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I've been following Alain de Botton's career since How Proust Can Change Your Life. I think he's absolutely brilliantly insightful and has really made it his life's work to show us how philosophy and the arts can speak, if we listen, to the very everyday challenges of being human. I also always have the sense in his work that he truly believes to understand is to feel compassion - for oneself and others - and I think that's tremendous.
So I was excited to read his latest book, The Course of Love. It is subtitled "A Novel," but it is really more of a handbook to the complexities of married love, interspersed with fictional episodes illustrating the various points. A bit like taking a seminar on relationships and watching video segments.
What de Botton advocates is approaching love and marriage, raising children, and ultimately one's life, from a perspective that is more Classical than Romantic:
"Maturity means acknowledging that Romantic love might only constitute a narrow and perhaps rather mean-minded aspect of emotional life, one principally focused on a quest to find love rather than to give it...."
"Melancholy isn't always a disorder that needs to be cured. It can be a species of intelligent grief which arises when we come face-to-face with the certainty that disappointment is written into the script from the start."
He talks about the almost inevitable disappointment that one has not, looking back, achieved greatness. Cynicism, he says, is too easy. Instead, de Botton urges use to find "the prestige of laundry."
"There is valor in being able to identify a forgiving, hopeful perspective on one's life, in knowing how to be a friend to oneself, because one has a responsibility to others to endure."
"The courage not to be vanquished by anxiety, not to hurt others out of frustration, not to grow too furious with the world for the perceive injuries it heedlessly inflicts, not to go crazy and somehow to manage to persevere in a more or less adequate way through the difficulties of married life--this is true courage; this is a heroism in a class all of its own."