Bufflehead Cabin

Practically speaking, a life that is vowed to simplicity, appropriate boldness, good humor, gratitude, unstinting work and play, and lots of walking brings us close to the actual existing world and its wholeness.
-Gary Snyder

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Montaigne says that old age diminishes us so that, when death arrives, it claims only a quarter or a half a man. Montaigne died at fifty-nine and surely had no idea of the extreme old age, in which I find myself today. Having lived to a ripe old age which I never expected to attain, and which is one of the strangest surprises I have experienced, I feel like a shattered hologram. This hologram no longer posesses its entire unity, yet, as with any hologram, each surviving shard preserves an image and full representation of the whole.

So today for me there is a real self, which is but a quarter or half a man, and a virtual self, which preserves a living idea of the whole. The virtual self is planning a new book and beginning to organize its chapters, and to the real self it says, ‘Your job is to carry on.’ But the real self, which cannot carry on, says to the virtual self, ‘That’s your problem. Only you see the thing whole.’ My life nowadays is defined by this very strange dialogue.

I am very grateful to you whose presence here today and whose friendship have for a short time silenced this dialogue and allowed these two selves to coincide again briefly. I know full well that the real self will continue to melt away until the moment of final dissolution, but I thank you for reaching out and for an instant giving me the sense that it might not be so.

Claude Levi-Strauss speaking extemporaneously to friends assembled to celebrate his 90th birthday (January 1999). [Translated from the French by Arthur Goldhammer]

[Vruz points out that Levi-Strauss live another 10 years.]

Notes

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