Most people go through life chasing illusions of success, fame, wealth, happiness, and few things are more painful than the reality-revealing loss of an illusion. But if illusions are negative, why is the opposite, being disillusioned, also negative? In this essay based on his inaugural writer-in-residence lecture at Athabasca University, internationally acclaimed writer Steven Heighton mathematically evaluates the paradox of disillusionment and the negative aspects of hope. Drawing on writers such as Herman Melville, Leonard Cohen, Kate Chopin, and Thich Nhat Hanh, Heighton considers the influence of illusions on creativity, art, and society. This meditation on language and philosophy reveals the virtues of being disillusioned and, perhaps, the path to freedom.
Steven Heighton’s recent books include Reaching Mithymna: Among the Volunteers and Refugees on Lesvos and The Waking Comes Late, winner of the Governor General’s Award for Poetry. His work has appeared in Granta, the London Review of Books, Tin House, the New York Times, Best English Stories, Best American Poetry, and many editions of Best Canadian Stories. His 2011 book of memos and essays on creativity, Workbook, is now in its fourth printing. Heighton has taught writing or served as a writer-in-residence for McGill University, Massey College, Queen’s, Concordia, the Banff Centre, UPEI, University of Ottawa, SLS, Sage Hill, and, most recently, Athabasca University.