Demise of the Rennaisance Man

by gkurra

This happens to me sometimes. I visit the library and browse the shelves, step back and look at the books – thousands of them in long neat rows -  and a wistful knot forms in my stomach. I get the sinking realization – this sense of tragic irony – that I’ll never be able to read them all. And neither will you.

In a short span of time we humans have produced an exponentially growing mountain of knowledge – of science and art and literature and a million other fields of human endeavor: from the existential ruminations of 19th century café-mongers about the human condition to models of nano-particles that can’t be seen with the naked eye. From cave paintings to the Bullet Train. From Zen to the Marx Brothers. A staggering, gigantic, leviathan universe fueled by our thought and imagination over the ages and crystallized into little words dancing around conceptual paragraphs.

Why is this an ironic tragedy? Because, already, no single man can experience the fullness, the entirety, the breathtaking enormity of our legacy. We can nibble on the mountain, little chunks at a time – we can stand back and use devices such as synopses and summaries, cognitive crutches to give us the macro view of a ledge, a peak, a forest on the never-ending slopes of what we’ve created, perhaps. But we simply can’t partake of the whole.

So this is where the individual ends and Man begins. For only the human race as a whole can imbibe of this metaphorical mountain – only a billion people can scale it and consume it together. While a surgeon who specializes in taking apart the left-pinky may not know a coccyx from a cockatoo, “the surgeon” as a collective figure can repair everything from despondent bone marrow to that peculiar bigger breasts fixation of ours.

The Individual Man, proud, self-sufficient island of yesteryear, is revealed in all his nakedness to be neither. It may seem obvious, even laughable, this inevitable predicament of ours, but I lament the loss of innocence, the demise of the Rennaisance Man.

You cannot be an astronaut and write a Walden too.