Thursday, January 31, 2008

New York's Neurosis

In his masterpiece Brideshead Revisited, novelist Evelyn Waugh wrote about New York City: "... in that city there is [a] neurosis in the air which the inhabitants mistake for energy."

This made me ponder: is the excitement and vibrancy of this town really just a big case of insanity? A cynic might might say, "Of course!" Others might dismiss it as the crankiness of a stuffy old Englishman.
Mr. Waugh wrote this in 1944 and the city has transmogrified many times since then. But was he right? Isn't this true, now more than ever?

I decided not to let such a cheap description of my hometown go unchallenged, even if it has taken sixty-plus years. So let's dissect what he meant:

First, a definition of neurosis. It is, according to Wikipedia, "a 'catch all' term that refers to any mental imbalance that causes distress, but, unlike a psychosis or some personality disorders, does not prevent or affect rational thought."

Second, let's extract the subtext of Mr. Waugh's sentence: "New Yorkers are mentally imbalanced, distressed people who wrongly believe their disorder to be a positive thing."

Third, let's pause and wonder ... what does this exactly mean?

Mr NYC's opinion: everyone's crazy. I mean everyone. Some more than others, some a lot more than others, but doesn't just about everyone exist, mentally, somewhere out of the societal norms? Is there anyone, anywhere, who can be pointed to as a model of 100% absolute mental hygiene?

New Yorkers are like all people in the world, "neurotic" to varying degrees. But the energy of this town is very real, even if it's fueled by neurosis. It circulates through all its inhabitants, so palpable that even Mr. Waugh from the Mother Country could feel it. And today, more than half a century later, it still exists.

So let's raise a glass to neurosis and pray that New Yorkers never lose it, remaining properly distressed and "imbalanced."

1 comment:

Please keep it civil, intelligent, and expletive-free. Otherwise, opine away.