I would like to preface with the comment that learning, obtaining knowledge, and having time to read and reflect is an incredible privilege that I value and honour to the highest degree. It is my deepest wish that our canons of knowledge can be informed by varying perspectives that either enrich understanding or destroy wrong assumptions. Of course, that may seem a ‘Whiggish’ approach to knowledge, assuming that we are always progressing, but I am not sure where I stand on the matter yet, so I have to begin somewhere.
This story is not a horror story of unfulfilled dreams. There is no true pessimism, but a desire to note that there is uncertainty. The parable, The Prodigal Son, has a clear goal. Humility and respect for our parents (or God) is the utmost importance. But also recognizing that you can return home if you are ready to repent, and have understood why you were wrong. Yet, I’m not sure there is such a simple ending in real life. So, this story of the Pedagogical Son asks the reader to consider if one can return from the halls of learning, and whether or not there is anything to return to?
I once dreamed that I was walking from afar. No. This is not my story. It is the story of the individual, who, like Darnton’s Grub Street motley crew, are seeking entrance into the cathedral of knowledge. It begins in the desert.
The air is hot and dry. The urge to burst with anticipation is infinite. Anticipation for death. For life. For water. The future is uncertain so we cannot know what will occur. There is desire for action, but one can only walk onwards. Continuing the motions of life but without any sure indication that he is making the most of his path, or where that path may even lead. The terrain is comical in its ironic heat, He thinks. It reminds him of snow that has been trampled with rough ice patches. His feet ache, but instead of being numb with an icy cold, they burn from pain and the heat that the sun gives the earth. “Gives the earth,” He thinks, “such an awkward statement…” But he dwells no more on the philosophical implications. He is not fighting to survive. No. This is not a story of man against nature. No. For surely, man is part of nature. Are earth and nature mutually exclusive terms? Is man excluded from nature? Arguments of modernity would suggest so. But He doesn’t believe it is so. Man is what he wants to be. He is his choice. He is restricted by various things; being lost is one of those things. Yet, he can still choose to act. He can lay in the sun and flatten himself against the earth, ready to be absorbed. He is thus part of nature. Or, he can try to persevere, and, in doing so, learn the terrain. He is thus part of nature. No different than a marmot scurrying along the Alps.
He encounters such a marmot-like animal who greets him. Encouraged by this friendliness, he taps his hat in respect. In a bird-like voice the marmot invites him to tea. He, curious, accepts this invitation and follows the polite animal to tea.
“Buttered bread with honey then?” Marmot asks He.
“Delicious.” He responds. He looks at Marmot slightly abashed, unsure of his fear and anxiety. “Do you have many visitors?” He asks?
“Just those who are lost,” Marmot pipes, “but they usually find a way, or another.”
“The right way?” He asks, hopefully.
“Who can say. Some take the left, others the right, still others up, and sometimes the mole goes down. But all I can say is that they’ve left here.” Marmot chuckled.
He drank the hot tea, enjoying the test of heat that the sun pressed upon him. The delightful sweat that ran down his face and chest and arms seemed to remind him of life. He carefully ate the buttered bread with honey so as to be polite. But He was curious. He had so many questions to ask, so much he wanted to learn and to know. How could He ask?
“What are you thinking of?” Tweeted Marmot?
“I am afraid to ask, or admit…” He whispered. He persevered, “How is it you are out here? Do you not find the task of making tea in this heat so daunting? Do you not wish to leave? To go home?”
“This is my home,” said Marmot carefully. “I have no wish to leave it at the moment. I may some day, but not right now. The tea I make to my own taste. I prefer it.”
“Oh,” He replied. He had not gotten the answers he was looking for. He wanted to know more, to be told something that could show him the way. Perhaps he was not asking the right questions. “But do you know which way I should go then?”
“That is not for me to say,” Marmot smiled. “You, like many before you, want me to tell you what to do. That would be unfair because there is much yet for you to do and learn on your own. If I were to tell you what to do, you would lead a superficial existence until you obtained that goal. But if you set your own ideal, one that acts phantasmically, that shifts and ebbs in your own anxieties, you will find that you have lived.”
He considered. “Then you suggest that I act. That I do what I choose?”
Marmot smiled. “That is not for me to say.”