The de Botton Industry

Anyone read de Botton lately? Has his stuff really gotten this bad, or is this person off the mark?

Then there is the relentless urge to lean on those who’ve proved themselves more “interesting.” To explain how sex declines within marriage de Botton writes, “repudiation of lovemaking [by a married couple] may thus be likened to a mountain climber’s or a runner’s not wishing to luxuriate in the lyricism and hypnotic grandeur of a great poem, perhaps by Walt Whitman or Tennyson, just before scaling a peak or starting a marathon.” Everything is wrong here, the logic, the assumptions, the contortions to mention Whitman and Tennyson. Not even a quote, just a shout-out to ensure that we are aware of every last volume on the author’s bookshelf.

Reading these “How to” guides makes you want to spurn their feeble advice—to hyperventilate over an interior design magazine, quit exercise entirely, or have shameful, dysfunctional sex. More than anything, though, they make you want to read Tolstoy, Orwell, and Shakespeare, in the original. Perhaps the only upside of de Botton’s gutting of the classics is that it might drive readers back to the works themselves. Anna Karenina and Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff both have their virtues, but a book that mashes literature together with peppy self-actualization, as de Botton demonstrates, can only be a middlebrow mess.

In passing, not exactly sure what “dysfunctional sex” is. Presumably if you’re having sex, however meager or transgressive it may be, it’s still functional, right? I think she was looking for something more along the lines of “abnormal.”


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