Sunday, February 17, 2008

In Praise of Melancholy

I came across this article as sort of happenstance, reading about the dumbing down of America. Eric Wilson's name was briefly mentioned and I had the urge to find out more about his beliefs regarding false happiness--as I wondered about my own pervasive happiness, which seemed in some ways a denial or rather a disregard and pushing away of the sadness which sometimes affected me. Not to say that I should suddenly be plunged into melancholy, just that I, in my nature, am particularly found of questioning certain states of being. I felt that it was an on going conversations that I've had with friends in regards to so completely immersing oneself into one thing so that it became a religion of sorts. The cult of shiny happy people...which I so deeply embraced. That being said, I am not necessarily in complete agreement with everything thats said in his article, but I do find that there is a certain degree of artistic creativity that suffers from a denial of melancholy, pushing it to the corners of the soul. Not allowing it to travel through oneself to the page. There is a repression that I find, from time to time, myself embracing. Just as a matter to think about:
Why are most Americans so utterly willing to have an essential part of their hearts sliced away and discarded like so much waste? What are we to make of this American obsession with happiness, an obsession that could well lead to a sudden extinction of the creative impulse, that could result in an extermination as horrible as those foreshadowed by global warming and environmental crisis and nuclear proliferation? What drives this rage for complacency, this desperate contentment?
I for one am afraid that American culture's overemphasis on happiness at the expense of sadness might be dangerous, a wanton forgetting of an essential part of a full life. I further am concerned that to desire only happiness in a world undoubtedly tragic is to become inauthentic, to settle for unrealistic abstractions that ignore concrete situations. I am finally fearful of our society's efforts to expunge melancholia. Without the agitations of the soul, would all of our magnificently yearning towers topple? Would our heart-torn symphonies cease?

My fears grow out of my suspicion that the predominant form of American happiness breeds blandness. This kind of happiness appears to disregard the value of sadness. This brand of supposed joy, moreover, seems to foster an ignorance of life's enduring and vital polarity between agony and ecstasy, dejection and ebullience. Trying to forget sadness and its integral place in the great rhythm of the cosmos, this sort of happiness insinuates that the blues are an aberrant state that should be cursed as weakness of will or removed with the help of a little pink pill.

I'm not questioning joy in general. For instance, I'm not challenging that unbearable exuberance that suddenly emerges from long suffering. I'm not troubled by that hard-earned tranquillity that comes from long meditation on the world's sorrows. I'm not criticizing that slow-burning bliss that issues from a life spent helping those who hurt. And I'm not romanticizing clinical depression. I realize that there are many lost souls out there who require medication to keep from killing themselves or harming their friends and families. I'm not questioning pharmaceutical therapies for the seriously depressed or simply to make existence bearable for so many with biochemical disorders.

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