Saturday, March 10, 2007

Wells: a Mind at the End of its Tether

Today, I got a copy of H.G. Well's last work, called 'A Mind at the End of its Tether', which was published shortly before Well's death, on August 13, 1946. Colin Wilson apparently described the piece as "the most pessimistic single utterance in modern literature", which is certainly an accolade of sorts. My own opinion is, that despite what Wells believed over his lifetime, in the end, he had a very good understanding of life, the universe and everything. Here's an extract containing the last few paragraphs:

The searching skepticism of the writer's philosophical analysis has established this Antagonist as invincible reality for him, but all over the earth and from dates immemorial, introspective minds, minds of the quality of the brooding Shakespeare, have conceived a disgust of the stress, vexations and petty indignities of life and taken refuge from its apprehension of a conclusive end to things, in mystical withdrawal. On the whole mankind has shown itself tolerant, sympathetic and respectful to such retreats. That is the peculiar human element in this matter; the recurrent refusal to be satisfied with the normal real world. The question "Is this all?" has troubled countless unsatisfied minds throughout the ages, and, at the end of our tether, as it seems, here it is, still baffling but persistent.

To such discomfited minds the world of our everyday reality is no more than a more or less entertaining or distressful story thrown upon a cinema screen. The story holds together; it moves them greatly and yet they feel it is faked. The vast majority of the beholders accept all the conventions of the story, are completely part of the story, and live and suffer and rejoice and die in it and with it. But the skeptical mind says stoutly, "This is delusion".

"Golden lads and lasses must, like chimney sweepers, come to dust."

"No," says this ingrained streak of protest: "there is still something beyond the dust."
But is there?

There is no reason for saying there is. That skeptical mind may have overrated the thoroughness of its skepticism. As we are now discovering, there was still scope for doubting. The severer our thinking, the plainer it is that the dust-carts of Time trundle that dust off to the incinerator and there make an end to it. Hitherto, recurrence has seemed a primary law of life. Night has followed day and day night. But in this strange new phase of existence into which our universe is passing, it becomes evidence that events no longer recur. They go on and on to an impenetrable mystery, into the voiceless limitless darkness, against which this obstinate urgency of our dissatisfied minds may struggle, but will struggle only until it is altogether overcome.

Our world of self-delusion will admit none of that. It will perish amidst its evasions and fatuities. It is like a convoy lost in darkness on an unknown rocky coast, with quarrelling pirates in the chartroom and savages clambering up the sides of the ships to plunder and do evil as the whim may take them. That is the rough outline of the more and more jumbled movie on the screen before us. Mind near exhaustion still makes its final futile movement towards that "way out or round or through the impasse".

That is the utmost now that mind can do. And this, its last expiring thrust, is to demonstrate that the door closes upon us for evermore.

There is no way out, or round or through.