Druskin, Yakov: “Unofficial Thoughts”

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“Unofficial Thoughts”

by Yakov Druskin

January 29, 1948  


Unofficial thoughts are thoughts not of reason, or even not founded in reason; and yet, certain thoughts of this kind are some of the most intelligent. This is something that Tolstoy never understood. Reason is official. Unofficial thoughts are fruitless, in the sense that they cannot be arranged into a system. They are ungrounded and ground nothing, they do not lead anywhere, they have no application—moral or any other kind.

Is it possible to classify unofficial thoughts? If so, such classification could only be empirical, in the sense of being superficial, outward. Among unofficial thoughts are the majority of the most interesting arguments about the soul, death, and God. The thought of the existence of unofficial thoughts is itself an unofficial thought.

There are unofficial thoughts. There is a propensity to force an unofficial thought into a system of official thoughts. For this reason, when an unofficial thought is contemplated for a long while, it becomes perverted, until it finally becomes official. In the same way, unofficial thoughts are perverted and become official if one attempts to classify them.

An unofficial thought belongs to that final remainder that does not partake in any system whatsoever, and one cannot deduce anything from it, because if I were to make such a deduction, the unofficial thought would be perverted and become official.

The most unofficial of all: the soul.

The most unofficial of thoughts: the Good News.

An unofficial thought is related to a certain temptation. It is not in itself a temptation, but is related to a temptation, as when I see a certain margin of difference in an equilibrium.


Every conviction is official. But this is already an official thought. Better to put it this way: an unofficial conviction lacks the form of persuasiveness. Even better: to say nothing at all.


A thought that allows no further inference is a fruitless, or empty, thought. But perhaps some of these, a very small share of such thoughts, are unofficial? If so, then they are not empty. The most sterile of thoughts is the Good News. Conclusions drawn from it are usually banal, moral, and official. But this very sterile thought turned out to be the most fertile of all: it changed the world and, above all, the soul.


Is it necessary to discuss one’s thought, i.e. to think about it, repeating and memorizing it? The Messengers neither memorize nor remember anything. Perhaps a yurodivy speaks like a Messenger. I think that Bashilov was like that. Not only did he not care to repeat or remember his thought, he simply could not repeat it or remember it. In repeating it, he already turned it into something different. Each thought of his was new, a revelation. This is the meaning of yurodstvo: to be like a Messenger in life. But to learn this is quite impossible: the language of Messengers is a gift: gratia gratis data. For Bashilov, the language of Messengers was a native tongue… But for those unworthy of yurodstvo, repetition and memorization are indispensable. Kierkegaard, too, wrote about this.


I had some intention arise within me, and I committed an act, moving from state A into state B. But between state A and state B there was a certain thought a and a certain characteristic—a quotient of thought, a criterion of its permissibility: X. So that AX(a) → B. The state B is conditioned, or determined, by the thought a. But that X which permitted me to have the thought a: is X itself determined? I think that there are indeterminate quotients of thought—hence the consciousness of guilt and responsibility. If X is the norm of what is permissible, it is still me and not anyone else who accepts this norm. It might be that the majority of norms are inculcated by upbringing, by fear, and are thereby determined. But conscience and shame before oneself are not reducible to upbringing alone.


We think in general concepts. But a general concept does not convey reality. We combine realities into concepts. But a combination of realities is also a general concept. It, too, does not convey reality. Concepts and thoughts signify relations. But that which relates, stands in relation, we know not—we do not even know whether it does stand in relation, because “relation” is a general concept and does not convey reality.

We are all insane, but we have a common language. Not even a language but common words and rules for combining them—grammar. Each person speaks of his own, and the other does not understand him, but, thanks to the common language and the common grammar, sometimes it appears as if one were understood. To escape this insanity would mean to see and understand that between “I” and “you” lies a chasm that cannot be traversed. I am speaking here not of some emotional or psychological but of a fundamental—gnoseological and metaphysical—incomprehension.

I’ll take an example—it will seem naïve, yet however incredible, it cannot be refuted logically. I take the simplest proposition, for example, 7+5=12, and try to understand it not as a set of formal logical relations, but essentially—noumenally. It is, after all, a person who utters this proposition. Once it was a discovery for him, too—a living thought that was not, in his mind, an abstraction, but a revelation. Then he got used to that thought, it grew threadbare and became an abstract thought—a set of relations among abstract symbols.

I am seeking the primal element, an atom of the noumenal, i.e. a vital comprehension, and that is why I take the simplest thought: 7+5=12. It has the form of a totality, meaning that if I go ahead and write the symbols 7+5, anyone at all shall write after the symbol “=” the symbol “12.” Two mathematicians will demonstrate identically, with the help of identical signs, that it cannot be any other way. But I doubt that they have an identical understanding of the noumenal meaning of those signs. They only know the rules for connecting those signs and, if one of them could have entered directly into the soul of the other, he might perhaps have said: “You have written all the symbols correctly, but what you understand by them is not at all an identity but a summer evening, and your proof, as you understand it, despite the correct arrangement of symbols, is not a proof at all but a description of a stroll along a lake shore on a summer evening.”

Life is irrational but language is rational: we speak in general concepts. If I want to express something irrational, I assert the equivalence of two incompatible propositions or states of affairs. But I cannot utter them at once—I utter them one after the other and then assert the equivalence, requiring the listener to combine in a single moment what I uttered sequentially. This means that I presuppose in myself and in him an ability for intellectual intuition, which Kant denied in his writings and yet presupposed and required.

The equivalence of two inconsistent propositions or states of affairs is unthinkable; therefore it is already not a thought but intellectual intuition. If immediate communication of thought were possible, immediate wordless communication of the contents of intuition would probably also be possible. If people were able to achieve this, they would return to a golden age, and it would become the greatest revolution in the history of mankind. From the time when people stopped communicating their thoughts immediately and until the time when they regain that ability, people are actually insane: we speak nonsense, supposing that there’s sense in it.

A logical question arises: what is “sense”? Relations among concepts may be identical whereas their meanings may differ. For example, let there be a proposition a ⊃ b, meaning that a is in b. Let α be the object of the concept a and let β be the object of the concept b. Seeing a certain relation between objects α and β, everyone might say, identically: a ⊃ b. But, first, do we see and understand the relation of α and β identically? We call them identical names and connect identically these names that we have invented, but do we see and understand those relations identically? And, second, do we understand identically the relation of each object to its concept, α to a and β to b? For we communicate in signs—general concepts—and our mind has established rational relations among those concepts, whereas the world, life, soul, and spirit are a-rational. But even logic and logical relations themselves are understood by everyone differently. Perhaps, when another person says ‘variable’, what he means by that is what I mean when I say “function.” The rules for connecting variables may remain exactly the same, because they were created to be used with symbols which express nothing in themselves. But does it follow that—in content, and not only in form—we understand identical connections identically?

There is a certain kind of incompatibility, especially in value judgments, when someone says, for example: “How intelligent is the design of the human body,” citing only the examples of organs that happen to be functioning normally. But if one remembers that all people get sick and die—and for the most part, not from being sated with life, like the Biblical patriarchs, but by accident, or from illnesses, or else simply by getting sated with life before their time—or that there are many unintelligent organs, one might as well say that the human organism is designed unintelligently. These two propositions cannot be called equivalent, simply because they express nothing at all beyond the human need to utter general judgments, i.e. the simple urge to talk, merely for the sake of talking rather than keeping silent. This kind of behavior is typical of the insane. And that is what we all are: insane. But in saying this, I, too, speak as a madman. My insanity is expressed here in making a general judgment without sufficient grounds for it. I began with empirical and, moreover, rational presuppositions. I considered rationally illnesses, premature satiation with life, and premature death. But how do I know that they are premature, that illness has no purpose, when it has been granted me, through experience, to see its purpose and the madness of the wise who deemed it purposeless? For a human being is not a body, an organism, but God’s image and likeness. When my disputations breach the boundary of the permissible, I become a madman. I seize upon distinct inklings, albeit inklings only, of a supra-rational, irrational rationality, of the existence of Providence, and yet reduce a human life to the life of a human organism, and substitute my own limited, unwise wisdom for wisdom absolute.

There is, in fact, only one kind of insanity or source of all insanity: disbelief.

When I utter a general judgment without having faith, and when I do not utter a general judgment without having faith, and when I keep silent without having faith—I am insane. Can I draw a conclusion from this? Yes. Can I express it in words, to myself or to another? Only as a madman. And again, there are two senses here: an elementary sense and that which Apostle Paul calls “unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” And also: “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the mighty” (I Cor. 1:27).

In life there are excesses and deficiencies. Let’s suppose that God turned instantly all the excesses into deficiencies and all the deficiencies into excesses. Will anyone notice this change—given that all the relations have remained exactly the same, only the plus became the minus and the minus the plus? But even if someone would, he would be unable to express it, because all the relations have remained the same, and the language of general concepts represents only the relations, and not the contents. Even if every instant God would turn excesses into deficiencies and deficiencies into excesses—even then, no one would be able to express this to anyone else, or even to oneself…


What I have just written, no one else will be able to understand; this is why it is being asserted that no one understands anyone, and if one has understood, then one has not, and if one has not, then one has, but this in itself, too, cannot be understood. But even I can no longer understand what I have just written, because the “just now” is no longer a “now” but, as they say, “another now” that is not to be found in the present: now—is always now, as single as my soul. For the soul is something of which I say, in an entirely special way, that it is mine. What is mine is my soul, and in the present, whereas “just now” is mine no longer, for what is mine is the “now” of my soul. Between you and me there is a chasm, and an equal chasm is between me now and me just now, between me and myself, and there is no traversing this chasm by natural means. That is why we talk to one another and think that we understand, but apart from the rare instances of unnatural noumenal intercourse, when words themselves may be unnecessary, no one understands anyone or even oneself. We are all insane, including myself: instead of keeping silent, I speak.

If I travel by train and the train reverses its direction and I miss this change because the windows are curtained and I cannot see which way we travel and towards what destination, then how can I find out whether the train is traveling forward or backward? It will seem to me that the train is always going in the same direction. It is the same between people, and between any person and himself. We travel, apparently together, and I travel together with myself—but so often do we change direction without noticing, that we have long parted ways, are going in opposite directions, while thinking that we are traveling together. But the opposite also happens: we imagine that we noticed a change of direction and that we have parted ways and are now traveling in opposite directions, but in actuality the changes of direction have accidentally aligned themselves, and we are traveling in the same direction, even though we do not know this, or where we are traveling to. We know nothing and understand nothing—neither others nor ourselves—and can only ask God to grant us a noumenal understanding of one another and ourselves—an inkling, at last, of noumenal understanding.

“When I said, My foot slippeth; thy mercy, O Lord, held me up. In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul” (Psalm 94).

Translated by Anna Razumnaya

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