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By the way : Ode to melancholy and our melancholic President

| Sun, January 31 2010 | 02:32 pm

Sadness or melancholia is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, many great artists and writers thrived on melancholia.

Jackson Pollock, Franz Kafka, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald all produced some of their greatest works when they had to deal with terrible sadness.

In his controversial book Against Happiness: In Defense of Melancholia writer Eric G. Wilson argues that down is the new up, that deep sorrow and melancholia are in fact responsible for the birth of some of the masterpieces from the world's musical maestros.

In the book, Wilson tells the story of how Bruce Springsteen produced his low-key masterpiece Nebraska during a long bout of depression; Springsteen recorded most of the tracks on the album while receiving treatment for his depression.

Some of Beethoven's magnum opuses were written when the maestro was in despair over his asthma, gastric problems and the hearing loss that was starting to take its toll.

As mortality crept in, Beethoven declared that he would create works that would stand the test of time.

Just like the Boss and Beethoven, our current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is the kind of person who thrives on melancholia.

During the past six months, we have watched as SBY has turned into a very melancholic person, the kind of person who never hesitates to wear his heart on his sleeve.

And if there's one defining characteristic of the first three months of his second term in office, it must be melancholia.

Most of the time, he tries to present himself as someone who has been wronged by others, the little kid in elementary school who becomes the punching bag for jocks.

Remember when he said soon after the July bombings last year that there was a plot to assassinate him as part of an effort to derail his presidential bid? The statement was made soon after it became clear that he would be re-elected for the second term in office - in a landslide no less.

It is safe to say that he has founded his second term in office on being melancholic.

Throughout the Bank Century saga, Yudhoyono has been very consistent in dwelling on his melancholic mood.

When critics made the accusation that some members of Yudhoyono's family, campaign team and close aides received some of the bailout fund intended for the troubled bank, Yudhoyono responded by saying that it was a vicious slander designed to besmirch his clean image.

And when this newspaper ran a story about the likelihood of Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati being replaced for her key role in the Century scandal, Yudhoyono once again reverted to his melancholic mode.

"This is dirty politics, maybe they're trying to play off the finance minister and the President," he told the public, which apparently has not forgotten that he should be the one who calls all the shots.

It must be a drag being the President in this country and we must be forgiven for thinking that all that melancholia - the same strain that affected Springsteen and Beethoven - has brought the President's artistic vision to fruition.

The task of governing must be such an unbearably heavy load on his broad shoulders that the President has had to resort to the arts as an escape, even when he's only a little free time left for it.

Last week we finally got to sample the taste of the fruit of his melancholia, when he released his latest album Ku Yakin Sampai di Sana (I Believe I Will Get There),

To be honest, I confess I have not heard the album. But judging from the rave reviews it has received so far, it seems that when it comes to uplifting messages, this album would make U2 or Sting blush.

I mean, how can you go wrong with titles like "Jiwaku Terang Malam Ini" (My Soul was Enlightened Tonight) or "Untukmu Anak Manis" (For You, Sweet Children).

The cheery titles notwithstanding, the atmosphere of melancholia heavily colors this album.

If we can believe the judgment by ubercritic Remy Sylado that Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton - two singers who built their careers performing melancholic songs - were all over the record, Ku Yakin Sampai Di Sana is a masterwork that will likely stand the test of time.

And as more people rush to snap up a copy of this record, I cannot but hope that this President stays melancholic (perhaps from the additional problems that will likely pile up in the coming months), if only so he can continue to entertain us with his artistic works.

- M. Taufiqurrahman


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