Against Happiness

Some time ago now, when I was writing my blog post on the Fetish of Happiness & the Damning of the Different (a theme on which I really ought expound upon at some point): , I came across Eric Wilson’s Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy. Obviously I instantly ordered a copy, but got distracted by various things (as oft is the case!)

Anyway, I found it late yesterday, and rather eagerly devoured it (it is rather short and easy to read) But what a book!

Despite Mr. Wilson’s unfortunate propensity to confuse melancholia with “authenticity” (authenticity apparently been a good in its own right to him), his attacks on capitalism (which, I may have some sympathy for, but that’s still no excuse), and his propensity to attempt to justify melancholia as a means of understanding true joy &c (rather than appreciating it for its own sake), I found it a most worthwhile read.

More importantly, however, its writing was truly a delight to appreciate in many places. So much so, that I thought I’d share a few extracts, chosen, essentially, at random (emphasis mine):

“We can now add another threat, perhaps as dangerous as the most apocalyptic of concerns. We are possibly not far away from eradicating a major cultural force, a serious inspiration to invention, the muse behind much art and poetry and music. We are wantonly hankering to rid the world of numerous  ideas and visions, multitudinous innovations and mediation. We are right at this moment annihilating melancholia”

“This quest for happiness at the expense of sadness, this obsession with joy without tumult, is a dangerous, a deeply troubling loss of the real, of that interplay, rich and terrific, between antagonisms”

“Embracing our sighs and our languor’s, our solitudes and our meditations, we indeed gain painful insights otherwise hidden, novel knowledge of our selves and the world, original attitudes toward stale objects and ideas. We come to life and from that moment do not demonize melancholica. We no longer reduce sadness to weakness of will or sickness in need of a pill. We no more try to twist sadness into nothing but debilitating depression or manic hallucination. Instead, we dwell with those pensive moods that hope for something below the surface. We endure the incompleteness yearning for a vision of the whole .we seek the sorrowful joy.

“The greatest tragedy is to live without tragedy. To hug happiness is to hate life. To love peace is to loathe the self. The blues are clues to the sublime. The embrace of gloom stokes the heart”

“Take Times Square. As late as the 80’s and early 90’s, Times Square was a seedy synecdoche of all that was glorious and grimy about NYC. One could around 42nd St encounter a seductive mixture of divas and drugs, gloriously dilapidated buildings and grim rings of illegal sex. Now, after the infiltration of a Disney store in the middle of the square, the places feels little different from a family-friendly amusement park… Times Square soon lost its unique identity, and it became just another plot on which

“It’s finally the smoothness that kills us. Happy types around the country seem bent on ironing out all the rough edges, not only those cragged corners of old house and those weather-weary knots on old oaks, but also the wrinkled faces born of strain and the gravelly tops of lonely and decrepid highways. Our world is quickly becoming nothing but a glazed sphere, uniform as glass”

“The gene pool – before and beyond time – froths and sloshes. What flops up onto the temporal shores is a matter of chance, a product of the waves’ whims. At some point this teeming reservoir of DNA spumes forth a saturnine gene, a double helix destined to produce melancholy dispositions. From this instant onward what we know as human history behinds: That striving, seemingly endless, toward an ungraspable perfection, that tragic effort to reach what exceeds the grasp, to fail magnificently. This gene, this melancholy gene, has proved the code for innovation .IT has produced over the centuries our resplendent towers, yearning heavenward. It has created our great epics, god-hungry. It has concocted our memorable symphonies, as tumultuously beautiful as the first ocean .Without this sorrowful genome, these sublimities would have remained in the netherworld of nonexistence. Indeed, without this genetic information, sullen and ambitious, what we see as culture in general, that empyreal realm of straining ideas, might have never arisen”

“With no more melancholics, we would live in a world in which everyone simply accepted th status quo, in which everyone would simply be content with the given. This would constitute a dystopia of ubiquitous placid grins, a nightmare worthy of Philip K. Dick, a police state of Pollyannas, a flat land that offers nothing new under the sun. Why are we pushing toward such a helling condition”

“Do we really want to give away our courage for mere mirth? Are we ready to relinquish our most essential hearts for a good night’s sleep, a sense of contentment?”

And so on, and so on.

Why… you could almost say, that reading this book makes me somewhat… happy…


One Response to “Against Happiness”

  1. Always Look On The Bright Side Of Death « The musings of an Australian classical liberal in Washington DC Says:

    […] policy circles to eliminate even the possibility of any form of suffering, and that happiness may not be the be all and end all that we ought strive for, however, today I thought I’d wade even deeper into this matter, and deal with that great taboo […]

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