Department of “Whatever”

Suffering the gloom, inevitable as breath, we must further accept
this fact that the world hates: We are forever incomplete, fragments of
some ungraspable whole. Our unfinished natures – we are never pure
actualities but always vague potentials – make life a constant
struggle, a bout with the persistent unknown. But this extension into
the abyss is also our salvation. To be only a fragment is always to
strive for something beyond ourselves, something transcendent. That
striving is always an act of freedom, of choosing one road instead of
another. Though this labor is arduous – it requires constant attention
to our mysterious and shifting interiors – it is also ecstatic, an
almost infinite sounding of the exquisite riddles of Being.

To be against happiness is to embrace ecstasy. Incompleteness is a
call to life. Fragmentation is freedom. The exhilaration of never
knowing anything fully is that you can perpetually imagine sublimities
beyond reason. On the margins of the known is the agile edge of
existence. This is the rapture, burning slow, of finishing a book that
can never be completed, a flawed and conflicted text, vexed as twilight.

Eric G. Wilson is a professor of English at Wake Forest University. This essay is adapted from his book Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, being published this month by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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