From Luigi Pirandello’s The Late Mattia Pascal (Il Fu Mattia Pascal). This extract is a patching of portions of chapter 13 in William Weaver’s translation. The whole can be found in Italian here:
To console me, Signor Anselmo tried to prove, with a lengthy line of reasoning, that my darkness was imaginary.
“Imaginary? This darkness?” I shouted at him.
“Be patient for a moment, and I’ll explain what I mean.”
And then he explained. (Perhaps he was also preparing me for the spiritualistic experiments which, this time, were to be performed in my room to divert me.) As I say, he expounded a highly specious philosophical concept of his which you might call lanternosophy.
Signor Anselmo did go on, first to declare that, alas, we human beings are not like the tree, which lives but does not feel. The earth, the sun, the air, the rain, and the wind, do not seem to the tree to be things different from itself: harmful or friendly things. But we, on the other hand, are born with a sad privilege: that of feeling ourselves alive. And from this a fine illusion results: we insistently mistake for external reality our inner feeling of life, which varies and changes according to the time, or chance, or circumstances.
And for Signor Anselmo this sense of life was like a little lantern that each of us carries with him, alight; a lantern that makes us see how lost we are on the face of the earth, and reveals good and evil to us. The lantern casts a broader or nar-rower circle of light around us, beyond which there is black shadow, the fearsome darkness which wouldn’t exist if our lantern weren’t lighted. And yet, as long as our lantern is kept burning, we must believe in that shadow. When at the end the light is blown out, will the perpetual night receive us after the brief day of our illusion? Or won’t we remain at the disposal of Existence, which will merely have shattered our trivial modes of reasoning?
Now I ask you this, Signor Meis: All this darkness, this enormous mystery about which philosophers at first speculated in vain and which even science doesn’t deny, though now it rejects investigation of it—suppose this darkness were simply a deceit like another, a trick of our mind, a fantasy which isn’t colored? Suppose we finally convinced ourselves that all this mystery doesn’t exist outside us, but only within us? That it’s a necessity, since we have our famous privilege of feeling life, our lantern in other words, as I’ve been saying? What if death, in short, which frightens us so much, didn’t exist and were only —not the extinction of life—but the gust of air that blows out our lantern, our unhappy sense of living, a fearsome, painful sentiment, because it is limited, defined by that fictitious shadow beyond the brief circle of weak light that we poor, lost fireflies cast around us, where our life is trapped, as if excluded for a while from the universal, eternal life to which we think we should one day return, though in reality we are already there and will stay there forever, but without the sense of exile that torments us? The boundary is an illusion, relative only to our poor light, our individuality: in the reality of nature it doesn’t exist. I don’t know if you’ll like the idea or not, but we have always lived and always will live with the universe. Even now, in our present form, we share in all the manifestations of the universe, but we don’t know it, we don’t see it, because, alas, this miserable light shows us only the little zone that it can reach . . . And even then, if it only showed us things as they are. But no, my dear sir! It colors things in its own way, and it shows us things that make us lament, though perhaps in another form of existence, we would laugh heartily over them, if we had mouths. Yes, Signor Meis, we would laugh at all the vain, stupid afflictions our lantern has caused us, at all the shadows, the strange, ambitious phantoms it cast before us, and at how we feared them!”
There should be a literary term for when an author puts their most fully developed and soberly stated observations in the mouth of one of their most foolish characters.