The counterargument to the cliché of “keep it real.”
Wilson (English/Wake Forest Univ.) extends his contrarian streak (Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, 2008, etc.) with an inquiry into what is really real and whether it really matters. As he crosses disciplines—philosophy, psychology, literary and film criticism, pop-culture analysis—and genres (alternating discussions of Barthes and Nietzsche with revelatory reveries of memoir), Wilson has ultimately written a deeply personal book, almost a lifeline, though readers might find it a challenge to connect the dots between the short chapters. The author explores a central paradox: “to believe you’re authentic in a world where nothing is authentic but performed is inauthentic; to know that you’re inauthentic in a world in which nothing is not performed is authentic. So if you believe as if you’re actually authentic, then you’re a liar, and if you comport yourself with an awareness of your inauthenticity, you are as real as it gets.” The academic in Wilson draws from semiotics and Dadaist aesthetics; the pop-culture maven revels in the glories of Bill Murray’s work (particularly in Meatballs) and almost everything by David Lynch (particularly Blue Velvet). However, it’s his chronicles of the author’s personal experiences as a suicidal depressive where the work transcends postmodern irony and wordplay. In a world of media bombardment and technological rewiring, where death and gravity are real and everything else is up for grabs, Wilson discovered through therapy that he could construct a new narrative rather than accept the ones handed down to him or the ones that weighted him down. “Depression whipped me into grace,” he writes, bringing his book to a close with the conclusion that fakery is relative, that some serves a greater morality and higher purpose than others, and that some might, in a sense, be true.
An elliptical, provocative meditation that reads as much like a catharsis as a manifesto.