From Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton

My friend Nash lent me Alain de Botton’s Status Anxiety, as some kind of philosophical self-help book, get-over-yourself therapy. My notes are rather whiny and could very well remind one of emotional-diarrhea, and so I am sharing with you an excerpt that’s not exactly the reason why Nash lent me this book in the first place. Ahem:

Every great work of art, suggested [poet, critic, and Oxford University professor Matthew] Arnold, was marked (directly or not) by the “desire to remove human error, clear human confusion, and diminish human misery,” just as all great artists were imbued with the “aspiration to leave the world better and happier than they [found] it.” They might not always realize this ambition through overtly political subject matter — indeed, might not even be aware of harboring it at all — and yet embedded within their work, there was almost always a cry of protest against a status quo, and thus an impulse to connect the viewer’s insight or teach him to perceive beauty, to help him understand pain or to reanimate his sensitivities, to nurture his capacity for empathy or rebalance his moral perspective through sadness or laughter. . . . Art, [Arnold] insisted, was “the criticism of life.”

What are we to understand by Arnold’s phrase? First, and perhaps most obvious, that life is a phenomenon in need of criticism, for we are, as fallen creatures, in permanent danger of worshiping false gods, of failing to understand ourselves and misinterpreting the behavior of others, of growing unproductively anxious or desirous, and of losing ourselves to vanity and error. Surreptitiously and beguilingly, then, with humor or gravity, works of art—novels, poems, plays, paintings or films — can function as vehicles to explain our condition to us. They may act as guides to a truer, more judicious, more intelligent understanding of the world.

For posterity’s sake. La-dee-dah. Take care, everyone.

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