Tuesday, 22 September 2015

A question

Gracious reader, may I venture to ask you a question? Have you ever had hours, perhaps even days or weeks, in which all your customary activities did nothing but cause you vexation and dissatisfaction; when everything that you usually consider worthy and important seemed trivial and worthless?
E T A Hoffmann – The Golden Pot (1814)

Sometimes a commonplace observation hits the mark. Hoffmann's question isn’t profound or insightful but given the right mood it draws back a curtain designed to prevent the cold eye of reality from peeping at us while we play.

Whether or not we draw it back seems to be a question of temporary moods, passing inclinations to dwell on such things as the engaging futility of modern life - because it is engaging and often enjoyable. These passing moods are rather like getting up from a warm chair to gaze out  at the pouring rain, as if  vainly trying to recall what encouraged people to make chairs and create warmth in the first place. It surely wasn't a burning desire to watch Disney on TV.

Without whatever it was we’d never have ventured this far from the equator, this far beyond natural warmth, the kind we don’t have to work for. Now we’ve moved much, much further and not just geographically. We've moved so far that we don't even know why we came, why we're here. Or rather, why our distant ancestors came in search of whatever it was that drew them to this remote and chilly island. They must have worked at it, must have been driven by some spirit we’ve forgotten.

We barely know how to strive in any serious sense, the sense where survival looks over our shoulder. That’s where the real curtain hangs, not the one we sometimes draw aside to gaze at the rain.


Sam Vega said...

Adam Nicolson, writing about how appealing and inviting his Hebridean islands (The Shiants) look on a lovely spring morning. (For much of the year, of course, they are hell to live on or get to. The best one can do is hunker down and let the awfulness pass...)

"This moment of ecstatic ease is the significant historical fact. Anywhere that can be reached on a calm day will be reached. What matters is the invitation, not the threat, and if there is an opening, people will take it. This is why the Shiants are as much part of the human world as anywhere else..."

To the questing mind, anything looks good. Trouble is, when the mind stops questing, we forget what it was that we wanted.

A K Haart said...

Sam - "when the mind stops questing, we forget what it was that we wanted"

Well put. Even if we don't stop, the quest so easily becomes trivial.