Pinocchio and the eternal question of what makes us human
Updated: Apr 29, 2020
Last year, while living in Mexico, I read a book by the philosopher John Gray called 'The Soul of the Marionette'.
The philosopher, John Gray, explores the conflict between man's search for freedom, security and 'the good life'
It’s not an academic book and I found it very easy to read. In his book Gray discusses a number of writers, including the German playwright, Heinrich von Kleist, who from the age of 21 was convinced that greater happiness could be achieved in life if one had a plan for one’s life (lebensplan). That life ended unfortunately when he became devoted to a terminally ill woman and committed suicide with her, but that isn't what I took from the book.
A parable about what it means to be human
Gray interprets Von Kleist's essay ‘On the Marionette Theatre’ as a parable about human freedom. It concerns a dancer who regularly watches puppet theatre. His friend wonders how a sophisticated artist can be so interested in such a primitive form of entertainment. The dancer explains that puppets move with more grace than human dancers because there is never any disconnect between their soul and their movement.
Food or Self-actualisation?
In other words humans can lose touch with their soul and move inauthentically. Kleist believed that human’s pursuit of freedom of choice often comes into conflict with other needs, such as security, food or shelter. He believed that this inner conflict is what marks the human experience, rather than simply consciousness or free will. Gray concludes that no revolution or technical advance can rescue us from that conflict.
How might your most basic needs be conflicting with your pursuit of the life, work and relationships you dream of?
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