Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hedonics and the unwelcome Jailer

Hello again. It's been a while. But do not fear! I am still very much alive and kicking. So much so that I haven't taken the time to sit down and give my little blog the time and love it needs to survive. Be assured, it is by no lack of interesting thoughts, experiences, etc. that has kept me away.

I want to share with you some of the brilliance I have been reading lately. This is an exerpt from an essay by C.S. Lewis. If I could express my thoughts a tenth as well as he can his I would be a very happy writer indeed.

"There are some pleasures which are almost impossible to account for and very difficult to describe. I have just experienced one of them while travelling by tube from Paddington to Harrow.....It was early evening when my journey began. The train was full, but not yet uncomfortably full, of people going home. It is important to insist-you will see why in a moment-that I was under no illusion about them. If any one had asked me whether I supposed them to be specially good people or specially happy or specially clever, I should have replied with a perfectly truthful No. I knew quite well that perhaps not ten per cent of the homes they were returning to would be free, even for that one night, from ill temper, jealousy, weariness, sorrow or anxiety, and yet-I could not help it-the clicking of all those garden gates, the opening of all those front doors, the unanalysable home smell in all those little halls, the hanging up of all those hats, came over my imagination with all the caress of a half-remembered bit of music. There is an extraordinary charm in other people's domesticities. Every lighted house, seen from the road, is magical: every pram or lawn-mower in someone else's garden: all smells or stirs of cookery from the windows of alien kitchens. I intend no cheap sneer at one's own domesticities. The pleasure is, once more, the mirror pleasure-the pleasure of seeing as an outside what is to others an inside, and realizing that you are doing so. Sometimes one plays the game the other way round.

Then other things come in. There was the charm, as we went on, of running out into evening sunlight, but still in a deep gulley-as if the train were swimming in earth instead of either sailing on it like a real train or worming beneath it like a real tube. There was the the charm of sudden silence at stations I had never heard of, and where we seemed to stop for a long time. There was the novelty of being in that kind of carriage without a crowd and without artificial light. But I need not try to enumerate all the ingredients. The point is that all these things between them built up for me a degree of happiness which I must not try to assess because, if I did, you would think I was exaggerating.

But wait. "Built up" is the wrong expression. They did not actually impose this happiness; they offered it. I was free to take it or not as I chose-like distant music which you need not listen to unless you wish, like a delicious faint wind on your face which you can easily ignore. One was invited to surrender to it. And the odd thing is that something inside me suggested that it would be "sensible" to refuse the invitation; almost that I would be better employed in remembering that I was going to do a job I do not greatly enjoy and that I should have a very tiresome journey back to Oxford. Then I silenced this inward wiseacre. I accepted the invitation-threw myself open to this feathery, impalpable, tingling invitation. The rest of the journey I passed in a state which can be described only as joy.

I record all this not because I suppose that my adventure, simply as mine, is of any general interest, but because I fancy that something of the same sort will have happened to most people. Is it not the fact that the actual quality of life as we live it-the weather of the consciousness from moment to moment-is either much more loosely or else very much more subtly connected than we commonly suppose with what is often called our "real" life? There are, in fact, two lives? In the one come all the things which (if we were eminent people) our biographers would write about, all that we commonly call good and bad fortune and on which we receive congratulations or condolences. But side by side with this, accompanying it all the way like that ghost compartment which we see through the windows of a train at night, there runs something else. We can ignore it if we choose; but it constantly offers to come in. Huge pleasures, never quite expressible in words, sometimes (if we are careless) not even acknowledged or remembered, invade us from that quarter.

Hence the unreasonable happiness which sometimes surprises a man at those very hours which ought, according to all objective rules, to have been most miserable. You will ask me whether it does not cut both ways. Are there not also grim and hideous visitors from that secondary life-inexplicable cloudings when all is going what we call "well"? I think there are; but, to be frank, I have found them far less numerous. One is more often happy than wretched without apparent cause.

If I am right in thinking that others beside myself experience this occasional and unpredicted offer, this invitation into Eden, I expect to be right also in believing that others know the inner wiseacre, the Jailer, who forbids acceptance. This Jailer has all sorts of tricks. When he finds you not worrying in a situation where worry was possible, he tries to convince you that by beginning to worry you can "do something" to avert the danger. Nine times out of ten this turns out on inspection to be bosh. On other days he becomes very moral: he says it is "selfish" or "complacent" of you to be feeling like that-although, at the very moment of his accusation, you may be setting out to render the only service in your power. If he has discovered a certain weak point in you, he will say you are being "adolescent"; to which I always reply that he's getting terribly middle-aged.

But his favourite line, in these days, is to confuse the issue. He will pretend, if you let him, that the pleasure, say, in other people's domesticities is based on illusion. He will point out to you at great length (evidence never bothers him) that if you went into any one of those houses you would find every sort of skeleton in every cupboard. But he is only trying to muddle you. The pleasure involves, or need involve, no illusion at all. Distant hills look blue. They still look blue even after you have discovered that this particular beauty disappears when you approach them. The fact that they look blue fifteen miles away is just as much a fact as anything else. If we are to be realists, let us have realism all round. It is a mere brute fact that patches of that boyhood, remembered in one's forties at the bidding of some sudden smell or sound, give one (in the forties) an almost unbearable pleasure. The one is as good a fact as the other. Nothing would induce me to return to the age of fourteen: but neither would anything induce me to forgo the exquisite Proustian or Wordsworthian moments in which that part of the past sometimes returns to me.

We have had enough, once and for all, of Hedonism-the gloomy philosophy which says that Pleasure is the only good. But we have hardly yet begun what may be called Hedonics, the science or philosophy of Pleasure. And I submit that the first step in Hedonics is to knock the jailer down and keep the keys henceforward in our own possession. He has dominated our minds for thirty years or so, and specially in the field of literature and literary criticism. He is a sham realist. He accuses all myth and fantasy and romance of wishful thinking: the way to silence him is to be more realist that he-to lay our ears closer to the murmur of life as it actually flows through us at every moment and to discover there all that quivering and wonder and (in a sense) infinity which the literature that he calls realistic omits. For the story which gives us the experience most like the experiences of living is not necessarily the story whose events are most like those in a biography or a newspaper."

This is super long and I kinda doubt anybody will read it....but I thought it was great. Peace out.