In Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos, he writes, “Exhilaration comes from naming the unnamable and hearing it named.” I was exhilarated as a reader at the point of the book when he explains a phenomenon I’d thought about, but never had a name for: “reentry.” (Actually, I had used that word before, but only when talking about being on the road and then coming back home to family life — never for the making and consuming of art itself.)
[W]hat is not generally recognized is that the successful launch of self into orbit of transcendence is necessarily attended by problems of reentry. What goes up must come down. The best film of the year ends at nine o’clock. What to do at ten? What did Faulkner do after writing the last sentence of Light in August? Get drunk for a week. What did Dostoevsky do after finishing The Idiot? Spend three days and nights at the roulette table. What does the reader do after finishing either book? How long does his exaltation last?
Percy points out that “the most spectacular problems of reentry seem to be experienced by artists and writers.” Percy then lists a bunch of reentry options, such as anesthesia (drugs), travel, sex, suicide, etc. (One needs to remember that the whole book is both brilliant and tongue-in-cheek, which can be hard, especially for American readers. “People in America are so binary,” said Ian Svenonius, whose books I love and also keep you wondering is-he-serious-or-joking? “They think that if something’s funny that it’s not serious. If you can manage to be funny, that doesn’t mean that things don’t mean anything.”)
One of the reasons I’m such a huge fan of a daily routine and the Groundhog Day approach to working is that it attempts to minimize these exact problems of re-entry that Percy outlines. By scheduling little doses of daily transcendence in which you work on your art, you can pop in and out of your everyday life without becoming a horrible parent or drug addict or total maniac. (Many argue that that’s just the price of Great Art, but I’ve never never bought it.)