An untranslatable Czech word; Milan Kundera describes Litost as, “a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.” He describes the first syllable to sound like the wail of an abandoned dog. There is no word in any other language for this feeling. Yet how is it possible to understand the human soul without it?

“At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.” ~Albert Camus

This is not to be confused with the self-indulging feeling of self-pity. This is no pity party. This is a chilling sensation that hits you with such intensity and surprise, it practically knocks your breath out and makes you want to drop to your knees in a shriek. It leaves you as pale as seeing a ghost. In a sense, it is seeing a ghost. Your ghost. You are standing outside yourself and witnessing what is happening to you. This paradox is what follows a period of numbness. You are still disconnected. Only now is the shock that this person you have been observing from afar, is you. It’s akin to the ghost of christmas future showing you your agonized and doomed self. You are ashamed of your very existence.

There are people who understand this feeling more than others, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s chemical. Maybe it’s a gene, passed on by a depressive mother. Maybe it came from childhood traumas. A hypersensitivity to life’s problematic nuances created by the experience of abandonment or acute disappointment. And then there are people that just can’t grasp this feeling at all. For them, it’s hard to comprehend how someone can be stuck in this pulverizing moment of self-actualization. While everyone experiences grief at some point or another in their life, the average person goes through the cycle of sadness to acceptance and moves on at their own healthy pace. From their perspective, a state such as Litost seems exaggerated, pathetic, and overly dramatized. It is observed as a naively pessimistic decision to remain in a perpetual state of humiliating doom. Observed as an unwillingness to live in reality.

Perhaps what they fail to observe is the distinction between one’s reality and another’s. This is not a misapprehension of reality. This is merely a different one. The perspective in this reality is not that of “inside, looking out” or even “outside, looking in”. Rather it’s more like “above, looking down”. A seemingly, hovered perception. The afflicted, experiences the absence of any visual gravitational pull. Yet somehow, despite the perception of hovering, there is a sense of substantial weight upon the afflicted. How the two feelings can coexist, is mystifying to say the least.

I, for one, know Litost.

And it is alienating in it’s entirety.



~ by Keira Dazi on April 4, 2011.

One Response to “Litost.”

  1. i hope i never get this scary feeling. and i hope it stops haunting you. (((hugs)))

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