“Any species that is wholly contented, perfectly adapted to its environment, runs a real risk of its extinction.” So begins Walter Kerr, theater critic, lyricist and Broadway director of several successful productions, in his 1962 publication, The Decline of Pleasure. (Paperback edition of Time/Life, pg. 3)
When Kerr speaks, even from the grave to which he retreated in 1996, I listen. He was the critic extraordinaire who gave me the greatest insights while researching material for my thesis on Harold Pinter, a playwright in his prime with only a handful of dramas to his credit. Still, Kerr “got” Pinter and the whole Theatre of the Absurd gang, homing in on their world view like a mosquito taking aim at a portion of exposed flesh.
Unread and pristine, I found his book in the little community library box where I often pass. Whoever left it behind had never cracked a page. I am the first to open it and seeing the date of its publication, I realized I was 26 at the time of its release and rambling around central Africa, too busy staying alive to worry about the decline of pleasure.
Still, as I read Kerr’s opening comment 51 years after it was made, I had to pause. It sounded reasonable, but was it true? Dare I point out that beetles, so adapted to their environment, are among the longest lived species on the planet? And don’t get me started on turtles.
I confess, I know little about the interior life of beetles or turtles, but I’m guessing that unlike humans, they make no pretense of trying to understand the world in which they live. They don’t need to tell themselves stories to inflate their existence nor do they imagine, I suspect, that they are the children of some immortal being. Staying alive in enough. It’s not much of a philosophy but I’ll bet it outlasts ours.
(Courtesy of arthurevans.wordpress.com)