1. Anthony Martin
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    Anthony Martin Active Member

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    "Against Joie de Vivre", an essay by Phillip Lopate

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Anthony Martin, Apr 23, 2013.

    I've just read Against Joie de Vivre, a challenging and deeply introspective essay by Phillip Lopate (I found the essay here, among ten essay's identified by Robert Atwan as the best since 1950). This is a celebrated essay for a reason: it pushes the reader to explore some of their own attitudes, shortcomings and outlooks on their position in the human condition.

    I'm not sure where to start, but I'd love to get a discussion going about this essay. Have you read it? I identify with the "In the Here-and-now" and "Making Love" sections most--I think Lopate characterizes some of the ethereal inner tension often at work in our lives, especially with regard to "the sex act".

    If nothing else, at least there is a link to some good, free writing above that could be a benefit to any contemporary writer.
     
  2. jeepea
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    jeepea Member

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    I'm sure that there will be many probing and insightful comments on this essay, but mine won't be one of them. I mainly wish I had back the 30 minutes it took me to read the essay.

    The whole essay was nothing but the author grousing about the way other people chose to live their lives. The French like to have extravagant picnics. The bastards. An old Greek gentleman lives with three young women on a boat and likes to listen to the Grateful Dead. So what. An elderly woman is proud of her health after reaching an age that many of us will never see. Horrors. He doesn't want to sit around a pool and drink margaritas. So don't. I'm sure he believed that the story of his sexual exploits was capable of inducing a profound epiphany in the reader, but I didn't buy it.

    I think the author summed it up for me: "Perhaps I am generalizing too much from my own despair in such situations." Amen to that.

    And someone should buy this man a copy of Strunk and White.
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm hearing the message of the essay as, "There are people out there enjoying themselves! There are people out there enjoying other people! How _dare_ they?!"

    I'm not sure if I'm not getting it, or if I am indeed getting it and finding it quite empty.
     
  4. Anthony Martin
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    Anthony Martin Active Member

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    I'm glad I'm not the only reader who was, well, bothered by Lopate's cynicism and outright intolerance for the ways other people choose to live their lives. The reason I kept reading was, as you mentioned jeepea, Lopate acknowledges that his exacting outward eyes are just manifestations of his self-recognized inner shortcomings. I can identify with this sentiment regardless of whether or not I would want to associate with a writer like Lopate, which to me is a big takeaway here.
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    A quote from the essay:

    "No, what rankles me is the stylization of this private condition into a bullying social ritual."

    I just realized what--that is, who--this essay reminds me of.

    There are people who try to control others, but who don't see themselves as doing so. Instead, they feel that the others, by refusing to comply with the control, are actually being controlling.

    "I want chili for dinner. Can you make it by 6:00?"
    "No, I'm not in the mood to cook - I was going to have a sandwich. You're welcome to make the chili, though."
    "I don't want sandwiches! I want chili! Why are you always trying to decide what I eat?"

    "Argo is the best movie of the year!"
    "Eh - it's very good, but it's not my favorite."
    "Why are you always trying to dictate my preferences?"

    "Why did you take my potted plants out of the bathtub? I was watering them!"
    "Um...they'd been there since Tuesday, and I needed to bathe."
    "Ask _me_ when you want to use the bathtub! God, you're so controlling!"

    It appears to me that the author of the essay doesn't enjoy the pleasures of life or other people's company. But instead of just wandering off and being a curmudgeon, he seems to be very angry that others do enjoy those things. Their enjoyment is seen by him as an offense against him. If people don't relinquish their enjoyment of life, if they don't emulate his cynicism, then they're bullying him.

    Alternatively, maybe he's parodying that kind of self-important, self-satisfied, "anyone who isn't identical to me is wilfully insulting me" kind of person. I hope so, but I'm not counting on it.
     
  6. Anthony Martin
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    Anthony Martin Active Member

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    I think that it can be read both ways, though the surplus of social mores that he bemoans does give credence to your critique. He seemed to enjoy sex until he ruined it for himself and his wife.
     

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