In her new column “Afterthoughts” for The Times Literary Supplement, Irina Dumitrescu writes about concepts of pleasure, drawing from The Chinese Pleasure Book by Michael Nylan. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to access the article. An excerpt appears below:
“The idea as I understand it is that one can feel delight in finding and nurturing order in a chaotic, dangerous world. Classical Chinese authors were no strangers to hedonism, but they knew some pleasures aimed at nourishing something deeper. I think of it as the difference between simply eating to fill the stomach – a transitory feeling, needing to be repeated a few hours later – and the resonant, lasting contentment when we share a meal with a good friend.
In English, the natural opposite of pleasure is pain. But classical Chinese thinkers opposed pleasure to anxiety. It makes sense to me: the satisfaction we can find in spending time with people whose company we cherish, in immersing ourselves in art, or in learning something new, can offer us a brief respite from worry. It may seem obvious that a period of crisis would be one devoid of pleasure, but often the opposite is the case. The worst of times demand the most dedication to pleasure.”