Alex Beam

What’s so great about happiness? I can’t think of anyone I admire who was happy. I’m reading “Vile Bodies,” the wonderful Evelyn Waugh novel that introduces the character of Mr. Chatterbox, the gossip columnist who makes things up. (Can you imagine?)
While writing this gossamer, light-hearted book, Waugh was as unhappy as a man could be. In the middle of composing “Bodies,” his wife Evelyn, or “she-Evelyn” as he called her, left him for another man. “I did not know it was possible to be so miserable and live,” Waugh wrote to his friend Harold Acton.
And yet he wrote a wonderful book. As always — paging Herr Kafka! — happiness is the enemy of great art.

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2 Responses to Alex Beam

  1. shinichi says:

    The misery of unrelenting happiness

    by Alex Beam

    https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2016/02/22/the-misery-unrelenting-happiness/c2Ufibdb2XIz5e0lWP1qaO/story.html

    HAPPINESS IS breaking out all over. Again. Alas. Earlier this month, the United Arab Emirates announced the appointment of a Minister of Happiness, whose nebulous duties will include raising the country’s standing in the nebulous United Nations world Happiness Report.

    The UAE, an oil-rich sheikhdom given to eccentricity — it is home to the world’s largest breakfast table — would doubtless like to crack the report’s top five. To do so, the 20th-ranked Emirates would have to lower the temperature considerably. The five purportedly happiest nations on earth — Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and Canada — are all places that require a down jacket just to walk to the 7-Eleven.

    While the UAE was bureaucratizing happiness, The New York Times Magazine published a bizarre cover story, “The Happiness Code.” Like any code, the article was hard to crack. It described a group of Silicon Valley super-nerds willing to pay $3,900 for a weekend reprogramming course at the Center for Applied Rationality that would help them stop reading Reddit and actually do their jobs. Or teach them how to enjoy a bike ride.

    “The vibe [at the seminars] was just a little strange,” writer Jennifer Kahn reported, “what with the underlying interest in polyamory and cryonics.”

    Now my health care plan is spamming me with HappyTalk. Insisting that I “cultivate more happiness in [my] life,” United Healthcare sent me “Eight Satisfying Secrets of Happy People.” They are inane, of course, but my favorite is: “Look on the brighter side.” It’s hard to hear that phrase and not think of Graham Chapman’s funeral, when his Monty Python colleagues led a rousing chorus of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” a blasphemous ditty from Python’s blasphemous 1979 movie “Life of Brian.”

    If my health plan had any real interest in making me happy, it would take its sickening ads off national TV and use the money to reduce my premiums and eliminate the huge deductible that applies before any coverage kicks in. It makes me ill just to think about it.

    What’s so great about happiness? I can’t think of anyone I admire who was happy. I’m reading “Vile Bodies,” the wonderful Evelyn Waugh novel that introduces the character of Mr. Chatterbox, the gossip columnist who makes things up. (Can you imagine?)

    While writing this gossamer, light-hearted book, Waugh was as unhappy as a man could be. In the middle of composing “Bodies,” his wife Evelyn, or “she-Evelyn” as he called her, left him for another man. “I did not know it was possible to be so miserable and live,” Waugh wrote to his friend Harold Acton.

    And yet he wrote a wonderful book. As always — paging Herr Kafka! — happiness is the enemy of great art. Misery worked for Evelyn Waugh. The Modern Library says he wrote three of the hundred best novels of the 20th century. Maybe it can work for you.

    I know it works for me. I’d hate to live in happiness-obsessed Bhutan, a “remote and impoverished Himalayan kingdom,” as the BBC calls it. Bhutan has been touting its “gross national happiness” since 1972, and currently claims that 91.2 percent of the population is “narrowly, extensively, or deeply happy.”

    I’m happy living in Massachusetts, where, mercifully, no one cares if you’re having a nice day. Which you almost certainly are not, because either some fritzy Amtrak signal has ruined your commute or the wretched Mass Pike is a parking lot from the State Police barracks all the way to the supermarket underpass.

    Dirty water, foul language, and a general indifference to the human condition: Boston, you’re my happy home.

  2. shinichi says:

    Evelyn Waugh

    Wikipedia

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evelyn_Waugh

    Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh (1903 – 1966), known by his pen name Evelyn Waugh, was an English writer of novels, biographies and travel books; he was also a prolific journalist and reviewer of books. His most famous works include the early satires Decline and Fall (1928) and A Handful of Dust (1934), the novel Brideshead Revisited (1945) and the Second World War trilogy Sword of Honour (1952–61). As a writer, Evelyn Waugh is recognised as one of the great prose stylists of the English language in the 20th century.

    **

    Waugh’s biographer, Christopher Sykes, records that after the divorce friends “saw, or believed they saw, a new hardness and bitterness” in Waugh’s outlook. Nevertheless, despite a letter to Acton in which he wrote that he “did not know it was possible to be so miserable and live”, Waugh soon resumed his professional and social life. He finished his second novel, Vile Bodies, and wrote articles including (ironically he thought) one for the Daily Mail on the meaning of the marriage ceremony. Between September 1929 and January 1930, when the novel was published, Waugh moved between the various houses of his friends, a practice he was to continue as he was to have no settled home for the next eight years.

    Vile Bodies, a satire on the Bright Young People of the 1920s, was published on 19 January 1930 and was Waugh’s first major commercial success. Despite its quasi-biblical title, the book is dark, bitter, “a manifesto of disillusionment”, according to biographer Martin Stannard. As a best-selling author Waugh could now command larger fees for his journalism. Amid regular work for The Graphic, Town and Country and Harper’s Bazaar, he quickly wrote Labels, a detached account of his honeymoon cruise with She-Evelyn.

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