Keats in new book: "Against Happiness"

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Keats in new book: "Against Happiness"

Postby Credo Buffa » Fri Apr 04, 2008 2:42 pm

Recently, I found out about a new book called Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy by Eric G. Wilson. The book, as the title suggests, is essentially a backlash against a society that tells us that happiness is the ultimate human condition. He defends the somber state, the pensiveness and depression that has inspired so many of the world's great artists, saying that, rather than treat melancholy as some kind of illness, we should embrace it for what it is.

I've been dying to get my hands on this book and see what he has to say about our beloved Romantic poets. Sure enough, completely by accident, I came across this recent L.A. Times article yesterday by Mr. Wilson himself in which Keats (and my absolute favorite quote from him, by which I try to live my life) plays a very central role:,0,5045522.story

I'm not sure if this is an excerpt from the book or just an article that summarizes the point that Wilson is trying to make, but in either case, I can only assume that Keats will also appear in the book. :)
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Postby Malia » Fri Apr 04, 2008 4:42 pm

Thanks for the article, Credo. I agree with Wilson that we need to experience a full range of feeling and sensation--to block out the shade of our lives would only result in blinding light and an inability to see the depth and richness created by shaddow.

I am glad Wilson writes his caveat that he is not suggesting that clinical depression is something to be grasped at. And I must say, even though Keats' poetry and life were positively influenced by his abilitiy to embrace the "shade," it is important to remember how much he struggled with clinical depression--there were days, weeks and even months when he felt he could barely lift his head and get out of bed, let alone write magnificent poetry. So, in a way, Keats paid a certain price for his ability to see the "upside" of melancholy.

I think Wilson is right in that we Americans tend to look on any sadness or melancholy as something to be avoided like the plague. I certainly have had my fits of melancholy and, yes, they sometimes get in the way of living a completely productive life, but unless I were completely incapacitated by these fits (which, thank goodness I have never been), I would not reach for prozac or any other drug--even though such drugs have been suggested. There is so much wisdom in melancholy and the ability to combine the light and shade of our lives together--the yin and yang--that is what makes life so rich and, ultimately, fulfilling.

I had heard of Wilson's book on NPR. Below is a link to an interview with him about his book. ... d=18885211
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Postby AsphodelElysium » Mon Apr 07, 2008 12:57 am

Ha, what a coinwinkidink. I read a review of that book to my class about 3 weeks ago. Interesting how things come around.
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Re: Keats in new book: "Against Happiness"

Postby Cath » Fri Nov 25, 2011 6:21 pm

The LA Times article which quotes and discusses Keats can now be found here (Credo Buffa's link is now defunct):

"Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul?" - also one of my favourite quotes from the letters!
"Why should we be owls, when we can be Eagles?" (Keats to Reynolds, 3 February 1818)
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Re: Keats in new book: "Against Happiness"

Postby Fanny » Tue Nov 29, 2011 7:31 pm

Thanks Cath for the link. It seems very interesting indeed as we know that Keats' short life was made of pain and mourning. I quite agree with the fact that overcoming such pains can make you stronger and more... wiser in a way
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