The Difference Between Dead-End Desire & Redemptive Longing, as Illustrated by Leo Tolstoy and C.S. Lewis ~ BitterSweetLife

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Difference Between Dead-End Desire & Redemptive Longing, as Illustrated by Leo Tolstoy and C.S. Lewis

With a Word on Bittersweetness Thrown in. For Free.

Dead-End Desire

He soon felt that the realization of his desire had given him only a grain of the mountain of happiness he had expected. It showed him the eternal error people make in imagining that happiness is the realization of desires… He soon felt arise in his soul a desire for desires, an anguish. Independently of his will, he began to grasp at every fleeting caprice, taking it for a desire and a goal. - Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Redemptive (Sehnsucht) Longing & Bittersweetness
The experience is one of intense longing. It is distinguished from other longings by two things. In the first place, though the sense of want is acute and even painful, yet the mere wanting is felt to be somehow a delight… This hunger is better than any other fullness; this poverty better than all other wealth. And thus it comes about, that if the desire is long absent, it may itself be desired, and that new desiring becomes a new instance of the original desire, although the subject may not at once recognize the fact and thus cries out for his lost youth of soul at the very moment in which he is being rejuvenated.

This sounds complicated, but it is simple when we live it. “Oh to feel as I did then!” we cry; not noticing that even while we say the words the very feeling whose loss we lament is rising again in all its old bitter-sweetness. For this sweet Desire cuts across our ordinary distinctions between wanting and having. To have it is, by definition, a want: to want it, we find, is to have it. - C.S. Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress

At first glance, these two descriptions seem to run on parallel tracks. A closer look reveals they are worlds apart. How do you account for the qualitative difference?

One person wakes up, having achieved his desire, with the taste of dust in his mouth. Another realizes the elusiveness of the very thing he wants, and feels the pangs of bittersweet joy.

Like what you read? Don't forget to bookmark this post or subscribe to the feed.



Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife