Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Five notable books on modern misery

Renata Salecl teaches law at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, her native country, and is also the Centennial Professor in the department of law at the London School of Economics and Visiting Professor of Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Her publications include The Tyranny of Choice.

One of five top books on modern misery that she discussed with Tom Dannet at The Browser:
The Humbling
by Philip Roth

Philip Roth’s The Humbling.

It’s not the best of Roth’s novels but it’s nonetheless important. The main character, Simon, is an actor who has lost his spark and can’t perform any more. He loses his fame, and his wife, and ends up in a psychiatric hospital. He becomes an ageing loner, and so the first part appears just a sad debate over a lost life – where the person’s still alive. Then he finds a young lover who used to be a lesbian and they start a passionate affair which ends badly. Problems arise because the lover is the daughter of his friends from youth, and then another young woman emerges whom they first use in a threesome and, basically, you then have an endless series of losses again.

So it’s about ageing and I think why it’s important is because we see the capacity to hold on longer. It is possible with the help of medicine to very much prolong life, but the tragedy is that desire remains: for satisfaction – especially sexual and creative satisfaction. What Philip Roth has been describing now for some time is how painful it is when you are old and you don’t have those moments in life which you perceived as the ultimate satisfaction: especially moments of big love, or sexual relationship. The American ideology for some has been that it’s never too late for a new start, which goes against how I was raised: there wasn’t that possibility of endless self-invention in a new way. This guy has a promise maybe to be able to act again, and get help with self-esteem, and then the promise of a second start - of a big love, and both promises don’t come true.

Self-reinvention is a classic ideal, though – isn’t that why James Bond is so popular? Because his identity is mutable, he’s always symbolically cheating death?

People come now to psychoanalysis exactly with this demand: I need to reinvent myself. As if you can make a rational choice, a plan of how you want to look, what body you want, your identity, love: everything appears to be a matter of choice, and here Roth points out the impossibility of self-reinvention. That’s the depressing part: it goes against the grain of the ideology of happiness.
Read about another book Salecl tagged at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue