ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN FATIGUE AND WISDOM
You are sick‑‑ or just plain tired, ever slightly so. Perhaps a slightly off‑night of sleep, or the first vestiges of a cold. Yet there is something vaguely consoling about this, a sense of tranquility, desirelessness, a strange ability to suddenly focus. You find yourself able, as Pascal suggested, to simply sit in a chair alone in your room and read. There is a sense of peacefulness in your body, a purposefulness to your movements. Perhaps you make yourself a cup of tea. You listen to Brahms‘ violin concertos. You do a few of the unpleasant but necessary tasks you have been putting off for weeks, and they suddenly seem less than entirely unpleasant. You disconnect the phone.
The romantic ideal about all this, of course, is that it is the human being in a state of zest‑‑ that highly energized machine of nearly‑manic and not entirely focused energy‑‑ that is most fully human, that Flaubert (who, it seems to me, must have rarely actually experienced that state) was describing a fundamentally human calling when he inveighed „Life! Life! To have erections!“
Yet the truth seems to me entirely otherwise‑‑ that we are most completely and entirely human, that we are truly wise, only at those times when the body experiences itself as something of a limitation, an impediment to our unbridled freedom and free‑ floating desires. One of the great joys of sex in this sense is our rather certain foreknowledge that, once it is over, we won’t be wanting any more of it, at least for a few blessed hours.
Tired, slightly sick, the body experiences itself as what it most truly is‑‑ corporeal, limited, limiting, mono‑situative, mortal, in need of rest and tranquility at least equally with activity and stimulation. Descartes might just as well have said „I ail, therefore I am,“ and been equally correct. In fact, it’s a rather good bet to suppose that the great thinker himself was somewhat out of sorts‑‑ perhaps a slight touch of the grip, maybe a less than entirely restful night of sleep‑‑ when he pronounced thinking the sina qua nonof the human condition.
Had he been feeling all that great that day‑‑ like a man whose body dwelled in a world without limits‑‑ he surely would have been thinking of something else.