Thinking Fast and Slow

Glen Newey writes:

Habit, Samuel Beckett says in his essay on Proust, substitutes the ‘boredom of living’ for the ‘suffering of being’, and he has a point. Human existence is an acquired taste, and many of us get through it with the aid of what Vladimir in Waiting for Godot calls the ‘great deadener’. Blank simian rote – the round of feeding, grooming, ablution, slack-jawed vacancy – serves to block out tracts of time that might otherwise get colonised by anxious thought. And who wants that? Bertrand Russell said that people will do almost anything rather than think. Despite one’s best efforts, though, thoughts still sometimes come. Then, as Beckett says elsewhere, thinking can do proleptic duty, ensuring that rogue thoughts are repeated over and again, till they sink at last into the mud of oblivion.

(LRB 22 March 2012)

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