Charles Taylor’s 1992 book/essay The Ethics of Authenticity is about being true to oneself despite all the distractions that come with contemporary society. Jake Goldsmith’s book Neither Weak nor Obtuse (first published by Amazon in 2019, later reissued by Sagging Meniscus in 2022, which is the edition I have) has a similar mission but there is an added dimension.
Jake Goldsmith is the founder of The Barbellion Prize, which specialises in works by disabled authors or has themes of disability. The reason being that there is an underrepresentation. Jake Goldsmith also has a chronic illness and this essay (or series of essays) document what it is like living with one. This not a memoir rather a philosophy of illness.
Each essay has a different has a different topic but is better when taken as a whole. One is about the paradox of wanting to be recognised as ill but at the same time not being seen solely as a chronically ill person. Another essay is about being authentic and to not let society mislead a person (here’s where I was reminded of Taylor). The last two essays are more accessible in where Jake Goldsmith speaks about his literary influences and his reason for writing and , this is the most heartfelt section, whether he will be loved and be cared (not in the sense of being looked after) for even when life on earth is limited.
Popular media tends to present the chronically ill as people lying on a bed waiting for their time to end. Thankfully Jake Goldsmith’s book adds a wider perspective. What I got from this book was that the chronically ill person, aside from the pain from the illness, is to be viewed as a person not as someone sick despite how popular media may portray them. That there is room for discussion and, more importantly. love. As a follower and fan of The Barbellion Prize, I can say that this philosophy is also encapsulated in the choice of books featured in the longlists.
There’s a lot of food for thought here and although Neither Weak Nor Obtuse (the title itself a quote from Boris Pasternak which becomes clear as one reads each essay) can be read in one sitting, I did reread quite a few passages. Saying that all the arguments are laid clearly with useful footnotes should one not be familiar with the terms used and people referenced.
As a person who is not chronically ill , Neither Weak Nor Obtuse did change my way at looking things. Anything that creates an awareness is always something positive and I also emphasise that reading the books on the Barbellion Prize list will help extinguish those misguided thoughts.
Many thanks to Sagging Meniscus for providing a copy of Neither Weak Nor Obtuse.