People talk about the pursuit of happiness. I’m not an especially unhappy person; and I welcome happiness when it occurs (why turn happiness down?)—but I’m more interested in the pursuit of worth.
I’m not using that term in its economic sense—like net worth or monetary wealth—no: I mean spiritual, humane or existential worth; something harder to measure, which subsumes the realm of finance.
Say that a trustworthy phantom visits me to report that my creative efforts are loved by futurity’s elect. This is the greatest possible news—I take it as proof of the success of my pursuit. Even if my life has been overall unhappy, now I can genuinely say to fate: I love you.
The problem is that one can never know one’s actual value. Say that I am popular today, that I’ve gained cash, fame, and accolades in the world of entertainment… OK, now what? When the next age arises, they do not know who I am. My wonderful work (my act, my show, my movie, my miniseries) appealed to the crowds of the present, but tomorrow’s crowds are hungry for their own trends and fashions.
I’m speaking with a bias here: I’m portraying “entertainment” in a bad light; I’m depicting its audience as if they’re only interested in novelty; as if, in that domain, it’s neither possible nor desirable to obtain the future’s respect. Whereas, when I mention the world of literature, I picture it as superior—it even boasts an “elect” (to gain whose approval is like receiving a passing grade on Judgment Day).
Why the unfairness? I guess I’m simply bitter and jealous. I fear that there is, after all, no real division between audiovisual entertainment and imaginative literature. I think of success in pop culture as “easy come, easy go”—nevertheless, when you’ve got it, for however briefly it escorts you, the instant is blissful. Moreover, it’s a genuine affair; it’s part of the NOW… and that’s something I envy.
Lay not up for yourselves treasure upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… [Matt. 6:19]
I’ve always liked this teaching of Jesus; it naturally appeals to me. And I try to follow it; I still believe it: I favor lasting creations over transitory ones; I value eternity over clocktime—
But I do not believe that my profane self will suffer preservation in heaven after its death; so I am inclined to temper the above words of Jesus with a maxim from Ecclesiastes: “a living dog is better than a dead lion.”
I love the passage that contains those words so much that I want to give them in a fuller context [9:3-7]:
That is the sad thing about all that goes on under the sun: that the same fate is in store for all. (Not only that, but men’s hearts are full of sadness, and their minds of madness, while they live; and then—to the dead!) For he who is reckoned among the living has something to look forward to—even a live dog is better than a dead lion—since the living know they will die. But the dead know nothing; they have no more recompense, for even the memory of them has died. Their loves, their hates, their jealousies have long since perished; and they have no more share till the end of time in all that goes on under the sun.
Go, eat your bread in gladness, and drink your wine in joy; for your action was long ago approved by God.
I have determined that the lamps in our parking lot neither mar the view of the dawn nor obscure the stars. In fact, if I were a landscape painter from the Pre-Electric Era, I would dream up streetlights just to enrich the natural scene—in other words: prior to their advent, I would envision them. For they have interest to me; I think they add flair. …However, since the people of my generation have never seen such sights, they react with enmity: “What are all these probes disfiguring your landscape?” I answer: “The picture is titled Opulence.” Then they assure me: “It is abhorrent!” And I say: “Certain insects also dislike my cologne.”