Thursday, November 04, 2010

So that's why they call it Pascal's Triangle

I mentioned in a recent comment that I'd bought The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, a collection of Icelandic sagas, and a selection from Pascal's Pensées. I also said I'd try to find a sentiment suitable to crime fiction in the last of the three.

I have found such a sentiment, and not only is it suitable to crime fiction, but it's the plot of a hundred hard-boiled, even noir stories:


"How tiresome it is to give up pursuits to which we have become attached. A man enjoying a happy home-life has only to see a woman who attracts him, or spend five or six pleasant days gambling, and he will be very sorry to go back to what he was doing before. It happens every day."
(Here's a discussion of another volume in Penguin's Great Ideas series.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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9 Comments:

Anonymous kathy d. said...

Women, too! Same phenomenon.

November 04, 2010  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Pascal is freaking awesome. He understood the depths of the soul. Here's another tidbit from him that I'm sure has application in all sorts of stories -- including quite a few crime novels:

"All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves."

November 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmmm, Kathy, you mean women can inconstant, wayward characters, too? I'm shocked!

November 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren, as is often the case with philosophers, one will have to study carefully the political implications of his thought. But so far, the pensee looks like an excellent vehicle for exploring human beings and what the hell we're doing on this planet.

I wonder if Jean Renoir knew his Pascal.

November 05, 2010  
Anonymous adrian said...

Loren

That statement seems absurd to me because whatever men are seeking you then simply redefine as happiness. Its a tautology that doesn't get us anywhere.

Are Mother Teresa and Paris Hilton really morally equivalent because they're both seeking their own happiness? What happens when someone's conception of what it means to be happy changes? How does Pascal's statement help us understand this process of change?

November 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I don't know Pascal's philosophy, and I'm not even certain Loren's snippet constitites a distinct Pensée. But I can well imagine the statement as a critique of the vanity of seeking happiness.

November 05, 2010  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Adrian (and Peter),

Alas, that snippet isn't an entire Pensée, just an excerpt. And while I don't claim to have a particularly philosophical mind, Pascal's supposition there strikes me as immensely useful in examining cases such as Mother Teresa and Paris Hilton. What separates them is less their motivation (to be happy) than the object each believes will get her there (service to the least of these and God versus wanton consumerism and poorly lit, homemade porn). Change occurs when one shifts the object he believes will make him happy. I don't think anyone would say that all objects actually lead to happiness or are in any way morally equivalent.

November 05, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Loren

I dont know, it seems that what he's saying is either blindingly obvious or a meaningless tautology. (Or both). You just apply the word happiness to every single human action no matter how silly or against the interests of the person. How does this help explain the variety of human experience?

November 05, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

What is happiness? How is it defined? Is it a momentary feeling or is it a profound sense of satisfaction in one's life?

Is it riding a ferris wheel for a few minutes? Reading a good book? Or helping build a hospital or a school in a country or region that really needs it?

Or teaching writing to students who really love it--as Frank McCourt did and wrote about. (His greatest moments, he said, were teaching writing to adults, who could write about everyday experiences, and did it well.)

Maybe momentary experiences of fun should be defined one way, and deep, personal satisfaction in life should be described another way.

Or maybe people have to define happiness their own way or the language should differentiate between happy moments and profound personal, long-term satisfaction.

When I said "women, too," I meant that most people can have experiences that transport them out of the everyday and bring them some joy, and then they don't want to go back to routines of life. And this can happen with anyone having a terrific vacation, or a great weekend at a mystery writers/readers' conference, too.

That's what I was talking about.

November 06, 2010  

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