The comfort of ideas

I’ve spent much of this year thinking about the difference between people who search for meaning in projects and people who seek to escape the search through meaning through projects. The former look for answers to prior questions through the creative work they commit themselves to, whereas the latter seek release from a hyper self-interrogatory state through immersion in creative work. The apparent similarities at the level of behaviour obscure a deep divergence at the level of existential orientation.

The ethos of this latter position is captured well by Bertrand Russell in The Conquest of Happiness (pg 109) in which he describes the almost palliative character of immersion in ideas:

The man who can forget his worries by means of a genuine interest in, say, the Council of Trent, or the life history of stars, will find that, when he returns from his excursion into the impersonal world, he has acquired a poise and calm which enables him to deal with his worries in the best way, and he will in the meantime have experienced a genuine even if temporary happiness.

Roberto Unger cautions against investing these experiences with overly high expectations. However his point concerns the subterranean longing for transcendence which can lurk behind this willingness to immerse oneself in creative activity:

Can we not have in love and in work experiences that wholly absorb us, modify or even suspend our sense of the passage of time, without depriving us of consciousness, and interrupt the cycle of unrequited desire? Indeed, we can, if we are both lucky and wise, but only for a while. The work will come to an end, and no longer represent for its creator what it represented in the throes of creation. The love, ever tainted by ambivalence, will cease to waver only if it ceases to live. The work and the love will be seen to be the particular engagement and the particular connection that they are, and we will continue to seek, absurdly and inescapably, something that is not just one more particular. Our reprieves from insatiable desire will be momentary; our insatiability will remain as the lasting undercurrent of our experience, thrown into starker relief by its remissions.

The Religion of the Future pg 23

Is there any reason this must be the case? Or could we have less cruelly optimistic ways of relating to the comfort of ideas?

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