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Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy (2008)

by Eric G. Wilson

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247785,308 (3.14)9
"More than any other generation, Americans today believe in the transformative power of positive thinking. But who says we're supposed to be happy? In Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, 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. Francisco Goya, Emily Dickinson, Marcel Proust, an Abraham Lincoln - all confirmed melancholics." "So enough Prozac-ing our brains. Let's embrace our depressive sides as the wellspring of creativity. What most people take for contentment, Wilson argues, is living death, and what the majority sees as depression is a vital force. It's time to throw off the shackles of positivity and relish the blues that make us human."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)
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» See also 9 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Samizdat selected this one, it was slight, hardly philosophical, (you know ,mannnn) made more references to pop songs than any weighty (yeah, I made that distinction) tome and it was over before really beginning. What really sucks is that I bought it new. Any further irony with the thematic is understood and inscribed upon the flesh like the hapless colony campers in Kafka's purview. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
A book with a title like this is irresistible to a pessimistic, curmudegeonly misanthrope like me and I was not at all disappointed. I thoroughly enjoyed the witty, eloquent case Wilson makes to recognize the beauty and necessity of melancholy, a state in which I frequently find myself. Wilson's approach to the subject is more literary and artistic than psychological which I found all the more appealing. This book is an excellent complement to Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-Sided which skewers the positive-thinking movement and industry. ( )
1 vote Sullywriter | Apr 3, 2013 |
Didn't love this, but am inclined to think that is more my fault than the author's; not sure. The prose did not seem well organized, and I was put off by the author's constant "us-them" positioning (where "us" refers to the melancholy types and "them" refers to the happy types). Had trouble concentrating on it but I started to come round toward the end.

"Insights, we realize, are like coats for the celeritous seasons; they are good only for a brief time. We are always searching for a new garment appropriate to the moment." (85)

"Chase away the demons, and they will take the angels with them" -Joni Mitchell (99)

"Creating doesn't make us unhappy; unhappiness makes us creative." (106)

"...Melancholia, far from a mere disease or weakness of will, is an almost miraculous invitation to transcend the banal status quo and imagine the untapped possibilities for existence." (145)

"Of course not all innovators are melancholy, and not all melancholy souls are innovative." (148) ( )
  JennyArch | Apr 3, 2013 |
insufferably pretentious
1 vote betsyhartman | Mar 31, 2010 |
Although it could have been halved, all I could think was, "Thank God, somebody finally gets me!" ;-) ( )
  Laurenbdavis | May 13, 2009 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
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For Sandi and Una
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Introduction
Ours are ominous times.
In the winter of 1620 William Bradford's battered and scarred ship—called, perhaps not too hopefully, the Mayflower—hit land at Cape Cod.
Quotations
If I reduce my teeming environment to a strategy for salvation or a plan for savings, then I perceive the landscape only through the windows of my own desire for perfect happiness, for total security and contentment. In other words, I see only what fits into the grids of my own mind, networks devoted solely to my personal comfort. I am attuned only to those parts that I can transform into material that I can use to boost my ego.
I am, though, suggesting this: a person seeking sleek comfort in this mysteriously mottled world—where love is always edged with resentment and baseness beds with grace—is necessarily required to perceive only small parts of the planet, those parts that fit into his preconceived mental grids. These grids allow in only data that reinforce a narrow sense of correctness.
Melancholy living shows us that our demons—the dark parts of our hearts, our agitations and our loathings, our cynicisms and our acerbities—are integral parts of ourselves, absolutely essential. Indeed, it is our acidity that actually makes us unique individuals.
Most hide behind the smile because they are afraid of facing the world's complexity, its vagueness, its terrible beauties. If they stay safely ensconced behind their painted grins, then they won't have to encounter the insecurities attendant upon dwelling in possibility, those anxious moments when one doesn't know this from that, when one could suddenly become almost anything at all.
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"More than any other generation, Americans today believe in the transformative power of positive thinking. But who says we're supposed to be happy? In Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, 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. Francisco Goya, Emily Dickinson, Marcel Proust, an Abraham Lincoln - all confirmed melancholics." "So enough Prozac-ing our brains. Let's embrace our depressive sides as the wellspring of creativity. What most people take for contentment, Wilson argues, is living death, and what the majority sees as depression is a vital force. It's time to throw off the shackles of positivity and relish the blues that make us human."--BOOK JACKET.

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Contents:

The American dream -- The man of sorrows -- Generative melancholia -- Terrible beauty.
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