Overseeing a magazine, one picks up all sorts of magazines wherever they are in reach. That happened today at an appointment when I grabbed a stack and started perusing the latest issues. The hot-off-the-press March issue of O, The Oprah Magazine caught my eye, and when I flipped to the books section so did this version of a valentine:
This book got a mention for having a great title. What the magazine failed to mention is that it is the latest book by Eric G. Wilson, the Thomas H. Pritchard Professor of English at Wake Forest. “Everyone Loves A Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away,” published this month by Sarah Crichton Books, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, examines our culture’s attraction to evil and to darkness. According to advance publicity for the book, Wilson draws on findings of biologists, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, philosophers, theologians and artists.
In a precursor to the book’s publication, Wilson discussed his fascination with the moral of the morbid in November in Psychology Today. “Renaissance scholars kept skulls on their desks to remind them how precious this life is. John Keats believed that the real rose, because it is dying, exudes more beauty than porcelain,” he wrote. In describing his trip to the Ground Zero Museum in New York, he encountered what is now “holy ground” born of “horrific terrain.”
“At that moment,” he wrote, “I understood the terrible wisdom of suffering: When we agonize over what has cruelly been bereft from us, we love it more, and know it better, than when we were near it. Affliction can reveal what is most sacred in our lives, essential to our joy. Water, Emily Dickinson writes, is ‘taught by thirst.’
“To stare at macabre occurrences — this can lead to mere insensitivity, gawking for a cheap thrill; or it can result in stunned trauma, muteness before the horror. But in between these two extremes, morbid curiosity can sometimes inspire us to imagine ways to transform life’s necessary darkness into luminous vision.”
My guess is that you will be hearing a lot more about the “train wreck” book and what Wilson as scholar has learned from his research. (He posted this at Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s Work in Progress blog today for those of you not in the mood for chocolates, roses and sweet sentiment. It’s his take on why horror is good for you and lists his favorite horror films. No shock here: “I’m a serious horror film fan,” he writes. Yes, “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Shining” are among them.)
Best wishes to the professor as he launches his book about what it means to be human, in all its shadow, not just its light.