THEOSOPHY, Vol. 52, No. 3, January, 1964
(Pages 81-82; Size: 6K)


[Article number (15) in this Q&A Department]

Q. Even the commonest of men secretly aspires to do great things, sometimes channelling this yearning into what seem minor endeavors, such as becoming the patriarch in a family, the president of some struggling little business, the possessor of some kind of valuables, or perhaps the author of some book, any book, no matter how bad. The pathos is obvious to us when we see such shabby attempts to seem great, to attract admiring eyes, but, since all things are relative, it is not impossible that even kings, premiers and presidents can be seen in a ridiculous light -- appear as just so many frogs in the rather shallow puddle called the world. Where did this almost universal egocentricity come from? Will the human race ever outgrow it?

Words we read in magazines almost always have a terribly "public" feeling about them, as though the person who wrote the article had stopped after each sentence to think, Will this phrase have a surprising effect? Will that phrase make the reader nod and smile knowingly? Part of the extreme self-consciousness of modern writers may be due to the great rise in literary criticism, which has instilled in them a fear of being shown ridiculous or soft or in some other way less than the men of rare talent they would like to think themselves. Such are, in short, afraid to be human. A writer who has acquired the knack of being coldly and devastatingly witty is safe from attack. The critics have no choice but to admire him, since in fact they have had a hand in creating him. This cursory glance at the present literary condition is not really irrelevant to the point of the question, for, as Ezra Pound has asserted, "Artists are the antennae of the race," and whatever is present in the character of mankind is likely to be accentuated in the artist. Many of these "antennae," and they are numerous these days, seem to have lost contact with universal vibrations, and now pick up mostly static -- or commercials emitted by the other antennae so closely surrounding them. It seems to be true that many of today's writers (though of course not all) lack the courage to ignore their audience long enough to sink to the bottom of their own souls, discover what it is they have to say. For everyone, writer or bricklayer, has something to say, and has his own "voice" to say it in, for the simple reason that everyone is an immortal individuality which is trying, aching, to express itself through human action. That action may not happen to lie in one of the arts or sciences, but it is certainly no less great because the rest of the world may not see its greatness. Jesus, though cynically branded "the king of the Jews," never aspired to kingship, and never wished for the prostrate worship which succeeding generations have accorded him. His enormous influence came, not from any actions he performed, but from the fact that he had comprehended the depths of his own soul, and could look into the hearts of others. Therefore when he spoke, it was in his own clear and resonant voice.

Many people today seem to be shouting and not being heard -- perhaps because for some reason they are afraid -- and so their voices are tinged with hysteria and are not their own. They want to be heard, and the rest of us, nostalgic for the days of prophets, are anxious to listen; but when they speak, when their first novel comes out, or when we hear their address, we discover how little they really have to say. The cause of this neurotic condition may lie in part in the paradox that man is most concerned about himself when at heart he considers himself very petty and insignificant. Thus most men's private philosophy, it would seem, consoles them with the thought that if man cannot fly, at least he can build airplanes. And certainly it is understandable that a man will long to be a king if he feels that his death will end all save what image of him remains in the imperfect memories of his contemporaries; he will want to write a brilliant, critically acclaimed satirical novel if he feels an emptiness in his soul, and a lack of simple greatness such as is evident in every line of Homer; he will feed upon that giggling feeling of elation that comes when the light of admiring eyes is fixed on him, so long as he is afraid to be alone with himself in a dark room.

One might almost say that the greater the man, the less he will try to distinguish himself in a crowd -- though of course it is not always true that he will go unnoticed; Buddha lived with such incredible silence and simplicity that the whole world turned to look at him.

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(February 1964)
[Article number (16) in this Q&A Department]

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