In Defense of Despair: A Reaction to J.David’s “In Defense of Joy”
by Alex DiFrancesco
This morning, I am watching the sun rise over Lake Erie after a horrific month in a horrific year for the entire world. It’s been particularly bad for me, encompassing a bad health scare, a serious drug relapse, several suicide attempts, and reactionary behavior that lost me some friends. Serendipitously, Brain Pickings has a thoughtful and carefully curated selection of Albert Camus’ thoughts on suicide. Camus rejected suicide, but he did not do it without carefully considering it himself. In fact, he based all his subsequent philosophies on this as the basic question. For me, it is a question that has no firm and lasting answer. Often, my actions and my behavior have pointed to despair and the ending of my own life. Fortunately, which Camus believes is a basic function of life and the human body, I have rejected this over and over. I have made a decision to keep living, though the torment of the notion of suicide as a sane reaction to an insane world has never been something I’ve eluded for long. I originally read Camus far too young, and far too wrapped up in my own despair to not focus on the darkness he insisted was important to look in the eye. I was marked as chronically depressed in mental hospitals through my 20s because I would say things like, “If one doesn’t think deeply about death, every day, how do you find your approach to life?” But that was and wasn’t his point. It is also not my point that this darkness is, will ever be, or should be continual or cultivated. This is a mistake I still make, and I am well-aware of, when not in its throes. But I do defend this darkness as inevitability and something that great understanding, compassion, empathy, and intellect can be derived from. Just as I am finding great joy in the Lake Erie sunrise, I can find deep introspection of this broken Midwestern city night’s dark and desperate hours; just as some are predicated towards, to borrow a phrase on absurdity from Camus, “a donkey eating roses,” some of us are donkeys feasting on garbage. Both, it seems, could lead, if unchecked, to a spiritual and intellectual death. Neither is the right way, or sustainable.