In Praise of Superstition
Atlas – Air France n°75 – September 1972
— Sir, said the gentleman, you made fun of me in one of your articles, and that is inadmissible.
— Ah! And why so?
It was the man with the hat, if you recall — the one who never stops putting his hat on and taking it off; which in fact he was doing at the very moment, while expressing his ill humor.
— Because, he replied, in making fun of me, you encourage superstition. You don’t seem to understand that I have assigned myself the task of wiping out superstition, that fatal plague which misleads reason and securifies people with nonsense.
— An unfortunate soul believes that carrying a talisman makes things go better: he securifies himself. He imagines that by not walking under a ladder, he spares himself troubles: he securifies himself. We must not securify ourselves! We must not rely on magic for success. We must count only on ourselves. We must be adult. I’m teaching people to be adults.
I expressed agreement. It would have been wrong to scoff at this worthy fellow, so full of excellent ideas.
— Forgive me, dear sir. You are right. We must rely only upon ourselves. And the proof — look, do you see there on the right side of my scalp, that scar? Do you know how I got it? From a ladder under which I passed one day, in a narrow street of Athens.
The man regarded me with distrust.
— Under which you passed? And then?
— On the ladder there was a painter. He was singing. Out of key, I told him. We quarreled. It lasted at least the duration of three hourglasses. Then we reconciled, after he had called me a Turk, or whatever the equivalent of a Turk was in those days: For it’s true, I’m a Turk, having been born in Asia Minor.
— I don’t understand what you are getting at, said the man.
— Let me continue. We reconciled, and I went away. At the corner of the street, I bumped into a rascal who was carrying an enormous beam on his shoulder.
— I see, said the gentleman. You hit your head on the beam.
— Who, me? No, not at all. But I knocked the fellow down and his beam fell.
— On your head?
— No. On a dog who was passing by. This dog was very stupid. He bit me.
— What! He bit your head? Then he was a gigantic dog?
— No. Quite small. He bit my leg. I kicked him away. I ran and located a welcoming shadow at the foot of the Temple of Fortune, lay down, and went to sleep.
The man seemed perplexed.
— But, said he, what about your wound?
— Patience! Haven’t I already told you that the heat was unbearable?
— What? Do you mean to say that this scar was the result of sunstroke? Did they bleed your temples in order to relieve the brain?
— My brain, said I coldly, is doing fine, thank you. I went to sleep sweating like a galley-slave and dreamed that I was dining at Jupiter’s table. Everything went well until dessert. But then, the king of the Gods decided to attack me on a certain point of philosophy upon which I am intractable: imagine! He took Plato’s position!
The man had not stopped taking off and putting on his hat with an unhappy air. When his forehead was uncovered, he took the opportunity to mop his brow with one hand. Sometimes he became confused and mopped his hat with such vigor that he pushed it down to his ears.
— Although it’s not my business, I remarked, in the name of the friendship I feel toward you, you should, dear sir, see a doctor. It is clear that you suffer from a serious malcoordination of movements.
— I! he exploded, malcoordination of movements! But by Devil, it’s you who are killing me with your absurd story. And first of all, why are you telling me about Jupiter, when I have demonstrated the inexistence of Gods?
— Listen, said I, even more astonished, I’ll grant you that you have demonstrated their inexistence. But then why do you invoke the Devil? No Gods, no Devil.
The man raised his eyes toward the sky.
— Agreed. No Devil. But let’s finish with your ladder.
— So, I argued with Jupiter and convinced him of his error. He became angry, and, at his wit’s end, unleashed his thunderbolt. I woke up. The heat had given birth to a frightful storm. The thunder rolled above the Acropolis, the wind whistled through the columns of the temple. The wind, dear sir, the wind tore a tile from the roof, which fell on my head and left this scar. From which you see that without that bedeviled ladder, my scalp would be as free of scars as it is of hair. Believe me, dear sir, distrust ladders.
— I make fun of ladders, said he with an air of dejection, for a reason which you seem incapable of understanding: it is because I am not superstitious. No sir! I am not, for superstition brings unhappiness.■