I’ve been wanting to have a dog for a long time and because my circumstances don’t allow me to adopt one, I have been reading many books about dogs, just to satisfy my need to have a canine companion. I have just finished a book by Mark Rowlands called The Philosopher and the Wolf, about Mark’s friendship with a wolf called Brenin.
I expected another book about the author’s experience in building a bond with the animal, the joy and the pain – the usual stuff. Well, Mark certainly chronicled some of those incidents as well. I expected to chuckle about Brenin’s actions as well as perhaps to read through teary eyes as I anticipated about his death in the coming pages. Well, this book is not like that at all. You see, Mark Rowlands is also a philosopher – so through Brenin’s life and death, he also poured out his heart as well as his thoughts on various issues. Of course, some of them go against what I believe in – Mark doesn’t believe in God – but that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy the book for what it represents. I do like to challenge my thoughts and what I believe in from time to time. I would like to have a firm foundation in what I believe in. I learned how simian our actions and our motives can be, and how different it is to see time through the eyes of a wolf or a dog. I learned about death, happiness, loyalty, and other philosophical things that Mark wrote in his book.
Take this passage … I love what the way Mark explains about time’s arrow …
Suppose I were to take you to the same beach every day for a year, following the same path and doing the same things. After that I take you each day to the same boulangerie, where I buy you a pain au chocolate – not a beignet framboise, not a croissant but a pain au chocolat. Pretty soon, I am sure, you would be telling me: what, another pain au chocolat! Couldn’t you have got me something else? Just for once? I’m sick of bloody pains au chocolat!
That is how it is with us humans. We think of the time of our lives as a line; and we have a very ambivalent attitude towards that line. The arrows of our desires, and our goals and our projects, bind us to this line, and therein do we find the possibility of our lives having meaning. But the line also points to the death that will take this meaning away. And so we are simultaneously attracted to and disgusted by this line, both drawn to and terrified of it. It is our fear of the line that makes us always want what is different. When our jaws closed on the pain au chocolat, we can’t help but see all the other pains au chocolat dotted out along the line, forwards and backwards. We can never enjoy the moment for what it is in itself because for us the moment is never what it is in itself. The moment is endlessly deferred both forwards and backwards. What counds as now for us is constituted by our memories of what has gone before and our expectations of things yet to come. And this is equivalent to saying that for us there is no now. The moment of the present is deferred, distributed through time: the moment is unreal. The moment always escapes us. And so for us the meaning of life can never lie in the moment.
Of course, we love our routines and rituals, some of us. But we also crave what is different. You should have seen the looks on the faces of my three canines when I started dividing up the pains au chocolat each morning. The quivering anticipation, the rivers of saliva, the concentration so intense it almost bordered on the painful. As far as they were concerned, it could be pains au chocolat from here to eternity. For them the moment their jaws closed on the pain au chocolat was complete in itself, unadulterated by any other possible moments spread out through time. It could be neither augmented nor diminished by what had gone before and what was yet to come. For us, no moment is ever complete in itself. Every moment is adulterated, tainted by what we remember has been and what we anticipate will be. In each moment of our lives, the arrow of time holds us green and dying. And this is why we think we are superior to all other animals.
I have thought about moments, because as I have experienced more in my life, I can’t stop comparing things to what I experienced before. For example, as I visited the places in Europe, I couldn’t stop comparing the castle, the streets, the museums, or the old town of one city to the ones that I saw before. I couldn’t appreciate it for itself, without any comparison. That is why, the first of everything is always memorable as there is no possible comparison already etched in our mind.
I truly highly recommend this book to animal or dog lovers everywhere, as well as to those who love to engage in great discussions about life with a philosopher, and about his friendship with a wolf called Brenin.