FreudenschadeApril 28, 2006
For those of you who don’t know, Kaavya Viswanathan is one of those precocious young things who decided personal essays are passe and so instead wrote a novel to get into Harvard.
I haven’t read the masterpiece myself, but I understand it’s one of those teenage-struggle affairs, where the protagonist has to overcome cultural restrictions and balance her upbringing with the thrills and spills of an American coming of age.
It’s difficult to be certain without stooping to the level of a reader, but I imagine the “novel” provides a unique insight into multiculturalism in the third millennium and shows us the troubles of growing up brown in a white girl’s world, blah, blah, blah.
However, back to the real story. Writing is hard work and our young author was so overcome with the stresses of telling her tale that she (apparently unintentionally) channeled 29 passages of one her favorite novels onto the pages of her own work.
While this copying is a Bad Thing, personally, I’m delighted. Actually, delighted doesn’t go far enough; the entire episode fills me with glee.
Since reading the story I’ve been able to brighten those numerous dark moments that frequent the life of a graduate student by contemplating the delightful downfall of youth.
Schadenfreude is a wonderful thing. No matter how down you are, bad things happening to other people can always cheer you up.
For me, this blissful feeling invariably arises when success turns to failure. When those youngsters who burn a little brighter than the rest of us go up in flames, I rejoice.
Of the handful of people reading this, I suspect that some are laboring under the misconception that they are too virtuous to feel such base emotions as joy in the misfortune of others. Don’t kid yourself — you may not resent Kaavya and her overachieving ilk, but there’s someone, somewhere, who you want to suffer.
It may seem a little bitter of me to take such pleasure in the floundering of talented young folks. In my defense, however, I really don’t like them. What’s more, it keeps my natural racism in check if I can find another outlet for the hatred.
You know, now that I think about it, bitterness is not such a bad thing. Actually, as life philosophies go, it’s a damn sight better than being one of those fools who insists on “looking on the bright side.” I really find those people irritating.
Of course joy (even when of the shameful sort) is very much a positive emotion, and so it is, in many ways, somewhat antithetical to a truly bitter outlook on existence. No, if you want to join the creed of desolation you need not to embrace Schadenfreude, but rather to take up the mantle of Freudenschade.
German-speakers and other linguist purists are probably complaining now. Freudenschade isn’t actually a word, and, even if it was, it wouldn’t mean what I want it to. But we don’t need to listen to those totalitarians.
If Schadenfreude is feeling joy at the misfortune of others, then Freudenschade is feeling miserable at their joy. It’s a very useful emotion to have in your arsenal.
You see, if one just sticks to the former, the more conventional Schaden, one is restricted to experiencing the emotion on the rare occasions when those successful people you begrudge have something go wrong. Unfortunately, by their very nature, successful people don’t have things go wrong very often.
On the other hand, with Freudenschade at your disposal, you have that perfect feeling (and the perfect word for it) to complement the everyday seething resentment one has for those overachievers who insist on showcasing their skills rather than politely hiding themselves in a corner. Ungrateful bastards.
Like all the good emotions (the ones that drive you to distraction and are behind all the best suicide stories), our new one is a jealous beast. It will circle you warily, eyeing the surroundings for any hint of ecstasy. And, should it find what it’s looking for, it will pounce, filling you with bile.
Even better, unlike happiness, misery feeds off itself and off its enemies, growing ever stronger. So once you embrace the hidden pleasures of Freudenschade it will hold you tight, and you can look forward to a long and “happy” relationship together. What joy.
I copied this article entirely from a bestselling self-help book. The first reader who emails firstname.lastname@example.org with the source material will receive a smile. Maybe.
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