Dramas about addiction can be exciting to watch. And then dispiriting. Exciting because degradation is fascinating to follow from the relative safety and smugness of an 'appropriate' life, and dispiriting because if all that sad mayhem can happen to this or that character, what's to keep it from happening to me or you?
Our instinct may be to see the impossibility of tracking everything down as frustrating, dispiriting, perhaps even appalling, but it can just as well be viewed as almost unbearably exciting. We live on a planet that has a more or less infinite capacity to surprise. What reasoning person could possibly want it any other way?
Writing is a strange and solitary activity. There are dispiriting times when you start working on the first few pages of a novel. Every day, you have the feeling you are on the wrong track. This creates a strong urge to go back and follow a different path. It is important not to give in to this urge but to keep going.
It was not hard to persuade people that the market was sound; as always in such times they asked only that the dispiriting voices of doubt be muted and that there should be tolerably frequent expressions of confidence. Just a month before the crash, Irving Fisher was saying: "There may be a recession in stock prices, but not anything in the nature of a crash".
John Kenneth Galbraith
Uncertainty as to our relationship with God is one of the most enfeebling and dispiriting of things. It makes a man heartless. It takes the pith out of him. He cannot fight; he cannot run. He is easily dismayed and gives way. He can do nothing for God. But when we know that we are of God, we are vigorous, brave, invincible. There is no more quickening truth than this of assurance.
We are rational creatures, Professor Jove explained; hope is irrational. We thus set ourselves up for one dispiriting fall after the next. Anger and depression are not diseases or dysfunctions or anomalies; they are perfectly rational responses to the myriad avoidable disappointments that begin in a thoroughly irrational hope.
Life itself, too, is forever turning an infinitely vacant, dispiriting blank side towards man on which nothing appears, any more than it does on a blank canvas. But no matter how vacant and vain, how dead life may appear to be, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, who knows something, will not be put off so easily.
Vincent Van Gogh
Perhaps the most legitimately dispiriting thing about reciprocal altruism is that it is a misnomer. Whereas with kin selection the "goal" of our genes is to actually help another organism, with reciprocal altruism the goal is that the organism be left under the impression that we've helped; the impression alone is enough to bring the reciprocation.
The Procrustean bed... suggests itself with dispiriting aptness as a metaphor for the Culture Wars, right down to the blandishments with which Procrustes must have lured his guests over the threshold. (I picture him as a handsome fellow with a large vocabulary and an oleaginous tongue, not unlike the chairmen of many English departments.) There's just one crucial difference. Sometimes Procrustes lopped off his victims, and sometimes he stretched them, but the Culture Wars always lop. I have never seen cultural politics enlarge a work of literature, only diminish it.
It is amazing how dispiriting it can be to enter a learning environment and to be made immediately to suppress your own exploratory inclinations. So many learning environments in the world are still like this. Don't question what you are taught! Just listen and get good marks on the test! It conditions us to be slaves. The minute we abandon our inquisitive nature, we cede our consciences to the whims of tyrants. We are capable of better. We owe it to ourselves and each other to create better opportunities that enhance human potential. Education is the externality that allows for this, but our methods of education must promote self-guidance and self-reliance.
Once, a few years earlier, Jules had gone to see a play at Ash's theater, and afterward, during the 'talkback, ' when the audience asked questions of the playwright and of Ash, who'd directed the production, a woman stood up and said, 'This one is for Ms. Wolf. My daughter wants to be a director too. She's applying to graduate school in directing, but I know very well that there are no jobs, and that she's probably only going to have her dreams dashed. Shouldn't I encourage her to do something else, to find some other field she can get into before too much time goes by?' And Ash had said to that mother, 'Well, if she's thinking about going into directing, she has to really, really want it. That's the first thing. Because if she doesn't, then there's no point in putting herself through all of this, because it's incredibly hard and dispiriting. But if she does really, really want it, and if she seems to have a talent for it, then I think you should tell her, 'That's wonderful.' Because the truth is, the world will probably whittle your daughter down. But a mother never should.
I don't know what I was hoping for. Some small praise, I guess. A bit of encouragement. I didn't get it. Miss Parrish took me aside one day after school let out. She said she'd read my stories and found them morbid and dispiriting. She said literature was meant to uplift the heart and that a young woman such as myself ought to turn her mind to topics more cheerful and inspiring than lonely hermits and dead children. "Look around yourself, Mathilda, " she said. "At the magnificence of nature. It should inspire joy and awe. Reverence. Respect. Beautiful thoughts and fine words." I had looked around. I'd seen all the things she'd spoken of and more besides. I'd seen a bear cub lift it's face to the drenching spring rains. And the sliver moon of winter, so high and blinding. I'd seen the crimson glory of a stand of sugar maples in autumn and the unspeakable stillness of a mountain lake at dawn. I'd seen them and loved them. But I'd also seen the dark of things. The starved carcasses of winter deer. The driving fury of a blizzard wind. And the gloom that broods under the pines always. Even on the brightest days.
Many things in this period have been hard to bear, or hard to take seriously. My own profession went into a protracted swoon during the Reagan-Bush-Thatcher decade, and shows scant sign of recovering a critical faculty-or indeed any faculty whatever, unless it is one of induced enthusiasm for a plausible consensus President. (We shall see whether it counts as progress for the same parrots to learn a new word.) And my own cohort, the left, shared in the general dispiriting move towards apolitical, atonal postmodernism. Regarding something magnificent, like the long-overdue and still endangered South African revolution (a jagged fit in the supposedly smooth pattern of axiomatic progress), one could see that Ariadne's thread had a robust reddish tinge, and that potential citizens had not all deconstructed themselves into Xhosa, Zulu, Cape Coloured or 'Eurocentric'; had in other words resisted the sectarian lesson that the masters of apartheid tried to teach them. Elsewhere, though, it seemed all at once as if competitive solipsism was the signifier of the 'radical'; a stress on the salience not even of the individual, but of the trait, and from that atomization into the lump of the category. Surely one thing to be learned from the lapsed totalitarian system was the unwholesome relationship between the cult of the masses and the adoration of the supreme personality. Yet introspective voyaging seemed to coexist with dull group-think wherever one peered about among the formerly 'committed'. Traditionally then, or tediously as some will think, I saw no reason to discard the Orwellian standard in considering modern literature. While a sort of etiolation, tricked out as playfulness, had its way among the non-judgemental, much good work was still done by those who weighed words as if they meant what they said. Some authors, indeed, stood by their works as if they had composed them in solitude and out of conviction. Of these, an encouraging number spoke for the ironic against the literal mind; for the generously interpreted interest of all against the renewal of what Orwell termed the 'smelly little orthodoxies'-tribe and Faith, monotheist and polytheist, being most conspicuous among these new/old disfigurements. In the course of making a film about the decaffeinated hedonism of modern Los Angeles, I visited the house where Thomas Mann, in another time of torment, wrote Dr Faustus. My German friends were filling the streets of Munich and Berlin to combat the recrudescence of the same old shit as I read: This old, folkish layer survives in us all, and to speak as I really think, I do. not consider religion the most adequate means of keeping it under lock and key. For that, literature alone avails, humanistic science, the ideal of the free and beautiful human being. [italics mine] The path to this concept of enlightenment is not to be found in the pursuit of self-pity, or of self-love. Of course to be merely a political animal is to miss Mann's point; while, as ever, to be an apolitical animal is to leave fellow-citizens at the mercy of Ideolo'. For the sake of argument, then, one must never let a euphemism or a false consolation pass uncontested. The truth seldom lies, but when it does lie it lies somewhere in between.