Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Against Happiness

Recent events in my life and in this country's national stage have led me to believe that I am:

a) a realist and a pragmatist
b) a cynic
c) disgusted by "happy" people

It is my belief that one cannot learn anything worth learning in life by being content. (In fact, the few times in my life when I have been "content," were also defined by an unruly feeling of desperate anxiety. Case in point: I was in a relationship for three years and stopped writing completely).

We published a beautiful little book in which this argument is executed in a far more articulate manner: Against Happiness by Eric G. Wilson.

Mr. Wilson argues that creativity comes from feelings of melancholy and a desire for change, or a desire to understand humanity through its dark and oftentimes hateful actions. He asserts that great artists are not motivated by perfect jobs or houses, perfect partners or children. They are motivated by a struggle. REAL ARTISTS STRUGGLE. I can't imagine De Kooning thinking, "oh, what a lovely little life i have with a lovely little wife, let me sit down and paint THIS."

I am all for catharsis. I take my culture raw and disturbing. I like being terrified, I like weeping openly in the movie theater. Most of all, I enjoy reading a passage that tears through the paper, grabs me by the throat, and doesn't let go.

Now, that is not to say I am for psychosis, although I think sometimes it helps.

There's the good kind:

And then of course the useless, sad kind:

Of course even the "good" kind of psychosis can end badly. I realized a few months ago that almost every single artist I idolize was a suicide. (Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Thomas Bernhard, Elliott Smith . . . the list goes on, even my style icons, Jean Seberg and Edie Sedgwick were suicides). Yikes.

All said, I don't consider myself a depressive. I'm fairly happy-go-lucky, and I like to think myself a bit of a comedian. Overall, I'm pretty glad I'm alive. I figure, as long as I'm on this train I might as well enjoy the ride, yes? But I do appreciate the difficult times and trying lessons life has given me. I like to think there's a method to this madness.

I define myself as a cynic because I consistently expect the worst from people and I take pratically everything personally. In fact, I will go as far to say that I believe those who constantly talk about how happy they are really aren't happy at all if they feel the need to brag about their perfect lives. Because really, no one's life is perfect. I mean, Halle Berry's ex-husband was a sex-addict. If Halle Berry's husband can't to be faithful to her, I think it's pretty obvious we ain't livin' in a perfect world, sweetheart.

This morning while I was drinking my coffee I finished William Styron's Darkness Visible, his memoir about his struggle with depression. Thankfully Styron did not succumb to suicide, but he came very close. He discusses how depressed or "melancholy" people are dealing oftentimes with a sense of loss they may not even be aware of. Styron himself lost his mother at the age of nine, and during psychoanalysis realized that suicide, loss, and depression had been consistent themes in his work. He had never really come to terms with the loss of his mother. Abraham Lincoln lost his mother at a very young age and was prone to severe depression. It didn't stop him from becoming the President of the United States. Virginia Woolf lost her mother at age thirteen, and her half-sister a year later. It was a great blow to her, and while it no doubt contributed to her mental illness, her mother's death also contributed to the masterpiece that is To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Ramsay being a portrait of her mother.

From an artistic perspective, it's just a fact the complex emotions of melancholia are far more interesting than those of contentment and happiness. But I understand that not all people value art the way I do. For me, it is everything. I enjoy the darker emotions and facets of human nature because to me they work harder at discovering what it actually means to be human and to ask difficult, ugly questions about what the hell we're all doing here. We are all fascinated with the abomination (you know you stop to look at that car accident) because in the end, it tugs at our heartstrings, especially those attached to our mortality.

So, on Valentine's Day, you will find me grumpy, sardonic, having a few drinks with friends. Enjoy your happiness. I will go home, intent on writing the next great American novel. Instead I'll probably fall asleep.


m said...

i think this is very interesting, and i really want to respond, which i think i might do on my own blog. i am afeared i am one of those happy people you are talking about.

i always think you are a good writer.

Snobber said...

you totally are, but i still love you. i will look forward to reading your response. i have a feeling the middle ground between us is probably the way to go.

thanks luf.

jen said...

thank you and thank you and thank you. i just read this post after a shit morning after a particularly horrific week. i actually sat on my bed, already late for work, thinking of calling in suicidal. instead i decided i would just go ahead and go and read blogs instead of actually working. as i am. and so i read your post. and i feel like you and i have a lot we could talk about. but for now, thanks.

Snobber said...

i'm sorry to hear you're having a shitty week, but i'm glad you liked the post. and it always makes me feel better to know there are kindred misanthropic, cynical spirits out there.

Anonymous said...

This is beautiful. Thank you.

Snobber said...

you're so welcome, anon.

m said...

here you go.

kat said...

i'm late to the party, but yeah, this is amazing. and incredibly comforting.

BL said...

i agree with you completely, i look at happy people and are like, uhm, are you for real? But i wanted to just add that for he first time, i had to read annie dillard for a class i am taking, now there's a happy person that has something to share artistically!

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