Friday, May 6, 2011

CB # 14 Generosity: An Enhancement

Generosity: An Enhancement by Richard Powers
                I read this a few weeks ago, but misplaced my copy so I can’t quote it extensively, which is what I really want to do. The writing in this novel is absolutely beautiful. Very rarely do I make markings in books, since I think it’s just cruel to destroy innocent books for no good reason. Even if I really love a quotation, I usually just write it down as soon as I see something beautiful in it. Generosity was different; I made markings all over the place. I couldn’t start writing it all down, so I kept everything.
                I was reminded of this novel when I read this article about the discovery of the happiness gene. Generosity is all about that same discovery and what it would actually mean for humanity. Russell runs a non-fiction writing class, and is a bit of a sad-sack. He’s surprised to read the writing of his student Thassadit and discover the amount of pain and suffering that she has lived through, including the Algerian Civil War. He is so massively surprised because she is such a happy person. She brings joy to the lives of her cynical classmates and she makes them notice the beauty of the world that she lives in. A parallel narrative thread follows the scientific search for the happiness gene. Obviously, the two stories get brought together and Powers questions if happiness is really all that good for us.
                Powers doesn’t like easy answers, or even answering things. I loved Gain, which I read for a class, and focused on the connections between capitalism and cancer, as reality and as a metaphor. Generosity has a similar intent. There are things we want to be able to control with science and with commerce, but maybe all our control is leading us in the completely wrong direction.

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