thought something quite fitting and very clearly. But the sudden change of business, the transition of their minds from thinking to expressing, struck down again all the excitement of the same, which was necessary for the fixation of the thought, as well as for its production. In such cases it is all the more essential that language should be readily available to us, so that what we have thought at the same time and yet cannot give of ourselves at the same time, at least as quickly as possible, can be followed by what we have thought. And, in general, anyone who, while speaking with the same clarity, speaks more quickly than his opponent will have an advantage over him, because, as it were, he leads more troops than he leads into the field.
How necessary a certain excitement of the mind is, even just to recreate ideas that we have already had, is often seen when open and educated minds are examined and, without any previous introduction, questions are put to them, such as: what is the state? Or: what is property? Or the like. If these young people had been in a society where the state, or property, had been talked about for some time, they would perhaps have found the definition with ease, by comparing, isolating and summarizing the terms. But here, where the preparation of the mind is completely lacking, they are seen to be faltering, and only an unintelligent examiner will conclude that they do not know. For it is not we who know; it is first of all a certain state of ours which knows. Only very mean spirits, people who have learned what the state is by heart yesterday, and tomorrow have already forgotten it again, will be here with an answer at hand. Perhaps there is no worse opportunity to show oneself from an advantageous side than a public examination. For it is already disgusting and offensive to the senses, and it is tempting to show oneself constantly when such a scholarly horse comb looks after the knowledge to buy us or let us go, depending on the number of five or six: It is so difficult to play on a human mind and to draw from it its peculiar sound, it is so easily out of tune in clumsy hands that even the most practiced connoisseur of human nature, who would have the most masterly knowledge of the hebeammen art of thought, as Kant calls it, could still make mistakes here, because of the unfamiliarity with his six-week-old. Incidentally, what gives such young people, even the most ignorant ones, a good report card in most cases is the fact that the minds of the examiners, when the examination takes place in public, are themselves too biased to be able to pass a free judgment. For not only do they often feel the indecency of this whole procedure: one would be ashamed to ask someone to spill his wallet before us, much less his soul: but their own minds must pass a dangerous test here, and they may often thank their God if they can leave the exam without being exposed, perhaps more shamefully than the young man they examined, who has just come from the university.
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