Armand: LIFE AS EXPERIENCE

By E. Armand
English version by George Hedley.

I consider life as an experience, or rather as a series of experiences, lived to secure the richest, the most abundant, the most varied possible. I think that the individual attains the age of awareness, of intelligent reaction on his environment, in the measure in which he analyses and renews the experiences of life, in which he runs the gamut of emotions or of sensations, both because they appear inevitably on the keyboard of his existence, and because, knowing this and wishing it, he deliberately provokes them.

What I say of life in this sense must be understood of the inward or intellectual life, that of the sensations or the affections. Life considered in terms of the accomplishment of organic functions – however indispensable these may be to the development of inner being – does not give sufficient place to the complexity of experiences. Discovery of variety among foodstuffs is not of serious interest to him who is possessed by true curiosity. There are not more than a hundred ways to breathe, to digest, to sleep or to reproduce one’s self. In this domain, therefore, the field of experience is limited. And equally indifferent, to my mind, are the experiences involved in the quest of a “position”, of glory, of honours, of a good reputation etc.

I maintain that there is interest in multiplying the experiences of life; interest for him who modifies or renews them. His horizon I widened, his knowledge increased, his sensibility refined; if he loves experience for the experience itself, that is if he seeks rather to instruct himself than to secure a measurable and palpable profit, if he neither fears sorrow nor overvalues joy, possibilities of almost unlimited personal development are within his reach. I think that no man can be made “good”, that is to say, can understand the diverse situations of his fellows while refraining from passing judgement, in any way other than by passing through the crucible of experience.

To attain its maximum of utility the journey of research, the journey to the conquest of experience, demands that it be recorded, told, analysed, communicated to another; that this other may learn thereby how to live more fully, more largely – that he may be inspired to gird his loins, to seize the staff, to take to the road for himself also.

I think that the experience which profits only the one who has it fails of attaining its purpose; it is like the new process which a savant discovers, but whose formula he keeps locked in the strong-box of his memory. Effort and experience do not achieve their power of illumination, and stimulate no intellectual activity, save in the measure in which they are exposed before the world, the world of indifferences and likenesses, whether they are in the nature of a denial or of a contribution. It matters little that those who do not wish to profit by it turn away, shrugging their shoulders. The work of propaganda is not therefore the less accomplished; the fertile work emanating from me, from the individual sanctum to abut on the surrounding world, too illuminate the social group – the work of distinguishing, of personal selection among the masses.

Naturally it is necessary that the journey to the conquest of experience, to be exposed and told, shall be worth the trouble.

Life as experience is lived constantly outside “the law” or “morality” or “customs” – all conventions calculated to assure the farniente of interior stagnation to those who refrain from risking themselves, whether through fear or through self-interest.

Life as experience tears up the programmes, treads under foot the properties, breaks the glass, descends from the ivory tower. It abandons the city of Things Gained, goes out of the gate of the Things Judged, and wanders towards adventures in the open field of the Unforeseen.

For experience never accepts the thing gained as definitive the thing judged as beyond appeal. Indeed it wanders, the life without experience, as an “outlaw”, without logic, attired briefly or not at all – defiant of moralism, terror of good form, of the bourgeois respectable continually affronted by the thought that someone will come, at night, to pound the knockers of their doors and to wake them from their stupefying habits.

Life lived as experience is not troubled by the lack or by the volume of the results obtained. It is disturbed by defeat no more than by victory. Triumphs, checks, obstacles overturned, barriers reversed, falls in the mud, all are subjects of experience. One thing only can distress it: the thought that it might be lived uselessly or without profit.

All things considered, one concludes that the true educators are those who encourage one to enter without fear on the road of experience, to look life squarely in the face – life with its incalculable richness of diverse experiences. The true educator does not seek to destroy sensibility, to annihilate feeling, to rule off the individual life as he would a sheet of music paper, to limit the vibrations, to restrict the fullness. Oh no! – For thought and appreciation for and by one’s self, there is no value in committing to another the equipment and the desire for experience. And the more that experience has been difficult to pursue, rich in surprises, harassed by perplexities, saturated with joy, the less those who have risked it are willing to abandon their liberty of thought and bestow it upon another. And greater still will be the number of those unafraid to live, because they have known life by experiment.

From: “MAN! An Anthology of Anarchist Ideas, Essays, Poetry and Commentaries”, ed. by Marcus Graham. Cienfuegos Press, London 1974.

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