Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Importance of Civility for Pessimists.

c. David Grim (taken 9/25/10)

Listening to NPR on the way to work the other day, I heard an interview with author David Rakoff. I believe I read one of his books within the last year or two, but I can't be counted on to remember which one it was or what it was about. That likely means that I neither loved nor hated it and I was therefore only mildly curious about what he might say on the radio. But it turns out that his perspective gave me something to think about. Because Rakoff contends that his "realistic" approach to life, while not making him "happy", can be considered beautiful.

Apparently the author has a new memoir out called "Half Full". The sense I get is that it makes the case for rejecting an optimistic viewpoint. It's standard issue to read unabashed accounts of how a budding philosopher has found a way to inject the brightness into an otherwise bleak existence. Readers may have a difficult time embracing the light, and critics may rally against the cheesy aesthetic that often accompanies such screeds, but it's rare anymore to hear an active reproach of positivity and its possible benefits for those that embrace it.

What makes Rakoff's take palatable is his civility. Obviously the man has a litany of worthwhile complaints. In his own words, he was born quite "diminutive". He's also gay. These qualities together made him the butt of many an adolescent joke. And he has also suffered recurring bouts of cancer- events that have been enough to (understandably) sour the lives of many throughout history. Yet somehow Rakoff comes off less as a whiny malcontent than can reasonably be expected. And he does it all without embracing religion. That's truly remarkable nowadays.

There's definitely something to be said for being fully engaged in the process of living, no matter what the universe provides you. Rakoff seems equally unimpressed by the benefits he has received throughout his life as he is unperturbed by the things that would serve to plow under most of us. Yet the thing I am most impressed by is that he seems to hold his beliefs without being an overt misanthrope. He actually sounds like a nice guy. I actually think that Rakoff would be an entertaining dinner guest. Sure he might focus on the negative... but maybe he'd manage to make it seem not half bad.

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