Most of what we do—maintaining a home, raising a family, holding a job—is relatively worthwhile and culturally approved. Trouble is, everything relative involves pain, death and disappointment. We seek compensation for this through the ardent pursuit of pleasant experiences. But pleasant experiences are essentially meaningless, and eventually we find ourselves in a state of disenchantment. We wonder: What is infinitely worthwhile? Absolutely worthwhile? And we are abruptly aware that the vaunted mind cannot help us.
James Baldwin: “I do not like people whose principal aim is pleasure.” And neither do pleasure seekers like themselves. Two of Baldwin’s contemporaries, Andy Warhol and Truman Capote, died from pleasure in extremis.