Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The First Law of Emotional Thermodynamics: Longing is Directly Proportional to Self-Hatred

first edition of Chekov’s Three Sisters (1901)
Before you plunge down the black hole of longing, consider that desire, particularly for an unattainable object, is directly proportional to self-hatred. You want only what you can’t have because you hate what you have. You have to want what you have is the other side of the coin. However, there's something delicious about this search for phantoms. If self-improvement had been all the rage during the 18th and l9th centuries, the romantic movement might never have gotten off the ground and The Sorrows of Young Werther might have been rejected by Goethe’s publishers. On the other hand there wouldn’t have been any copycat suicides by jilted young lovers—since people would have fallen for love objects within their ken and in the absence of self-loathing suicide itself wouldn’t have been an antidote to anything. Self-esteem might be a nice thing, but it’s a killer of a whole literary oeuvres. Flaubert famously said “Madame Bovary, c’est moi,” but if Flaubert hadn’t experienced a hatred for himself and everything around him, if he hadn’t entertained the notion that there was some kind of new found land that was worth hurting himself and others to attain—as is Emma’s plight—would he have been able to write the book? There are no Emma Bovarys in utopia. Yes it’s nice to live in the present and develop the Zen way of thinking in which you treasure every moment, neither regretting the past nor living for some unattainable future, the Moscow Chekhov’s Three Sisters dream of as they slog through their dreary provincial existence. But let’s face it, that kind of level-headedness can be boring too.

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