Thursday, October 13, 2011

Meaningful Life

‘The Dying Animal’ by Philip Roth reminds me of Yasunuri Kawabata’s ‘The House of Sleeping Beauties’ and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘Memories of my Melancholy Whores.’ The story is about an aging Lothario or womanizer who has an affair with a much younger woman.  The protagonist of Roth’s tale is a professor who has affairs with his students.  It’s interesting that the American tale concerns a teacher who has access to single women in his every day work. Marquez’s protagonist is a journalist who frequents whore houses; similar to Kawabata’ hero although there is less fornication. The American tradition allows for illicit relationship in the workplace unlike the South American and Japanese version where the hero has to resort to frequenting houses of ill repute.  Roth is the more graphic writer as Marquez resorts to flowery language while Kawabata is known for his minimalism. These works are honest explorations on the tragedy of an aging Don Juan. Interestingly, the tale is set in an age before Viagra which throws away any physical decline due to aging.

The openness of a May-December romance is intriguing in Western culture as the alpha male is often the hero. Other cultures are not as permissive perhaps, as one prefers to purchase a service like buying a candy, although the story results in attachment and love which is the tragedy. The American tale is more mercenary where one just allows one’s desires to be fulfilled. The object is the satisfaction of one’s urge despite the consequence to family and mores. Furtive romances are less messy especially if there is a fee involved. In most cultures that are not wealthy, the ‘purchase’ of a mistress is an easier option. The Western tradition is a meeting of equals where one pursues the relationship because of honest desire. Roth’s story describes the hero’s loss of his young lover who he does not pursue because of the realization of his declining vitality. The outcome may have changed if the setting is more recent with Viagra and Cialis ready to buttress any fledging desires.

Age and death is the theme behind these works. The recent death of icon Steve Jobs underscores this theme. His story is the ultimate success story with its twist and turns and eventual victory of Apple although ending with Steve’s death. Much has been written of Job’s impact on technology and multiple industries. It’s incredible that he could have achieved so much before he died – possibly he had an inkling of his fate so his drive and ambition led him to attain multiple achievements before his inevitable end. It is a tragic but heroic story. It was a meaningful life to have changed so much despite its short span. The advanced age of the hero in Roth’s book portray a wasted life of frivolity and indulgence.  Job’s life is an unrelenting journey of struggle, defeat and eventual victory. There is no triviality in the billions the Apple Company has earned and the change that technology has given to the lives of the Apple devotees. The impact to multiple billion dollar companies by one man is an amazing story.

Mortality focuses one to examine his life. The viewpoint of aging Lotharios are self-indulgent unlike that of a technology wizard. Perhaps Jobs has given all that he can and the world is a different place for it. One wonders what a meaningful life is. One has spent too many hours reading books or watching movies that one has lost his goal. It’s an indulgent life without the striving for noble goals. The key is focus or rather a clear decision not to do tasks that do not contribute to one’s main goal. Technology wizards have a clear unrelenting focus that results in their eventual victory. All else is meaningless while the mediocre continue with their petty obsessions and desultory lives. The modern heroes are these computer billionaires who live in Silicon Valley or Seattle. People who have devoted their lives to create a technological product that gains them fame and fortune. It is no longer the self-indulgent every day man living a life filled with normal day angst, sin and mediocrity. Perhaps he is spending too much or buying things in credit. So at least he buys toys to play with that keep his self-esteem alive.

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