Friday, March 26, 2010

The Mercy of Eternity

Here's the cover for my new book, coming out in the fall with Northwestern University Press. The catalog copy goes like this:

The Mercy of Eternity
A Memoir of Depression and Grace

Eric G. Wilson

In his bestselling book Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy (2008) Eric G. Wilson challenged our culture's blindly insistent pursuit of happiness at all costs. In his harrowing yet ultimately hopeful memoir The Mercy of Eternity the author turns an unsparing eye on his continuing struggle with bipolar depression, and finds within the very illness that causes so much suffering the resources for hope, forgiveness, and love.

Although it is Wilson's illness that brings these virtues into sharper relief, The Mercy of Eternity charts events and challenges that any reflective person must consider in his or her lifetime. A bright student-athlete on his way to West Point, Eric Wilson seemed to be well on the way to a fulfilling life, yet from his teen years he was haunted by overwhelming feelings of deep insignificance. As he aged, the traditional means of fulfillment—marriage and professional success—did nothing to assuage the descents into to darkness and destructive behavior.

As a scholar of literature, Eric Wilson often encounters the biggest question of life: is this suffering meaningful? From the Book of Job to Oedipus Rex to Hamlet to the poetry of Emily Dickinson, and beyond, writers have wrestled with a similar question. For most of his life, Wilson has tried to eradicate either the imagined or real sources of suffering. Therapy and medication have offered some relief, but the birth of his daughter ultimately forces his hand. In some ways, the answer was in front of him the whole time, for Wilson finds in the literature of Coleridge, Blake, and others the lessons the depression might teach. When he comes upon “negative theology”--the school of thought that finds God in “dark night of the soul”—Wilson discovers the framework for a radical call to forgive depression. Only by forgiving this capricious, impersonal force is Wilson able to find the grace to move beyond the cycles of destructive self-absorption.

In a refreshingly honest coda, Wilson explains his title, based on this passage from Blake: “Time is the mercy of eternity...without Time's swiftness, which is the swiftest of all things, all were eternal torment.” Wilson admits that he still struggles, but in facing his depression instead of trying to escape it he finds wisdom and grace. Beautifully and accessibly written, The Mercy of Eternity is a brief yet profound meditation on largest question of life.

Eric G. Wilson
is the Thomas H. Pritchard Professor of English at Wake Forest University. His previous book, Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy (2008) was a Los Angeles Times and Calgary Herald bestseller, and was featured on NBC’s “Today Show,” NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “Talk of the Nation,” the BBC’s “Today Programme,” and CBC’s “The Current.” It was also featured or reviewed in Newsweek, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, The Globe and Mail, among many others.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Eric, I am really interested in reading your book. The reviews allude to you finding God in the midst of your struggle, is this from a Christian perspective?