A grim tirade
time’’. Is it possible he hasn’t kept up with his own discipline since he retired? Postmodernist thinking is full of sober redefinition of what it means to be human, leaving the old triumphalism behind. Even earlier, less hyperbolic thinkers were struggling with what it meant to understand that our life together as a species is all there is. Darwin was appalled by the implications of his work.
The title of the book sets the tone for his final summation. ‘‘ The pursuit of silence seems to be a peculiarly human activity,’’ Gray writes, rather stating the obvious. ‘‘ Other animals run away from noise, but it is noise made by others that they try to avoid. Only humans want to silence the clamour in their minds.’’
He quotes Swiss theologian Max Picard’s The World of Silence: ‘‘ The silence of men is transparent and bright because it confronts the world . . . Animals have a heavy silence. Like a block of stone.’’ You guessed it, Gray thinks this is rubbish. ‘‘ By nature volatile and discordant, the human animal looks to silence for relief from being itself while other animals enjoy silence as their birthright,’’ he writes.
Which would be lovely if Gray used this as a springboard for a plea for kindness towards animals, for vegetarianism, even for animal rights. But he doesn’t. After several more gloomy pages, he has this: ‘‘ If the human mind can ever be released from myth it is not through science, still less through philosophy, but in moments of contemplation.’’
Then he pops that bubble too. ‘‘ Godless mysticism,’’ he writes, ‘‘. . . does not dissolve inner conflict into the false quietude of any oceanic calm. All it offers is mere being. There is no redemption from being human.’’
Pass the razor blade. Mind you, if we’re to go down in a death roll with dark matter, there are far deeper thinkers and greater stylists to embrace.
John Gray, left, quotes from Joseph Conrad’s the inspiration for the film above