Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

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I have another article in the Independent this week, this one a book review and interview with local author Gordon Theisen, author of Staying Up Much Too Late: Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” and the Dark Side of the American Psyche, which I enjoyed a lot.

The book begins with Theisen’s polemic against optimism, and that’s where we start our conversation in the OCSC, too. Optimism isn’t all that bad, he tells me; it’s just that “taken to an extreme it can be destructive and deeply depressing.” The trouble with America, the reason so many of us feel so strung-out so much of the time, is that our optimism drives us to think that perfect happiness and untold riches lie just out of our grasp—and if we work just a little harder, spread ourselves just a little thinner, we can have it all.

But we can’t—not all of us, anyway. Maybe not most of us.

“Optimism breaks our fantasies, constantly makes us feel as though we’re not really living, not making the grade. It’s why people make themselves miserable with hard work.

“Not me, of course,” he quickly adds, smiling. “I’m talking about other people.”

And when riches don’t fall out of the sky, when things don’t work out, it’s as if you’ve “brought these things on yourself” by not believing hard enough. “Somebody always has to lose,” he says. “We forget that.”

This boundless optimism hounds us all the way to the grave. “When my father was dying of cancer,” Theisen tells me, “the nurse came over and told me, ‘He’s a fighter.’ And that’s the way we always talk about people with cancer, that they’re fighters—as if it’s their fault when they lose.”

Written by gerrycanavan

August 2, 2007 at 4:05 pm

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