“Of making many books there is no end”

The author of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes got it well, there might be a beginning, but no end, for work under the sun. And while everything truly matters, everything is truly vain. Including writing. Including books. Try to get your head around that.

Only someone who’s devoted a lifetime to writing can hold this view. For the rest of us toying with the idea, writing is mystery, value, seduction. We swear by it, give ourselves to it, are consumed by it.

So did the Ecclesiastes. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless, and a chasing after the wind.’

This is no call for defeat, the raising of the white flag, the laying down of arms. It is a wake-up call, a mindset shift. A rediscovery of the forest at the expense of the trees. A breakthrough.

The ancients didn’t have a linear conception of time. The idea that the world is or may be heading towards an unknown but discoverable point in the future was a breakthrough on the civilizational scale. For the ancients, time was cyclical, and things always moved in circles, sometimes forward, sometimes backward, but never truly forwards, or towards a clear point. In this, time was elusive, and remains so, whatever view we take of it. We run in circles in a positively curved universe, our mind captured by the fantasy of vanishing lines.

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