At the Ashtray of Madness

“I remember once sitting on a sofa smoking and looking at an ashtray. It was an ordinary copper ash-tray. Suddenly I felt that I was beginning to understand what the ash-tray was, and at the same time, with a certain wonder and almost with fear, I felt that I had never understood it before and that we do not understand the simplest things around us.

The ash-tray roused a whirlwind of thoughts and images. It contained such an infinite number of facts, of events; it was linked with such an immense number of things. First of all, with everything connected with smoking and tobacco. This at once roused thousands of images, pictures, memories. Then the ash-tray itself. How had it come into being? All the materials of which it could have been made? Copper, in this case—what was copper? How had people discovered it for the first time? How had they learned to make use of it? How and where was the copper obtained from which this ash-tray was made? Through what kind of treatment had it passed, how had it been transported from place to place, how many people had worked on it or in connection with it? How had the copper been transformed into an ash-tray? These and other questions about the history of the ash-tray up to the day when it had appeared on my table.

I remember writing a few words on a piece of paper in order to retain something of these thoughts on the following day. And the next day I read:

“A man can go mad from one ash-tray.”

The meaning of all that I felt was that in one ash-tray it was possible to know all. By invisible threads the ash-tray was connected with everything in the world, not only with the present, but with all the past and with all the future. To know an ash­ tray meant to know all.

My description does not in the least express the sensation as it actually was, because the first and principal impression was that the ash-tray was alive, that it thought, understood and told me all about itself. All I learned I learned from the ash­ tray itself. The second impression was the extraordinary emotional character of all connected with what I had learned about the ash-tray.

” Everything is alive,” I said to myself in the midst of these observations; ” there is nothing dead, it is only we who are dead. If we become alive for a moment, we shall feel that everything is alive, that all things live, think, feel and can speak to us.”



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