Saturday, January 10, 2009

Overlapping Quality and solitude

"The more you look, the more you see"
-Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

"O brave new world," he repeated. "O brave new world that has such people in it. Let's start at once."
John quoting Shakespeare's The Tempest, Brave New World

I usually find that there is an overlap in the books that I read. That was definitely so in the last few books I was taking on. First it was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a fascinating look at Quality, the dichotomy between Classical and Romantic thought, finding meaning in mundane world and the insanity that this can often cause. An overarching theme I found fascinating was this notion of solitude in the face of modern society as Phaedrus searched to define Quality and the truth connected to it: "Even in the presence of others he was completely alone."

The notion of solitude found by all the aforementioned characters reminds me of something Borges wrote in Everything and Nothing: "At first he thought that all people were like him, but the surprise and bewilderment of a friend to whom he had begun to describe the hollownewss showed him his error, and also let him know, forever after, that an individual should not differ from its species."

During Phaedrus search to define Quality, he notes the absence of Quality found in Brave New World and how that affects society. Phaedrus seemed so alone in a world that was easily amused with the banal. That brings me to Huxley's work, and the Savage. Again, the story of an outsider trying to figure out why the bread, circus and gadgetry of the New World keeps people blind: "Our world is not the same as Othello's world. You can't make flivvers without steel-and you can't make tragedies without social instability. The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get."

And the poor Savage's take on a Qualityless world: "But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."

I had an interesting addendum to this, in the last book I read, Replay by Ken Grimwood. This was an interesting concept, of a man who drops dead of a heart attack only to wake up at age 18. He relives his life, making a fortune betting on things he already knows, lives well and drops dead at the same point in his life. He wakes up again, this time a little older, and tries a different tact. The story keeps repeating, with him getting a little older each time and still trying to figure out how to give meaning to his life, while also figuring out why these replays keep taking place. Another interesting take on providing life with Quality, in a far different sort of book.

The first two books reminded me of Consumed by Prof. Benjamin Barber, a book whose passages we read for a seminar with the author. The premise of his book is that capitalism in its present state has infantilized adult consumers, while turning children into adult consumers at far too young an age. Again, this conception of material things being our soma, as we lose real meaning and Quality.

As I return from my travels, and given ample time to think while sitting on long bus rides, I am struck by this continuing notion of trying to come up with meaning for life and Quality for existence. It seems sometimes that I can only find my Quality and meaning when I am in motion, wandering from town to town, experience to experience.

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