I’ve been flying through Eric G. Wilson’s Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy. It’s funny how sometimes books come along at the moment you most need them and will most appreciate them. Though really any book probably would have done–the lowness of my attention span is kind of terrifying me lately. With all the staring at television, computer, and cell phone screens of late–I’m still detoxing. Picking up something over 100 pages with the intent to finish it has become almost daunting. And that’s disgusting.
But there are reasons why this book in particular is blowing my mind. The things Wilson writes are this beautiful combination of intellectual and spiritual–two things I’ve been trying to figure out how to bring together in my life lately. Wilson writes, “Our world is quickly becoming nothing but a glazed sphere, uniform as glass.” And specifically on modern road trips and wrinkle-free faces:
There is nothing to break the monotony along the way but bland green exit signs pointing to the obvious eateries–McDonald’s or Subway or Taco Bell–or the expected convenience marts–Shell or Exxon or Amoco. You pull off to grab a bite or fill your tank. You realize that this exit is exactly like every other exit around the country. Everything is the same–safe, clean, predictable. This is smooth travel, flat as a stainless steel iron.
The same is true of faces these days; they’re as unblemished as flat plastic. You probably increasingly long for those world-worn gazes, crisscrossed with strain. You realize the beauty of those countenances that have pressed against the oncoming years, that have suffered honestly the abrasions and contusions of life…
But what do we say about those ubiquitous guises of our contemporary scene, those appearances Botoxed to the max? You catch these smooth and expressionless faces when you walk down a city street. You can find no trace of existence in these frozen masks… You don’t want to stare too long at these overly finished exteriors; you might be blinded by the glare. Or worse, you might actually see this person for what he is–a husk, nothing but an unfilled form. Then you fear the worst. Our world is teeming with these phantom creatures, these zombielike beings.
I’m not even sure why I decided to pick up this book–I’m very pro-happiness. But the happiness Wilson’s against is, as the passages above imply, shallow happiness. The happiness that does not allow for brooding in the dark. The happiness that tells you to run to the self-help section at the first sign of sorrow.
When you deny sorrow, though, you deny the possibility of profound revelations, inspired creativity, and yeah…happiness.