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ha Table of Contents Sara Ahmed Happiness and Queer Politics Linda M. Austin John Stuart


ha Table of Contents Sara Ahmed Happiness and Queer Politics Linda M. Austin John Stuart Mill,
ha Table of Contents Sara Ahmed Happiness and Queer Politics Linda M. Austin John Stuart Mill,
ha Table of Contents Sara Ahmed Happiness and Queer Politics Linda M. Austin John Stuart Mill,
ha Table of Contents Sara Ahmed Happiness and Queer Politics Linda M. Austin John Stuart Mill,
ha Table of Contents Sara Ahmed Happiness and Queer Politics Linda M. Austin John Stuart Mill,
ha Table of Contents Sara Ahmed Happiness and Queer Politics Linda M. Austin John Stuart Mill,
ha Table of Contents Sara Ahmed Happiness and Queer Politics Linda M. Austin John Stuart Mill,
ha Table of Contents Sara Ahmed Happiness and Queer Politics Linda M. Austin John Stuart Mill,

Table of Contents

Adam Phillips in conversation with Jane Elliott and John David Rhodes The Value of Frustration

Brian Price On Compromises

Keston Sutherland Happiness in Writing

ISSN 1938-1700 © World Picture 2009

“The Value of Frustration”: An Interview with Adam Phillips

Jane Elliott and John David Rhodes

John David Rhodes: In various places in your work there’s clearly a kind of skepticism about aiming to be happy or choosing that as a kind of goal, and so, as a place to start, I wonder if happiness is the wrong word for a lot of other things we talk about—like contentment, or pleasure, or joy, equanimity—and if we might be better off calling those things by what they are and disentangling them from this larger term.

Adam Phillips: Yes. I think the risk is that it’s a kind of dead word because it does too much work, and that, in a way, it only becomes talkable about if you do precisely what you’ve described: break it down into all the things that it might involve for individual people at any given moment, otherwise it becomes so vague in a way, it becomes the sort of thing that no one would encourage anybody not to be, and yet, you don’t know what you’re doing when you’re encouraging them to be happy, exactly, because it contains a multitude of sins. So I think it would be better, in a way…I mean, there are two things I think. One is, it would be better to break it down. The other would be, given it’s such a prevalent word, to be able to say something about the work it does do. Because although we can say, “Let’s just drop that,” like the word “love,” and come up with all sorts of other words, it may be very interesting to know exactly how we use the word, even in its vagueness and weirdness.

Jane Elliott: Sort of along the lines of the work you did with sanity, looking at the kind of practices it includes, or the kind of conceptions it links together, rather than just displacing it altogether.

AP: Yes. And in way, presumably the thing to do would be just to see all the ways, all the places it just turns up, all the places one finds oneself using that word, and seeing what one might be getting at, what other people might be getting at. Because certainly people come for psychoanalysis when they’re unhappy; that doesn’t mean necessarily they want to be happy.

JDR: Right. There’s a line in your recent book on kindness about how people turn to psychoanalysis because they’re more unhappy than they can bear. So, I was thinking about the word “unhappy” and the idea of bearability, or what one can bear, which is something Sara Ahmed has been talking about recently. Would it be better to think about the aim of psychoanalysis not being about happiness but about the bearable life, as opposed to the good life?

AP: Yeah. I mean, I would have thought really, that’s really what people must be talking about if they’re talking psychoanalytically. Of course, it’s about pleasure, but it’s also about literally how much of yourself—your thoughts, feelings, desires—you can bear to think about, to feel, and to enact. What psychoanalysis adds to the conversation that complicates it is the pleasure of unbearability, or the pleasure one gets from being unhappy. And so I suppose that’s the thing that has to be added in here, which is the quest for unhappiness.

JE: One of things I’ve been thinking about is that although there is so much of a drive for happiness, obviously, in popular discourse—that we should always be wanting the next thing—there does seem to be at the moment some kind of counter-discourse that’s

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about somehow attenuating or getting away from one’s desire. I’m thinking of the Oprah culture, things like meditation, and yoga. As if happiness is sort of inversely proportionate to desire. It’s maybe a bastardized understanding of Buddhism, in a way. It’s as if we can somehow stop looking for the object, then we can be happy. It’s almost

as if getting out of the time of desire, where you are constantly looking to the future, is going to solve things, because you can just “be in the moment.” So I was wondering what you think of this counter-discourse. Does it seem to be doing any useful work, or is

it just another way of saying the same thing?

AP: It seems to me a good thing that people want to have conversations about the problems attached to desiring. I think what can’t work is being a sort of Buddhism tourist. I don’t think one is going to be able to simply appropriate, in a sort of supermarket-y way, other world religions as a solution to these problems. But I do think—and presumably the credit crunch has something to do with this—that it’s been very weird living as though there’s no such thing as scarcity, when in fact, in a way you could think there’s only scarcity. I think that people being able to have an ironic

relationship to their own desire and also be aware of the fact (or what seems to me to be

a fact anyway) that we don’t want what we want, in one sense, and also that we’re always

going to want something else, and that satisfaction is not the answer to life, so to speak. Partly because there isn’t an answer to life, but partly because satisfaction isn’t always the point. So I think what people should be talking about is…people should be trying to produce more eloquent, persuasive accounts about the value of frustration, not the value of satisfaction. And I think that the equation of happiness with forms of satisfaction is the problem.

JDR: Is it that they are mistakenly used one for the other?

AP: Yeah.

JDR: Or does satisfaction still remain in play in some way? Or is it it’s coupling with happiness that’s the problem, the coupling of satisfaction and happiness?

AP: I think it is that we’re bewitched by the idea of gratification and we’re bewitched by the idea that gratification is what we want and is the thing that will make us happy, as though there’s simply a sliding set of equations here. And anybody who gives it a moment’s thought knows it isn’t as simple as that.

JE: We were discussing earlier how when you read some of these accounts of “being in

the moment,” it actually sounds like what is being described is depression. Because when

I think of having no object of desire, that’s like being dead.

AP: It is. Yes.

JE: It’s a strange utopianism.

AP: Yes, I agree. There’s also a strange logic to it, as well. The question is whether the problem in desiring is the object of desire. Now, logically, you think it must be. So what you’ve got to do is remove the object of desire from the picture and then we’ll be okay. But in a way, you’re left with more of the problem. Because you can’t get around the fact that you’re a desiring creature. You may have different ways of relating to an object of


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desire, but you can’t, it seems to me, evacuate objects of desire. It’s all about the way in which one approaches them, or what one thinks one wants from them.

JE: In a way, the inverse of thinking that the next object will fix things is thinking that getting rid of the object will fix things.

AP: Yeah, exactly.

JDR: The object, even if it’s a mistaken object, needs to be there. There needs to be an object, because it’s what happens in the movement towards or away from it that’s important.

AP: Yeah.

AP: There’s a very interesting idea that has unsurprisingly fallen out of circulation that Ernest Jones had, which was the idea of aphanisis, which is loss of desire. His idea was— and it seems to me a good one, and it’s one that psychoanalysis for some reason has dropped—is the idea that the individual’s terror is the absence of desire, and that desire might be something like the thing that Miles Davis said—that he woke up for years and years with music in his head and then one day he didn’t. Desire might be something that we wake up every day with, but one day we might not. The question would be then whether there are desireless states that aren’t depression, or that don’t need to be pathologized as a way of managing them. Because it would seem to me that it’s as though the fundamental terror that capitalism exploits is that we might not want anything. That’s the thing that we’ve all got to talk each other out of. That we really want things; in fact we want loads of things. I think, in that—the fervor of that—happiness gets recruited.

JDR: Since we’re kind of talking around and about pleasure, it’s often that pleasure and happiness—and I don’t want to force us to return to the question of happiness because I think in some ways you’ve answered that question—appear proximately in some of your thinking. But it’s very clear that you never mistake them for one another; they’re never identified with one another. Should we be more concerned with pleasure, and then happiness or contentment is something that comes along in the wake of that?

AP: Yes, which may or may not occur.

JDR: I guess what I wonder is what is the relation among pleasure, happiness, and desire, what is in that triangulation?

AP: When you said that, what I thought was that, for me anyway, pleasure has to do with absorption, and it has do with absorption in something that is at least nominally outside oneself. And absorption is the prior thing, I presume, that’s pleasure-driven, so to speak, even though the pleasure to be derived from it may not be clear at all. And happiness may be a consequence of states of absorption, but it may not be. So it would seem to me that happiness is the thing that may or may not occur, but that as an object of desire, it’s a radically misleading one. But it may be one of the good things that happens as a consequence of states of absorption.

JE: Is absorption so frequently pleasurable because it has to do with release from consciousness?


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AP: Yes. Or release from consciousness as self-preoccupation. I think the project is— and actually, I think the project of psychoanalysis really is—to free people not to have to bother to be interested in themselves. What people—some people, anyway—are suffering from is self-absorption, and it’s actually the most boring game in town. There’s nothing in it, actually. The only interesting things, it seems to me, are outside oneself. Not because one is altruistic, but just because there’s nothing to be interested in in oneself, actually. Obviously it’s related to what’s going on inside oneself, but it’s to do with the external world. Happiness, if it’s going to be useful, is related to the sort of free loss of interest in oneself.

JDR: That connects to what you talk about when you use the word “vulnerability”—a making oneself vulnerable. Vulnerability in that sense is the opposite of repetition. Self- absorption is another word for repetition; vulnerability is a word for something different.

AP: Yes, exactly. That’s exactly right. I think vulnerability is a word for exchange and repetition is the word for the rendering impossible of exchange by stereotyping it.

JE: So repetition remains inside, in a sense.

AP: Yes, exactly. It would almost be like saying that what characterizes one’s so-called internal world is repetition, and that’s precisely the problem. That actually one is endlessly repetitious and monotonous, and the external world is infinitely variable. And the question is whether you can get from one to the other. It’s extremely difficult.

JDR: Do you think that’s also related to a question of futurity? It’s clear there’s narrative there, which is therefore temporal, which is then about…

AP: It’s very hard to know which comes first, though, isn’t it, because presumably repetition is the wish to preclude, to preempt the future. So this is something to do with being able to bear the idea of being in a state of exchange with the future, which is by definition unknowable. So that it really is about unpredictability. So one of the things we should be educating children in is not just the dangers of unpredictability—which are fairly obvious—but the pleasures of unpredictability, too. Because only there is the possibility of getting outside oneself.

JE: One of the recent articles on happiness in which you were quoted brought up the etymology that it has to do with “hap” as in happenstance and chance and luck. If real happiness requires some kind of openness to contingency, is luck some way of trying to change that into something that is always good, to get out of the contingent, to make it something more bearable?

AP: Or simply, it’s a way of describing being able to take your chances. Something like that. Luck, presumably, if it isn’t called luck—whatever else it could be called—the things that happen that one has not organized for oneself (which are most things, presumably), the question is what you can make of them, what you can transform them into. And good luck is presumably the chance occurrence that you transform to your own benefit in some way, and therefore you feel it is good luck. Because it isn’t necessarily good luck to win the lottery. You may make it good luck. But in and of itself…

JE: It could be a disaster.


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AP: Absolutely.

JDR: It’s way of reading or interpreting.

JE: It’s a way of negotiating the agency involved in happiness. Of owning it or not.

AP: Yes. I think the problem is having the illusion that one knows what one wants. And the reason that frustration is important is because frustration contains the possibility of discovering a new want. What usually happens is because we can’t bear frustration, we fill it with a known want. This has to do with the repetition problem. It’s very, very difficult, actually, to be surprised by one’s desires. Surprisingly difficult. As though there is a set [of desires]. Now presumably there is a set—it can’t be infinite—but it may not be anything like as limited as one thinks it is. I imagine that one is limiting it out of anxiety. The reason we have what we think of as obvious sexual preferences, foods we definitely like and definitely don’t like, and so on, is because there is some anxiety about not narrowing the range. It’s like agoraphobia. We could want anything. Not literally anything, but my guess is that we could probably want a lot of things. I think we could like a lot more people than we do, for example, but we can’t. We just can’t let ourselves.

JE: We just can’t bear it.

AP: No, we can’t take it.

JDR: But we can’t think ourselves there. You can’t will yourself into that discovery, right? You kind of suspend yourself in an ambiance in which something new can emerge. It seems like the new thing has to emerge, but you can’t find it.

AP: Yes. Or you depend on something other than yourself to make it possible. You can’t just dream it up and go and do it. That’s the wrong picture. The right picture is that you dream up all sorts of things, and then things happen to you that are neither what you dreamt up nor what happened to you. If you see what I mean. But you can keep on generating something out of that exchange.

JE: Since you mentioned lots of other people…One of the reasons we decided to focus this issue on happiness was the election of Obama. Obviously there was a huge outpouring of catharsis and joy over his election, but there was sort of a counter-reaction from the academic left. Judith Butler, for instance, published an article online about this, saying that this was very dangerous, that we need to retain critique, we need to resist these emotions. I wonder if there is some kind of resistance to the idea of collective happiness, as if in any group larger than one, or possibly a family, it’s very dangerous. Most people don’t talk about happiness beyond the individual or the relationship. Is there a more interesting or more productive way of thinking about collective happiness, or is it always dangerous?

AP: There must be a link in this example, mustn’t there, between happiness and hope and a deferred future. I would have thought the problem here is the terror of hope. It’s as though what isn’t acknowledged publicly is how ambivalent we are about hope, as though it’s an unequivocal good. Hope is very, very dangerous and potentially poisonous, or poisonous for some people, because what can’t be borne is the inevitable disappointment. Because hope would be a great thing if it sort of got you to


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disappointment, then you got through disappointment and you got to the next bit. But often this process stalls, and at that point there’s a great deal of rage or vengefulness or bitterness or cynicism or whatever, and that’s the threshold, because ideally, if we could organize this, people should be encouraged to hope exorbitantly and enabled to bear the consequences of these hopes being thwarted. And that means, not exactly realized.

JE: Do you have to make the hope different the next time?

AP: I don’t believe in learning from experience.

JE: How do you avoid it not being repetition?

AP: That’s the problem. And maybe that’s what Judith Butler’s on about, although I think she’s wrong. I haven’t read the article, but her belief may be that critique will keep us sane and sober, so we’ll hope better.

JE: There’s a kind of intellect versus emotion binary in a lot of these pieces.

AP: Yes, I can believe that. I think, I really think we should just accept the intractability of this, that we are creatures who hope, that the more in despair we are, the more we will hope exorbitantly, and the more there is the potential for catastrophic disillusionment. The acid test in anything is always going to be, how people deal with catastrophic disillusionment, which we’ve all had an experience of, without taking refuge in cynicism or bitterness or vengefulness. If that’s possible, then something can happen. And usually it isn’t.

JE: I think one of the fears at work in a lot of this writing is the fear that disappointment would drive people away. There’s an intuition that that could happen, that this disappointment is around the corner, and therefore we can’t give in to the hope.

AP: Yes, exactly. And they’ll give up on politics, or they’ll give up on communality.

JE: Because this is the one chance.

AP: I mean, that’s the problem, in a way, with happiness being offered as the object of desire. As a lure, the risk of it is that when people discover that they simply can’t have access to the happiness that they were promised, what they will then turn into, what they will then do about it. And that must be the source of political and personal terror.

JE: Because we all seem to have an intuition that bad things will come out then, probably also from personal experience.

AP: Yeah, yes, exactly. I think we’re right. There’s both a superstition and there’s a regulation of excitement going on, because we know—because we’ve had the experience ourselves—that disappointment doesn’t bring out the best in us. And there’s always going to be disappointment. It doesn’t mean you have to think you’re living in a veil of tears, but one of the things you’re living in inevitably is a range of disappointments. They don’t have to be cataclysmic, but they can be.

JE: To go back a little bit to the idea of collective happiness, do you think that the resistance to a feeling of joy in communality has something to do with twentieth-century


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history? Is it a necessary worry? I almost feel that there’s a sense that any kind of large group emotion is equivalent to Fascism.

AP: Yes, it’s tainted by Fascism, isn’t it? Or it’s tainted by cults, or religious fundamentalism, or whatever. But it would seem to me that there is a tremendous longing. I mean, one of the things presumably that individualism has been the solution to is communal disappointment, but I think the primary longing is for that communal pleasure. That’s the real thing. I think everybody feels that. Maybe not everybody feels that, but a lot of people feel that. But people are very frightened—and understandably frightened—of what happens when large groups of people get together, because large groups are mad. But so are individuals. It’s not as though the large groups are madder than individuals; they’re just madder in different ways. And I think that’s part of the problem. But I think there’s an increasing feeling that people don’t have anything in common. Actually, they have everything in common, but the feeling is they have nothing in common. And in-commonness is the point. In other words, it isn’t taken for granted. It’s as though it’s something we have to make, or find. And I think without that there is a lot of despair.

JE: It’s almost as if there’s a fear that we want that so badly that we will countenance terrible things to have it.

AP: Yes. Or we’ll do everything we can to avoid it, so we won’t have to face the dealing with it, so it will be held in place as a longing. But there must be a communal possibility somewhere, or a viable political ideal somewhere, but not for us, not now.

JE: Because for it actually to be instantiated would be…

AP: You’d have to do deal with it. It would be real.

JE: In that sense, you could see some of these articles as trying to insist that it’s not happening.

AP: Yes. Or to regulate the possibility that it might be.

JE: To keep it controlled.

AP: Yes. Or at bay in some way.

JDR: It’s a eugenic version of political success. Because it can’t see the end of the story that it wants to be told, then it has to make sure that we’re forever waiting for the right moment to commence the prologue.

JE: I’ve been reading this woman’s blog called “The Happiness Project,” which is really annoying, but one of the things I notice that she says that a lot of self-help discourse for women is also saying is that it’s better not to achieve parity in your marriage in terms of childcare or housework because you’ll just get angry. You won’t ever get it, so it’s better not to try to get it. You’ll be happier if you just do all the dishes and don’t worry about it. There’s an interesting idea here about the relation between happiness and justice that, in some ways, to try to make things fair or to pay attention to inequality is to make yourself crazy. Is happiness, as it’s conceived now, an obstacle to thinking about justice?


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AP: Well, yes, it could be. Because that sounds terrible, and presumably part of the problem with it is the assumption that happiness comes from states of non-conflict, whereas actually it would be better to say that conflict is the point. People should be seeking out conflicts, not avoiding them, and bearing with that, because that’s the only way that anything’s going to happen. So that the wish to avoid conflict is actually the wish for quiescence; it’s actually the most cynical position, I think, covertly.

JDR: Implicitly apolitical in that sense.

AP: Yes, exactly. So the idea that happiness equals harmony is absolutely misleading.

JE: It’s strange, too, because it really suggests that you need to ignore a tremendous amount to be happy.

AP: So happiness equals denial of reality.

JE: Yes, basically.

AP: As long as you can deny enough reality, you’ll be fine. Which is a way of saying that actually in reality there is no happiness. So as long as we can delude ourselves we can be happy. So it’s actually not a viable project anyway.

JE: Absolutely not viable. It’s another way of thinking about the insidiousness of happiness discourse: it can be used to say, “Don’t worry about what you’re not getting. Don’t worry about what’s not fair, because that will just make you miserable.”

AP: Happiness discourse makes people retarded, it seems to me. When people get into promoting happiness, they become stupid, as though the very word is an attack on one’s intelligence. It’s a way of not thinking. It becomes like a secular religious language of the most debilitating sort. It’s a way of simplifying one’s mind.

JDR: You can see it happen with artists. Bernardo Bertolucci makes less interesting movies after he becomes a Buddhist, essentially. Actually, since I’ve brought up the aesthetic, Jane and I are both interested in the way that works of art—often literature— figure in your thinking at various key moments. I’m interested in the insistence with which you think about or ask us to think about psychoanalysis in aesthetic terms—as a story that we tell ourselves. I’m thinking about the function of the indefinite article there:

the fact that it’s a story, and the fact that it’s a story. There’s something really inviting, and hopeful, and pleasurable about that formulation, about the indefiniteness of the article and about the possibility of narrative, the way that narrative is so vitally at the foundation of whatever this project of psychoanalysis is. I want to ask you what you think the productivity of the indefiniteness of these narratives is?

AP: Well, the thing about this is that it comes out of having a psychoanalytic training. This is not the cause, but it’s one of the sources. Because when I trained there was a prevalent view that psychoanalysis was the story; that really everything could be understood within its language, that it was the comprehensive language, it was the supreme fiction. Not a supreme fiction—it was the supreme truth. Now if you happen to have studied literature before you enter into psychoanalysis, this just seemed astounding really, in a way. I mean, I was astounded. I was very young, but I was astounded. And the way in which it is a puzzling issue is because, of course, in one sense, psychoanalysis isn’t


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a story; it’s an incredibly powerful one, if you happen to find it powerful. People are not Freudians in the way they’re Shakespearians. It’s a different sort of thing. Well that really interests me. I haven’t got anything to say about it particularly, but it really did engage me, that—that these stories could be so compelling and so explanatory and so satisfying, and yet knowing that they were competing with a lot of other stories. I mean, I’d much rather read Wallace Stevens than read Freud. There’s no doubt about it, just in terms of my pleasure, my engagement, my looking forward to it, and so on. But—but Freud’s got really useful—to me—compelling and interesting things to say about what we’re like. It’s a good language because it gives me more amusement, more pleasure than a lot of other languages. So I think it’s difficult to be clear about this, but I think psychoanalysis is good for the people who find it useful and interesting. Just that. It couldn’t be a universal thing that people are resisting and so on. Of course it’s also an interesting idea that the reason you might not like somebody or something is because you’re resisting them. I mean, I think that’s a good idea. It’s a bad idea if it’s taken to be the absolute truth or the only way. So I’m completely puzzled by this and I’m puzzled by, I think, presumably by something that we’re all puzzled by in some way, which is why some stories get a grip, what works about them. All of us have got ideas about why psychoanalysis has got a grip. But it’s got a grip on me in that, I can’t exactly say that it works, and for some reason I value it because it doesn’t work, but it’s a way of talking that makes it possible for people to feel and think and live differently. I believe that to be true. Some people. So the question is, if you don’t believe in psychoanalysis, and your friend is unhappy, what do you recommend they do? That seems to me the question. It’s not that it’s the best thing, because it isn’t. It’s the best thing for some people sometime, but there is the issue of what you advise people to do when they’re suffering in certain ways. And it seems to me one of the best things going now for some forms of suffering for some people. And in that sense, it’s not a narrative; it’s the narrative. It includes within itself the possibility of being critical of it, so that when you do it, I, as the analyst, might say something that the other person finds useful, interesting, and then you’d also want to know why they believe you. You’re doing two things at once that are potentially quite illuminating. Which is, we’re having this conversation, it’s useful to you, presumably, which is why you keep coming. But the other thing we need to work out is why you might be predisposed to give my words this kind of seriousness or gravity, significance. Not as if to say they’re not really important, but as if to say we don’t really know what their importance is, and we could maybe say something about that between us. But it’s about the possibility of it not being assumed that one person is more authoritative than another.

JDR: There’s a kind of terror, though, in just thinking about the concept of being interesting, from my own experience of being in psychoanalysis. I was terrified before each meeting with my analyst that whatever I was going to say wasn’t going to be interesting enough, and then I was also worried that whatever she might offer back I might not find interesting, as well. That performance anxiety, which is about being interesting, which is somehow about telling an interesting story—is that—and I’m also feeling my own anxiety about asking an interesting question—does that need to be there in some way? Is that a necessary fear?

AP: I think so.

JDR: I mean, obviously it’s about transference and counter-transference, but then what happens if you fail to be interesting? Does that mean that there’s nothing for anyone to work with?


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AP: Well, no. I think the beauty of the situation is—because I regret bandying the word interesting around because it doesn’t address this that you’re talking about—this is not a comment about you, obviously.

JDR: It can be. [laughter]

AP: If somebody comes, as everybody does come, with an anxiety one way or the other about how interesting they are, I assume that they’re talking about an experience of not being able to hold somebody’s attention, an experience we’ve all had. That however much our mothers and our fathers loved us and were interested in us, there were times when they weren’t, and that really was difficult to deal with. And so presumably we did at least two things. One is we tried to step up our performance to engage them, and we did other things like retreated, sulked, got enraged, tried to find other people and so on. So that that would be integral to the situation, that two people are going to wonder whether they can hold each other’s attention, and that’s what you analyze. You will try to understand both how that came about and what the self-cure has been for that. So in your example, I’d say, your self-cure has been to try and be interesting, let’s say. Well that’s part of a repertoire, most of which is repressed, of self-cures for this problem. Because, for example, when your mother wasn’t interested in you, it could have freed you to go and do something else, or it could have made you think, “Well, fuck her.” Or, “I’ll find somebody else and make her jealous,” or whatever, but there are a lot of possibilities. It’s a fundamental anxiety. And the trouble is, if you bandy around the thing about people being interesting, you step up the anxiety about it. [laughter]. Which is a bad thing.

JE: Would the goal be to try to recover the other self-cures to make the repertoire bigger, or…

AP: Well, I think the goal would be partly simply to show what the other alternatives might be and why they might be resisted and why one has become fixed in one’s self- cure. It would be something like that. But the fundamental predicament is intractable.

JDR: Coming in and wanting to be interesting, again the fixation is too much on the object, and it becomes another word for a kind of contentedness or happiness. It becomes another useless word or a dead word.

AP: Yes. But you can see how the wish to be interesting—which presumably we must all have—is such a mad idea, partly because it’s an attempt to imagine what the other person wants from oneself, which, of course, one can’t help but do that, but it’s unfathomable because they don’t know either. So it’s a labyrinth, which is presumably why we’re so obsessed by it.

JE: We think it’s merely a triangle, or reflexive, but it’s not.

AP: But it’s infinite.

JE: I guess in relation to this you can’t help but think about the infamously boring happy families that are the antithesis to narrative. There could be understood to be a kind of opposition between happiness and complexity, which would seem to make happiness a dead-end for art. Does happiness actually have anything to offer the aesthetic?


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AP: I would have thought in this sense that happiness is the repressed. That, so far, people haven’t been able to write interestingly enough about happiness, but I don’t think that we should conclude from that that it isn’t very interesting.

JE: Or that it’s non-narrative.

AP: Yeah. It seems to me that, for all sorts of reasons, we have assumed that all the unacceptable things about ourselves, all the difficult things are the interesting things; that’s what we’re going to articulate. It’s a bit like, children take for granted the good things about their parents and they remember the frustrations. It would be very interesting to undo that, to make an equally plausible case for saying that what’s unarticulated is happiness. There’s a tremendous resistance to finding vocabularies for happiness, whereas, weirdly enough, there’s a tremendous eagerness to complain, so to speak, or to speak fearfully.

JE: To sort of survey our archive of suffering.

AP: Yeah.

JDR: We think of happiness as so connected to or—mistakenly—identical to joy or certain kinds of intensities that can’t be sustained in a kind of narrative context. You can write a lyric poem about a truly joyful, ecstatic state, but that somehow can’t be sustained, so, as long as we think of that as a model for happiness, then happiness remains unnarrated in some way.

AP: Yes. And by the same token, we could actually feel much more exposed talking about our pleasures and our happinesses than about our miseries.

JE: From that perspective, when we say that happiness is boring, we’re rehearsing our resistance, because to find something boring…

AP: Is itself a resistance. There’s something about it that you don’t want to go into.

JE: That you prefer to find dull.

JDR: But also then happiness is the thing that makes it possible for us to like other people, so that might also be something that we’re repressing.

AP: I think that’s right.

JDR: Which comes back to the question of commonality as a site or object of repression.

AP: And also, happiness is an object of envy. One of the things that happiness does is it stimulates envy.

JE: Which is another reason to resist thinking about it too much.

AP: Yes, exactly.

JE: It seems to me there’s a straightforward reading of the resistance to happiness which would say that, on some level, we can’t bear the fact that we were happiest with our


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parents and we can’t be there, we had to leave. So therefore it’s better not to think that we were ever happy there, or to not think that happiness is very interesting. Do you think that’s too…

AP: I believe that, but the other bit might be—which is a more difficult thing to think about, which I think is a dilemma for children—when the moment—if it is a moment— when they discover that there are pleasures not provided by the family. That creates an interminable and insoluble problem, because I think the deal is, all good things must come from the family. So if you begin to find a pleasure outside the family or that is not within the family’s realm, then this is radically confounding. So I think there might be two bits to it. One is, our original states of happiness were in that family and they’re lost forever, and if we wanted to try and recreate those forms we would have to strive in the external world in ways that might feel difficult. And then there are the pleasures that were not in the family. So I think it’s both sides of the line, and they’re both difficult in different ways.

JE: Why do we feel it’s forbidden to have pleasure outside of the family? Why do we feel that so intuitively when we first encounter the outside pleasure?

AP: I think because our mothers and fathers demand—they need us to need them. It’s intrinsically narcissistic. It’s disloyal and it’s endangering, because insofar as it’s disloyal, you lose their protection, so you’re radically unmoored when you’re going after that thing outside the family.

JDR: Rings true.

JE: You’ve extracted yourself in this terrifying way that you want to undo as soon as possible.

AP: You’re too free. And that must be what the fear of freedom existentialist thing is about. It’s about when you sacrifice your protection for your desire.

JE: So you think there could be an aesthetic of happiness, but we just don’t have it?

AP: Yeah, I really do.

JE: It might require a different temporality than we’re used to.

AP: I think it might. I agree. And it would involve us not giving up on all our versions of original sin, but being able to see that if there’s an idea of original sin, then there’s another idea of, not original virtue, but of original something else that original sin is invented to manage. And it could be something like original ecstasy, or original bliss, but that’s as real, in it’s way.

JDR: I remember hearing you give a talk on modernism awhile back in which you described that modernism wants to make it new, but that we are all doomed to repetition. I’ve been thinking about some recent work that’s trying to find an ethics of modernism in and around its complexity. On the one hand, a lot of this work extends out of a professed desire, or rather a professed belief in the value of the aesthetic as the aesthetic, but actually what it ends up doing is converting the aesthetic—particularly


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modernism—into an ethical medium. Because it’s harder to understand or harder to read, it makes us better subjects. We make more careful political and erotic choices.

JE: It’s supposed to make us self-reflexive.

JDR: So that reflexivity in the aesthetic becomes reflexivity in our ethical lives. It’s an attractive argument, but it’s predicated on an anxiety about the aesthetic. That it might not be good for you, actually. Or it might not be anything.

AP: Yes. It might just be morally equivocal.

JDR: I think the argument extends from a crisis in the humanities, like, what are we doing here talking about books?

AP: If it makes no difference.

JDR: If it might not make someone vote properly.

AP: Certainly I was educated to believe that if you were a good reader, you were a good reader of life, fundamentally, and you would be less prone to Fascist suggestion and you’d be less bully-able, less intimidate-able. But, of course, the moment you fall in love, this completely falls out of the window. The moment those basic experiences happen to you, you cease to be a good reader, or you become a hyper-good reader, but not the reader you’ve been educated to believe you should be. Because you’re then precipitated into that world of proto-Fascism, proto-servility, all that stuff. So, in a way, there is some idealization of language here, it seems to me, or idealization of reading. Although I think reading’s a good thing.

JDR: We can’t be the better subjects that we want to be without it, at least for those of us already in it, if we feel like we’re leading the lives that are close to, or near, or directed towards the lives we think we ought to lead, then reading figures very importantly in that, but it’s hard to imagine that it figures in the same way for everyone. It’s certainly not the magic bullet.

AP: What I find baffling is that, for me, it’s the experience of reading that I like. Just doing it, just that. One of the reasons that I couldn’t be an academic is because I find it incredibly difficult to talk about the things that I read. I can do it, and in some ways it’s really interesting. But the Leavis thing, which I was more or less educated in, said that the reading was a means to the end of making you a morally better subject and certainly makes you aware of morality as an issue, gives you a language for that, but what it never talked about at all simply was the pleasure of reading, about which there might not be very much to be said, except I know—like a lot of people who read—I read, for example, to insulate myself from my own family.

JE: I always felt that I was very lucky that reading was coded as moral because I used it like heroin. I was just lucky that it wasn’t considered masturbation.

AP: Quite. I mean, without it, where would we have gone in our families? Or where would we have gone in adolescence to escape from real bodies?


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JE: I still feel that I manage my two relationships to literature by having a division in the two different bodies of work that I write about. Sometimes they creep into one another, but I try to keep an eddy of fiction that is merely comforting.

JDR: I almost feel sorry for people who grow up in literary families or academic families, because then that experience is already assumed to be what will happen.

AP: It’s very hard not to be literary and to have a sense of inner superiority. The people I was educated with, that was, broadly speaking, the result.

JE: I guess that’s what we’re trying to get away from.

JDR: I do think that until we find a really convincing way of talking about what we do in studying literature or the aesthetic that is not entirely beholden to an ethical discourse, then our eclipse will only draw nearer.

JE: I’m confused, though, because I feel like what we’re saying is that we need to resist a kind of instrumentalization, but we’ve had that discourse as well. In a sense, it’s the Trilling argument, which holds that the instrumentality of literature is that it refuses to be instrumentalized, that it can’t be put in the service of ideology. I feel like we’ve already gone down that road, as well.

JDR: That’s true.

JE: I’m not sure that there’s a third way.

AP: There may be a third way, but I think dreamwork is a good idea. As today is the dream day, various things may be significant to us or not, but things are being picked up that we might dream and then, were we to talk about them, things will be revealed. Well, reading could be part of the dream day, so that it has an impact, but of an indiscernible kind, that it’s fundamentally untrackable. All we know is that we love reading and we do quite a lot of that, but the way that it comes out in the wash is extremely unpredictable. So it’s not instrumental in a calculated way—although we can calculate it, we can teach it and do all sorts of things—but it has its way with us in some way, and we usually don’t know what it is. It’s a real problem in psychoanalysis because without the moral line, there’s no reason to do it. Either there’s a story about why it makes you better in some way or other or why would anybody do it?

Adam Phillips is a psychoanalyst and writer.

Jane Elliott is on the Advisory Board of World Picture and is the author of Popular Feminist Fiction as American Allegory: Representing National Time (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). She teaches at the University of York (UK).

John David Rhodes is an editor of World Picture.


Happiness and Queer Politics 1

Sara Ahmed

“You might have a good story there,” Dick said, “but … you cannot make homosexuality attractive. No happy ending…” In other words, my heroine has to decide she’s not really queer”… “That’s it. And the one she’s involved with is sick or crazy.” —Vin Packer

In this exchange Vin Packer, author of the first best selling lesbian pulp novel Spring Fire first published in 1952, comes to an agreement with her publisher. The novel will be published, but only on condition that it does not have a happy ending, as such an ending would “make homosexuality attractive.” 2 Queer fiction in this period could not give happiness to its characters as queers; such a gift would be readable as making queers appear “good”: as the “promotion” of the social value of queer lives; or an attempt to influence readers to become queer.

Somewhat ironically, then, the unhappy ending becomes a political gift: it provides a means through which queer fiction could be published. If the unhappy ending was an effect of censorship, it also provided a means for overcoming censorship. So although Packer expresses regret for the compromise of its ending in her introduction to the new issue of Spring Fire published in 2004, she also suggests that while it “may have satisfied the post office inspections, the homosexual audience would not have believed it for a minute. But they also wouldn’t care that much, because more important was the fact there was a new book about us.” 3 The unhappy ending satisfies the censors whilst also enabling the gay and lesbian audience to be satisfied; we are not obliged to “believe” in the unhappy ending by taking the ending literally, as “evidence” that lesbians and gays must turn straight, die or go mad. What mattered was the existence of “a new book about us.”

We can see that reading unhappy endings in queer archives is a complicated matter. A literal reading suggests that the very distinction between happy and unhappy endings “works” to secure a moral distinction between good and bad lives. When we read this unhappy queer archive (which is not the only queer archive) we must resist this literalism, which means an active disbelief in the necessary alignment of the happy with the good, or even in the moral transparency of the good itself. Rather than reading unhappy endings as a sign of the withholding of a moral approval for queer lives, we would consider how unhappiness circulates within and around this archive, and what it allows us to do.

My aim in this essay is to consider unhappy queers as a crucial aspect of queer genealogy. As Heather Love has argued “We need a genealogy of queer affect that does not overlook the negative, shameful and difficult feelings that have been so central to queer existence in the last century.” 4 Scholars such as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Elspeth Probyn and Sally Munt have offered us powerful defenses of the potentialities of shame for queer politics. 5 I will consider what it might mean to affirm unhappiness, or at least not to overlook it. We can explore how queer literatures locate and attribute unhappiness and how, in doing so, they offer us an alternative approach to happiness as a positive, but perhaps still rather difficult, feeling. 6

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In rethinking happiness through queer politics, I turn to the classic novel The Well of Loneliness. Lisa Walker has argued that “The Well’s status as the lesbian novel is inseparable from its reputation as the most depressing lesbian novel ever written.” 7 The Well has even been described as a “narrative of damnation,” which gives “the homosexual, particularly the lesbian, riddling images of pity, self-pity and of terror.” 8 The book has been criticized for making its readers feel sad and wretched, perhaps even causing queer unhappiness. I would not dismiss such criticisms: they are part of our shared archive. Indeed, the very expression of unhappiness about unhappiness is what makes this archive work; the threads of negative affect weave together a shared inheritance. We can, of course, inherit unhappiness differently. I will read novels such as The Well of Loneliness as part of a genealogy of unhappy queers. I will also consider how being happily queer might involve a different orientation to the causes of unhappiness, by reflecting on the novels Rubyfruit Jungle and Babyji.

Happy Objects Happiness is about what happens, where the what is something good. I do not assume there is something called happiness that stands apart or has autonomy, as if it corresponds to an object in the world. I begin instead with the messiness of the experiential, the unfolding of bodies into worlds, and what I called in Queer Phenomenology the drama of contingency, how we are touched by what we are near. 9 The etymology of “happiness” relates precisely to the question of contingency: it is from the Middle English “hap,” suggesting chance. Happiness is about what happens. Such a meaning now seems archaic:

we may be more used to thinking of happiness as an effect of what you do, as a reward for hard work, rather than as being “simply” what happens to you. But I find the original meaning useful, as it focuses our attention on the “worldly” question of happenings.

What is the relation between the “what” in “what happens” and the “what” that makes us happy? Empiricism provides us with a useful way of addressing this question, given its concern with “what’s what.” Take the work of seventeenth century empiricist philosopher John Locke. He argues that what is good is what is “apt to cause or increase pleasure, or diminish pain in us.” 10 We judge something to be good or bad according to how it affects us, whether it gives us a pleasure or pain. Locke uses the example of the man that loves grapes. He argues that “when a man declares…that he loves grapes, it is no more, but that the taste of grapes delights him.” 11 Locke points out that we find different things agreeable. As he suggests: “as pleasant tastes depend not on the things themselves, but their agreeability to this or that palate, wherein there is great variety; so the greatest happiness consists in having those things which produce the greatest pleasure.” 12 For Locke, happiness is idiosyncratic: if we find different things delightful, then happiness consists in having different things.

At one level, Locke’s story seems quite casual. I happen upon something, and if it happens to affect me in a good way, then it is happy for me, or I am happy with it. I want to suggest that the history of happiness is not quite so casual: one history of happiness is the history of the removal of the hap from happiness. Happiness becomes not what might happen, but what will happen if you live your life in the right way. That happiness can signal a “right way” suggests that happiness is already given to certain objects. We can


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arrive at some things because they point us toward happiness, as if to find happiness would be to follow their point.

Objects can thus be associated with affects before they are even encountered. We need to rethink the relationship between objects, affects and causality. In The Will to Power, Nietzsche suggests that the attribution of causality is retrospective. 13 We might assume then, that the experience of pain is caused by the nail near our foot. But we only notice the nail given we experience an affect. The object of feeling lags behind the feeling. The lag is not simply temporal, but involves active forms of mediation. We search for the object: or as Nietzsche describes “a reason is sought in persons, experiences, etc. for why one feels this way or that.” 14

We can loosen the bond between the object and the affect by recognizing the form of their bond. The object is understood retrospectively as the cause of the feeling. Having been understood in this way, I can just apprehend the nail and I will experience a pain affect, given the association between the object and the affect has been given. The object becomes a feeling-cause. Once an object is a feeling-cause, it can cause feeling, so that when we feel the feeling we expect to feel, we are affirmed. The retrospective causality of affect that Nietzsche describes quickly converts into what we could call an anticipatory causality. We can even anticipate an affect without being retrospective insofar as objects might acquire the value of proximities that are not derived from our own experience. For example, with fear-causes, a child might be told not to go near an object in advance of its arrival. Some things more than others are encountered as “to-be-feared” in the event of proximity, which is exactly how we can understood the anticipatory logic of the discourse of stranger danger. 15

We also anticipate that an object will cause happiness in advance of its arrival; the object enters our near sphere with positive affective value already in place. What makes this argument different from John Locke’s account of loving grapes because they taste delightful is that the judgment about certain objects as being “happy” is already made before we happen upon them. Indeed, we might happen upon things because they are already attributed as happiness causes. So the child might be asked to imagine happiness by imagining “happy events” in the future, such as a wedding day, “the happiest day of your life.”

Perhaps this day happens because it is expected to be the happiest. We can just expect happiness from this or that to end up feeling disappointed. Arlie Russell Hoshchild, in her book The Managed Heart, explores how if a bride is not happy on the wedding day and even feels “depressed and upset” then she is experiencing an “inappropriate affect,” 16 or is being affected inappropriately. The bride has to “save the day” by feeling right: “sensing a gap between the ideal feeling and the actual feeling she tolerated, the bride prompts herself to be happy.” 17 The capacity to “save the day” depends on the bride being able to make her self be affected in the right way or at least being able to persuade others that she is being affected in the right way. When it can be said “the bride looked happy” then the expectation of happiness has become the happiness of expectation. To correct our feelings is to become disaffected from a former affectation: the bride makes herself happy by stopping herself being miserable. Of course we learn from this example that it is possible not to inhabit fully one’s own happiness, or even to be alienated from one’s happiness, if


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the former affection remains lively, or if one is made uneasy by the labor of making oneself feel a certain way. Uneasiness might persist in the very feeling of being happy, as a feeling of unease with the happiness you are in.

The apparent chanciness of happiness can be qualified: we do not just find happy objects anywhere. For a life to count as a good life, then it must return the debt of its life by taking on the direction promised as a social good, which means imagining one’s futurity in terms of reaching certain points along a life course. Happiness might be how we reach such points, though it is not necessarily how we feel when we get there.

We are directed by happiness toward certain things. The promise of happiness takes this form: if you have this or have that, or if you do this or do that, then happiness is what follows. Lauren Berlant usefully suggests that the object of desire could be rethought as a “cluster of promises.” 18 Happiness is promised through proximity to certain objects, which might be how objects cluster, becoming promising, becoming proximate. This is why the social bond is always sensational. We have a bond if we place our hopes for happiness in the same things.

Objects that promise happiness are passed around, accumulating positive affective value as social goods. When we pass happy objects around, it is not necessarily the feeling that passes. To share in such objects, or have a share in such objects, means simply that you share an orientation toward those objects as being good. Take the example of the happy family. The family might be happy not because it causes happiness, or not even because it affects us in a good way, but if we share an orientation toward the family as being good, as being what promises happiness in return for loyalty. Such an orientation shapes what we do; you have to “make” and “keep” the family, which directs how you spend your time, energy and resources. Being oriented toward the family might make certain kinds of things proximate: tables, photographs, objects that are passed down through generations. The table, for example, gives form to the family, as the tangible thing over which the family gathers 19 . The table is happy when it secures this point.

To be oriented toward the family does not mean inhabiting the same place. After all, as we know from Locke, pleasures can be idiosyncratic. Families may give one a sense of having “a place at the table” through the conversion of idiosyncratic difference into a happy object: love “happily” means knowing the peculiarity of a loved other’s likes. Love becomes an intimacy with what the other likes (rather than simply liking what the other likes), and is given on condition that such likes do not take us outside a shared horizon. The horizon of happiness is a horizon of likes.

Sharing a horizon is not necessarily to feel alike. Think about experiences of alienation. When we feel pleasure from happy objects, we are aligned; we are facing the right way. We become alienated—out of line with an affective community—when we are not happy in proximity to objects that are attributed as being good. The gap between the affective value of an object and how we experience an object can involve a range of affects, which are directed by the modes of explanation we offer to fill this gap. I have already commented on the labor of trying to close the gap between an expectation and a feeling. When we cannot close the gap, we are disappointed; we are even disappointed by our inability to overcome our disappointment. Such disappointment can also involve an


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anxious narrative of self-doubt (why I am not made happy by this, what is wrong with me?) or (my own preferred response) a narrative of rage, where the object that is supposed to make us happy is attributed as the cause of disappointment. Your rage might be directed against the object that fails to deliver its promise, or spill out toward those who promised you happiness through the elevation of such things as good. We become strangers, or affect aliens, in such moments.

What passes when we pass happy objects around will remain an open and empirical question. After all, the word “passing” can mean not only “to send over” or “to transmit,” but also to transform objects by “a sleight of hand.” Like the game Telephone, what passes between proximate bodies might be affective precisely because it deviates and even perverts what was “sent out.” Affects involve perversion; and what we can describe as conversion points.

One of my key questions is how such conversions happen, and “who” or “what” gets seen as converting bad feeling into good feeling and good into bad. When I hear people say “the bad feeling” is coming from “this person” or “that person” I am never convinced. I am sure a lot of my skepticism is shaped by childhood experiences of being the feminist daughter in a conventional family home. Say, we are seated at the dinner table. Around this table, the family gathers, having polite conversations, where only certain things can be brought up. Someone says something you find problematic. You respond carefully, perhaps. You might be speaking quietly, but you are beginning to feel “wound up,” recognizing with frustration that you are being wound up by someone who is winding you up. Let us take seriously the figure of the feminist killjoy. Does the feminist kill other people’s joy by pointing out moments of sexism? Or does she expose the bad feelings that get hidden, displaced or negated under public signs of joy? The feminist is an affect alien; not only is she not made happy by the objects that are supposed to cause happiness, but her failure to be happy is read as sabotaging the happiness of others.

We can place the figure of the feminist kill joy alongside the angry black woman, explored by black feminist writers such as Audre Lorde and bell hooks. 20 The angry black woman could also be described as a kill-joy; she may even kill feminist joy, for example, by pointing out forms of racism within feminist politics. bell hooks describes for us how the arrival of a woman of color disturbs a shared atmosphere: “a group of white feminist activists who do not know one another may be present at a meeting to discuss feminist theory. They may feel bonded on the basis of shared womanhood, but the atmosphere will noticeably change when a woman of color enters the room. The white women will become tense, no longer relaxed, no longer celebratory.” 21

It is not just that feelings are “in tension,” but that the tension is located somewhere: in being felt by some bodies, it is attributed as caused by another body, who thus comes to be felt as apart from the group, as getting in the way of its presumed organic enjoyment and solidarity. The body of color is attributed as the cause of becoming tense, which is also the loss of a shared atmosphere. hooks shows how as a feminist of color you do not even have to say anything to cause tension. The mere proximity of some bodies involves an affective conversion. To get along you have to go along with things that might mean for some not even being able to enter the room. We learn from this example how histories are


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condensed in the very intangibility of an atmosphere, or in the tangibility of the bodies that seem always to “get in the way” of the happiness of others.

Making Others Happy

Robert Heinlin’s definition of love “is a condition in which the happiness of another is

essential to your own. 22 It is perhaps a truism that to love another is to want their happiness. Whether or not we agree with this truth, we can learn from its status as truth.

I want to turn to a text from the eighteenth century, Rousseau’s Émile, first published in

1762, which was crucial for how it re-defined education and for the role it gave to happiness. The story is told in the first person, by a narrator whose duty is to instruct a young orphan Émile, in order that he can take up his place in the world. Rousseau also offers a model not only of what a good education would do for his Émile, but also for Émile’s would-be wife, Sophy, whom he introduces in the fifth book. Sophie must become

a good woman. As Rousseau describes, the good woman:

loves virtue because there is nothing fairer in itself. She loves it because it is a woman’s glory and because a virtuous woman is little lower than the angels; she loves virtue as the only road to real happiness, because she sees nothing but poverty, neglect, unhappiness, shame and disgrace in the life of the bad woman; she loves virtue because it is dear to her revered father, and to her tender and worthy mother; they are not content to be happy in their own virtue, they desire hers; and she finds her chief happiness in the hope of just making them happy! 23

The complexity of this statement should not be underestimated. She loves virtue as it is the road to happiness; unhappiness and disgrace follow from being bad. The good woman loves what is good because what is good is what is loved by her parents. The parents desire not only what is good; they desire their daughter to be good. The daughter desires to be good to give them what they desire. For her to be happy, she must be good, as being good is what makes them happy, and she can only be happy if they are happy.

It might seem that what we can call “conditional happiness,” when one person’s happiness is made conditional on another person’s, involves a form of generosity: a refusal to have a share in a happiness that cannot be shared. And yet the terms of conditionality are unequal. If certain people come first—we might say those who are already in place (such as parents, hosts or citizens)—then their happiness comes first. For those who are positioned as coming after, happiness means following somebody else’s goods.

I suggested earlier that we might share a social bond if the same objects make us happy. I

am now arguing that happiness itself can become the shared object. Or to be more precise, if one person’s happiness comes first, then their happiness becomes a shared object. Max Scheler’s differentiation between communities of feeling and fellow-feeling might help explain the significance of this argument. In communities of feeling, we share feelings because we share the same object of feeling. Fellow-feeling would be when I feel sorrow about your grief although I do not share your object of grief: “all fellow-feeling involves intentional reference of the feeling of joy or sorrow to the other person’s experience.” 24 I would speculate that in everyday life these different forms of shared


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feeling can be confused because the object of feeling is sometimes but not always exterior to the feeling that is shared.

Say I am happy about your happiness. Your happiness is with x. If I share x, then your happiness and my happiness is not only shared, but can accumulate through being given out and returned. Or I can simply disregard x: if my happiness is directed “just” toward your happiness, and you are happy about x, the exteriority of x can disappear or cease to matter (although it can reappear). In cases where I am also affected by x, and I do not share your happiness with x, I might become uneasy and ambivalent: I am made happy by your happiness but I am not made happy by what makes you happy. The exteriority of x would then announce itself as a point of crisis. I might take up what makes you happy as what makes me happy, which may involve compromising my own idea of happiness (so I will go along with x in order to make you happy even if x does not “really” make me happy). In order to preserve the happiness of all, we might even conceal from ourselves our unhappiness with x, or try and persuade ourselves that x matters less than the happiness of the other who is made happy by x. 25

We have a hint of the rather uneasy dynamics of conditional happiness in Émile. For Sophy wanting to make her parents happy commits her in a certain direction, regardless of what she might or might not want. If she can only be happy if they are happy then she must do what makes them happy. In one episode, the father speaks to the daughter about becoming a woman: “you are a big girl now, Sophy, you will soon be a woman. We want you to be happy, for our sakes as well as yours, for our happiness depends on yours. A good girl finds her own happiness in the happiness of a good man.” 26 For the daughter not to go along with the parent’s desire for marriage would be not only to cause her parents unhappiness, but would threaten the very reproduction of social form. The daughter has a duty to reproduce the form of the family, which means taking up the c ause of parental happiness as h er own.

We learn from reading books such as Émile how much happiness is used as a technology or instrument, which allows the re-orientation of individual desire towards a common good. We also learn from reading such books how happiness is not simply instrumental, but works as an idea or aspiration within everyday life, shaping the very terms in which individuals share their world with others. We do things when we speak of happiness, when we put happiness into words.

Let’s take the statement: I am happy if you are. Such a statement can be attributed, as a way of sharing an evaluation of an object. I could be saying I am happy about something if you are happy about something. The statement, though, does not require an object to mediate between the “I” and the “you”; the “you” can be the object, can be what my happiness is dependent upon. I will only be happy if you are. To say I will be happy only if you are happy means that I will be unhappy if you are unhappy. Your unhappiness would make me unhappy. Given this, you might be obliged to conceal your unhappiness to preserve my happiness:

You must be happy for me.

I am not saying that such speech acts always translate in quite this way. But we can learn from how the desire for the happiness of others can be the point at which they are bound to be happy for us. If to love another is to want their happiness, then love might


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be experienced as the duty to be happy for another. It is interesting that when we speak of wanting the happiness of the loved other we often hesitate with the signifier “just.” “I just want you to be happy.” What does it mean to want “just” happiness? What does it mean for a parent to say this to a child? We might assume that the desire just for the child’s happiness would offer a certain kind of freedom, as if to say: “I don’t want you to be this, or to do that; I just want you to be or to do “whatever” makes you happy.” You could say that the “whatever” seems to release us from the obligation of the “what”. The desire just for the child’s happiness seems to offer the freedom of a certain indifference to the content of a decision.

Let’s take the psychic drama of the queer child. You might say that the queer child is an unhappy object for many parents. In some parental responses to the child coming out, this unhappiness is not so much expressed as being unhappy about the child being queer, but as being unhappy about the child being unhappy. Take the following exchange from the novel, Annie on My Mind (1982) by Nancy Garden:

“Lisa”, my father said, “I told you I’d support you and I will….But honey… I have to say to you I’ve never thought gay people can be very happy—no children for one thing, no real family life. Honey, you are probably going to be a very good architect – but I want you to be happy in other ways, too, as your mother is, to have a husband and children. I know you can do both….” I am happy, I tried to tell him with my eyes. I’m happy with Annie; she and my work are all I’ll ever need; she’s happy too—we both were until this happened. 27

This speech act functions powerfully. The parent makes an act of identification with an imagined future of necessary and inevitable unhappiness. Such identification through grief about what the child will lose, reminds us that the queer life is already constructed as an unhappy life, as a life without the “things” that make you happy: a husband and children. The desire for the child’s happiness is far from indifferent. The speech act, “I just want you to be happy” is directive at the very point of its imagined indifference.

For the daughter, it is only the eyes that can speak; and they try to tell an alternative story about happiness and unhappiness. In her response, she claims happiness, for sure. She is happy “with Annie”; which is to say, she is happy with this relationship and this life that it will commit her to. The power of the unspoken response is lodged in the use of the word “until”: we were happy “until” this happened. The father’s speech act creates the very affective state of unhappiness that is imagined to be the inevitable consequence of the daughter’s decision. When “this” happens, unhappiness does follow.

The social struggle within families is often a struggle over the causes of unhappiness. The father is unhappy as he thinks the daughter will be unhappy if she is queer. The daughter is unhappy as the father is unhappy with her being queer. The father witnesses the daughter’s unhappiness as a sign of the truth of his position: she will be unhappy because she is queer. Even the happy queer becomes unhappy at this point. And clearly the family can only be maintained as a happy object, as being what is anticipated to cause happiness, by making the unhappiness of the queer child its point.


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The speech act “I just want you to be happy” can be used as a form of tolerance or acceptance in coming out stories. A contrasting example to Annie on My Mind was presented in Dana’s story of coming out to her parents in The L Word. After trying to persuade her daughter to give up desire for duty, her mother eventually says: “I can see that you’ve found love. It doesn’t matter what form it takes as long as it makes you happy”.

It is always paradoxical to say something does not matter: when you have to say something does not matter it usually implies that it does. Recognition can withdraw the approval it gives. What does it mean for recognition to be made conditional on happiness? I have suggested that some things more than others are attributed as happiness causes. In this occasion, the couple are asking for parental blessing of their marriage: a straight way of doing queer love, perhaps. If queers, in order to be recognized, have to the approximate signs of happiness, then they might have to minimize signs of queerness. In other words, being turned by happiness can mean being turned toward the social forms in which hopes for happiness have already been deposited. One thinks of the final film in If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000, dir. Anne Heche): the happy image in the end is of a white middle- class lesbian couple who are pregnant: they dance around their immaculate house, and everything seems to shimmer with its nearness to ordinary scenes of happy domesticity. Their happiness amounts to achieving relative proximity to the good life. 28 If this is a form of optimism, then it might be a “cruel optimism” as Laurent Berlant describes so well. You follow certain ways of life in the hope that you will catch happiness on the way, even if, or perhaps more cruelly, even because, they embody the scenes of past rejection.

You can see why we might want to embrace the figure of the unhappy queer, rather than placing our hopes in an alternative figure of the happy queer. The unhappy queer is unhappy with the world that reads queers as unhappy. The risk of promoting happy queers is that the unhappiness of this world could disappear from view. Take some of the responses to the Canadian lesbian film, Lost and Delirious, released in 2001 (directed by Léa Pool). In the film, two girls fall in love. One cannot bear giving up on the life promised by acceptance into heterosexuality, so she gives up her love. The other cannot bear life without her love so gives up her life. Critics described the film as “dated.” One critic even suggests the film is “time-warped,” as if it is twisted out of shape in its representation of something that is no longer. 29

The implication of such descriptions is that queers can now come out, be accepted and be happy. The good faith in queer progression can be a form of bad faith. Those of us committed to queer life know that forms of recognition are either precariously conditional—you have to be the right kind of queer by depositing your hope for happiness in the right places—or it is simply not given. Not only is recognition not given, but it is often not given in places that are not noticeable to those who do not need to be recognized, which helps sustain the illusion that it is given (which, in turn, means if you say that it has not been given, you are read as paranoid). Indeed, the illusion that same sex object choices have become accepted and acceptable (that civil partnerships mean queer civility) both conceals the ongoing realities of discrimination, non-recognition and violence, and requires that we approximate the straight signs of civility. We must stay unhappy with this world.


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The recognition of queers can be narrated as the hope or promise of becoming acceptable, where in being acceptable you must become acceptable to a world that has already decided what is acceptable. Recognition becomes a gift given from the straight world to queers, which conceals long histories of queer labor and struggle, 30 the life worlds generated by queer activism, which has created a “place at the table” in the hope that the table won’t keep its place. It is as if such recognition is a form of straight hospitality, which in turn positions happy queers as guests in other people’s homes, reliant on their continuing good will. In such a world you are asked to be grateful for the bits and pieces that you are given. To be a guest is to experience a moral obligation to be on “your best behavior” such that to refuse to fulfill this obligation would be to threaten your right to co-existence. The happy queer, the one who has good manners, who is seated at the table in the right way, might be a strategic form of occupying an uncivil world. But strategic occupations can keep things in place. Or we can keep in place by the effort of an occupation. I think we know this.

There are of course good reasons for telling stories about queer happiness, in response and as a response to the presumption that a queer life is necessarily and inevitably an unhappy life. 31 We just have to hear the violence of Michael’s tragic comment, “show me a happy homosexual and I’ll show you a gay corpse” from Matt Crowley’s 1968 play, “The Boys in the Band” to be reminded of these reasons. 32 And yet, at the same time, and perhaps even for the same reasons, we can see why telling stories about queer unhappiness might matter. Being attributed as the cause of unhappiness has unhappy effects. It might be the pain of not being recognized. It might be the conditions of recognition. It might even be the work required to counter the perception of your life as unhappy: the very pressure to be happy in order to show that you are not unhappy can create unhappiness, to be sure.

Unhappiness and Deviation Happiness scripts are powerful even when we fail or refuse to follow them, when our desires deviate from their straight lines. In this way, the scripts speak a certain truth:

deviation can involve unhappiness. The “whole world” it might seem depends on your being directed in the right way, towards the right kind of things. The unhappiness of the deviant has a powerful function as a perverse promise (if you do this, you will get that!), a promise that simultaneously offers a threat (so don’t do that!). To deviate is always to risk a world even when you don’t lose the world you risk. Queer histories are the histories of those who are willing to risk the consequences of deviation.

The history of the word “unhappy” teaches us about the unhappiness of the history of happiness. In its earliest uses, unhappy meant “causing misfortune or trouble.” Only later, did it come to mean “miserable in lot or circumstances” or “wretched in mind.” 33 We can learn from the swiftness of the translation between being attributed as the cause of unhappiness and being described as unhappy. We must learn.

The word “wretched” also has a suggestive genealogy, coming from wretch, referring to a stranger, exile, or banished person. The wretch is not only the one driven out of their native country, but is also defined as one who is “sunk in deep distress, sorrow, misfortune, or poverty,” “a miserable, unhappy, or unfortunate person,” “a poor or hapless


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being,” and even “a vile, sorry, or despicable person.” Can we rewrite the history of happiness from the point of view of the wretch? If we listen to those who are cast as wretched, perhaps their wretchedness would no longer belong to them. The sorrow of the stranger might give us a different angle on happiness not because it teaches us what it is like or must be like to be a stranger, but because it might estrange us from the happiness of the familiar.

It is hard when your very arrival into the world becomes the cause of unhappiness. We could take any number of sad queer books and they would show us this. Take The Well of Loneliness. The book tells the story of Stephen, described throughout as an invert, whose life hurtles towards “the tragic and miserable ending” which seems the only available plot for inversion. 34 Throughout the novel, Stephen has a series of tragic and doomed love affairs, ending with her relationship with Mary Lewellyn, described as “the child, the friend, the belovèd,” 35 . The novel does not give us a happy ending, and this seems partly its point: Stephen gives up Mary as a way of relieving her from the burden of their love.

Every sad book has its moments, the moments when it is all “too much,” when a life, a body, a world, becomes unbearable. Turning points are usually breaking points. A key turning point in the novel is when Stephen and Mary arrive at Alec’s bar, a space in which the “miserable army” of the inverted and perverted reside. Stephen is approached by Adolphe Blanc, a “gentle and learned Jew.” He says to her:

In this little room, tonight, every night, there is so much misery, so much despair that the walls seem almost too narrow to contain it. Yet outside there are happy people who sleep, the sleep of the so-called just and righteous. When they wake it will be to persecute those who, through no fault of their own, have been set apart from the day of their birth, deprived of all sympathy, all understanding. They are thoughtless, these happy people who sleep. 36

In this extraordinary passage, Adolphe Blanc speaks what we could call the truth of the novel: the happiness of the straight world is a form of injustice. Heterosexual happiness is narrated as a social wrong, as based on the unthinking exclusion of those whose difference is already narrated as deprivation. The unhappiness of the deviant performs a claim for justice.

At one point, Stephen and Mary are rejected by a woman who had befriended them. She rejects them to protect her own reputation and the reputation of her daughter. She sends them a letter announcing that she has been forced “to break off our friendship” and asks them not to come to her house for Christmas as had been planned. 37 In other words, to protect her family’s happiness she has to reject proximity to those who might “stain” her reputation, those who are already attributed as unhappiness causes, as being or embodying the unhappiness they are assumed to cause. They are no longer welcome at the family table; they cannot share the celebration.

We can see from this example how happiness can be fearful and defensive. You might refuse proximity to somebody out of fear that they will take your happiness away. To be rejected in order to preserve the happiness of others can mean that you experience the feelings that are attributed to you: “Then it seemed to Stephen that all the pain that had


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so far been thrust upon her by existence, was as nothing to the unendurable pain which she must now bear to hear that sobbing, to see Mary thus wounded, and utterly crushed, thus shamed and humbled for the sake of their love, thus bereft of all dignity and protection.” 38 Stephen cannot bear the unhappiness that she witnesses on the face of the beloved. It is because the world is unhappy with queer love that queers become unhappy; because queer love is an unhappiness-cause for the others whom they love, who share their place of residence. It is not then that queers feel sad or wretched right from the beginning. Queer unhappiness does not provide us with a beginning. Certain subjects might appear as sad or wretched, or might even become sad or wretched because they are perceived as lacking what causes happiness.

It does seem like we hurtle towards our miserable ending, when Stephen gives Mary up, by appearing to give Mary to Martin. The association between queer fates and fatality seems partly the point. For some readers this ending is evidence that the novel does not place its own hopes for happiness within lesbianism. Jay Prosser, for instance, argues “that Stephen gives up Mary to Martin Hallam in spite of Mary’s devotion to her indicates that the invert functions not as a figure for lesbianism—a lure or a construct—but precisely as its refusal. Through her passing over Mary (both passing over her and passing her over to Martin), Stephen affirms her identification with the heterosexual man.” 39 I want to read what is being affirmed by Stephen’s gesture quite differently. Does Stephen give Mary to Martin as Prosser suggests? I want to suggest that an alternative gift economy is at stake. Take the following passage:

Never before had she seen so clearly all that was lacking to Mary Llewellyn, all that would pass from her faltering grasp, perhaps never to return, with the passing of Martin—children, a home that the world will respect, ties of affection that the world would hold sacred, the blessèd security and the peace of being released from the world’s persecution. And suddenly Martin appeared to Stephen as a creature endowed with incalculable bounty, having in his hands all those priceless gifts which she, love’s mendicant could never offer. Only one gift she could offer to love, to Mary, and that was the gift of Martin. 40

Stephen does not give Mary to Martin. She gives Martin to Mary. She gives Martin to Mary as a way of giving Mary access to a happiness that she cannot give. This gift signals not a failure to love, but a form of love: it is because the world is unhappy with their love that Stephen cannot be the cause of Mary’s happiness.

We can see the problems of the idea that love is to cause or to want to cause happiness for a queer politics given a world in which queerness is read as wretched. In other words, a queer lover might not be able to cause happiness for her beloved if her beloved cannot bear being rejected by the straight world. We could of course point to a counter history of queers who have caused other queers to be happy through their love, even if the world has not been happy with such love. But I do wonder whether a queer definition of love might want to separate love from happiness, given how happiness tends to come with rather straight conditions. I thus offer Simone Weil’s definition of love as a queer definition:

“Love on the part of someone who is happy is the wish to share the suffering of the beloved who is unhappy. Love on the part of someone who is unhappy is to be filled with joy by the mere knowledge that his beloved is happy without sharing in this happiness or


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even wishing to do so.” 41 Queer love might involve happiness only by insisting that such happiness is not what is shared.

Stephen might not insist on sharing Mary’s happiness, but it is her desire for Mary’s happiness that leads to the awkward gift of Martin. We do not know, in the novel, whether Mary receives this gift: we are not given an ending for Mary, as Clare Hemmings observes. 42 Perhaps the point is that Mary’s happiness cannot be told, as Mary’s “real story has yet to be told” as Esther Newton describes. 43 If anything, for Mary, Stephen’s gesture is lived as a death: “A mist closing down, a thick black mist. Someone pushing the girl away, without speaking. Mary’s queer voice coming out of the gloom, muffled by the folds of the black mist, only a word here and there getting through: ‘All my life I’ve given…you’ve killed…I loved you…Cruel, oh cruel! You’re unspeakably cruel…’ Then the sound of the rough and pitiful sobbing.” 44 Martin does arrive at this moment, but only because Stephen has put him there.

Perhaps the injustice of the ending is the presumption that Mary’s happiness depends on being given up. Or does the ending give up on happiness by giving Mary up? This alternative ending does not convert unhappiness into happiness, but does something else with unhappiness. For in the moment Stephen gives up on happiness, she feels a bond of unhappiness with those who share the signs of inversion:

Rockets of pain, burning rockets of pain—their pain, her pain, all welded together into one consuming agony. Rockets of pain that shot up and burst, dropping scorching tears of fire on the spirit—her pain, their pain…all the misery at Alec’s. And the press and the clamour of those countless others—they fought, they trampled, they were getting her under. In their madness to become articulate through her, they were tearing her to pieces, getting her under. They were everywhere now, cutting off her retreat: neither bolts nor bars would avail to save her. The walls fell down and crumbed before them; at the cry of their suffering the walls fell and crumbled: “We are coming, Stephen—we are still coming on, and our name is legion—you dare not disown us!” She raised her arms, trying to ward them off, but they closed in and in: “You dare not disown us!” They possessed her. Her barren womb became fruitful—it ached with its fearful and sterile burden. It ached with the fierce yet helpless children who would clamour in vain for their right to salvation. 45

What is striking for me is the switch between “her pain, their pain” and “their pain, her pain”; the passage weaves the stories of pain together. She comes to embody this pain, to speak it, to articulate it. At this moment, the moment when she seems most on her own, she is also most connected to others. And at this very moment, this moment of madness, “the walls fell down.” This is an image of revolution: the walls that contain the misery are brought down: an un-housing that is not only a call for arms, but a disturbance in the very grounds for happiness, insofar as the happy folk, those who sleep, those who do not have to think, depend on misery being kept under ground. Indeed, the moment of revolution is a new form of reproduction, a reproduction of another kind of life form, a queer life form, perhaps. Queer unhappiness offers a rather deviant form of fertility.

In The Well of Loneliness, the solution to a world that is unhappy with queer love is to give up the possibility of queer happiness and revolt against the world. It does not follow that


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queers must become unhappy even if we are attributed as the origin of familial and social unhappiness. We know after all that queer history is a history of loves that are not given up. We have behind us many stories of queers who are neither made unhappy by causing unhappiness, nor who try and become happy by minimizing the signs of their queerness. Take for example Rita Mae Brown’s novel Rubyfruit Jungle, first published in 1973, which tells the story of Molly Bolt. One of the first lesbian books I read, it is for me a very happy object. I love it. I loved Molly, for her fierceness, her defiance, her willingness to get into trouble.

Molly follows her desires, wherever they take her. The story of the book is a story of her conquests, and there are many. She says in response to a question from a lover about how many women she has slept with: “Hundreds. I’m irresistible.” 46 She still has to live with consequences of her deviation. When she is called into the dean's office at University of Florida after her lesbian behavior has been reported, Molly is asked by the dean about her problem with girls, and replies:

“Dean Marne, I don’t have any problems relating to girls and I’m in love with my roommate. She makes me happy.” Her scraggly red eyebrows with the brown pencil glaring through shot up. “Is this relationship with Faye Raider of an, uh—intimate nature?” “We fuck, if that’s what you’re after.” I think her womb collapsed on that one. Sputtering, she pressed forward. “Don’t you find that somewhat of an aberration? Doesn’t this disturb you, my dear?” 47

Rather than being disturbed by being found disturbing, Molly performs the ultimate act of defiance, by claiming her happiness as abnormal. To be happily queer is to explore the unhappiness of what gets counted as normal. It is as if queers, by doing what they want, expose the unhappiness of having to sacrifice personal desires, in the perversity of their twists and turns, for the happiness of others. 48

Even the ending of the book is not happy—Molly is the only one from film school who is not offered a break: “No, I wasn’t surprised, but it still brought me down. I kept hoping against hope that I’d be the bright exception, the talented token that smashed sex and class barriers. Hurrah for her. After all, I was the best in my class, didn’t that count for something?” 49 And yet, we don’t end there, with the loss of hope. For Molly articulates a wish that at the very least, she can be the “hottest fifty-year-old this side of the Mississippi.” 50 To be happily queer is to hope that queerness is what will endure life’s struggle.

This is not to say we always have to struggle to be queer. We can also turn to another more recent novel narrated by a happily queer subject, Babyji, published by Abha Dawesar in 2005. Set in India, this novel is written from the point of view of Anamika Sharma, a fun, smart, spirited and sexy teenager, who seduces three women: an older divorcee she names India, a servant girl called Rani, and her school friend Sheela. As a character, Anamika is very appealing. Everyone desires her, wants something from her, such that the reader is encouraged to desire her too, as well as to identify with her desire.

We do not notice happiness used as a requirement that Anamika give up her desires. Instead, the first use of happiness as a speech act is of a rather more queer nature: “‘I


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want to make you happy,’ I said as I was leaving. ‘You do make me happy,’ India said. ‘No, I don’t mean that way. I mean in bed.’ 51 Anamika separates her own desire to make her lover happy for “that way.” She wants to make India happy “in bed”, to be the cause of her pleasure. Not wanting to cause happiness “that way” is what releases Anamika from a certain kind of drama: it is in the bed and not on the table where she finds her place. She refuses to give happiness the power to secure a specific image of what would count as a good life, or of what she can give.

This book is certainly about the perverse potential of pleasure. This is not to say that Anamika does not have to rebel or does not get into trouble. Almost all of this trouble is located in her relationship to her father. Unsurprisingly, the conflict between father and queer daughter turns to the question of happiness. Anamika says to her father: “You like tea, I like coffee. I want to be a physicist, and Vidur wants to join the army. I don’t want to get married, and mom did. How can the same formula make us all happy.” 52 To which her father replies, “What do you mean you don’t want to get married.” Anamika recognizes the idiosyncratic nature of happy object choices: different people are made happy by different things, we have a diversity of likes and dislikes. She names marriage as one happy object choice that exists alongside others. The inclusion of marriage as something that you might or might not like is picked up by the father, turning queer desire into a question that interrupts the flow of the conversation.

The exchange shows us how object choices are not equivalent, how some choices such as marrying or not marrying are not simply presentable as idiosyncratic likes, as they take us beyond the horizon of intimacy, in which those likes can gather as a shared form. Although the novel might seem to articulate a queer liberalism, whereby the queer subject is free to be happy in their own way, it evokes the limits of that liberalism, by showing how the conflation of marriage with the good life is maintained in response to queer deviation. Although we can live without the promise of happiness, and can do so “happily,” we live with the consequences of being an unhappiness-cause for others, which is why the process of coming out is an ongoing site of possibility and struggle.

Queer politics might radicalize freedom as the freedom to be unhappy. The freedom to be unhappy would be the freedom to live a life that deviates from the paths of happiness, wherever that deviation takes us. It would mean the freedom to cause unhappiness by acts of deviation. Queer enjoyment can thus be expressed as an embodiment of the freedom to be unhappy.

In calling for the freedom to be unhappy, I am thus not saying queers must be unhappy in the sense of feeling sad or wretched, or that queer politics demands our unhappiness. I am not saying that unhappiness becomes necessary. I would say that unhappiness is always possible, which makes the necessity of happiness an exclusion not just of unhappiness but of possibility. The history of happiness is not simply about the description of unhappiness as the failure to be happy in the right way; it is also about the exclusion of the hap from happiness, as the exclusion of possibility and chance. I now think of queer movements as hap movements rather than happiness movements. It is not about the unhappy ones becoming the happy ones. Revolutionary forms of political consciousness involve heightening our awareness of just how much there is to be unhappy about. Yet this does


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not mean unhappiness becomes our political cause. In refusing to be constrained by happiness, we can open up other ways of being, of being perhaps.

The word “perhaps” shares its “hap” with happiness. We can get from the “perhaps” to the wretch if we deviate at a certain point. One definition of the wretch is a “poor and hapless being.” I would say those who enter the history of happiness as wretches might be hapful rather than hapless. To deviate from the paths of happiness is to refuse to inherit the elimination of the hap. Affect aliens, those who are alienated by happiness, can thus be creative: not only do we want the wrong things, not only do we embrace possibilities that we are asked to give up, but we can create life worlds around these wants. Whilst we might insist on the freedom to be unhappy, we would not leave happiness behind us. Maybe it will be up to queers to put the hap back into happiness.

Sara Ahmed is Professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Her books include Differences that Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism (Cambridge University Press, 1998); Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Postcoloniality (Routledge, 2000); The Cultural Politics of Emotion (Routledge, 2004); Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects and Others (Duke University Press. 2006); and The Promise of Happiness (Duke University Press, forthcoming). She is currently working on a collection of essays on diversity and racism and has recently begun research for a new book provisionally entitled Willful Subjects: The Psychic Life of Social Dissent.


1 This paper is drawn from my forthcoming book The Promise of Happiness (and in particular from the chapter “Unhappy Queers” which includes a much wider archive of queer materials than is represented here). This book is due to be published by Duke University Press in 2010. Thanks to Duke for permission to include this paper in World Picture.

2 Vin Packer, Spring Fire (San Francisco. Cleis Press, 2004), vi.

3 Ibid., vii.

4 Heather Love, Feeling Backward: The Politics of Loss in Queer History (Cambridge:

Harvard University Press, 2007), 127.

5 Evelyn Kosofsky Sedgwick, Touching Feeling: Affect, Performativity, Pedagogy (Durham:

Duke University Press, 2003), Elspeth Probyn, Blush: Faces of Shame (Minneapolis:

University of Minnesota Press, 2005), Sally Munt, Queer Attachments: The Cultural Politics of Shame (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007).

6 This is not to reduce happiness to good feeling. The association between happiness with good feeling is a modern one, as Darrin McMahon shows us in his monumental history of happiness [Darrin M McMahon, Happiness: A History (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005)]. We have inherited this association such that it is hard to think about happiness without thinking about feeling. Happiness has also been associated with virtue and the value of flourishing: with the good life. My interest is in how happiness involves an affective as well as moral economy: I will thus explore the relationship between feeling good and other kinds of goods, or how feelings participate in making some things and not others good.


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7 Lisa Walker, Looking Like What You Are: Sexual Style, Race and Lesbian Identity (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 127.

8 Catherine R. Stimpson, Where the Meanings Are: Feminism and Cultural Spaces (New York: Methuen, 1988), 101.

9 Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006).

10 John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (London: Penguin Books, 1997), 216.

11 Ibid., 215.

12 Ibid., 247.

13 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufman and J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), 294-295.

14 Ibid., 354.

15 See Sara Ahmed, Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality (London:

Routledge, 2000).

16 Arlie Russell Hochschild, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling, Second Edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 59.

17 Ibid., 61.

18 Lauren Berlant, “Cruel Optimism: On Marx, Loss and the Senses,” New Formations, 63 (2008): 33.

19 In Queer Phenomenology I described the table as a kinship object and asked how a queer politics might offer a different angle on tables. The argument is extended here (somewhat obliquely) by considering the tables of happiness.

20 Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Trumansburg: The Crossing Press, 1984); bell hooks, Feminist Theory: from Margin to Centre (London: Pluto Press, 2000). I develop my argument about the figure of the angry black woman in the chapters “Feminist Killjoys” and “Melancholic Migrants” in The Promise of Happiness (forthcoming).

21 hooks, 56.

22 Cited in Bill Lucas, Bill (Happy Families: How To Make One, How to Keep One. Harlow:

Educational Publishers, 2006), 26. This principle that to love makes the other’s happiness essential to your own is widely articulated. But does this principle always hold true? I would say there is a desire for this principle to be true, but that this desire does not make the principle true, as a psychoanalytic approach might suggest. If love is to desire the happiness of another, then the happiness of the subject who loves might depend upon the happiness of the other who is loved. As such, love can also be experienced as the possibility that the beloved can take your happiness away from you. This anxious happiness, you might say, forms the basis of an ambivalent sociality: in which we love those we love, but we might also hate those we love for making us love them, which is what makes us vulnerable to being affected by what happens to them: in other words, love extends our vulnerability beyond our own skin. Perhaps fellow-feeling is a form of social hope: we want to want happiness for those we love; we want our happy objects to amount to the same thing. Even if we feel guilty for wishing unhappiness upon our enemies, it is a less guilty wish than wishing unhappiness upon our friends. In other words, our presumed indifference toward the happiness of strangers might help us to sustain the fantasy that we always want the happiness of those we love, or that our love wants their happiness.

23 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Émile, trans. Barbara Foxley (London: Everyman, 1993), 359.

24 Max Scheler, The Nature of Sympathy, trans. Peter Heath (New Brunswick:

Transaction Publishers, 2008), 12.


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25 You might be asked to disregard your views on x in order to make someone happy. I have found this especially true in the case of weddings. You are asked or even instructed to join the happy event of the wedding because it would make someone happy for you to share in their happy occasion even if they know that you are not happy with the very idea of marriage that is celebrated in weddings. You are often judged as selfish when you refuse the demand to participate in the happiness of others, especially in cases when such happiness is sanctioned by law, habit or custom.

26 Rousseau, 434.

27 Nancy Garden, Annie on My Mind (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1982), 191.

28 In The Promise of Happiness I offer a detailed reading of this film, suggesting that the happiness of the ending can be related to queer struggles for a bearable life, and not simply or only to aspirations for the good life. So while I am suggesting here that promotions of happiness can involve an affective form of homonormativity [see Lisa Duggan, The Twilight of Equality: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics and the Attack on Democracy (Boston: Beacon Press, 2003); Judith Halberstam, In A Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New York: New York University Press, 2005)], I would not and do not equate happiness with normativity. As I will suggest in due course, being happily queer can be to be happy with and about one’s deviation. It is worth noting however that in books such as How to be a Happy Homosexual the promotion of happy homosexuality does involve a commitment to “de-queer” gay life. The book includes criticisms of practices such as cottaging, as “for the isolated and insecure gay man it fosters the idea that contact with gay people is of necessity dirty, undignified, nerve-wracking and dangerous. It can do nothing for the self-image of those gay men, who already have a bad opinion of their sexuality” (Terry Sanderson, How to be a Happy Homosexual: A Guide for Gay Men (London: The Other Way Press, 1991) 64). Cruising is also criticized as it can “increase the sense of isolation in those who are already unhappy with their sexuality” (Sanderson, 67). Sanderson criticizes the hedonism of queer culture, suggesting that homosexual men need to develop an ethics premised on making other people happy (145). Although he does not describe such ethics in terms of conservative family values (or in terms of mimicking straight relationships or family forms), it is clearly linked to the promoting of a sociability premised on fellow feeling or what he calls “finer feelings,” which is contrasted to the superficiality and hedonism of queer cultures (145). I am indebted here to Vincent Quinn for an excellent paper which reflected on How to be a Happy Homosexual as a sexual conduct manual.

30 See Sarah Schulman, Stage Struck: Theatre, Aids and the Marketing of Gay America (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998), 102.

31 The perception of queers as inevitably unhappy can have extremely violent and devastating consequences. See for example Michael Schroeder and Ariel Shidlo’s analysis of how clinicians have used this argument—that gay people will inevitably be unhappy— to justify sexual conversion therapy (Michael Schroeder and Ariel Shidlo, “Ethical Issues in Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapies: An Empirical Study of Consumers” in Ariel Shidlo, Michael Schroeder, Jack Drescher (eds), Sexual Conversion Therapy: Ethical, Clinical, and Research Perspectives (Philadelphia: Haworth Press, 2002), 134-135). By implication, gay patients are asked to give up desire for happiness. Many of these homophobic discourses in psychiatry aimed to debunk what they call “the myth of the happy homosexual” in order to argue for “cure” rather than “adjustment” (see Peter Conrad and


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Joseph W. Schneider, Deviance and Medicalization: From Badness to Sickness (Ann Arbor:

University of Michigan Press, 1980), 191). They are deeply invested in the necessity and inevitably of queer unhappiness. So although we might want to question the promotion of happy homosexuals discussed in note 28, we might also want to remember that disbelief in the very possibility of queer happiness is crucial to the violence of homophobia.

32 Cited by Sanderson, 141-2. 33 These definitions are all taken from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). All subsequent definitions and etymological references are drawn from the OED.

34 Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness (London: Virago Press, 1982), 411. Derived from sexology, inversion was used as a way of interpreting lesbian sexuality (if she desires women, she must be a man). Given this, the invert both stands for and stands in for the figure of the lesbian, a way of presenting her that also erases her, which is not to say that we should assume the invert can only signify in this way. See Ahmed 2006 for a discussion of the relation between the figure of the lesbian and the invert in The Well of Loneliness, as well as Prosser (Second Skins: Body Narratives of Transsexuality (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998) who reads the invert as the transsexual. See also Doan and Prosser’s edited collection on The Well of Loneliness (2001), which includes articles on the relations between inversion, transsexuality and homosexuality.

35 The Well of Loneliness, 303.

36 Ibid., 394-5.

37 Ibid., 374.

38 Ibid., 375.

39 Prosser (1998: 166).

40 The Well of Loneliness, 438-9 (emphasis added).

41 Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, trans. Emma Crawford and Mario von der Ruhr (London: Routledge, 2002), 63.

42 Clare Hemmings, “‘All my life I have been waiting for something’: Theorising Femme Narrative in The Well of Loneliness,” in Laura Doan and Jay Prosser (eds.), Palatable Poison: Critical Perspectives on The Well of Loneliness (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 194.

43 Esther Newton, Margaret Mead Made Me Gay: Personal Essays, Public Ideas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 188. Both Hemmings and Newton are addressing how The Well’s focus on the “the mannish lesbian” means that the position of the femme or feminine lesbian is left vacant. My reading concurs with theirs and suggests that this vacation could be re- read in terms of happiness: the femme’s desire is not presented beyond the desire for happiness, which is assumed to lead her back into the straight world. Such readings are in sympathy with the novel, recognizing the force of its own revelation of the injustice of the straight world, even if they suggest that femme desire outside the happiness economy needs to be spoken. 44 The Well of Loneliness, 445.

45 Ibid., 447.

46 Rita Mae Brown, Rubyfruit Jungle, (New York, Bantam Books, 1973), 200.

47 Ibid., 127.

48 The social investment in unhappy queer lives can thus exist alongside envy for queer enjoyment: queer enjoyment bypasses the duty to reproduce social form (“the happiness duty” is a “reproductive duty”), and is thus given without being earned. By living outside the logics of duty and sacrifice, queer pleasures embody what is threatening about freedom.


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49 Rubyfruit Jungle, 245.

50 Ibid., 246.

51 Abha Dawesar, Babyji (New York: Anchor Books, 2005), 31.

52 Ibid., 177.


John Stuart Mill, the Autobiography, and the Paradox of Happiness

Linda Austin

John Stuart Mill’s posthumously published Autobiography (1873) is a notoriously guarded document, particularly for those who have read it in the Collected Works, which juxtaposes the final version with the draft of 1853-54. The comparison reveals that Mill cancelled passages and words that added emotional coloring to his account of his relationship with his father. Following his revisions reveals, as his editors have observed, an increasing detachment, particularly from his early life. 1 And yet the structure of the Autobiography hinges on the discovery of emotion, which occurs in Chapter Five, “A Crisis in My Mental History. One Stage Onward.” In it, Mill stages the beginning of his famous personal crisis with a question that he asked himself sometime in 1826, when he was 20 years old. “Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are looking forward to, could be completely effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness to you?”(1:139). 2 His negative response marks the point at which he turns from the analytical habits developed under the tutelage of his father, James Mill, to the development of his own emotions. Mill’s question suggests that happiness or joy (a telling equation I will pursue) has a newly privileged place in his thoughts, even though happiness—specifically the greatest happiness for the greatest number—was the operating motive and principle of the Utilitarian philosophy from which his question marks a break.

Indeed happiness occupies an ambivalent position not only in Mill’s work, but among the primary emotions (anger, sorrow, surprise, shame). It belongs both to the internal and to the external: it can indicate either a self-aware “feeling” (as either idealist or materialist psychologists of Mill’s era would have defined this word) or the subject’s unacknowledged and uncontrollable situation—the happiness of fortune or misfortune. One can be self-consciously happy, or one can inhabit the ontological state of happiness without being particularly aware of doing so. The alternatives are antithetical, for happiness is the only one of the main emotions in which self-consciousness threatens the duration and intensity of the feeling, as well as the unreflective ease of good fortune. Mill would have known this from reading Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus (1833-34), which he acknowledged “as one of the channels through which I received the influences which enlarged my early narrow creed” (1:181). In the chapter entitled “Everlasting No,” Diogenes Teufelsdröckh, Carlyle’s Wertherian hero, comes to view happiness as self-sabotaging emotion because it is self-conscious. “If what thou namest Happiness be our true aim, then are we all astray.” 3 His “Everlasting No,” although a rejection of despair, is not an embrace of the concept of happiness but rather, an affirmation of an ancient prohibition against the emotion of happiness. 4 It goes back at least to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, which ends with the chorus admonishing, “Count no moral happy till/ He has passed the final limit of his life secure from pain” (1529-30) and reappears in Mill’s time in Thomas Hardy’s early poem “Hap” (wr.1866), where it represents cosmic randomness and human powerlessness. 5 The idea of “happiness” as a conscious emotion thus tempts “hap”: in Oedipus; one cannot speak safely of his or her own happiness—without undermining it—until one is dead.

Mill understands this virtual prohibition of happiness when he refers to the “anti- selfconsciousness theory” of Carlyle (1:145). Like Teufelsdröckh’s, Mill’s “No!” suggests a discomfort with the self-reflection required to ponder one’s own emotional state, for the negative response in the Autobiography comes, oddly, from an “irrepressible self-consciousness”

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(1:139), an abstract formulation that instantly nullifies self-conscious happiness and in doing so re-enacts the old prohibition. In the context of the Autobiography, moreover, the question-and- answer presents a converse of Carlyle’s attitude. Whereas in Sartor Resartus, Teufelsdröckh is unhappy —heartbroken—until he realizes that he has no right to happiness, Mill in the Autobiography realizes he is unhappy by asking a question that assumes his right to happiness. Unlike Teufelsdröckh, Mill never denies the importance of happiness, even though he declares that he accepts the “anti-selfconsciousness” theory that effectively erases it as an emotion. Happiness remains a conceptual problem for us, then, and an acute paradox for Mill. It belongs to antagonistic philosophies: it was a preoccupation of both the Utilitarian creed from which he distanced himself in Chapter Five and the Romantic values to which he turned—through the same question and answer. And although it carries an ancient curse, happiness is an emotion he will not abandon despite the prohibition Carlyle had renewed, for in the Autobiography, a text notorious for its lack of feeling, it is the one emotion that depends on self-consciousness and that carries, therefore, the code of humanness.

Any discussion of Mill and happiness entails two other subjects: one is the fear of the machine or the automatic; the other is, of course, happiness’s opposite—unhappiness or, in Mill’s case, depression. They are entwined: depression is represented as automatic behavior. Mill uses the word “automaton” in his draft of On Liberty (1859): those who react from “custom,” or “habit” are not organisms, but “machinery,” “automatons in human form” (18:263). The paradox of the “human automaton” also informs Mill’s depiction of the first phase of his depression in the early draft of the Autobiography, during which he describes himself as operating like a machine. “I went on [with my usual occupations] mechanically, by the mere force of habit. I had been so drilled in a certain sort of mental exercise, that I could still carry it on when all the spirit had gone out of it” (1:143). In this light, the deep motive of his question occurs suddenly in the early draft, lies in a long-standing suspicion that he lacks emotive capacity. 6 Following the associationists and empirical philosophers of the period, Mill equated emotion with sensation:

in An Examination of William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1865), he defined emotion as a “series of feelings” (9:194). This equation is apparent in a sentence from the early draft of the Autobiography, in which he comments that his father regarded him as “a person who had not the organs of sense” (1:609). Mill later deleted this remark, but he embedded it in his description of depression as a state without feeling. In depicting himself without one faculty, Mill forfeits his capacity for the other; his slide into an affectless state seems not just plausible, but consistent with his father’s judgment. Overlooking the obvious fact that to feel depressed involves feeling, Mill depicts his state as a lapse into the automatic: it is characterized by emotional numbness based on the absence of neuro-muscular vitality. Without sensation and physical expression, Mill had no emotion. Although he expresses this obliquely in the first few chapters, the most acute version of the notion comes to him from a friend, John Sterling, who remarked that he seemed to acquaintances “a ‘made’ or manufactured man, having had a certain impress stamped” upon him that he could “only reproduce[ my emphasis]” (1:163). Sterling’s words “certain” and “only” imply that Mill lacks a sufficiently developed “discursive faculty,” and that his “impress” is tied to a specific source or stimulus. Significantly, Sterling does not call Mill a machine, but Mill himself uses this word in relation to the Benthamites (1: 111]) and, by extension, to his own education: described in the first chapter of his Autobiography, it centered on memorizing and reproducing arguments, then analyzing and redacting them. In the gravest period of his breakdown, then, Mill conflates these exercises with his later mechanical actions during his depression. In the latter instances, he functions without the impetus of immediate reward or punishment. His actions have dwindled into those of an automaton, a being driven not by


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drilling but by habit, habit marking the most efficient functioning of artificial memory. Thus Mill’s characterization of the first phase of his crisis as a state of automatism, of memory so ingrained it has become physiological, suggests the extent to which Sterling’s comment had framed his later understanding not only of his breakdown, but of his training, temperament, and customary self.

In treating the concept of happiness, Mill had no exclusively eudaemonist philosophies from which to choose. Like many of his contemporaries writing on the operations of the mind, he reduced the emotion happiness to pleasure or enjoyment: he generally treated it not as an idea or a prolonged condition of ease and freedom from pain (following its ancient meaning), but as

a local response to specific stimuli that diminished with repetition. “I am conscious in myself of

a series of facts connected by an [sic] uniform sequence,” he writes in An Examination, “of which the beginning is modifications of my body, the middle is feelings, the end is outward demeanour.” Although there is no direct sensory evidence of the middle, or “Intermediate link,” he declares:

In my own case I know that the first link produces the last through the

intermediate link, and could not produce it without. Experience, therefore, obliges me to conclude that there must be an intermediate link, which must

either be the same in others as in

alive, or to be automatons

.I must either believe them to be


Only the connection between neuro-muscular excitement and outward demeanor—between the physiological and the physical—verifies the existence of emotions. Calling the feelings “passive susceptibilities,” as he does in Autobiography (1:147) shifts Mill’s understanding closer to an idealist theory. Compare both passages with William James’s overtly materialist explanation:

emotion occurs as a result of expression. We “feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike and not that we cry strike, or tremble [my emphases].” 7 James’s theory of causality effectively eliminates the “intermediate link,” the ideational limbo between the neurological and the mental in which Mill and contemporaries such as William Hamilton had placed “feelings.” Emotions become a neurological affect of the physical.

So although Mill in practice conflated emotions with sensations, his reasons for clinging to an idealist understanding of emotion, at least in theory, become clear in the Autobiography. If affects were sensational or, more precisely, neuro-muscular, no emotion could be sustained. This bothered Mill in his vulnerable condition; and in this passage about music, he treats enjoyment as a sensation that diminishes with each successive exercise of the activity that first stimulated it:

The good [of music]

pleasure of music (as is quite true of such pleasure as this was, that of mere tune) fades with familiarity, and requires either to be revived by intermittence, or fed by continual novelty. And it is very characteristic both of my then state and of the general tone of my mind at this period of my life, that I was seriously tormented by the thought of the exhaustibility of musical combinations. The octave consists only of five tones and two semi-tones, which can be put together in only a limited number of ways, of which but a small proportion are beautiful: most of these, it seemed to me, must have been already

was much impaired by the thought that the


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discovered, and there could not be room for a long succession of Mozarts and Webers, to strike out, as these had done, entirely new and surpassingly rich veins of musical beauty. (1:149)

In the tradition of Associationism, Mill correlates pleasure with novelty and in doing so confronts the contravening effect of repetition and the physiological impossibility of sustaining pleasure over time. Here his thinking resembles that of other materialists working later in the century. Theodore Ribot also acknowledged the inverse relationship between habit and pleasure. And William James, summarizing decades of work on psychology in 1890, noted that emotions “blunt themselves by repetition more rapidly than any other sort of feeling” (his emphasis). 8 As human beings become older and accumulate more memories, brain-paths become more organized, and established associations and their attendant sensations, much diminished, replace the freshness of emotions. At this point, the person experiences no pleasurable affect. In this state, Mill feared, Sterling’s view of him threatened to prevail.

Notwithstanding hints of idealism, Mill’s breakthrough in the Autobiography occurs as a neuro- physiological event: reading of Jean François Marmontel’s Mémoires d’un père (1804) causes Mill to sob. When he reveals that he weeps over Marmontel’s memoirs, he offers his readers physical evidence of the link between neuro-muscular sensation and the invisible world of feelings. Mill cries and discovers that he feels sad. To alter this statement to a materialist version after James, Mill proves he feels sad by representing himself crying. His demonstrative weeping in the Autobiography is a performance of his unhappiness that provides evidence of his humanness.

The episode could not completely slough the hint of the mechanical that haunted Mill in writing the Autobiography, however, simply because it illustrated the reflexive behavior of materialist psychology that was so repellent to idealists. Worse, the catharsis over Marmontel might also have displayed the taut emotional economy of the “economic man,” the Hobbesian- Benthamite figure that served as the model of behavior for nineteenth-century political economy. Happiness or enjoyment was the economic man’s chief motive for accumulating wealth, a premise reiterated by Nassau William Senior in his Introductory Lecture on Political Economy in 1826. In charting his own discovery of emotion, Mill had to show his separation from utilitarianism’s notorious conception of “the greatest happiness for the greatest number” as a statistical derivative of a mechanical human psychology based in responses of pleasure. For these reasons, Mill announced the end of his depression twice—once with the gush of tears over Marmontel, after which, he declares, “I never again was as miserable as I had been” (1:145), and once after reading the poems of Wordsworth in the two-volume edition of 1815. Three years separate the events, and during this time Mill relapsed into dejection several times, according to the “Early Draft” of the Autobiography (1:144). 9 In the interim, the idea of pleasure as a physiological response disappears, and in its place rises an idealist version with more durability and cerebral involvement. This is the emotion he has in mind, I propose, when he poses his ostensibly Utilitarian question about happiness.

Mill uses Wordsworth to authorize these new emotions, which differ from the sensory-based “feelings” linked to reading Marmontel. Altruistic, reflective, and profound, they belong to an idealist picture of the emotions that Mill professes in An Examination, as well as in “What is Poetry?” published anonymously in the Monthly Repository in 1833. In this early essay, published just a few years after his breakdown, Mill locates them in the “human heart,” which


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has “deeper and more secret workings” than the physiological and physical feelings of the histrionic orator (1:345). Whereas the orator’s emotions are always embodied in gesture and voice, those of the poet can be invisible. Moreover, the emotions of the heart, he asserts, are “genuine,” unlike those of his father who, like most Englishmen (Mill writes in an early passage for the Autobiography, later omitted ) did not cultivate feeling beyond that “of mere habit, like that to inanimate objects” (1:612). At the moment he questions whether the achievement of all his goals would make him happy, Mill regards happiness as such a “genuine” emotion: a highly self-conscious one, the resounding “No!” coming, as I have mentioned, from “an irrepressible self-consciousness” (1:139). Indeed a few pages later, he vows to dedicate himself to the “cultivation of the feelings.” The resolution, he understands, undoubtedly would require continual self-consciousness, for such cultivation, Mill writes, thereafter “became one of the cardinal points in my ethical and philosophical creed” (1:147). At this point, then, he has embraced an idealistic, Romantic, and intentional view of emotions that valorizes them through the subject’s awareness of them.

At the same time, however, (within the same pages of the Autobiography, that is) he has resolved on a seemingly opposite course. Reading Marmontel has led him to “adopt a theory of life, very unlike that on which I had before acted, and having much in common with what at that time I certainly had never heard of, the anti-self-consciousness theory of Carlyle” (1:145). Happiness and enjoyment, he decides, “will not bear a scrutinizing examination. Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.” Pleasure must be taken “en passant, without being made a principal object” (1:147). Although Mill does not treat these conclusions as either different or successive, their occurrence within two pages of the text reveals his confusion, for how does one cultivate unspecified feelings that he or she has just decided cannot bear reflection? It seems that Mill has reverted to the very model of physiological pleasure from which the reading of Wordsworth had distanced him.

Perhaps happiness is exempt from this cultivation. I have already mentioned its difference from the other emotions. Generally, it is not clear whether in the Autobiography Mill conceived of happiness as an emotion in a new psychological order, with no taint of its mechanical version, pleasure. If he could, what kind of emotion would that be? Mill’s question and answer imagine happiness as a reflective state of pleasure prolonged into a circumstantial condition—the classic negative definition of happiness as freedom from pain. Yet it was difficult for Mill to represent this deeper, reflective, condition without using the physiological language he associated with materialist psychology and Benthamite mechanism. Accordingly, the terms often slip into each other in his writing, as in his homage to his wife, Harriet Taylor, “a character preeminently of feeling” (1:623) whose heart “identified itself with the feelings of others” and whose “pleasures and pains [were] tenfold more intense than those of common persons.” 10 The conflation of words compatible with both idealist thought (“heart”) and physiology is unavoidable, but it contributes to the difficulty of Mill’s attempt to transform a term for localized sensation to one for a deeper or more reflective condition. Significantly, this slippage indicates that the connection between the reaction to Marmontel and the reaction to Wordsworth—between the first phase of the crisis in 1826 and the second part in 1829—is not a “progress,” as Mill conceived, in writing of the crisis and of his entire life, but a dialectical shift. 11 That is, Mill’s sudden, sensational response to the French writer dramatizes a discovery of emotion through neuro-muscular excitation. It is a reaction to the numbness of the automaton, but it soon leads to another correction. Whereas Mill reacts to Marmontel as a creature of sensibility (in the larmoyant fashion of the late eighteenth-century, remarks Geoffrey Hartman) he reads


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Accordingly, his response is marked by reflection and

sympathy—far less demonstrable, more mental, emotions. In this light, the momentous question of his own happiness, which Mill recorded when writing the early draft in 1853-54, anticipates the sequence that it initiates in the Autobiography. When Mill records asking himself

if attaining all his goals will make him happy, the word “happy” preserves the sensational Benthamite terminology (“happiness” based in feelings of “pleasure”and the “the enjoyments of life” [1:147]) and simultaneously resonates with the Romantic ecstasis that he had come to privilege. The question embeds a reflection and a prolepsis.

Wordsworth reacting to this reaction. 12

Just as Mill’s understanding of “happiness” emerges through the dialectical relation between the Marmontel phase of the crisis and the Wordsworth phase, “happiness,” as Mill eventually comes to terms with the emotion, embeds its own sequence. It covers, that is, a succession of mental and physiological activities. Because, as a protracted condition, it implies—even requires—an unconsciousness, an ease and comfort that the gods attributed to fortune, as an emotion it entails first a privileging, then a rejection, of consciousness. The move and countermove occur so quickly and repeatedly in the narrative that they seem either unremarkable or bewildering, as the adoption of the anti-selfconsciousness theory becomes the cultivation of feeling, and this very cultivation suggests a displacement of mental attention to lived, physiological experience. This portrayal of happiness as a dynamic state comprising self- conscious emotion and physiological activity in succession is anticipated by “What is Poetry?” which, as I have noted, appeared shortly after Mill’s breakdown actually occurred. In the essay, Mill makes it clear that prolonged consciousness cannot remain a virtue for the poet because the poetical mood is a phase of involuntary inattention in which all perception of the outside is suppressed. His famous declaration, “All poetry is of the nature of a soliloquy” (1:349) captures this idea; the poet must be unconscious of the audience, whereas the orator is always aware of one.

Mill’s notion of unconsciousness cannot be taken in the post-Freudian sense, as utter obliviousness. The sort of “unconsciousness” of which Mill writes means, more accurately, “unself-consciousness,” as Geoffrey Hartman has argued. And as Timothy Gould has specified, Mill means the “successful suppression of a piece of knowledge (namely, that there is an audience present)” and by its opposite, eloquence, a theatricality, in Michael Fried’s sense. 13 For Mill, the poet has an “inevitable awareness of an actual audience,” Gould says, “the effects of which must then be suppressed in order to achieve the ‘unconsciousness’ of the successful poem.” 14 Of course, in “What is Poetry?” the poet is aware of himself through his effect on listeners, whereas in the anti-self-consciousness theory to which Mill alludes in the Autobiography, the outside listener or viewer is the self. The versions are homologous, however (indeed Gould has connected them); if the emotions of the poet cannot “[suppose] an audience,” as the eloquence of the orator can (1:348), neither can they embed an awareness or representation of the self. 15 In this light, a prolonged awareness of and attention to “happiness” violates the poetical mood in which one ceases, for a time, to become aware of one’s audience (even if that audience is one ’s self ).

Mill’s reasoning in “What Is Poetry?” and its obvious connection with the remarks on self- consciousness in the Autobiography lead to one surprising conclusion about the function of the crisis in the later text. Because in both “What Is Poetry?” and the Autobiography, Mill regards self-consciousness as necessarily ephemeral, and because the account of his life before 1826 contains few signs of self-consciousness about his emotional state—shows, rather, a life verging


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on the mechanical—it is only in the depression, as well as in the first breakthrough—the reading of Mémoires d’un père—that the Autobiography exhibits signs of its subject’s self- consciousness. Mill’s immediate focus on happiness in the famous question and answer thus precipitates the crisis in the Autobiography. Clearly it is not the vain pursuit of happiness or the realization that he has no pleasure in life which causes the crisis in the Autobiography, but the sudden fear of its loss induced by attention. The remedy Mill eventually finds for his crisis must involve inattention, then. Henceforth the young Mill, having acknowledged these particular emotions, will marginalize happiness and joy, the narrator of the Autobiography implies; he will make them peripheral to attention. The question about happiness, therefore, is an anomalous and almost instantly self-nullifying moment.

I have just proposed that Mill’s major bout of depression in 1826 was precipitated by

abstracting sensation into emotion and making it the focus of attention. By converting a Benthamite economy to a Romantic one, Mill brought on his own predicament. When he abandons the quest for happiness in the Autobiography and vows to accept it as a transient

emotion barely registering in the mind—“en passant”—he seems to revert to his original

conflation of happiness with physiological pleasure. Yet although Mill seems to have come almost full circle by repudiating the grounds of his original question, in actuality he has traced

a dialectical movement from attention to, to suppression and then displacement of, feeling. The sequence in the Autobiography thus overcomes the limitations of the emotions, materialist or idealist, by themselves, as Mill understood them. To be sure, the psychic mechanism of the displacement is not clearly described in the Autobiography, and the process or province of

nonreflective “cultivation” is left ambiguous. The choice of models available to him, pleasure as

a physiological emotion or happiness as a self-conscious ideation, formed at the time the

psychological continuum on which he could plot his humanness. They would wait a century for elaboration.

The debates waged between materialism and idealism in which psychologist/ philosophers like Mill, Hamilton, and William James often floundered always occurred within the mind and body dichotomy. Not until post-Freudian and post-behaviorist theories would this frame be jettisoned. The category of emotion could then be opened and drives be separated from affects. Silvan Tomkins, in particular, not only profiled individual emotions, but emphasized the behavioral individuation of affects, a quality that has special relevance to Mill’s representation of his feelings. Whereas the drives, according to Tomkins, constitute “a motivational system of little freedom,” the affects compose “a motivational system of great freedom.” 16 Whereas drives occur in a tight causality of stimulus and response, affects can vary for the same stimulus. In contrast to the drives, the course of affects is not toward consummation. Affects vary in intensity; they are connected to a wider if still limited range of objects. Most importantly, Tomkins states, “The capacity of the individual to feel strongly or weakly, for a moment, or for all his life, about any-thing under the sun and to govern himself by such motives constitutes his essential freedom.” 17 Freedom of affect makes human progress possible. It effectively separates human beings from automata, the lowest of which function through reflex action.

Tomkins’s emphasis on the freedom of the affects over the drives both illuminates and solves the dilemma Mill created in broaching and resolving the question of happiness. If his reaction to Marmontel’s Mémoirs, a discovery of emotion through physiological sensation, represents only an intermediate stage in his “conversion” to a feeling human being because it does not differ enough from the stimulus and response mechanism of the drives and the mechanical, his


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later apparent reversion to pleasure or happiness “en passant” is not just a reversion, as it appears to be. It is, rather, a move toward complexity, for it suggests the potential for affects that are neither wholly conscious nor habitual. Thus happiness may be either liminal—nascent, at the threshold of consciousness—or marginal—peripheral, somatic, on the verge of the habitual. Liminality or marginality allows it to co-exist with other, very different emotions and to arise from a variety of acts or ideas. In addition, because the very contemplation of happiness threatens its survival, the liminality of “happiness” increases its durability and its abstraction into the abiding condition linked with good fortune and ease. Once Mill recognizes this province of happiness, if only for a moment—the moment initiated by the question about happiness—he can portray himself as someone who recognizes and exploits emotional responses.

Arguably, emotional freedom and complexity have existed in the Autobiography from its earliest chapters, chapters in which Mill, in his account of his infamous education, has unwittingly established a correlation between inattention and happiness or pleasure. On the surface, this correlation looks counterintuitive. The list of prescribed reading, the picture of the boy writing at his father’s desk constantly under surveillance, of being forced to read aloud (I:8, 26), of suffering under “severe admonitions” (I:39) have stood for many contemporary and modern readers as extracts from a philosophy of education that robbed pupils of that precious Victorian construction, childhood. Certainly, the mnemonic component of this method—its emphasis on repetition, memorizing, and redacting—seems so monotonous, so torturous, that one reader has even wondered why the adult Mill felt compelled to review his education at all. 18 Rote was as disparaged as much as it was used as a learning method in the nineteenth century, and Hegel’s concept of recollection is applicable to the kind of mnemonics forced on Mill, even when it was supplemented with analysis: “Memory qua memory is itself the merely external mode, or merely existential aspect of thought, and thus needs a complementary element.” 19 Despite the remarks in the Autobiography on the pains of the drills he underwent, however, and despite the charge (which he refuted [1:35]) that James Mill had “crammed” him, happiness was a marginal but nonetheless memorable component of his earliest tutorials. Why else would he have read Pope’s translation of the Iliad from 20 to 30 times (Autobiography 1:13)? The early chapters of the Autobiography abound with instances of Mill reading texts over and over, not simply to commit them to memory, but to relive their delights through repetition. Indeed, he characterizes reporting the daily digest of his reading as “[t]o the best of my remembrance a voluntary rather than a prescribed exercise” (1:11). Pope’s translation of the Iliad was “one of the books in which for many years I most delighted” (1:12); “Roman history, both in my old favorite, Hooke, and in Ferguson, continued to delight me” (1:15), as did Robinson Crusoe (“through all my boyhood” [1:13]). He “took great pleasure,” he reveals, in a volume he calls Ancient Universal History (an anonymous multivolume work of 1736 [1:17]), and writing histories was “a voluntary exercise to which throughout my boyhood I was much addicted” (1:17). The instances of repetition for the sake of repetition indicate that recollecting, which Mill demonstrated by reproducing information before his father, was simultaneously a means toward understanding and a stimulus of pleasure in itself. Recollection qua recollection had affect, but it was always peripheral in his experience.

It would be wrong to infer, then, in light of his decision in Chapter Five to abandon the quest for happiness, that the earlier phases of Mill’s life (those recounted in the first four chapters) were not happy just because his father neglected to expose his son to those arts devoted to feeling. As happiness is both the ideational and unconscious (i.e., situational) version of


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physiological pleasure, surely Mill was often unself-consciously “happy” as his father’s pupil. That is, he experienced—sometimes at the margins of consciousness—pleasure as a result of a mnemonic activity that he also described as painful and coerced. In addition to being impermanent and unself-conscious, then, happiness was, in Mill’s experience, not extrudable.

If happiness is a truly parasitical emotion, not just for Mill but, I propose, in all psychic economies, it requires more than a stimulating activity, such as memory. It needs a host-affect. If Mill could never again ponder, much less pronounce, his own happiness, he needed—in addition to conduits for peripheral pleasure—an emotion to occupy his mental attention, his sensation, and his memory. By 1858, four years after completing the early draft of the Autobiography, the death of Harriet Taylor offered him one—cultivated and repetitive mourning. It combined the comparative unconsciousness of happiness as an external condition with the intensity of more transitory and conscious sensations like pleasure or, in this case, its opposite. In this sense, it exemplified the mixed affects that marked a complex response of a human being, not the relatively simple reaction of an animal or automaton.

Mill had married Taylor, his longtime friend and companion, in 1851 shortly after the death of her husband. He had submitted the early draft of his Autobiography to her editing. In it (as well as in the final version) he stresses her unusual “gifts of feeling and imagination” (Autobiography 1:195). Through the relationship with Taylor, the narrative assumes an allegorical character, in which automaton abandons the master engineer, discovers emotion through Wordsworth, and finally meets moral sympathy personified. Taylor functions in the Autobiography, not simply as a substitution for the authority of the father, but as a replacement for Sterling in supplying the overt emotions Mill felt were missing in himself. As a result, her death creates a vacuum in his life, and in the revisions of 1861 and 1869 he nurtures the overwhelming affect of sorrow through sedulous and fetishistic mourning. 20 “My objects in life are solely those which were hers; my pursuits and occupations those in which she shared, or sympathized, and which are indissolubly associated with her. Her memory is to me a religion, and her approbation the standard by which, summing up as it does all worthiness, endeavour to regulate my life” (1:251). These commemorative acts replace the exercises of the schoolboy. He even employs the spatial and material jogs used in artificial memory, buying a cottage “as close as possible to the place where she [has been] buried.” On Liberty, their “joint production,” is “consecrated to her memory. I have made no alteration or addition to it, nor shall I ever.” The text becomes his fetish. “Though it wants the last touch of her hand, no substitute for that touch shall ever be attempted by mine” (1:257, 261). Mill’s constative statements of mourning are also performances carrying more than a modicum of pleasure. Such pleasure represents a significant