CURIOSITY: The desire to enlarge oneself is the desire to embrace
John Laroche: You know why I like plants? Because theyre so mutable. Adaptation is a profound process. It means you figure out how to thrive in the world.
Susan Orlean: Yeah, but its easier for plants. I mean, they have no memories. They just move on to whatevers next. But for a person adaptings almost shameful. Its like running away.
Laroche: The point is, whats so wonderful is that every one of these flowers has a specific relationship with the insect that pollinates it. A certain orchid looks like a certain insect, so the insect is drawn to this flower, its double, its soul mate. It wants nothing more than to make love to it. And after, the insect flies off and spots another soul-mate flower and makes love to it, thus pollinating it. And neither the flower nor the insect will ever understand the significance of their lovemaking. And how could they know that because of their little dance the world lives. It does. By simply by doing what theyre designed to do, something large and magnificent happens. In this sense they show us how to live, how the only barometer you have is your heart. How when you spot your flower, you cant let anything get in your way.
Orlean: So, how many turtles did you end up collecting?
Laroche: Oh, I lost interest right after that.
Laroche: I dropped turtles when I fell in love with Ice Age fossils. Collected the shit out of 'em! Fossils where the only thing that made sense to me in this fucked up world. Ditched fossils for resilvering old mirrors. Mom and I had the largest collection of 19th Century Dutch mirrors on the planet. Perhaps you read about us? "Mirror World" October 88. I have a copy here somewhere.
Orlean: I guess Id just like to know how you can detach from something youve invested so much of your soul in. I mean, didnt you ever miss turtles, (looks at her notes) the only thing that made your 10-year-old life worth living?
Laroche: Look, Ill tell you a story, all right? I once fell deeply you know profoundly in love with tropical fish. Had 60 goddamn fish tanks in my house. I skin-dived to find just the right ones. Anisotremus virginicus, Holacanthus ciliaris, Chaetodon capistratus. You name it. Then one day I said, Fuck fish! I renounce fish! Ill never set foot in that ocean again. Thats how much fuck fish! That was 17 years ago, and I have never since stuck so much as a toe in that ocean. And I love the ocean!
Orlean: But why?
Laroche shrugs: Done with fish!
“Why then does one want truth? Above all we want to triumph over falsehood and deception. What is most humiliating about custom and convention is that they appear inseparable from ignorance, misinformation, and hypocrisy. To have to accept a whole world of beliefs, forced on us by our environment, without the chance to choose or build our own world of beliefs would mean a thousandfold frustration even if all that is forced on us were based on painstaking research. But soon we find that people lie to us complacently, whether they know the facts or have not bothered to determine them. The power that constrains our freedom is seen to be arbitrary and indifferent, a slothful despotism of surpassing cynicism. Every truth we discover makes this tyranny unsafe and is a blow for freedom, and the more our previous so-called knowledge it affects, the better!”
Nowhere is the disproportion between effort and result more aggravating than in the pursuit of truth: you may plow through documents or make untold experiments or think and think and think, forgo food, comfort, and distractions, lie awake nights and eat your heart out — and in the end you know what can be memorized by any idiot.
What is the alternative? To suffer the tyranny of arbitrary falsehood and deception. Many truths cease to seem trite as soon as one views them as triumphs over prejudice, indifference, and dishonesty. To teach a truth without giving others some experience of the quest, the passion, the heartbreak is a crime.
“Modern philosophy has not yielded any remotely acceptable picture of man. Many philosophers would object that such an attempt would be psychology, not philosophy — as if there had ever been a great philosopher who did not offer a psychology and a picture of man. As if Plato and Aristotle had worried about trespassing on psychology. Or Spinoza. Or Hume. Or the utilitarians. Or Nietzsche. If modern psychology has produced major insights, let the philosopher use them.”
“Man desires a world where good and evil can be clearly distinguished, for he has an innate and irrepressible desire to judge before he understands. Religions and ideologies are founded on this desire.”
The novels wisdom is different from that of philosophy. The novel is born not of the theoretical spirit but of the spirit of humor. One of Europes major failures is that it never understood the most European of the arts the novel; neither its spirit, nor its great knowledge and discoveries, nor the autonomy of its history. The art inspired by Gods laughter does not by nature serve ideological certitudes, it contradicts them. Like Penelope, it undoes each night the tapestry that the theologians, philosophers and learned men have woven the day before
THE SPIRIT OF COMPLEXITY
The novels spirit is the spirit of complexity. Every novel says to the reader: Things are not as simple as you think. That is the novels eternal truth, but it grows steadily harder to hear amid the din of easy, quick answers that come faster than the question and block it off. In the spirit of our time, its either Anna or Karenin who is right, and the ancient wisdom of Cervantes, telling us about the difficulty of knowing and the elusiveness of truth, seems cumbersome and useless.
THE REALM OF AFFIRMATION
UNCERTAINTY: Living with no supernatural justifications,