Published in Sep-Oct 2022
Out of all the creative forces out there, perhaps nothing seizes our sense of self more chronically than our capacity for longing. Out of our longing for meaning, we discovered the arts. Out of our longing for truth, we discovered the widening spectrum of the sciences. And, out of our longing for love, we discovered the fact (and facts) of life itself.
We can underscore this incessant music of quiet desire with a whole range of references. Susan Cain, for instance, author of the mega-selling, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, calls it “the bittersweet.” The Portuguese have named it “Saudade”. A loose translation that bears upon that vague, constant longing for someone or something that lies just beyond the horizon of reality – but we recognise it with timeless instinct, in our bones, in that fleeting intimacy that lies just beyond the cusp of words.
Few have dared to explore the paradoxical nature of longing with more interest than the late-great philosopher and storyteller, C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), probably best known for his beloved children’s classic, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In a sermon that he delivered on June 8, 1941, and which later lent its title to his 1949 anthology of addresses, The Weight of Glory Lewis, who thought deeply about the metaphysical states of our being, writes: “This desire for our own far-off country is the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both.”
He goes on to explain why this sense of inexplicable duality even exists: “We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter…. [Wordsworth’s] expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his past. But all this is a cheat. If [Wordsworth] had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering.”
In what should be described as one of the finest summations of the illusory nature of these short hands for our longing, Lewis leaves us with a startling inference about “the thing itself.” In other words, “the thing itself” is not, in fact, something we must reach for – or even something that is beyond us – but, ironically, something that we are. Something that we always were.
He continues: “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things – the beauty, the memory of our past – are good images of what we desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.”
C.S. Lewis was an atheist who only later in life turned into a Christian apologist. As such, the notion of “the thing itself” – the ultimate object of longing – was inviolably rooted in his understanding of God. For the more secular among us, we can take a stroll with Virginia Woolf who came upon her meaning of art and life while tending to her flower garden. She said: “Behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern… the whole world is a work of art… there is no Shakespeare… no Beethoven… no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.”
Our issue is dedicated to the bluster of the financial world. Its newly defined and ever-expansive technological parameters, its scaled-up digital ecosystems, and the full measure of all of its overarching accelerations and progressions into the future. Among these efforts, there are the multiple ambitions of young men and women – some of whom may succeed by the definitions we measure success. For others, it may be wise to remind ourselves that “the thing itself” that we are longing for in this calculus of aggressive numbers, might already be beating, wholeheartedly, inside the worth of each of us.
Faraz Maqsood Hamidi is CE & CD, The D’Hamidi Partnership.