Basel Market Donkey

Re-reading The Idiot of Dostoyevsky, I was struck by a passage which, during my previous readings, had not interrogated me as it does today: during his first visit to General Lizaveta Prokofievna and her three daughters, Prince Myshkin tells that after suffering from numerous epileptic fits which had left him literally broken, he took a trip to Germany. There, his crises past, he felt, he said, unbearably sad ». But here’s what happened to him next:I woke up completely from this darkness, I remember that one evening in Basel, when I entered Switzerland, it was the cry of a donkey at the city market that woke me up. This donkey, it hit me in a terrible way, and, I don’t know why, but I liked that it was extraordinary, and, at the same time, all of a sudden, it’s as if everything had cleared up in my head. (…) Since then, it’s terrible how I love donkeys » (1).

After reading this passage I wondered if I too had a donkey, in other words: could something arise that would calm my worries and all that can make me sad at times to the point of losing carelessness? and rest? In these periods of disarray, what unexpected and surprising sign of life could pull me out of anguish and make me taste the salt of life… because it is all about taste, it is about rediscovering the taste for life, the flavor, the inimitable spiciness, the moment in relief, the poetry nestled where we no longer expected it , where we perhaps no longer understood it, where we had forgotten how essential it is to tell and enlighten the world.

When he heard the cry of the donkey in the Basel market, when he was exhausted and no longer in control of his thoughts or his memory, Prince Myshkin of course heard the echo within him of this call, an unconscious resonance, like distant music can sometimes upset us without our knowing it. In this case, the braying of the donkey is not pleasant to the ear, its melody is sincere but at the very least dissonant, and obviously, the general Lizaveta Prokofievna and her daughters laughed and made fun of the confidence of the prince Myshkin. He is then in their eyes only a pitiful idiot, and this is indeed the theme of the novel: are kindness, love and forgiveness the sign of a saint or a backward one, and What can a society based on self-interest, corruption and ambition do with this man?

But really: what was the prince’s donkey? What was he the symbol of? Was he the humble and industrious animal? The humiliated who shouts? The loner calling? Was it just a childhood memory? I cried as a child when my father sang to me the song of the little gray donkey who worked all his life for others and died lying alone, at the bottom of a stable, in Provence, then I cried as an adult, singing the last verse to my children… and we cried in unison!

→ MAINTENANCE. Georges Vigarello: “Emotions take on an unprecedented place in history”

In songs, tales and mythology, the donkey is seen differently, and it is just as much a sacrificed animal as a companion in debauchery or, conversely, a friend crowned with flowers. In the Gospels he is the one on whose back Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, fulfilling the prophecy: “Here is your king coming to you. He is just, he is protected by God, he is humble, riding on a donkey and a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zech 9, 9). Before him, Moses carried his wife and sons on a donkey, for their return to Egypt. The humility of the greatest…

Donkey/Soul… Donkey/Soul… those two twin words make me want to hum them… Maybe the start of a tap dance… the start of all those simple and good movements: dancing, yes, with or without music, alone or with others, deciding to dance suddenly, following a happy tempo. Find the desire and momentum. Hold out your face to the sun, bend down to welcome a child running towards you, hug a loved one. Walk barefoot on stones, grass, earth or sand, feel your primitive part, your wild and untied nature. Take time and waste it, feel it flowing, and inhabit it entirely. Allow yourself joy. Celebrating life and the desire for it.

And dare to tell that one evening, at the market, the cry of a donkey changed your life, and make fun of being misunderstood. Knowing that one day someone will understand this. Someone you may not know will have an unforgettable experience.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *