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Making Life Meaningful.

Book World has a review of After the Quake: Stories and an interview with Haruki Murakami, its famous Japanese author. Murakami is in an existentialist tradition going back to AndrA Gide that emphasizes the role of accident in an essentially meaningless life. However, it seems clear from his remarks that Murakami does not entirely accept this position.

Nonetheless it is very important to reject this point of view. Yes, accidents are important in life, and at the end we are all dead. Indeed, someday the Sun will nova and all life on planet Earth will be dead. But that does not make life meaningless or empty now.

Suppose Mother Teresa had been walking down the street and a building block fell on her. Most would have called that a tragedy. There would have been a good reason for this. Mother Teresa's life was filled with taking care of the sick and of abandoned children. It would have been a tragedy because a meaningful, good life would have been cut short.

A few months back (on July 22) the two sons of Saddam Hussein were killed in a shoot-out. Crowds in Baghdad began shooting off guns because they regarded this as a blessing. The lives of the two were not empty, but they were evil. On the other hand, consider the scion of a rich family who spends his life drinking and whoring. That life is virtually empty because it has no meaning beyond momentary pleasure.

Meaning is produced by living in relationship to society and nature. The nova of the sun will deprive human life of meaning. Until then, it is up to us whether we make our lives meaningful. And one hopes that we will do so in such a way that others will regard it as a shame if chance cuts us down before we have the opportunity to lead a productive life that is of value to family and society.

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A brief comment on John Elsom's article on the end of the musical, at least in its typically American form. We are now a nation of snobs and hence prefer the European heroic form. What a shame. I used to love opera even though I did not understand what the characters were singing. I loved Wagner as well as Puccini.

Then one day I watched Wagner on TV with English subtitles and began breaking into laughter. Then I watched an Italian opera with subtitles and broke into laughter again. Opera may be high-minded, as Elsom suggests, but the books are silly. There is more real heroism in Porgy and Bess in which ordinary people rise above their circumstances. The dominance of major corporations, the rich, and celebrities in our national life and character is disheartening. We ordinary people are the salt of the earth.

Morton A. Kaplan

Editor and Publisher

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Publication:World and I
Date:Nov 1, 2003
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