The Limitless Pursuit: A Reaction to a Passage from Sir Hugh Walpole Essay

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The Limitless Pursuit: A Reaction to a Passage from Sir Hugh Walpole

“The whole secret of life is to be interested in one thing profoundly and a thousand other things well,” said the novelist Sir Hugh Walpole. The first half of this passage suggests that man, in order to live well, must be able to focus on one specific field of endeavor, while the other end of the conjunction proposes that he must be fascinated with a myriad of secondary interests other than the preoccupation peculiar to him. With these brief points considered, this paper aims to probe on the meanings and implications behind, and in effect, evaluate Sir Walpole’s passage. This shall be done by providing arguments and counter-arguments relevant to the said passage, the first of which is taken from Plato.

The famous Greek philosopher once mentioned in his book The Republic that a state, in order to progress or develop, must have citizens dedicated to one particular job alone. He theorized that people are born to serve one specific purpose, that some people are meant to be carpenters, some craftsmen, others soldiers, and one particular person to be the Philosopher King.

Plato’s argument lies on the assumption that man has a fixed nature, and that in order of him to achieve a certain sense of balance and fulfillment, he must accept and use this nature for his betterment, and consequently, the betterment of the state. This is where Plato’s belief coincides with Sir Walpole’s passage. The first half of the latter’s belief also implies a certain definitive equation between man and his purpose. Sir Hugh Walpole seems to affirm that in order to live the better life, man must be prepared to follow a specific venture, that his life must be primarily defined by that one interest chosen out of a thousand, that one interest that shall be tied to him for the rest of his life.

The difference, however, between the two intellectuals lies in their emphasis on choice. Plato forwards a strictly determined notion of man’s purpose, while Sir Walpole advances a certain freedom or right regarding choice. The novelist’s use of the term interest connotes that man is free to choose the path he shall take, to decide on his course of action in shaping his life and purpose. The philosopher, on the other hand, believes that a man’s life, even its betterment, must follow a determined course, something given or assigned to them because of their nature, because of their capacity. Despite this dissimilarity, both thinkers assume a singular goal in a man’s life, and that its betterment lies on the fulfillment of that one goal.

It is easy to see where the two scholars are coming from, especially when one considers the almost infinite number of cases that proves their common claim. Bill Gates, a college drop-out, now owns one of the largest software companies in the world. Haruki Murakami suddenly realized during a baseball practice that he is meant to be a writer, and then becomes arguably the most widely-read Japanese novelist to date, with a list of international bestsellers including Dance, Dance, Dance, Kafka on the Shore, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. Rainer Maria Rilke literally locked himself up in a room at a remote area, to write his Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus, the former critically acclaimed to be the poet’s finest work.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the director of Amelie and A Very Long Engagement confesses that he has to spend four years of his life shooting and editing the latter, familiarizing himself with every detail involved in the making of the film. Krzysztof Kieślowski, a Polish director, achieved the impossible by producing three masterpiece films, namely Red, White, and Blue, collectively known as Three Colors, within the span of just one year. What these stories unanimously prove is that there are thousands of men who are successful in their own fields, because have dedicated their lives to their craft, their passion, or their sole purpose.

There are people, of course, that resist this generalization. Bono, the lead singer of the rock band U2, is equally famous for his humanitarian work. Benjamin Lee Whorf, a distinguished linguist who was famous for his studies on the Mayan hieroglyphs, was also very much a successful fire prevention engineer. Cases like these question the applicability of defining man by a single purpose alone. They bring forth the opposite idea that man can be shaped by a number of equally important interests. Moreover, they serve as commentary on the Platonic concept of human nature, which seems to err not only as regards the possible quantity of human purpose.

Judith Butler, a philosopher on human identity, uses as a central framework in her writings the notion of performativity, i.e., the potential of a human trait to be repeated through behavior. She argues that identity relies on the very actualization of performativity, that man becomes what is because he undergoes continuous acts of performance. Sexuality, for instance, is negotiated, developed and established within a person through practice, by doing things associated with a particular sex and/or gender.

What this implies is that the nature or the being of a man is not a steady state, incapable of being altered. Instead, it is continuously subjugated to inquiry, to negotiation, to change. In this light, one cannot always expect another to be profoundly interested in one thing, and one thing alone, all his life. Man, throbbing with a multitude of possibilities, has the potential to change anything about himself, given the right circumstances and the right perspective. This fluidity of human nature necessitates the unfixed quality of his interest or interests as well: that the present primary interest of one man today may not be the same tomorrow.

With these points being considered, it is then important to note that although a multitude of successful men followed a single path to finding their purpose, others may have dedicated their lives to more than one pursuit, or probably, to no fixed pursuit at all. The whole secret of life is therefore not so much as to find a particular definitive interest, but to be passionate about and dedicated in one’s foremost interest or interests, and, in the latter case, to make these interests coexist harmoniously in his life. Regardless of number, the bottom line is for man to pursue something, anything, with ardor and utmost commitment.

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