Blogger Ed Newman (Ennyman’s Territory: Arts, Culture and Other Life Obsessions) posted an entry today titled “Quarantines and Updike’s Four Life Forces.” It begins with a consideration of Leviticus 8:35 and the author revealing he once wanted to write a one-act play about the seven days and nights that Aaron and his sons were “quarantined” by the Lord so they “will not die.” Newman wonders (like so many who are suddenly seeing a lot more of family members than they’re accustomed to), “What did they talk about for seven days?”
“One of the positive’s of the Covid-19 pandemic may be how it forces us into some reflective thinking about who we are, and perhaps some deeper levels of communication with one another,” Newman writes, pivoting to “John Updike’s Four Life Forces” and sharing a blog post he wrote on the topic back in 2012.
“John Updike once suggested that there are four life forces: Love, Habit, Time and Boredom. This morning’s ramble (reference to my daily blogging) is the product of Habit. I’m not sure I have that much to say, and the proper thing to do when you have nothing to say is to shut your mouth. But then, I digress.
“When Updike speaks of love he is referring to passion. Passion is the driver that impels us to make sacrifices in order to accomplish great things. Passion is what makes Olympians, not simply skill. There are plenty of pianists with skill, but it’s passion that sets apart the cream from the rest. It’s passion that leads them to make the sacrifices necessary to sharpen their virtuosity,” he says of the first life force. Skipping ahead,
“Boredom is another of those interesting forces that surprised me when Updike placed it in this list, but it’s a real force. Bertrand Russell once observed, ‘Boredom is… a vital problem for the moralist, since half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it.’ What strikes me is that last part of this statement. People really do fear boredom. And this may be why some people fear death. What if there really is an afterlife and it was boring? Eternal boredom would truly be hell.
“It’s this last life force that our current quarantine brought to mind. I wonder how well we’d all be doing if we did not have Internet connections and television sets or iPhones and were truly quarantined from one another. Would our actions be primarily driven by efforts to stave off boredom? Or would we motivated by the Passion driver, seeking to fulfill our purpose in being?