Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Achebe on Fulfilment

More from Achebe, related to the previous post:

Western literature played a central role in promoting the ideal of individual autonomy. As Lionel Trilling pointed out, this literature has, in the last one hundred and fifty years, held "an intense and adverse imagination of the culture in which it has its being." It promoted the view of society and of culture as a prisonhouse from which the individual must escape in order to find space and fulfilment.

But fulfilment is not, as people often think, uncluttered space or an absence of controls, obligations, painstaking exertion. No! It is actually a presence -- a powerful demanding presence limiting the space in which the self can roam uninhibited; it is the aspiration by the self to achieve spiritual congruence with the other.
When people speak glibly of fulfilment they often mean self-gratification, which is easy, short-lived and self-centred. Like drugs, it has to be experienced frequently, preferably in increasing doses.

Fulfilment is other-centred, a giving or subduing of the self, perhaps to somebody, perhaps to a cause; in any event to something external to it. Those who have experienced fulfulment all attest to the reality of this otherness. For religious people the soul of man aspires to God for fulfilment. St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa and one of the greatest fathers of the early Christian Church, understood this very well, having led a life of self-centred pleasure in his youth. He found fulfilment and left his great prayer in testimony: "For thyself has thou made us, O God, and our heart is restless until it rests in Thee." Artists, scientists and scholars may find fulfilment in their creative work, humanitarians in their service. But even more important, ordinary men and women have found fulfilment in their closeness to others -- to children, to parents, to wife or husband, to lover -- and in social work of all kinds.

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