‘a dystopia of flaccid grins’?

January 18, 2008

In Praise of Melancholy, a brilliant new article up at The Chronicle, adapted from Eric G. Wilson’s new book Against Happiness

My sense is that most of us have been duped by the American craze for happiness. We might think that we’re leading a truly honest existence, when we’re really just behaving as predictably and artificially as robots, falling easily into well-worn “happy” behaviors, into the conventions of contentment. Deceived, we miss out on the great interplay of the living cosmos, its luminous gloom, its terrible beauty.

These are not metaphysical claims, not some New Age claptrap. On the contrary, these statements are attuned to the sloppy world as it simply appears to us in our everyday experience. When we, with apparent happiness, grab hard onto one ideology or another, this world suddenly seems to take on a static coherence, a rigid division between right and wrong. The world in this way becomes uninteresting, dead. But when we allow our melancholy mood to bloom in our hearts, this universe, formerly inanimate, comes suddenly to life. Finite rules dissolve before infinite possibilities. Happiness to us is no longer viable. We want something more: joy. Melancholia galvanizes us, shocks us to life.

To foster a society of total happiness is to concoct a culture of fear. 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 season of contentment? We must resist the seductions of mindless happiness and somehow hold to our sadness. We must find a way, difficult though it is, to be who we are, sullenness and all.

While I don’t quite agree with his supposition that unhappiness is going to dissapear, I love the distinction between melancholy and depression… this article says a lot of really great things.

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