Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy

Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy

Americans are addicted to happiness.

When we're not popping pills, we leaf through scientific studies that take for granted our quest for happiness, or read self-help books by everyone from armchair philosophers and clinical psychologists to the Dalai Lama on how to achieve a trouble-free life: "Stumbling on Happiness"; "Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment"; "The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living." The titles themselves draw a stark portrait of the war on melancholy.

In "Against Happiness," the scholar Eric G.

Wilson argues that melancholia is necessary to any thriving culture, that it is the muse of great literature, painting, music, and innovation--and that it is the force underlying original insights.

What most people take for contentment, Wilson argues, is living death, and what the majority takes for depression is a vital force.

In "Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy," Wilson suggests it would be better to relish the blues that make humans people.

The recipient of several important awards, including a National Humanities Center year-long fellowship, he is the author of five books on the relationship between literature and psychology.

"Mr. Wilson's basic thesis is that, without suffering, the human soul becomes stagnant and empty .

to deny our essential sadness in the face of a tragic world is to suppress a large part of what we are as human beings."--Colin McGinn, "The Wall Street Journal""Wilson has the passionate soul of a nineteenth-century romantic who, made wise by encounters with his own personal darkness, invites readers to share his reverence for nature and exuberance for life.

Providing a powerful literary complement to recent psychological discussions of melancholy .

a loose and compelling argument for fully embracing one's existence, for it is a miracle itself -- a call to live hard and full, to participate in the great rondure of life and to be aware of the fact that no one perspective on the world is ever finally true."--"Minneapolis Star Tribune""A lively, reasoned call for the preservation of melancholy in the face of all-too-rampant cheerfulness .

pithy and epigrammatic."--Bookforum"Wilson's argument is important, and he makes it with passion."--"Raleigh News and Observer

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Wilson lets on that he's experienced depression, which he prefers to call melancholia, all his life. When he's not talking directly about himself, Wilson is using examples from literature (he likes Melville and Coleridge), or making broad sociological/philosophical claims about America at large. Instead, Wilson takes such a superior, we-sensitive-souls-versus-all-those-vulgar-Americans tone, that I'm dying to separate myself from hm any way that I can. When he talks about the "mall mentality" afflicting these sanguine Americans, I feel like I'm reading something from the late '80s or early '90s. One gets the feeling that Wilson's critique has been forged without a lot of direct observation of the world around him. I would have appreciated more specific details: show me a "happy type," for real, or else just stick to talking about yourself and/or the books that you know. Wilson writes, I'm afraid, like the lifelong English professor who's finally getting a chance to write the "creative" book he's always wanted to do. So "we" love crown moldings. "Against Happiness" is a good example of a book whose delivery and sloppy argumentation completely turned me off from some conclusions that I'd usually more or less agree with.

First problem: he completely avoids the fertile relationship between capitalism, "happiness", and the pharmaceutical industry. Or this: "Melville and Springsteen alert us to the energy of winter. Never trust a professor with a soul patch.

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. , , , Why are most Americans so utterly willing to have an essential part of their hearts closed away and discarded like so much waste?

One of the things that any foreigner whos lived in the U.S. long enough will eventually notice is how fixated Americans in general are with being, and being perceived as, happy. Needless to say, making Americans happy has turned into quite a business. One thing that I really liked about Wilsons analysis is how he links the American fixation on happiness with the American dream. In the end, Im not sure how convincing this book is to every reader, but Wilsons near-poetic prose should be a joy to read for everyone.

It's like some high school English teacher once told him that those were good devices to use in his writing, and he's tried to insert them into every sentence since then! But he also doesn't indicate an understanding that clinical depression is very different from the sort of generalized "all-life-will-end" sadness that can be a powerful creative force for *some people*. While I fully support his right to live his melancholic life the way he wishes, he doesn't provide enough *actual* information about the lives of the so-called "happy types" to criticize them. 4) He falls into a few traps--like criticizing the American war(s) in Iraq and Afghanistan--that are so out of place in the rest of the book that he should have just left them out. If he wants to write a book about American cultural imperialism that's fine, but his critique here is bizzarely out of place. 5) I believe that he *thinks* he's writing about all Americans (if not all western people).

Wilson's approach is essentially an effort to explain the benefits of Romantic melancholy to a "don't worry, be happy" world.

I was only able to read 30 pages before I threw the book down in disgust.

Here's a sample: "We melancholy souls no doubt keenly feel the loss of our great old cityscapes and our forests and marshes. We love the smell of rusting radiators. We inhale the nostalgic air and feel alive." It's like Restoration Hardware ad copy directed at hipsters convinced of their singular sensitivity.

The author presents you some outcasts that are role models even today, and that's only because they accepted their emotions, questioned their own existence, their purpose, or even death. This book doesn't tell you not to be happy, it tells you that you should accept the bad that comes with the good, the fact that you're a whole human being and that you should live your entire life with all the emotional states there might exist.

  • English

  • Nonfiction

  • Rating: 3.26
  • Pages: 176
  • Publish Date: January 22nd 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Isbn10: 0374240663
  • Isbn13: 9780374240660