Fools, rascals, curmudgeons, lend me your ears – I’m sure you are all weeping with inexpressible joy to discover that I have not, in fact, perished in a tragic incident involving an egg whisk. Instead, I have spent the past couple of months a) thanking my lucky stars that I did not choose to depend on working in music to fund my daily garbanzo flour biscuit b) questioning my life choices, and c) panicking. As I near the precipice of four years in the company of Truth-Seekers, I find myself consumed by the desire to flee to a distant land, live in a gypsy caravan, and offer pots and platitudes to politely perplexed passersby. My thoughts on this matter are perfectly described in Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point, a seminal work in the adoxographer’s canon.
In this book, the character Philip Quarles keeps a writer’s notebook in which he discusses the “intellectual life” adhered to by self-proclaimed Truth-Seekers. The appeal of this sort of life, Quarles says, is its easiness.
“It’s incomparably easier to know a lot, say, about the history of art and to have profound ideas about metaphysics and sociology than to know personally and intuitively a lot about one’s fellows and to have satisfactory relations with one’s friends and lovers, one’s wife and children.”
It is easy, for example, to read How to Survive in the Woods and fancy oneself a rugged wayfarer when the only actual way over which you fare is the distance twixt couch and refrigerator. It is less easy to cope with the nuisance of an attack by a ravening bear. Similarly, a life of pondering virtue is quite different from a virtuous life. One might even go so far as to say that a life of pondering virtue is a life of folly, comparable to a life spent cataloging antique paper clips or, as Huxley suggests, playing skittles. It’s highly disturbing to spend one’s formative years regarding the Search for Truth as the noblest possible calling in life, only to be arrested with one lovely-sandled foot out the door by the awful suspicion that this Quest for the Sangreal is no better than a European lawn game. What, then, is the alternative?
Certainly there are myriad other Lives of Folly one could lead, and, as an adoxographer, I say go to it, and I vow to sing an Epic of Imprudence in your honor. However, Huxley seems to suggest that there is (gasp!) an alternative to folly. He terms this incredible concept “integral living.” He does not, however, give a terribly clear idea of what this might entail. The most explicit hint we get is the second half of the aforementioned quote:
“…to know personally and intuitively a lot about one’s fellows and to have satisfactory relations with one’s friends and lovers, one’s wife and children.”
That passage reminds me of a scene I love from The Epic of Gilgamesh, in which the eponymous hero ends his quest for immortality at the seaside hut of Siduri the winemaker, who advises him to give up his foolish quest and concentrate on… well, on integral living. The language is strikingly similar.
“Gilgamesh, where are you hurrying to? You will never find that life for which you are looking. As for you… fill your belly with good things ; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man.”
Truth-seeking is like the search for eternal life, an impossible venture that, paradoxically, removes us from life. We have two clues as to what integral living is. Both are heavily centered on human relationships; are we to infer that tending one’s relationships is the goal of integral living? This seems to suggest a different reading of the word ‘integral’ than I was originally giving it – not self-integration, a harmonization of one’s various internal facets, but integration into society. Is that what Huxley intended, and if so, do I espouse that idea? Or does self-integration lead naturally to societal integration?
This is the trouble with the trivial – the minute you stop to look at it, it turns into a frightful fractal of intricacy. After all, what is all this Truth Seeking in aid of? It ought to be in aid of better relationships with one’s friends, lovers, et al., and better living – even when all that this entails is bothering to dust higher than one’s personal eye level, or remembering to shake out one’s blankets before the collection of stale crumbs around one’s toes could be used to start a charity for charming churchmice. Thus, the Search for Truth is really subservient to pursuits such as these. Well, then, why not just stick to them, and leave the Truth-Seeking to such fools as bother to undertake it? (I use ‘fools,’ not in the sense of disparaging intellect, but rather as ‘one who practices folly’ – I am proud to number myself among them.) I would argue that, while Truth-Seeking and practicality obviously can exist independently, neither should exist without the other. The trouble arises when intellectualism becomes sterile, or pragmatism becomes boorish – the worst of Greeks and Romans.
* * *
Tune in next week for more on Truth-Seeking, integral living, Folly, and bears, with a guest appearance from grootvader Erasmus, and a gaggle of ethically challenged geese. Cheers!
This artwork may be protected by copyright. It is posted on the site in accordance with fair use principles.