Perelandra: Wishing for what’s Next

“As he let the empty gourd fall from his hand and was about to pluck a second one, it came into his head that he was now neither hungry nor thirsty. And yet to repeat a pleasure so intense and almost so spiritual seemed an obvious thing to do … But for whatever cause, it appeared to him better not to taste again. Perhaps the experience had been so complete that repetition would be a vulgarity.”

pp. 42–43

The tension between enjoyment and gluttony. But Lewis doesn’t go to gluttony—a common temptation to us all—and one we can easily rationalize. He calls it a vulgarity. Do we call the act—whether food or drink or sex or rushing from one summit to the next to catch the next sunset—gluttony? We should. But a vulgarity? Hardly. But should we? Where is the pause? The lingering over the enjoyment? The allowance for satisfaction? Percolation is good for coffee and for the soul. 

The next day Ransom encountered again the feeling when it came to the buds of delightful liquid of the bubble trees. “He was restrained by the same sort of feeling … He had always disliked the people who encored a favourite air in the opera—‘that just spoils it’ had been his comment. But this now appeared to him a principle of far wider application and deeper moment.” p. 48

Yes, the wider application could (should?) slow us down to enjoy the moment—to keep us anchored from rushing off to the next thing. To savor a moment, a conversation, a joy. 

And then when eating a “snack” Ransom realized that “Money, in fact, would provide the means of saying encore in a voice that could not be disobeyed.” p. 50 

The desire for profit leads to the creativity of advertising which tempts our lusts for the encore, that constant din of distraction that keeps us from dwelling in the current joy—lingering in it after it’s past. Next, next, next is really just the clink, clink, clink of coins in the coffers of the greedy. 

Then from the Lady: “And if you wished—if it were possible to wish—you could keep it there. You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good; you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other.” p. 69

And so here is the counter. We look at what we have—the meal, the drink, the conversation, as a gift of God and stop longing for what we’d rather have (as in the present context: Ransom vs. the king) or what’s next (the previous context: the satisfying fruit vs. more). But we’re still talking about living in the present. And so there are two ways to defame the present: wish for what’s not there or wish for what’s next. 

With food it’s wishing for a steak when you have a crust of bread or wishing for dessert before you’ve finished your steak. With one’s wife, it’s wishing for a mistress when you have your wife or wishing for the next time before you’ve even properly enjoyed the present time. Each wish robs the joy from the now. That’s why each is a vulgarity to the present moment. 

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