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Quotes

Quote #1

Punishment without judgment is bearable. It has a name, besides, that guarantees our innocence: it is called misfortune (4.4).

A term like "misfortune" would "guarantee innocence" because it means that our guilt isn’t our own fault. As Jean-Baptiste argues, criminals don’t want to take responsibility for their crimes. Of course, Jean-Baptiste isn’t exactly begging to take responsibility for his own actions.

Quote #2

As for me, the injustice was even greater: I was condemned for past successes. For a long time I had lived in the illusion of a general agreement, whereas, from all sides, judgments, arrows, mockeries rained upon me, inattentive and smiling. The day I was alerted I became lucid; I received all the wounds at the same time and lost my strength all at once. The whole universe then began to laugh at me (4.9).

Jean-Baptiste makes it clear that the laughter he heard coming from the water had to do with his being judged and ridiculed. Now this part is interesting: he realized himself that he was morally reprehensible (for not trying to save the woman on the bridge). But he ascribes his self-judgment to others. That is, because he judges himself to be a jerk, he assumes the rest of the world sees him that way.

Quote #3

From this point of view, we are all like that little Frenchman at Buchenwald who insisted on registering a complaint with the clerk, himself a prisoner, who was recording his arrival. A complaint? The clerk and his comrades laughed: "Useless, old man. You don’t lodge a complaint here." "But you see, sir," said the little Frenchman, "my case is exceptional. I am innocent!"

We are all exceptional cases. We all want to appeal against something! Each of us insists on being innocent at all cost, even if he has to accuse the whole human race and heaven itself (4.10-11).

Jean-Baptiste will later question this need for innocence, with what is an essence a "Why bother?" attack. It’s much easier, he notes, to just proclaim your own guilt. Then you never have to get judged, and you can continue to act like a criminal.

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