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 this article.)

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 You may contact him at


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