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Canto xvii of Louis MacNeice’s Autumn Journey (1939) opens with luxurious experiences, such as watching a morning scene over breakfast and lying in a bath “under / Ascending scrolls of steam,” feeling “the ego merge as the pores open … And the body purrs like a cat.” He writes these passages in the first person plural, and it’s not clear whether he’s alone or with someone at the breakfast table and in the bath. In any case, these moments end; we must leave them. It is a mistake to pursue “the luxury life.”
And Plato was right to define the bodily pleasures As the pouring water into a hungry sieve* But wrong to ignore the rhythm which the intercrossing Coloured waters permanently give. And Aristotle was right to posit the Alter Ego** But wrong to make it only a halfway house: Who could expect – or want – to be spiritually self-supporting, Eternal self-abuse? Why not admit that other people are always Organic to the self, that a monologue Is the death of language and that a single lion Is less himself, or alive, than a dog and another dog? Louis MacNeice, Autumn Journal: A Poem (1939), Faber & Faber, Kindle Edition.
*referring to Plato, Gorgias 493c (Lamb trans.): “and the soul of the thoughtless he likened to a sieve, as being perforated, since it is unable to hold anything by reason of its unbelief and forgetfulness.” Socrates continues: this metaphor “is bordering pretty well on the absurd; but still it sets forth what I wish to impress upon you, if I somehow can, in order to induce you to make a change, and instead of a life of insatiate licentiousness to choose an orderly one that is set up and contented with what it happens to have got.”
**Aristotle, Nic. Eth. 1169b (Rackham trans.) “People say that the supremely happy are self-sufficing, and so have no need of friends: for they have the good things of life already, and therefore, being complete in themselves, require nothing further; whereas the function of a friend, who is a second self, is to supply things we cannot procure for ourselves.”
See also: the sublime and other people; the sublime is social–with notes on Wordsworth’s Lines Above Tintern Abbey.