The person without a range of reference is not more authentically human for being so. He is just more alone.
— Clive James, Cultural Amnesia, pg. 391
I picked this book up out of curiosity. In this instance, the curiosity has paid of manifold, for this rich, textured book contains fascinating accounts, observations, and insights into the lives and works of many who formed and shaped our cultural heritage, from Keats to Einstein, from Trotsky to Tacitus, both the famous and, at least for me, the obscure. An added bonus is James' writing style, a marvel of depth, beauty and simplicity on complex and often controversial topics.
This quotation struck me in light of the weight placed on no reference in Buddhist practice, e.g., non-referential awareness, or non-referential compassion. One may perhaps object that the word reference is being used in two different ways, but what happens if what if one considers that there may be something in common in the two phrases awareness that has no reference and the person without a range of reference?
In either case, one has a sense of open space, infinite, without center or circumference, a feeling that reminds me of the location in north-eastern New Mexico where I've taught retreats for the last few years, right at the edge of the Great Plains, where heaven and earth are somehow joined in the dusty blue of a distant horizon. When I walk out into the plains, there is no reference. One is completely alone, and, ironically, the very experience of aloneness is a reminder that this thing we call life consists of precisely of physical, emotional, and mental sensations arising from our interaction with the world around us.
To have no range of reference is to cut oneself off from life.
In an odd way, this quotation embodies the two most salient aspects of human experience: we have no idea what this experience is, yet we meet and respond (or react) to what arises in every moment of our lives.