A Sudden, Inexorable and Appalling Fit of Unlust

I have just been reading an account of the suicide of Anthony Bourdain, a celebrated food critic who had, I must admit, never before penetrated the fastness of my consciousness. It appears that Bourdain made a name for himself by going to exotic places and pestering the locals with questions about their food. In announcing his death, his corporate employer said,

“His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller.”

Bourdain was 61, a year older than I, and so part of my generation. Indeed, he was to all outward appearance one of its blessed elect, for he embodied many of the virtues my generation esteems as cardinal. I see that Smithsonian once called him “the original rock star” of the culinary world, and believe they intended a compliment.

Bourdain’s first virtue was that he was “a unique storyteller,” at first writing his stories and then later recording them to be broadcast by CNN. I do not doubt that he did all of this very well, but here simply note that to do such a thing is the not so secret Cinderella fantasy of a sizeable chunk of my generation. O to be a writer, and more especially a writer who is discovered! I understand the glamor because this was my not so secret Cinderella fantasy, until I learned that I had been cast to play the part of Cinderella’s ugly stepsister and looked terrible in glass slippers.

Bourdain’s second virtue was to be a “rock star” in his telling of unique stories. I think the phrase “rock star’ is meant to combine the qualities of fabulous success and free spirit. A “rock star” gets rich without growing up and “selling his soul,” and to do this is another fantasy common among my generation. David Brooks called such characters Bobos, or bourgeois bohemians, because they are able to flourish in a corporate environment (i.e. they are “organization men”), but are also, at least in their own minds, mavericks, rebels, and iconoclasts.

Bourdain’s third virtue was to be a traveller, or to have what CNN describes as a love of “great adventure” and “new friends.” I know the call of wanderlust, and do not always turn up my nose at new friends, but there is madness in compulsive hankering after new experiences. As we learned during the fad for Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, compulsive traveling is a symptom of profound spiritual and sexual malaise. But my generation does not see madness and malaise in the man who is forever hailing a cab for the airport. It sees the stigmata of a saint.

Bourdain’s fourth virtue was, of course, his love of “fine food and drink,” for gourmandizing is to my generation what poetry was to the Victorians. This gourmandizing is a natural part of our dominant “pig philosophy,” the cognoscenti of which spice their hogwash with words. A glutton really likes food; a gourmand has reasons he really likes food. A gourmand is also, as Epicurus long ago taught, a rational hedonist with the intelligence and willpower to maximize his gustatory pleasure over the course of a lifetime.

Here is a photograph of the deceased, leaning against a bar just last year, in Port of Spain, Trinidad. You can see that he has the trim form of a rational hedonist, a true Epicurean, and will discern no hint of the paunch and jowls of a vulgar trencherman. For a great many people my age, this is a picture of a man who has led the good life in the philosopher’s sense of a life well lived. He is successful, but he is not a bug-man or corporate drone. Check out those tats! Check out those jeans!

And there he is in a faraway place, leaning against an authentic local bar, obviously waiting for an authentic local—perhaps a “new friend”—to return from taking an authentic leak. What could be better (my generation thinks) than to tip a few with a friendly native while the trade winds rattle the palms!

We do not know the cause of Bourdain’s final despair. He was on assignment in France when he was “found unresponsive” in his hotel room. One might have supposed that to be on assignment in France would be the height of felicity for a man like Bourdain. But a man at the height of felicity does not take his own life. For my part, I wonder if he was not, perhaps, afflicted by the acedia I described in my last post—if he did not perish in a sudden, inexorable and appalling fit of what Chaucer called unlust.

The article reporting Bourdain’s death notes that suicides increased twenty-five percent in the last two years, and another source tells us that suicide has now risen to the tenth most common cause of death in the United States. There is, of course, great variety in the motley hoard of hideous despairs that have yielded this grim statistic, but I suspect that the despair called Unlust may be, just now, doing more than his share. My generation lived for new experiences, and so we should not be surprised that it dies when it learns that the appetite for new experiences is a lust that does not last.

28 thoughts on “A Sudden, Inexorable and Appalling Fit of Unlust

  1. The New Yorker writer interviewed this morning on NPR for his reminiscences about Anthony Bourdain said that his friend’s lust for life made his suicide so shocking.

  2. Pingback: A Sudden, Inexorable and Appalling Fit of Unlust | @the_arv

  3. He just gave the ultimate ‘middle finger’ to the friends and everything else for which he professed his love. May the Lord God have mercy on his soul.

  4. Daughter is 11.
    Probably she will not read what you have written about her now departed father.
    Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

    • I hope I have not spoken ill of the dead. The suicide of a man who “had it all” naturally raises questions about the “all” that he had.

  5. The Breitbart story on Bourdain’s suicide includes this: “…after starring in the television show’s Cook’s Tour and No Reservations.” It took a moment to work it out. Simple plural nouns are being overrun by apostrophes. I beg your pardon; apostrophe’s.

  6. Bourdain “confessed” on air many times — or more accurately, he bragged — about his fits of cocaine addiction and alcoholism. I found him to be the consummate snob, a sneering narcissist-in-chief almost as sneeringly narcissistic as Obama. He “hanged himself.” So did David “Grasshopper” Carradine, who was a known aficionado of the bizarre practice of “auto-erotic asphyxiation.”

    • I was a fan of Kung Fu, so Carradine’s sordid end gave me a few things to think about. I knew the show was an illusion, but I never imagined it was such an illusion.

  7. Pingback: A Sudden, Inexorable and Appalling Fit of Unlust | Reaction Times

  8. It’s a curious feature of our times that a man wholly devoted to satisfying his appetites for carnal pleasure should be celebrated for it. Sadly, many would trade places with him if they could.

  9. I suspect you are correct that he died of “unlust”. It is a heartbreak to know anyone was in such pain, and I hope at the end he finally said “yes” when Jesus put the question to him. May God bless and keep his daughter, and give her understanding and assurance, so that she will not suffer lasting damage from Bourdain’s suicide.

    We loved “A Cook’s Tour”. That’s where Bourdain first got the “rock star” edge – he/the series was reminiscent of PJ O’Rourke and his dispatches from “Holidays in Hell”. We watched “No Reservations” for a while… but a few years ago, we stopped. He became bitter, and mean, and the formula became.. formulaic, right down to him downing a full bottle of something from which he would wake with a hang over the next morning. His vile NeverTrump behavior recently would have certainly turned us off… but we had turned him off already, years before.

  10. Recent posts I have read in the Orthosphere about culling one’s library as means of catharsis, including the post about being a transactional society, brings me to a point I have found to be true so many times about what ails the human soul. Our constant focus on the material at the expense of the immaterial things in the world have led too many people to a current state of mental anguish.

  11. There’s a LOT more to it . . . He fawned over Obama and in an interview in Hanoi, asked Obama questions using pedophile jargon (about putting ketchup on hot dogs) . . . He said he would poison Trump if given the chance . . . He recently tweeted unflattering things about Hillary Clinton and her goons . . . His girlfriend was the daughter of a Satanic filmmaker and was known to be a red witch, and was one of the first to publicly accuse Weinstein. Quite a tangled web. The question seems to be whether he was about to go public with ritual child abuse information and was whacked, or if he knew information pertaining to him was about to be made public and whacked himself.

  12. Dr. Smith, this is why I read your writing. I couldn’t care one fig (in the personal sense) for one Anthony Bourdain, and his suicide in itself is little more than a distant lamentable catastrophe.

    However, your commentary on contemporary events does not restrict itself to that shallow and dry wadi of the human spirit known as reporting, even witty and droll reporting. No, instead you have your eye and pen firmly fixed on an analysis of what our secular overlords consider ‘the human condition’, and how the spiritual nature of man will out even in these latter days of the relentless march of materialism.


  13. I generally enjoy your articles, but in this one you are wrong. Anthony Bourdain may be famous for his hedonism, but that is not what made him famous, the book Kitchen Confidentials did. And the power of that book lies preciselly in the clarity with which he was able to describe the beauty of very ordinary things, of routine work, of skill bought with pain, of common people insulting each other in playful manner.

    His fame made him lose all that and surprisingly didn’t deliver anything to justify the loss. Pretty cool story, if you ask me. Read the book.


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