The Adolescent Pessimism of Modern Literature
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The Adolescent Pessimism of Modern Literature
Copyright © March 22, 2014 Douglas W. Jerving.
All Rights Reserved.
The UK Telegraph's List of the 50 Best Cult Books
I could add a lot more and subtract quite a few from the list of books in the Telegraph
article herein referenced. I have read many of these fifty books (but not all), mostly
in my adolescent years. Some were worth the read, most were just pablum. I can't help but
wonder why James Joyce never made the list. Why Fountainhead rather than Atlas
Shrugged? The Outsider could easily be replaced by the teen rebel theme in
The Outsiders, which was at least readable. (Ponyboy was my hero when I was thirteen).
Catch 22 is only memorable for the epileptic whore. Jack Kerouac and Tom Wolfe
are, again, just throwbacks to a time when I did not practice critical thinking
(even though I thought I was).
I read (and was bored by) The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám when I was 12. I read The
Prophet by Kahlil Gibran when I was 13. (Crap.) After that I knew enough to not waste
my time on pseudo-wisdom literature, so I passed on Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
(I will later refer to what I would consider real wisdom literature, i.e., the writings of
Solomon, who's texts were the inspiration for most of these caricaturists, at the end of
Camus? If you really have to get existentialist read (or go see a performance of) Samuel
Beckett's Waiting For Godot. It remains the greatest piece of existentialist art in
existence. Meaningless crap taken to an art form.
Sylvia Plath: I have read some of her horrid short stories. The Bell is a proto-feminist
excursion into the mental health industry akin to the male oriented Cuckoo's Nest.
The Caretakers (1963 cinema) did far more to expose the industry than either of these
books. Be warned. It is a hard movie to watch. Very hard; very real. So the testimony of someone
who was very intimate to me. She insisted her children see it to understand what she had
personally experienced. I will leave it at that.
Fear of Flying by Erica Jong was one of those books that titillated the late adolescent
lusts of many young men (and women). But I didn't waste my time with it (I was 16 when it
came out). I had already read Diary of a Mad Housewife, and as a result, knew that teenage
lust was not all it was cracked up to be. FoF was little more than a publishing house
addendum to the Diary.
Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide was brilliant in plot and in sci-fi pi in the sky.
But the greatest book of the genre was Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan. Sirens
was a Christmas gift from my mother when I was 17. I read it non-stop all day and night until
I finished it the next morning, December 26, 1974. Sirens was more than sci-fi, and
more than satire. It was, for my teen mind, the greatest critique of a world without a clue
since Beckett's Waiting for Godot (which I had already read). Between the two of them
I began to realize that ending the world or continuing it in its present state were equivalent
apocalypses. Neither one solves the problem, but neither one, nor any of the above, can tell
you what the problem really is, or even if there really is a problem!
The real or supposed authority of the books in the Telegraph list finds its basis in
Friedrich Nietzsche, the step-father of all modern and post-modern irrational pessimism, from
Friedrich Schleiermacher and Friedrich Schiller to the Westboro Baptist Church. (The best I
can say about Nietzsche is that his ethics never stooped to those of the Marquis de Sade).
None of the modernist and post modernist pessimisms (nor their equivalent religious
manifestations - so-called pessi-millenialism, i.e., dispensationalism/premillenial
fundamentalism, etc.) have any foundation in reality. They all depend upon the adolescent
and non-critical mind-set of idealism untempered by the realism of a mature empiricism.
I want to know the world as it really is, not what I wish it could be. As such I fully
understand the quest for knowledge, but only that knowledge based on fact. Empirical
(evidential) knowledge is the basis of all human reality. Real science is both observable
and repeatable. (Neo-Darwinism is as much a religion as Catholicism!)The rest is emotionalist
pessimism or optimism with no basis in reality. Solomon (the great Old Testament philosopher-king
of Israel) provided the West with the strongest treatise on empirical philosophy to date in his
Ecclesiastes, the existentialist tract of his times. (Soren Kierkegaard may be the modernist
philosopher most closely related to Solomon.)
Obviously, there is much more to be said on everything discussed here and in the article
referenced. It has only taken 4,000 years to get this far. No wonder Hunter S Thompson finally
gave up his life with the same wimper as Friedrich Nietzsche! (Funny too, how many of these pessimists
were named Fred! LOL.) Neither had the patience to wait, and both only had the courage to
precipitate the end of all things, just like apocalyptic fundamentalists, only without the hope
in God. Either way is an attempt to force the hand(s) of the god(s) by one's own volition to
life or death, however futile that may be. Either one is an attempt to usurp god-hood to one's
self. and both, like most modern/post-modern literature, were an existentialist exercise in futility.
A favorite pun of mine that I learned in my first course in philosophy summed it all up quite
nicely, which I quote:
"To be is to do." -- Kant.
"To do is to be." --Nietzsche.
"Doo be doo be doo." -- Sinatra.
I may have that backwards. How existentialist of me!
Doug Jerving is the publisher of the NewEdisonGazette.com. You may contact him at
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