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"Against joie de vivre"

Thursday, August 17, 2017

How I see myself reflected in these dazzling words!


"Though it is traditionally the province of the French, the whole Mediterranean is a hotbed of professional joie de vivrism, which they have gotten down to a routine like a crack son et lumière display. The Italians export dolce far niente as aggressively as tomato paste. For the Greeks, a Zorba dance to life has supplanted classical antiquities as their main touristic lure. Hard to imagine anything as stomach-turning as being forced to participate in such an oppressively robust, folknik effusion. Fortunately, the country has its share of thin, nervous, bitter types, but Greeks do exist who would clutch you to their joyfully stout bellies and crush you there. The joie de vivrist is an incorrigible missionary, who presumes that everyone wants to express pro-life feelings in the same stereotyped manner.

A warning: since I myself have a large store of nervous discontent (some would say hostility) I am apt to be harsh in my secret judgments of others, seeing them as defective because they are not enough like me. From moment to moment, the person I am with often seems too shrill, too bland, too something-or-other to allow my own expansiveness to swing into stage center. “Feeling no need to drink, you will promptly despise a drunkard” (Kenneth Burke). So it goes with me—which is why I am not a literary critic. I have no faith that my discriminations in taste are anything but the picky awareness of what will keep me stimulated, based on the peculiar family and class circumstances which formed me. But the knowledge that my discriminations are skewed and not always universally desirable doesn’t stop me in the least from making them, just as one never gives up a negative first impression, no matter how many times it is contradicted. A believer in astrology (to cite another false system), having guessed that someone is a Saggitarius, and then told he is a Scorpio, says “Scorpio—yes, of course!” without missing a beat, or relinquishing confidence in his ability to tell people’s signs, or in his idea that the person is somehow secretly Saggitarian.

—Phillip Lopate
—from “Against Joie De Vivre”
—found in Ploughshares (April, 1986)
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • SYLPHINPROGRESS
    P. Lopate is good. This piece is new to me. His work -- and his interview presentation -- always struck me as positive, though I haven't heard in in quite a long time. He always struck me as more graceful about a difficult upbringing than his brother, who usually strikes me as a nasty, terribly bitter person -- and he's the one with a daily radio interview program.
    1399 days ago
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