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robertogreco : bitterness   3

Avery Morrow on What do you think is the key to a ha...
"One of the most famous letters in Chinese history was sent by the historian Sima Qian to his friend Ren An. In this letter, Sima Qian bemoans his castration at the hands of an arbitrary emperor after he tried to speak out in defense of a good man. He proclaims that he will devote his life to completing his history, and speaks of the conviction that keeps people writing in devastating tone:
When Xibo, the Earl of the West, was imprisoned at Youli, he expanded the I Ching. Confucius was in distress when he made the Spring and Autumn Annals. Qu Yuan was banished and he composed his poem “Encountering Sorrow.” After Zuo Qiu lost his sight, he wrote the Conversations from the States. When Sun Tzu had his feet amputated in punishment, he set forth the Art of War. Lü Buwei was banished to Shu but his Spring and Autumn of Mr. Lü has been handed down through the ages. While Han Fei Zi was held prisoner in Qin he wrote “The Difficulties of Disputation” and “The Sorrow of Standing Alone.” Most of the three hundred poems of the Odes were written when the sages poured out their anger and dissatisfaction. All these men had a rankling in their hearts, for they were not able to accomplish what they wished. Those like Zuo Qiu, who was blind, or Sun Tzu, who had no feet, could never hold office, so they retired to compose books in order to set forth their thoughts and indignation, handing down their writings so they could show posterity who they were.

I too have ventured not to be modest but have entrusted myself to my useless writings. I have gathered up and brought together the old traditions of the world that were scattered and lost. I have examined events of the past and investigated the principles behind their success and failure, their rise and decay, in 130 chapters. I wished to examine into all that concerns heaven and humankind, to penetrate the changes of the past and present, putting forth my views as one school of interpretation. […] When I have truly completed this work, I will deposit it in the Famous Mountain archives. If it may be handed down to those who will appreciate it and penetrate to the villages and great cities, then though I should suffer a thousand mutilations, what regret would I have?

(Translated in Burton Watson, Records of the Grand Historian: Qin Dynasty, appendix 2)

This must stand alongside the world’s greatest critiques of writing. Writing, says Sima Qian, is just an elaborate way to tell the world about your indignation. Writing is a therapeutic behavior which you must resort to because you have been wronged or defeated. These are the bitter words of a man whose romantic belief in standing up for goodness and justice was viscerally mutilated by reality.

Sima Qian confides to Ren An that “such matters as these may be discussed with a wise man, but it is difficult to explain them to ordinary people.” The life of the mind is defined by knowing other people write from a state of discontent, not only with local injustices, but with the human condition itself. Those who have never known such deep discontent make poor conversation partners. Conversely, those who have come to peace with the human condition have no need to defend their views in public. This is the meaning of the Tao Te Ching’s verse, “Those who know, do not speak. Those who speak, do not know.”

In this sense, a philosopher, academic, or any kind of writer is the worst person to ask about how to live a fulfilling life. Their obligation to themselves is not to resolve their own problems, but to plumb the depths of their own discontent, seeking after a truth in unhappiness. It is not likely that anything that can be articulated in an intellectually honest essay can bestow a fulfilling life on you.

But in a terribly significant way, Sima Qian leaves out the other side of writing. He is convinced that if he writes something great, then posterity will read it. It turned out that his conviction was entirely right. But why was it necessary that his writing be great? Why does he need to go to the extent of examining everything that happened in the past and analyzing it? Why didn’t he just write a book about how the emperor castrated him and how he suffered? He must have seen something more important than himself in the history of his land.

In this letter, Sima Qian lets his bitterness shine through. But in his magisterial history, that bitterness is intertwined with a capacity for selecting, critiquing, and recording historical facts that ranks him among the greatest of all human civilization. Perhaps we can’t merely be told how to live a happy, fulfilling life with simple instructions. But reading can tell us about the dreams of centuries of men and women, and about what they did to realize them. In their dreams and their struggles, perhaps, we can see hints of transcendence, and find our own fulfillment."
writing  happiness  intellectuals  philosophy  simaquian  renan  wisdom  life  living  via:anne  transcendence  bitterness  fulfillment  thinking  unhappiness  taoteching  knowing 
july 2015 by robertogreco
Bitterness: The Next Mental Disorder? | Psychology Today
"No one could accuse the American Psychiatric Association of missing a strain of sourness in the country, or of failing to capitalize on its diagnostic potential. Having floated "Apathy Disorder" as a trial balloon, to see if it might garner enough support for inclusion in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the world's diagnostic bible of mental illnesses, the organization has generated untold amounts of publicity and incredulity this week by debating at its convention whether bitterness should become a bona fide mental disorder."
bitterness  psychology  trends  pharmaceuticals  psychiatry  health  culture  society 
june 2009 by robertogreco

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