Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Joy of Anxiety (?)

There is little pleasure and no joy in living in that heightened state of fearful apprehension known as anxiety. Yet we know that the imagination, spurred by fears of what might happens, can thrive on anxiety, which T. S. Eliot called the handmaiden of creativity.

This is the basis for an odd little essay by Katie Roiphe, "The Joy of Stress," which tends to equate stress with anxiety and which shows little inside understanding of the subject. No surprise: the author, with a Ph.D. in English, has a reputation as noted feminist and like many younger academics today, seems to have avoided conventional literary scholarship for cultural studies and journalism.

As such she can pontificate about anxiety as if she knows something about it.  Roiphe seems to associate anxiety with the high generated by an extra shot of caffeine.  Her suggestions:  calmness is not as attractive (exciting) as anxiety, which gives a crisp focus to our days. The result is a kind of perversely pleasurable sensation. In fact, "if you are safe and secure, you are bored. If you feel comfortable, you lack desire."

She intends to raise provocative questions but ends up making empty statements, even for a journalist tackling a topic in the social sciences that it too much for her.  For example, "some. . .widespread anxiety may be clinical. But much of it is surely a cast of mind, an atmosphere, a style."

Oh? It's something we can adopt or drop at will?  And if we want to live on the edge and be creative, we might consider maintaining the vitality of anxiety?

Perhaps there are times when people thrive on being anxious and enjoy the rush, but, for me, there is little joy in living on a high wire.

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