Philosophy

Arcadia, But Not for Long

Antonio Damasio

by Antonio Damasio

Rob Riemen’s request to write of my vision of Arcadia caught me at a vulnerable moment: I was thinking about Arcadia when his letter arrived. Thinking about pastoral simplicity may sound a bit odd for someone who believes, as I do, that taking vacations is a sign of weakness.  But I confess that Arcadian scenes have been coming more and more frequently into my mind and that they linger enough to be noticed. Arcadia is not yet a preoccupation but it might become one.

In his invitation, Riemen reminds us that we live ‘in the midst of modern civilization’s magnificent maelstrom’, and I guess that is precisely where my Arcadian quest began. I no longer regard the maelstrom as either magnificent or modern. On the contrary, I often find it overpowering, morally corrupting, and even stale, so much so that some form of pastoral yearning does seem like a desirable alternative. Nonetheless, as soon as the Arcadian daydream begins to take shape I face a mounting resistance. I am jolted from the daydream as if it were a nightmare instead, aware of the fact that the maelstrom was once magnificent and might be made so again, aware of the fact that cauldrons of bustle and disquiet are what made life possible in the first place and should not be dismissed summarily, aware that simplicity and quiet are unlikely to solve the drama of the human condition (they might have, at some age long past, but no longer). No matter how much I wish to escape I find myself (and I suspect that others in similar circumstances do too) pulled back into the vortex I had resolved to abandon. There is a clear conflict here, but not a clear solution.

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