Against Happiness is not a cultural critique, it’s a love letter to Wilson’s own emotional state. As the book progresses, the potential audience gets smaller and smaller. It opens talking to all Americans, but by the second chapters he has narrowed his focus to “we melancholics,” and later to “melancholic intellectuals.” By the end he’s just curled up with his aloneness, and we somehow stumbled into his interior monologue.
He sees himself as apart from and superior to all others, referring to the American culture with a sinister “they.” “They haunt the gaudy and garish spaces of the world and ignore the dark margins… They adore the Lifetime channel. They are happy campers. They want God to bless the world. They want us to ask them about their children… They join Book-of-the-Month clubs and identify with sympathetic characters.” These happy types are to be despised and avoided. Wilson turns away from America to take long walks in the woods and contemplate dead sparrows. “I must admit then that regardless of my own efforts to take flight through many escapes America offers, my basic instinct is toward melancholia – a state I must nourish. In fostering my essential nature, I’m trying to live according to what I see as my deep calling. Granted, it’s difficult at times to hold hard to this vocation, this labor in the fields of sadness.”
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