Sometimes an entire work can spring from a single sentence or even a few words. In Welcome to the Fold's case, it was the words "life must be lived historically, not aesthetically", as spoken by Professor Johnston.
I understand, at least as much as many other people, the need to escape into an aesthetic mode of living life. Maybe the word "aesthetic" brings the wrong things to mind, because that escape doesn't have to confine itself to any one particular mode. Religious asceticism is just as much an aesthetic escape as artistic bohemianism — or maybe it's better to say any of those things can be perverted into mere escapism.
This is part of why stuff like monasticism doesn't work for me. It's tempting to want to escape the corruption of the world we know by simply rejecting it, but it isn't that easy. The world always finds a way back in. Even Thomas Merton couldn't hide himself away completely in his abbey; he emerged from it time and again to engage with a world that clearly needed all the help it could get.
Still, it's easy to feel that you can find refuge in something — whether it be the cultivation of your spirit or your art. Good luck cultivating anything more than a temporary refuge, though. Especially if you're an artist, because at some point anything you could call an artwork has to have an audience of more than one. End of refuge.
It hurts an artist to tell him that art is not a substitute for life (again, as per the professor's words), but for him to be given such truth doesn't constitute a gratuitous wound inflicted upon him. He has to learn to take it. All the better for him to understand he is not trying to replace life as we know it, but become a full part of it.
Something John Cage has pointed out time and again is how trying to separate art from life — to make the former into this great Platonic never-never land, this untouched Takamagahara of the muses — will fail. Starve your art of a connection to the world we know, and you starve it of the very thing that would make it interesting to begin with.
I got a bit afield without ever actually talking about how this relates to Fold, so shame on me. Without giving away too much, I'll say that the book involves people who are looking for a way to life aesthetically instead of historically. What's more, they believe they have covered all the bases — that the real world isn't going to crash in on their little game and ruin it, because their game is the real world now. Or at least they have convinced themselves it is so.