I’ve mentioned before that I have a few books of my grandfather’s. He was a man with a deep bias toward things American. His favorite authors were Twain and Thoreau. He also liked Albert Jay Nock, about whom I knew exactly nothing until I began reading my grandfather’s copy of Memoirs of a Superfluous Man. I’m about halfway through.
Nock is a libertarian, elitist hippie. Which seems to describe my grandfather as well, although he would certainly object to the description. I imagine they’d have wonderful conversations about education, politics, and philosophy. My grandfather was a lawyer who specialized in tax and estate issues. He worked in The City while the family lived in the suburbs. But there was also a romantic in him, a man who knew that making pencils was not the end of life.
Here is Nock on Thoreau’s pencil experience (Thoreau, having made a perfect pencil, never made another, according to the legend):
“A month ago I was dining with one of the country’s great industrialists when something that was said led up to this story of Thoreau, and I told it. The industrialist promptly said he thought Thoreau was a fool. There I had before me the product of two mutually exclusive philosophies. Economism would insist that having made the perfect pencil, Thoreau should make more pencils and sell them for money with which to buy more material to make still more pencils to sell for money to buy still more material, and so on, because the making and selling of pencils is the whole content of life. Thoreau did not believe it is the whole content of life. It was clear that economism’s philosophy was the only one which my companion was capable of accepting. Detach him from his particular specialized practice of it, and existence would have no further meaning for him; and in this he was representative of the great bulk of society in this present age.”
Here’s to life beyond pencils.