Saturday, June 16, 2018

Stopping on the Road

I was content to be a foot soldier of the Enlightenment. (Or so I say. That's the way we talk.) But now --

But now, at the same time that I renew my faith in objectivity, in reason, in measurement, in rigor -- I no longer expect them to win. And I am no longer content. Which is sort of backwards, but there it is. Whether our triumph was impossible or inevitable actually comes to more or less the same thing, as far as living a life goes: not much was required of me.

Victory or defeat, it never supplied a real meaning, a real answer to "what am I doing all this for? And what should I be doing, anyway?" But it made the question less pressing. In the meantime, I had yens to follow, itches to scratch, terrors to lay aside. One is an animal after all, first and last. (Or not.)

Can I say, finally, that I am really disabused of the illusion of importance? I am totally useless. And I can no more find a meaning than a Shakespeare play can read itself aloud. That's not the way meaning works. Persons mean things, and if people themselves are to have meaning, it can only be because they are being spoken. By gods or God. The existential notion that a person can mean his own life strikes me as (forgive the pun) absurd. How long am I to stand in the sun, trying to jump over my shadow?

It is equally absurd to try to believe in God because she would make this whole meaning thing work. Were she to exist, she would not be available for that sort of bargaining, and she would rightly scorn me, if I approached her with that motive. If Pascal really expected to win his wager on those terms, the more fool he.

No. If my life has a meaning, it already has it, and it was meant by someone else, and no doing of mine can find it or lose it. Or even understand it. So leave that.

(A squirrel comes to drink at the bird bath, looks up and sees me seeing him, and plunges away into the hedge.)

Still, a person could wake in the morning with a purpose, even an urgency. Some people do. And (I'm told) they're happier that way. But could I do such a thing? At this late age? "Had I but followed the arts!" But such nonsense. Art can't mean itself any more than people can mean themselves. It can only be: I see this thing and I must make it visible to others, because the loneliness otherwise is unbearable. Does that count as a purpose, or as an affliction? Both, I suppose.

This worries me: my generalized love for people is dwindling. I am as fond as ever of my friends and family, but my heart no longer rushes out eagerly to meet strangers. I have lost some critical bit of belief: I no longer assume that they will turn out to be unique and interesting. They will be the same old people going through the same old motions, and they will want me to take them seriously, and be cross with me because I can't do it. I never understood how much the conviction that there are interesting people waiting for me -- somewhere -- out there -- inspired me. If there are not, why leave the house?

This of course has nothing to do with other people. It's not that they are better or worse. It's that something in my temperament has shifted. And I don't think it's a change for the better. These are the first steps on the road to a morose old age: I had better stop right here.

1 comment:

Jo said...

Or, ORRR, you could just buy a stick for poking people with and embrace cantankerousness!