Finished "Kennedy's Brain" last night. A passage in Chapter 19 spoke to me:
"Cynicism is a defence mechanism. Reality appears in a slightly milder light through the filter of cynicism. Otherwise it would be easy to lose one's grip and let everything sink to the bottom."
The man who said this is an archetype of cynic. He might have harbored hopes and expectations to do some good long ago, but in the face of dark and overwhelming reality he chose to become one of them, one of the money-grabbers, one who pay to f**k impoverished African women but had to be drunk enough to keep his own shame at bey while doing it.
Now I think I understand why Mankell said he is not a pessimist. Nor is he a cynic. This novel, although incredibly sad and dark and angry, is not a cynical, pessimistic book. All he wants to pursue and convey is the truth. It is to face the truths of the world, as dark and ugly as they are sometimes, without flinching, without the self-protective veneer of cynicism.
Paradoxically, cynicism protects people from the darkness because it is easier to dismiss the suffering and ugliness and greed and cruelty in the world as "oh well, everyone and everything is bad" and never have to think about it again or, like this character, plunge into the greed and cruelty oneself because, "heck, everyone is bad anyway."
Truth-seekers are different. They acknowledge both the bad and the good with the same unflinching courage. It is almost equally scary to frankly and unflinchingly face the kindness, generosity, and fraternity in people, because to do so is to allow one to care and risk losing them sometimes to evil forces, to human frailty, or to random destruction. It is easy to throw all hopes away and never form too much attachment. Without hope, at least one will never been disappointed.
It is like Maugham who said quietly and calmly, "There is no God. There is no afterlife. There is no meaning to life." It is to accept that there is no divine judgment and still holds a conscience.
In the end, it takes a strong person to look truths in the eye, to not be afraid of disappointment, to not be terrified of contradiction, to not fear the world's infinite shades of black, white, and gray. Both the bad and the good are far more extreme and intense and abundant in the world than most of us, our head and heart, can withstand. I am certainly not as strong as, for example, Mankell or Maugham, but at least I have learned not to brandish or admire cynicism as if it were clever or sophisticated or superior. Cynicism is a tin shack that the weak locks herself in to shield herself from life's truths.
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