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Posts Tagged ‘elegance of the hedgehog’

I completed my Elegance of the Hedgehog experience.  Indeed, this is a heartbreaking story.  It’s more than your average outcast meets cool stranger finds redemption.

The story asks the big question: does life have any meaning?

The book does the only thing you can do with that question… contextualize it, swirl it around, test it.  Ultimately it remains non-answered with a tilt towards “just when you think life does have meaning something happens to make you question it.”

This is book is loaded.

* All humans carry mystical bagage (fate!, rights!, free will!, God’s way!, rain god!)
* Western society romances the truth for children (where there’s a will, there’s a way!)
* Humans do what the environment shapes them to do (social circles, castes, roles in life, culture, family)
* Changing course requires changing the environment (circle of friends, physical change…)
* Beauty is…really hard to define
* Being lonely sucks but false relationships might suck worse
* Intelligence is not an end in itself, it is a biological tool to help us survive

About that last bullet point this passage from page 165-167 haunts me.  And, yes, it’s personal.

“Fascination with intelligence is in itself fascinating, but I don’t think it’s a value in itself. There are tons of intelligent people out there and there are a lot of retards, too.  I’m going to say something really banal but intelligence, in itself, is neither valuable nor interesting.  Very intelligent people have devoted their lives to the question of the sex of angels, for example.  But many intelligent people have a sort of bug: they think intelligence is an end in itself.  They have one idea in mind: to be intelligent, which is really stupid. And when intelligence takes itself for its own goal, it operates very strangley: the proof that it exists is not to be found in the ingenuity or simplicity of what it produces, but in how obscurely it is expressed… It is not a sacred gift, it is a primate’s only weapon.”

Ouch.  This is what I mean about this book non-answering the big questions.  The author drives a stake through intelligence as a good to possess and recasts it as the simple tool it is. AND… here we are reading a philosophical book with poetic characters that wax about the meaning of life and profound thoughts!

So… is it just a biological weapon? and if so, how is this book a wielding of that weapon?

This is a trickier question than it might seem regardless of your take on the matter.

And on that note… I’m going to a giant book festival now to wield my weapon and probably keep this pathological search for meaning going for another day. and maybe that’s just it.  if I stopped looking for or ceased creating meaning, how would I survive?

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From page 22-23 of english translation of The Elegance of the Hedgehog:

“Apparently, now and again adults take the time to sit down and contemplate what a disaster their life is.  They complain without understanding and, like flies constantly banging against the same old windowpane, they buzz around suffer, waste away, get depressed then wonder how they got caught up in this spiral that is taking them where they don’t want to go.  The most intelligent among them turn their malaise into a religion: oh, the despicable vacuousness of bourgeois existence! […] “What has become of the dreams of our youth?” they ask, with a smug, disillusioned air. “Those years are long gone, and life’s a bitch.”  I despise this false lucidity that comes with age.  The truth is that they are just like everyone else: nothing more than kids without a clue about what has happened to them, acting big and tough when in fact all they want is to burst into tears.

And yet there’s nothing to understand.  The problem is that children believe what adults say and, once they’re adults themselves, they exact their revenge by deceiving their own children. “Life has meaning and we grown-ups know what it is” is the universal lie that everyone is supposed to believe.  Once you become an adult and you realize that’s not true, it’s too late.  The mystery remains intact, but all your available engergy has long ago been wasted on stupid things.  All that’s left is to anesthetize yourself by trying to hide the fact that you can’t find any meaning in your life, and then, the better to convince yourself, you deceive your own children.

Perhaps an overly negative sentiment, but is the depiction not at least a little true for many people?

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