why be happy when you can be interesting?
Slavoj Žižek, ‘Why Be Happy When You Can Be Interesting’ (2 min 11)
For example, let’s be serious, when you are in a creative endeavour - in that wonderful fever, my god, I’m onto something, so on - happiness doesn’t enter it. You’re ready to suffer.
This is the silliest and most pervasive cliché about creativity but it showed up on my Facebook feed today and it caught my attention because I’m feeling pretty much the opposite of this. I’m done with interesting and ready to be bored by happiness now, please, thanks.
Thinking further: Maybe the relationship between creativity on the y-axis and happiness-suffering on the x-axis is like a negative quadratic function (frown parabola), where creativity peaks with mid-range emotions. Total happiness flushes out creativity and total despair paralyses any endeavour. I’m not sure how to factor time and variety into this graph but they might be the most important factors, because if you’ve been feeling any one thing for long enough, eventually your mind stops responding to it creatively. The best writing about a feeling comes after the feeling.
In the midst of it there’s just the sensation, which is unintelligent and unintelligible. The sensations are all too similar - just a scattering of spaces inside the body in which you feel heat and pressure. For me all emotions are this: heat, pressure, being conscious of a space inside the body in a way that doesn’t make physical sense. Being haunted inside your body, by your own memory or imagination. Probably this doesn’t apply so much for other media and modes of creativity, and maybe not even for other people, but for me with words, when deep in a feeling, there’s just no point trying to tell it. What does it matter if anger sears through your spine or sits heavy under your lungs, dragging down your breath? I don’t know that anyone else’s psyche locates things in the same places; all I know is weight and pain in strange pockets of anatomy means nothing to read.
I’ve been kind of fragile and despondent lately and it makes it really difficult to do any kind of work. It’s like I’m all out of focus except for this hot blur of grief. I can’t concentrate, I can’t prioritise and I don’t have much capacity to deal with criticism or confrontation or failure, all of which seem essential for creative or political work and especially those projects at the intersection of the two, where everything is so tender and profound, so intimate and huge, and everyone seems to be angry at me about something I did or didn’t do, and there’s just so much shouting outside my face that’s pushing up against the noise in my head so the pressure sends cracks down through the lines. All my thoughts noise and contradiction. And if I try to stop there’s the kick of guilt because somewhere along the line I came to believe in this ethic of work and suffering, I came to see work as rent for living and then the payments spiralled out of control into several lifetimes, so in this one I’m just so damn tired. It’s a stupid way to think, and it makes me unhappy and uninteresting.
So basically I think Žižek is being an arse. I don’t know if happiness is the name of what I want either, though. Maybe I just miss the resilience I had for a little while, which made a lot more things possible. Everything got very tight and small all of a sudden. I feel very small and closed and unable. Something like the feeling you get in an aeroplane as it rises and the air starts to thin. You’re belted to your seat but the ground is falling away, and there’s a rush of noise and pressure, and then all you can hear is inside your own head. You’re supposed to be going somewhere, and you’ll know it when you get there, but in the meantime you’re locked in and all you can do is swallow and breathe.
I kind of want to go somewhere with what you’re saying about suffering and the body and debt, but I’m stuck on how that Žižek quote is actually the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard from a major philosopher. not the most offensive, although it is offensive, but definitely the most flat-out stupid. I’d hope that the context makes it slightly less stupid but I can’t be bothered checking it out because honestly, Žižek makes my skin crawl.
anyway, it’s true that sometimes creativity is about exploring a negative emotion, writing-in-your-diary style, something that’s plaguing you. that may not be pleasant, exactly, and sometimes it can make things worse, but you generally do it because you’re stewing and it would plague you regardless. I find a lot of joy, or at least relief, in creativity. I experience the more stable emotion of happiness or contentment when I have consistently laboured to achieve something. this idea that happiness is in conflict with achievement, creativity, that which is most vital in life — that is some serious angsty teen bullshit I would’ve pulled out when I was sixteen. I had never been more miserable; I have rarely been more bored and boring.
in fact… once, when I was a teen, my friend K and I were staying overnight at another friend’s house in an outer suburb. late that night, our other friend’s mother heard us talking through the wall and became convinced we were talking shit about her. she tried to kick us out, in the middle of the night, long after the buses had stopped, far from home. Worse things have happened but it wasn’t great. We froze up. her ten-year-old son, with the eerie calm of kids for whom this shit is normal, talked her down and we were allowed to stay. I tried to make light of the tension by remarking to K that at least it wasn’t boring. She thought about it, looked me in the eye and said, “actually, I think it’s extremely boring.”
I realised she was right. I’d been frightened, confused, unhappy — and also found the whole situation tedious. misery is grinding, it’s endless, the same shit keeps happening and you don’t know what to do about it. for both you and the people around you, unhappiness is dull.
(You, Lia, are always interesting, happy or unhappy, but I’d obviously rather see you happy. If your unhappiness is interfering with your writing — and I can’t imagine how it couldn’t — then that’s one more reason for the rest of us to regret it. )