I am not quite as taken with the article as Terry. I suppose it makes a change from Buntingesque laments about the misery of life to have someone decrying happiness, but the structure of the argument is the same. Wilson's intellectual melancholy is somehow authentic and constructive, whilst the happiness of the proles having fun is trivial, shallow and dangerous.
His comment that, "Only with the help of constant sorrow can this dying world be changed, enlivened, pushed to the new" is simply Catholicism transposed. It is also empirically untrue. Suffering does not automatically ennoble; many of those who have grown up with violence or abuse become violent or abusers themselves. Sorrow can breed justice, but it can also beget arbitrary hatred and revenge, allied to a complete indifference to the suffering of others.
When Wilson writes on aesthetics, he is on more solid ground as it is undeniable that some of the most ravishing art is painfully tragic. I love the novels of Hardy, but they are almost unbearable in the inevitability of tragedy, which runs through the plot of every book.
How then do we cope with sorrow in art, politics and the everyday, inevitable moments of grief in our own life? Sadness brings sympathy and tenderness, solidarity and friendship, but unrelieved sorrow is crippling. Francis got it right in comments when he mentioned the importance of hope. Hardy's novels are angry, but they point the way to a better world. They are not optimistic, expressing a blind faith that things will turn out for the best, but they are hopeful. The late American historian Christopher Lasch put this beautifully,
Hope does not demand a belief in progress. It demands a belief in justice: a conviction that the wicked will suffer, that wrongs will be made right … Hope implies a deep-seated trust in life that appears absurd to those who lack it.
Sorrow at the condition of the world may be a starting point, but the moment that hope bursts through the clouds of despair is the moment of revelation and transcendence. It is this that changes the world. But so too is the moment we have a good laugh. So come on lads, let's liven up a bit, raise a glass or two, and get back to the serious business of enjoying life. Here's something to help on the way.