The Extinction of Desire
A Tale of Enlightenment

By: Michael Boylan

Readers Guide


Discussion Questions:

What is the meaning of the Prologue? How does it fit in with other major themes of the book?

Michael’s windfall occurs via luck (Ch. 1). Why is this important? What role does fortune play in our lives (as opposed to our own ability to master events)? What is the tone of the narrative here? Does this tone ever change?

Michael’s dead father. In what manner does he appear? When does Michael stop grieving? How is Michael ultimately affected by his father’s death?

Discuss the role of Bernie in Michael’s great expectations. Why is Michael so easily manipulated? What do great personal changes do to us? Can fortune bring about post-traumatic stress disorder (or something akin to it)? Is this different from the dream most of us have about material success?

Why is Michael so halting in his forays to the Galleria? Why does he feel more comfortable with Nick? Why is it that Mookie is the one who gets him to move into a McMansion? What are we supposed to understand from this?

Sara. What role does Sara play in the narrative? What about her relationship to Lance? Why would Michael ever marry Sara? What does this tell us about Michael? Has Michael changed?

Mookie. What role does Mookie pay in the story? Is Mookie a good guy or a bad guy? Is he part of Michael’s downfall or of his road toward enlightenment?

Father McGinnis. What role does he play in Michael’s life? Does Michael ever listen to Father Mac? What sort of a Christian is Michael? Does the inheritance contribute to Michael’s cessation of Christian observance? Is it important that Christians be observant? Has Michael converted himself to a personal vision of truth that he creates for himself (much on the model of Siddartha)? How much of the old does he maintain? How much is different?

Angie. Is Angie after Michael because of his money? Does she act fairly toward Michael? Does Michael act fairly toward her? Where does Angie fit in Michael’s worldview introspection? In the end does Angie end up on her feet? Is she better off without Michael? Is she happy with Bob Crouter?

Aisling. Who is Aisling? Thinking of her history in its own terms, what path is she on? Why does she choose a course of study involving John Donne? Why connect him to Aristotle? Why study Donne’s valediction poems? [For those intrepid readers, make copies of all four valediction poems and read them side-by-side. Does Aisling’s thesis make sense? How does this study relate to her earlier interest in Milton? If her professor at the University of Pennsylvania is included in the ménage, then what role does he play in vision concerning Donne?] Following on the transformation of Jerry Tatum from dramatis persona to part of the studied text, what do you make of Hugh Mauberly? Does he move in just the opposite direction and back again? [For those intrepid readers, who is this Mauberly chap?] Two thought exercises: (a) using the above hints, trace Aisling’s intellectual journey. What part of her worldview is based upon reason alone? (b) using other passages in the book, trace Aisling’s emotional journey. What part of her worldview is based upon emotion? Do these two forms of the good will ever become integrated?

Aisling. Why Michael and Aisling? Why did Michael fall in love with Aisling? Why did she fall in love with him? Was Aisling ever unfaithful to Michael? Did Michael ever think so? Would the answer to this justify Michael’s own infidelity? In the end of the day, is this philosophical narrative really a love story? What does love have to do with philosophy, anyway?

Terri & Mark and Angus & Eogue. Who are these two sets of couples? How does Michael fit in? How doesn’t he fit in? Why is he drawn to this temporary liaison? Why does it end as it does? What stage does this represent on Michael’s journey toward self-examination and growth?

The German Jail. How is this a pivotal moment in the novel? What is this really all about? Does Michael’s narrative voice change here? Are his reactions primarily intellectual or emotional? Is there any interaction between these? Is there any change in Michael? Is there ground for future change? Is it important that it happens in Munich? [For those intrepid readers find Boylan’s chart on the topography of theory evaluation—A Just Society, 11, Basic Ethics, 174-175—does this fictive encounter mirror this topology? Further, how does this compare to accounts of Sidhartha’s self-examination?] Why is Michael forever separated from his Paris group after this?

Oxford. Gloria & Peter and Q and Maggie. What is the relationship of this group to Terri & Mark and Angus and Eogue? Where does Michael (post-Munich) fit into the Oxford group? What difference does Oxford (cum Wales) make (as opposed to Paris/Munich)? What cultural points can be made about this (remember it’s 1991) compared to the intellectual progression of the narrative? Why is it that Gloria and Peter split? What is to be made of this?

Q and Michael. How do they help each other on their respective journeys? What is Maggie in all of this? Why does she choose Michael? Is it only by chance? Why is she called Q?

Mt. Snowdon. How is this a pivotal moment in the novel? What happens to Michael? How is this related to Christmas and the lies and truths expressed? In the end, how and why has Michael changed? Is this a religious or philosophical change (or both)?

Re-union with Aisling. Why didn’t Aisling come up to Michael at the lecture? Why didn’t she stop by where he lived? Why didn’t she leave Michael? What is the ground of her love for him? What is the ground of Michael’s love for Aisling? What would be the argument for this being the climatic scene of the novel? What would be the argument against it?

Final arrangements. Why is Michael so happy for Aisling? Is he resigned to a second-place role in their relationship (counter to the normal Occidental male expectations in 1991)? Is this a sign of Michael’s strength (through thorough self-examination) or Michael’s weakness (in a similar manner to the man who married Sara and let Bernie steal his money from him). At the end of the day what is the reader to think about the life Michael has set out for himself? Is it a fulfilling life? Under what terms? Remember the prologue. How can this be read into the conclusion?

Conclusion. Why can’t one suddenly become rich? Didn’t Buddha suddenly find enlightenment? Or did he? What is the alternative? Does this relate to the question of personal control? Does it matter what sort of wealth we are talking about? How have other key thinkers weighed in on this question—such as Aristotle or Kant?

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ISBN: 9781405148498

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