Hysterical misery into common unhappiness

From the end of Freud’s “Psychotherapy of Hysteria” in Studies on Hysteria (1895), with Josef Breuer:

When I have promised my patients help or improvement by means of a cathartic treatment I have been faced by this objection: “Why, you tell me yourself that my illness is probably connected with my circumstances of my life. You cannot alter these in any way. How do you propose to help me then?” And I have been able to make this reply: “No doubt fate would find it easier than I to relieve you of your illness. But you will able to convince yourself that much will be gained if we succeed in transforming your hysterical misery into common unhappiness. With mental life that has been restored to health you will be better armed against that unhappiness.”

Almost unable to despise

The thirty-second of Leopardi’s Pensieri (Thoughts), written in 1837, translated by J.G. Nichols:

As he advances every day in his practical knowledge of life, a man loses some of that severity which makes it difficult for young people, always looking for perfection, and expecting to find it, and judging everything by that idea of it which they have in their minds, to pardon defects and concede that there is some value in virtues that are poor and inadequate, and in good qualities that are unimportant, when they happen to find them in people. Then, seeing how everything is imperfect, and being convinced that there is nothing better in the world than that small good which they despise, and that practically nothing or no one is truly estimable, little by little, altering their standards and comparing what they come across not with perfection any more, but with reality, they grow accustomed to pardoning freely and valuing every mediocre virtue, every shadow of worth, every least ability that they find. So much so that, ultimately, many things and many people seem to them praiseworthy that at first would have seemed to them scarcely endurable. This goes so far that, whereas initially they hardly had the ability to feel esteem, in the course of time they become almost unable to despise. And this to a greater extent the more intelligent they are. Because in fact to be very contemptuous and discontented, once our first youth is past, is not a good sign, and those who are such cannot, either because of the poverty of their intellects or because they have little experience, have been much acquainted with the world. Or else they are among those fools who despise others because of the great esteem in which they hold themselves. In short, it seems hardly probable, but it is true, and it indicates only the extreme baseness of human affairs to say it, that experience of the world teaches us to appreciate rather than to depreciate.

I think of the opening of Marianne Moore’s poem “Poetry”:

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important
beyond all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it,
one discovers that there is in
it after all, a place for the genuine.

Sure to be noticed

Kierkegaard in The Sickness Unto Death:

A person can go on living fairly well, seem to be a human being, be occupied with temporal matters, marry, have children, be honored and esteemed — and it may not be detected that in a deeper sense this person lacks a self. Such things do not create much of a stir in the world, for a self is the last thing the world cares about and the most dangerous thing of all for a person to show signs of having. The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss — an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. — is sure to be noticed.

Not to lose the things that seem to him good

from Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, book 1, section 12, translated by Benson Mates:

We always say that as regards belief (i.e., dogma) the Pyrrhonist’s goal is ataraxia, and that as regards things that are unavoidable it is having moderate pathè. For when the Pyrrhonist set out to philosophize with the aim of assessing his phantasiai – that is, of determining which are true and which are false so as to achieve ataraxia – he landed in a controversy between positions of equal strength, and, being unable to resolve it, he suspended judgment. But while he was thus suspending judgment there followed by chance the sought-after ataraxia as regards belief. For the person who believes that something is by nature good or bad is constantly upset; when he does not possess the things that seem to be good, he thinks he is being tormented by things that are by nature bad, and he chases after the things he supposes to be good; then, when he gets these, he fails into still more torments because of irrational and immoderate exultation, and, fearing any change, he does absolutely everything in order not to lose the things that seem to him good. But the person who takes no position as to what is by nature good or bad neither avoids nor pursues intensely. As a result, he achieves ataraxia. Indeed, what happened to the Pyrrhonist is just like what is told of Apelles the painter. For it is said that once upon a time, when he was painting a horse and wished to depict the horse’s froth, he failed so completely that he gave up and threw his sponge at the picture – the sponge on which he used to wipe the paints from his brush – and that in striking the picture the sponge produced the desired effect. So, too, the Pyrrhonists were hoping to achieve ataraxia by resolving the anomaly of phenomena and noumena, and, being unable to do this, they suspended judgment. But then, by chance as it were, when they were suspending judgment the ataraxia followed, as a shadow follows the body. We do not suppose, of course, that the Pyrrhonist is wholly untroubled, but we do say that he is troubled only by things unavoidable. For we agree that sometimes he is cold and thirsty and has various feelings like those. But even in such cases, whereas ordinary people are affected by two circumstances – namely by the pathé themselves and not less by its seeming that these conditions are by nature bad – the Pyrrhonist, by eliminating the additional belief that all these things are naturally bad, gets off more moderately here as well. Because of this we say that as regards belief the Pyrrhonist’s goal is ataraxia, but in regard to things unavoidable it is having moderate pathé.