Messianic Complexes

Before the Internet existed, geniuses with an unfaltering love of themselves flocked under the The Death of Chatterton, a painting by Henry Wallis.

Source: Wikipedia

That constant interplay of amour-propre and amour de soi, the fine line between self-esteem and pride we all must tread, was roped together with sterner stuff back then. At least the rhetoric that kept pride in check still had the mighty finger of eighteenth-century moralism wagging vigorously, but that changed as the story of Western civilization approached the mechanical destruction of humanity in the two Great Wars. Thomas Chatterton was to miss all that, Henry Wallis would be around for the first couple of years of the First World War, albeit a very old man with failing eyesight. The former did not poison himself to make a dramatic gesture but to escape the ravages of hunger and poverty. It also sounds like he was nuts, but it’s hard to tell of people who do not make it past eighteen. A boy’s pride is his life at that age.

The symbolic significance of Chatterton was forged by Wallis’s picture, but also by Wordsworth, Shelley, Rossetti, Coleridge, Byron, and a whole host of poets who saw in him a great subject for flights of Romantic fancy. In these immortal works of art we can find something that is lacking on the Internet, the culmination of human technological achievement: genuine pathos. If one looks at online discussions on public forums on general topics, the first response to any message will likely be someone trying to act as the valiant straight-talker whose skillful one-liner bursts the bubble of the emotional charge set up by whatever was said to initiate the discussion. One does not usually do this with the masters of English literature, because anyone who has taken time to learn to read them values their craft too much to pee in the proverbial pool. So, if we are to think of Chatterton as a martyr for some cause free for us to choose, let us think of him as our Messiah of pathos and civilized discussion thereof.

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