Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Out of the Silent Planet, by C. S. Lewis

Think of the pleasures you have wished would never end. A glorious day in summer, a perfectly seasoned dish, a first kiss, a good book. Do you linger to prolong the pleasure? Do you stay outside until the sun is chased by the evening cold, leave aside a final bite until its sauce has firmed and cooled, dive in for one more soft peck, read the penultimate page again to avoid turning it?

I do. I'm a professed lingerer. I always figure that by drawing out the enjoyment, it lasts longer, and in some way the memory will be fuller for it.

One passage in Out of the Silent Planet might have changed how I feel about pleasure. The character Ransom (a human, or Hman) is trying to figure out how the Martian hross lives his life, because it seems not to be in pursuit of repeated pleasures. The hross, Hyoi, elaborates:

"A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hman, as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory another. What you call remembering is the last part of the pleasure.

"How could we endure to live and let time pass if we were always crying for one day or one year to come back -- if we did not know that every day in a life fills the whole life with expectation and memory and that these are that day?"

Pleasures are transient; pleasures are ephemeral. Yet the memory of pleasure may live as long as the one who experiences it. The memory will naturally grow in its own way, but is that not part of the pleasure?

When next I encounter a stunning view, or go to a revolutionary concert, or taste a delectable beer, I won't rush through it just so I can get to the memory. But neither do I intend to linger, and thereby reduce the memory by reducing the initial pleasure. When the sun sets, the music fades, and the pint glass empties, I'll understand that I still have the memory -- and with it, an extension of the pleasure itself.

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