Sunday, February 3, 2019

Above it all?

Desolation Lookout, where Jack Kerouac spent two months alone

According to author Joyce Johnson, her one-time lover, Jack Kerouac, viewed the world with sardonic detachment.

I saw some of myself when I read that phrase. Yeah, sardonic detachment.

Now, there’s some disagreement over what, exactly, it means to be sardonic. In the US, where wholesome positivity is a religion (see, I’m being sardonic), it has a dark connotation: disdainful, bitter, sneering, sarcastic. I see it more like the British, where sardonic is characterized as irony, mockery or derision. (The UK might be the capital of the sardonic attitude, if it isn’t France.)

To me, sardony (let’s pretend that’s a word) is the natural byproduct of not having one’s head up one’s ass, and of valuing truly worthwhile things. There’s so much in the world that deserves derision, so much silliness and stupidity expecting to be taken seriously. The Kardashians, for example.

I try to wrap my mockery in humor. Ridicule the ridiculous with more ridiculousness. Laugh about the laughable. Including myself.

Just as we can’t see the forest for the trees, it’s hard to spot the mock-worthy when you’re a participant in it. That’s where detachment comes into play.

The mental health profession considers detachment a problem, and it can be if it keeps you from functioning and having a good life. But sometimes detachment is the only way to remain mentally healthy and happy. Ask any introvert. (Me, for example.)

When you’re an outside observer it’s easier to measure the craziness against your values. We sardonic people do have values. We’re not nihilists. We’re simply selective.

I haven’t just mentally detached. I’m part of that minority who’ve physically detached as well. Less exposure to society means less reason to critique, which makes me happier. See, ignorance is bliss.


  1. Identification with the "Beat Generation"?

    1. A little. I was born in 1952, so I was too young for it.


  3. LOL!! A fine bit of rationalization there, olde chap.

  4. Show the positive in being sardonic. How does it positively influence your life ? Jack Kerouac was 47 yrs. old when he died from acute alcoholism. Negativity reduces your quality of life.

    1. Like most people, I grew up being counseled to not say anything at all if I couldn’t say something nice. Don’t criticize, don’t complain, think only good thoughts, and put on a happy face.

      Pretending to not think and feel the things I did, pretending things were fine, bottling all that up, made others happy but it drove me crazy. It was liberating to break free of that, to speak my mind. I became much happier, much more calm, much more my true self. I’m not sardonic 24/7, only as needed. Most of my time I’m just going happily about my life.

      A friend once said that everything that comes out of our body (except blood) makes us feel better. Tears, sneezes, snot, sweat, pee, poo… I think it’s the same with negativity. Don’t suppress it, let it out. Feel better. Live happier and longer.

      (So far, I’ve lived twenty years longer than Kerouac. And I rarely drink.)

  5. Wow I managed to out live Kerouac by 16 years, and I still have the occasional beer binge! My reason for being a total loner is I feel a lot less stupid when I don't hang around people which helps me to like myself more and be happy in my own little world.