My last post on A Hero of Our Time emphasized the theme of endless striving, endless consumption, never reaching fulfillment – a theme very topical to modern life, sexual and otherwise.
The story of Hieronymus Bosch’s painting The Garden of Earthly Delights (high resolution image here) illustrates the issue. During the sexual revolution, it was interpreted as celebrating unrestrained sex and more generally hedonism. In reality, it is a warning of their dangers.
In the garden of earthly delights, some noble characters may reach the heights of greatness
Lower down, men frolic joyously – yet they act as animals, not realizing their higher natures. Man is not master of his nature, but slave to it, and he longs to be fed by it.
Yet such feeding, such dependence, is a snare. As the fish is fed, so is the fish caught.
Men long to retreat back to an infantile state, free of the troubles and cares of the world.
The unrestrained pursuit of pleasure leads not to freedom, but slavery. Witness this strawberry eater, his face drawn, his dependence complete. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.” This is the image of addiction. Incidentally, strawberries were known in Bosch’s time for the shortness of the pleasure they give: the pleasure of biting into a strawberry fades almost immediately after you swallow.
Of course hell is the end of this, or in any event, hell is at the right.
Yet hell is merely a dark reflection of the garden of earthly delights, where the underside of every pleasure is revealed. Those who have only developed their physical and animal natures are treated as objects and animals.