The Missing Delight

Delight is an orphan. Many other moods and emotions have had champions in literature and philosophy, patrons invested in their cultural standing. Melancholy can claim The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton’s strange masterpiece from 1621. It generated a fashion for melancholy that has not entirely faded, which the Romantics powerfully refreshed, lionizing melancholy for its immediate purchase on beauty. Baudelaire liked to remark that sadness is an essential element of beauty. In Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain and other albums, Miles Davis projected modern melancholy onto a liquid music that proves Baudelaire’s point. Joy is, in this respect, like melancholy: it has great advocates in art and perhaps the greatest musical advocate of all in Beethoven, who composed the “Ode to Joy” — via Schiller’s poem, which Beethoven embedded in his ninth symphony — regal and radiant. Despair and anguish have secure homes in the arts and in letters. They haunt the literature of loss, the literature of mortality, the literature of romance, the literature of regret, the literature of war. Happiness? It is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence as an inalienable right, or at least the pursuit of it is. Stendhal believed the exact opposite of Baudelaire — that happiness is what beauty promises. And happiness can be formidable in absentia. It, too, cuts a culturally imposing figure. Horror is widely esteemed. What else could answer the human talent for cruelty? Horror intertwines with history — with Josephus chronicling the Romans’ destruction of Jerusalem or Thucydides relating his stories of plague and brutality or Gibbon summing up history itself as a record of the “crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.” In the twentieth century, the Holocaust and other shatteringly large mass murders have deepened history’s association with atrocity and crime, leaving its shadow on the face

Already have an account? Log in

Want to keep reading? Join our community:


Support great writing by becoming a full subscriber to Liberties Journal.

Subscribe Today

Free Preview

Sign up with your email address, and access two free articles per month.

We hope you've enjoyed your free articles!

Become a full subscriber for only $50/year, (33% off cover price).

Thank you for supporting great writing.

Subscribe Today
Log In Subscribe

Sign Up For Free

Read 2 free articles a month after you register below.

Register now