Last month the remains of Everett Ruess were found after 75 years in the Utah Desert. (There are many articles about this available, so I shan't bother to quote/link them here.) Most people will not have heard of him, his name often coupled with the more recent of Foolhardy American Romanticists Christopher McCandless, himself the subject of the recent book/film "Into the Wild".
Such men as Ruess and McCandless (or youths, as they were) are fairly rare as humans go, either through the guise of natural selection, or the more generic disease of mass cultural conservatism which afflicts the modern age. One might like to believe that not all blind idealists (to paraphrase Frantz Fanon, wildly out of context) meet such a "sticky end", but one remembers even the dreaming Earnest Hemingway outlasted 62 years before nature suicided him to a graceless rest. Time, as they say, is not a factor, nor success a requisite.Aldous Huxley in '[i]A Brave New World[/i]' wrote:[The Savage speaking, quoting Shakespeare:] 'Exposing what is mortal and unsure to all that fortune, death and danger dare, even for an eggshell.' Isn't there something in that?" he asked, looking up at Mustapha Mond. "Quite apart from God - though of course God would be a reason for it. Isn't there something in living dangerously?"
"There's a great deal in it," the Controller replied. "Men and women must have their adrenals stimulated from time to time."
"What?" questioned the Savage, uncomprehending.
"It's one of the conditions of perfect health. That's why we've made the V.P.S. treatments compulsory.
"Violent Passion Surrogate. Regularly once a month. We flood the whole system with adrenin. It's the complete physiological equivalent of fear and rage. All the tonic effects of murdering Desdemona and being murdered by Othello, without any of the inconveniences."
"But I like the inconveniences."
"We don't," said the Controller. "We prefer to do things comfortably."
"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."
"In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."
"All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."
"Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind." There was a long silence.
"I claim them all," said the Savage at last.
Mustapha Mond shrugged his shoulders. "You're welcome," he said.
Romanticised (as daring) by some, vilified (as reckless) by others, there's a lot to be said for the lasting mystery of "Whatever happened to..." which (that other modern disease) Social Networking Sites have seen fit to try and eradicate. Speaking as one who turned his back on the world he was raised in, ego et patria, it amuses me to see Ruess' ghost sententiously eulogised as "finally at rest" in the recent articles regarding his untimely closure - many of these written by the very liberals and self-styled dreamers who claim to be inspired by his 'legend' themselves. Even Somerset Maugham knew there was more to being a stranger to this world (in the spiritual sense) than merely being elevated as 'living by example'... the irony isn't that I encountered his name through the liberal arts (taking his mysterious disappearance as generationally inspirational), it's that the death of that mystery would be a sadder elegy than T.E. Lawence's disappointment with motorcycles.
Realism states: Youth would be wise to think before claiming the right to be unhappy. But that, de facto, would be stupid. It's a good thing I'm a student of Rabelais - else I would absurdly consider it all a great folly of the profoundly serious.
Would that Pantagruel smiled so wanly when they find his teeth.
I hope they never do.
Everett Ruess wrote:"I have always been unsatisfied with life as most people live it. Always I want to live more intensely and richly. Why muck and conceal one's true longings and loves, when by speaking of them one might find someone to understand them, and by acting on them one might discover oneself?"