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In our time—which is a rather stupid time—hunting is not considered a serious matter. It is thought a diversion, presupposing of course that diversion as such is not a serious matter. How distasteful existence in the universe must be for a creature—man, for example—to find it essential to divert himself, to attempt to escape for awhile from our real world to others that are not ours. Is this not strange? From what does man need to divert himself? With what does he succeed in diverting himself? The question of diversion brings us more directly to the heart of the human condition than do those great melodramatic topics with which demagogues berate us in their political speeches.
Now, however, I wish only to point out a feature of hunting that runs contrary to what is usually understood by diversion. The word usually refers to ways of life completely free of hardship, free of risk, not requiring great physical effort nor a great deal of concentration. But the occupation of hunting, as carried on by a good hunter, involves precisely all of those things. It is not a matter of his happening to go into the fields every once in a while with his rifle on his shoulder; rather, every good hunter has dedicated a part of his existence—it is unimportant how much—to hunting. Now this is a more serious matter. Diversion loses its passive character, its frivolous side, and becomes the height of activity. For the most active thing a man can do is not simply to do something but to dedicate himself to doing it.
Throughout history, from Sumeria and Akkad, Assyria and the First Empire of Egypt up until the present, there have always been men, many men, who dedicated themselves to hunting out of pleasure, will or affection. Seen from this point of view the topic of hunting expands until it attains enormous proportions. Consequently, aware that it is a more difficult matter than it seems at first, I ask myself what the devil kind of occupation is this business of hunting?
The life that we are given has its minutes numbered and, in addition, it is given to us empty. Whether we like it or not we have to fill it on our own; that is, we have to occupy it one way or another. Thus the essence of each life lies in its occupations. The animal is given not only life but also an invariable repertory of conduct. Without his own intervention, his instincts have already decided what he is going to do and what he is going to avoid. Therefore it cannot be said that the animal occupies himself with one thing or another. His life has never been empty, undetermined. But man is an animal who has lost his system of instincts, retaining only instinctual stumps and residual elements incapable of imposing on him a plan of behavior. When he becomes aware of existence, he finds himself before a terrifying emptiness. He does not know what to do; he himself must invent his own tasks or occupations. If he could count on an infinity of time before him, this would not matter very much, he could live doing whatever occurred to him, trying every imaginable occupation one after another. But—and this is the problem—life is brief and urgent; above all, it consists in rushing, and there is nothing for it but to choose one way of life to the exclusion of all others, to give up being one thing in order to be another; in short, to prefer some occupations to the rest. The very fact that our languages use the word "occupation" in this sense reveals that from ancient times, perhaps from the very beginning, man has seen his life as a space of time which his actions, like bodies of matter unable to penetrate one another, continue to fill.
Along with life, there is imposed upon us a long series of unavoidable necessities that we must face unless we are to succumb. But the ways and means of meeting these have not been imposed, so that even in this process of the inevitable we must invent—each man for himself or drawing from customs and traditions—our own repertory of actions. Moreover, to what extent are those so-called vital necessities really vital? They are imposed upon us to the extent that we want to endure, and we will not want to endure if we do not invent for our life a meaning, a charm, a flavor that in itself it does not have. This is the reason I say that life is given to us empty. In itself life is insipid because it is a simple "being there." So, for man, existing becomes a poetic task, like the playwright's or the novelist's: that of inventing a plot for his existence, giving it a character that will make it both suggestive and appealing.
The fact is that for almost all men the major part of life consists of obligatory occupations, chores that they would never do out of choice. Since this fate is so ancient and so constant, it would seem that man should have learned to adapt himself to it, and consequently to find it charming. But he does not seem to have done so. Although the constancy of the annoyance has hardened us a little, these occupations imposed by necessity continue to be difficult. They weigh upon our existence, mangling it, crushing it. In English such tasks are called jobs; in the Romance languages the terms for them derive from the Latin word tripalium, which originally meant an instrument of torture. And what most torments us about work is that by filling up our time it seems to take it from us; in other words, life used for work does not seem to us to be really ours, which it should be, but on the contrary seems the annihilation of our real existence. We try to encourage ourselves with secondary reflections that attempt to ennoble work in our eyes and to construct for it a kind of hagiographic legend, but deep down inside of us there is something irrepressible always functioning which never abandons protest and which confirms the terrible curse of Genesis—"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." Hence the bad feeling we usually inject into the term "occupation." When someone tells us that he is very occupied he is usually giving us to understand that his real life is being held in suspension, as if foreign realities had invaded his world and left him without a home. This is true to such an extent that the man who works does so with the more or less vague hope of one day winning through work the liberation of his life, of being able in time to stop working and start really living.
All this indicates that man, painfully submerged in his work or obligatory occupations, projects beyond them, imagines another kind of life consisting of very different occupations in the execution of which he would not feel as if he were losing time but, on the contrary, gaining it, filling it satisfactorily and as it should be filled. Opposite a life that annihilates itself and fails—a life of work—he erects the plan of a life successful in itself, a life of delight and happiness. While obligatory occupations seem like foreign impositions, to those others we feel ourselves called by an intimate little voice that proclaims them from the innermost secret folds of our depths. This most strange phenomenon whereby we call on ourselves to do specific things is the "vocation."
There is one general vocation common to all men. All men, in fact, feel called on to be happy, but in each individual that general call becomes concrete in the more or less singular profile in which happiness appears to him. Happiness is a life dedicated to occupations for which that individual feels a singular vocation. Immersed in them, he misses nothing; the whole present fills him completely, free from desire and nostalgia. Laborious activities are performed not out of any esteem for them but rather for the result that follows them, but we give ourselves to vocational occupations for the pleasure of them, without concern about the subsequent profit. For that reason we want them never to end. We would like to eternalize them. And, really, once absorbed in a pleasurable occupation, we catch a starry glimpse of eternity.
So here is the human being suspended between two conflicting repertories of occupations: the laborious and the pleasing. It is moving and very sad to see how the two struggle in each individual. Work robs us of time to be happy and pleasure gnaws away as much as possible at the time claimed by work. As soon as man discovers a chink or crack in the mesh of his work he escapes through it to the exercise of more enjoyable activities.
At this point a specific question demands our attention. What kind of happy existence has man tried to attain when circumstances allowed him to do so? What have been the forms of the happy life? Even supposing that there have been innumerable forms, have not some been clearly predominant? This is of the greatest importance because in the happy occupations, again, the vocation of man is revealed. Nevertheless, we notice, surprised and scandalized, that this topic has never been investigated. Although it seems incredible, we lack completely a history of man's concept of what constitutes happiness.