Saturday, April 22, 2017

`Crumminess and Evil and Disorder'

My first objection to nihilism is that it suggests a lack of gratitude. It’s bad manners. I knew a reporter who drank herself to death, quite literally. She was younger than me, smart and attractive, a fellow Midwesterner exiled in the Northeast. She possessed the journalist’s essential gifts of energy, curiosity and thoughtful skepticism. Her writing was passable but her reporting – eliciting information from intractable sources, human and otherwise – was a work of art. Working, she was happy, or at least purposeful. The rest of her life was impossible.

One evening in the newsroom she told me, calmly and apropos of nothing, that she believed in nothing. She sounded surprised, not desperate, as though reaching an unexpected conclusion. My instinct was the conventional one of offering consolation: “You’re so talented.” “You have friends who care about you.” And so on. I knew how empty the words sounded because I had heard them before.

I left for another job. She stayed, and was soon let go for the obvious reasons. For middle-class drunks, often the last thing to go is the job. One’s supply must be maintained. She died in her apartment, alone. I go months without thinking about her, as we do with people we never knew well but who left an impression and now are gone. I thought of her this time because I was rereading Richard Wilbur’s Paris Review interview and came upon these deeply unfashionable thoughts:

“To put it simply, I feel that the universe is full of glorious energy, that the energy tends to take pattern and shape, and that the ultimate character of things is comely and good. I am perfectly aware that I say this in the teeth of all sorts of contrary evidence, and that I must be basing it partly on temperament and partly on faith, but that is my attitude. My feeling is that when you discover order and goodness in the world, it is not something you are imposing—it is something that is likely really to be there, whatever crumminess and evil and disorder there may also be. I don't take disorder or meaninglessness to be the basic character of things. I don't know where I get my information, but that is how I feel.”

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