Vile Bodies

Catalog Slog

March 19, 2016

Is life really as terrible, as lacking in interest or reward, as their faces seemed to imply? I am myself inclined to pessimism, but compared with them I am Candide. What terrible injustice had they experienced, what had been denied them to which they were entitled? Did they not know how the great mass of humanity had lived down the ages?

It was a pose, of course, but when a pose is kept up long enough it ceases to be a mere pose. To express joy, or even mere pleasure, would evidently for them be to lose caste, to seem shallow and unsophisticated to a youth brought up in the hope and expectation of emotional and psychological problems. To be without such problems is to be a simpleton and, what is far worse, uninteresting; for what do you talk about if you have no problems? How can you talk about the one subject on which you are the world expert, yourself, if you are uncomplicated and un-immiserated? For if you eavesdrop sufficiently in public places (bars, buses, trains, airports), you will soon discover that the self is the main topic of conversation—or should I say of alternating monologues? (I except illness, sport, and celebrity, of course.) No one has had so happy a childhood that he cannot find the source of his own psychopathology in it, as inexhaustible as shale gas. Problems are your friend, your resource, your comforter.

Every happy family, said Tolstoy, is happy in the same way; every unhappy family unhappy in its own way. From which many have concluded that the only way to be unique is to be miserable and wretched. This is true only insofar as tattoos are unique. But wearing a tattoo is nowadays utterly ovine. Psychological difficulties are likewise fashion accessories that with time become as unsightly and indelible as tattoos.

Misery for many is the line of least resistance. It is the quickest way to achieve significance without any merit. With a little practice you can always be miserable and therefore an object of interest—if not to others, then at least to yourself. The late Mrs. Wallis Simpson, also Duchess of Windsor, said you could never be thin enough; or, it seems, miserable enough.

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