Monday, November 27, 2006

Angus Wilson On The Transatlantic Envy

... Envy wears an uglier face than lust's bloodshot eyes, or gluttony's paunch, or pride's camel nose, or avarice's thin lips.

This can be seen in the most distressing, foolish Envy of our time--anti-Americanism in Western Europe. To me European anti-Americanism is plain silly because it is suicidal, but there are, after all, not only Communist but tolerably argued neutralist views about this, and at times American policy inclines one to sympathize with such views. There are grievances against America which deserve consideration from everyone. But anti-Americanism is quite another thing; it is an impotent Envy which does nothing but disgrace the speaker. Listen to any county Englishman or his wife who in dislike of the changed social order seeks refuge in anti-American talk, hear the silly bray of their laugh, the frightened note that underlies their jokes about American brashness or crudity. Or, almost worse, hear a group of rich, beleaguered French or Italian or Spanish describing the necessity for a civilized Europe where American barbarism cannot interfere. There are few more nauseating sounds in the modern world; nauseating because like all envious sounds they make one feel ashamed for the emotions the speaker is betraying ...

That, of course, is why Envy is so unenviable a dominating emotion. All the seven deadly sins are self-destroying, morbid appetites, but their early stages at least lust and gluttony, avarice and sloth know some gratification, while anger and pride have power, even though that power eventually destroys itself. Envy is impotent, numbed with fear, yet never ceasing in its appetite; and it knows no gratification save endless self-torment. It has the ugliness of a trapped rat that has gnawed its own foot in its effort to escape.

Angus Wilson "Envy"