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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In Praise Of Melancholy

I usually do not put up links to articles on my blog. But over the last year or so, my bookmarks (not only on my computer but also on del.icio.us) have bloated to such an extent that I think I need to put a few up here so that they stay with me.

In this Brilliant article, Eric G. Wilson, a professor of English at Wake Forest University argues that in our constant endeavor to be happy and alleviate depression or melancholy from our lives, by any means, we are losing out on a key part of a wholesome existence.

Read the excerpts. And if you have as much time as I seem to have nowadays, read the entire thing. Apart from being a very thought provoking argument, it's also one of the finest examples of prose writing I have come across of late.

What passes for bliss could well be a dystopia of flaccid grins. Our passion for felicity hints at an ominous hatred for all that grows and thrives and then dies. I'd hate for us to awaken one morning and regret what we've done in the name of untroubled enjoyment. I'd hate for us to crawl out of our beds and walk out into a country denuded of gorgeous lonely roads and the grandeur of desolate hotels, of half-cracked geniuses and their frantic poems. I'd hate for us to come to consciousness when it's too late to live.

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.

Melancholia pushes against the easy "either/or" of the status quo. It thrives in unexplored middle ground between oppositions, in the "both/and." It fosters fresh insights into relationships between oppositions, especially that great polarity life and death. It encourages new ways of conceiving and naming the mysterious connections between antinomies. It returns us to innocence, to the ability to play in the potential without being constrained to the actual. Such respites from causality refresh our relationship to the world, grant us beautiful vistas, energize our hearts and our minds.

To be against happiness is to embrace ecstasy. Incompleteness is a call to life. Fragmentation is freedom. The exhilaration of never knowing anything fully is that you can perpetually imagine sublimities beyond reason. On the margins of the known is the agile edge of existence. This is the rapture, burning slow, of finishing a book that can never be completed, a flawed and conflicted text, vexed as twilight.

7 comments:

Rohan Rai said...

Should I conclude We are leading a better life?? If yes then it is ironic :)

cathatfished said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
loki said...

Hmm.. well I know R A O will not be amused after knowing how much free time you have in your hands now a days :)

cathatfished said...

like khwaja :)
thanks for putting it up.

--Sunrise-- said...

Reading the article reminded me of this..

"It is right it should be so;
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro' the world we safely go.

Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine."

-- William Blake

I agree with what Blake says, but only parts of the article's ideas appealed to me.. perhaps it is fear, too, - of the unknown, of the new - that caused him to write the article. A complete state of happiness may not be such a bad thing, we don't know. We don't know because our world has not reached such a stage (yet?).. perhaps the author is afraid of a world where there is no sadness, because it is something beyond his (and indeed anyone's, understandably so..) comprehension, it is something new.. and it is change. It is not always easy to be receptive to change, especially when you are used to one thing.

The author also doesn't talk about the practicalities of life much.. how it is inevitable that there will be difficulties in life (though yes, he does mention it in passing). There is also not enough information on how the survey was conducted in the article. There can be umpteen reasons why 85% of Americans consider themselves to be happy.. who knows?

I do agree with parts of the article (the parts that agree with the poem), and it is well-written.. just wanted to point a couple of things that stuck out to me... (hope you don't mind).. :)

Came across your blog in a link to a translation of Tere Bin Sanu Sohnia (Rabbi Shergill).. and couldn't help but notice you're a Musicophile lol.. :)

--Sunrise-- said...

Oh PS: Did you take those pics yourself, at the header? They are WOW. lol.

Atish said...

@sunrise : Thanks for visiting.. i never put as much thought into that article as you did and in any case.. i was more moved by the style.. and the content resonated with me coz of what was happening in my life then :)

The pics.. oh no ! aint that good a photographer.. google + a friend.. thats what it took :)
glad that u liked it !