[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
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[Some of LQ’s contents are available free.]
[L.Q. cover, quotes, and images from Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2019: Happiness, except where noted otherwise.][Right-click on a photo may give the option to open it separately.]
[New to Lapham’s Quarterly? See the standard notes at the end of this review. After 40+ LQ reviews I jump right in.]
[This is a READING section, for those who may stumble in looking for photography. There are pictures, too.]
I finally finished reading this issue. It shouldn’t take me as long as it does, each issue being only 221 pages and liberally interspersed with artwork and informational side bars, but I’m a slow, pretending-to-be-thorough, reader. (Off to Wikipedia again?!). Life intervenes, too.
Am I happy, now that I’ve read all about it? Let’s see.
As I noted when I scribed fourth comments nearly a month ago, the three main sections this issue are Contentment, Satisfaction, and Ecstasy.
Fahrenheit 451 (the temperature at which book paper catches fire) by Ray Bradbury is a gem. It’s a classic I’ve heard of often but haven’t read.
“We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?” (p. 58)
Superb. Sarcasm more than happiness.
I will mention Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) in passing, because everyone else does. ‘Hannah Arendt says…’. She is an important philosopher, with associates like Heidegger, and a lengthy Wikipedia, for pedestrian philoso-followers like myself. I just venture to say that the public school-educated like myself who didn’t get past university level Philosophy 101 unless it was on our own, may not have heard of her. That is exactly why I read Lapham’s Quarterly, for exposure to the heard of and unheard of.
This issue she discusses public happiness, as in that ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’. As I noted in second comments, she and the topic are mentioned in the July 2, 2019 New York Times by contemporary Italian philosopher Adriana Cavarero. L.Q. never fails to be prescient.
“The first source of such familiarity that comes to mind is the conventional idiom in royal proclamations where “the welfare and the happiness of our people” quite explicitly meant the private welfare of the subjects and their private happiness, that is, exactly what the phrase pursuit of happiness has come to meant throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.” (p. 61)
Aristophanes, in a brief excerpt online, has the answer to happiness. Let the women run things! (We all knew that.) Words of wisdom for any partnered person, and we’re all just 6 degrees apart, aren’t we? Check it out.
Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, was ground-breaking for the happiness, or at least equality, of this era’s modern women.
“There is no problem, in the logic of the feminine mystique, for a woman who has no wishes of her own, who defines herself only as wife and mother.”
[It was a full time job for my mother. What was wrong with that? –JH]
“Is there a growing divergence between this image of woman and human reality?” (p. 64)
“Does it force her to deny reality, as a woman in a mental hospital must deny reality to believe she is a queen? Does it doom women to be displaced persons, if not virtual schizophrenics, in our complex, changing world?” (p. 66)
Some recent surveys have cited Denmark as one of the happiest countries on earth. (The people, not the land, I think.) Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of Frankenstein, has a very few insightful opinions here.
“The Danes… …if happiness only consists in opinion, they are the happiest people in the world; for I never saw any so well satisfied with their own situation.” (p. 77)
Plato gives us the logic of happiness via deductive reasoning.
“Is this not the result, that other things are indifferent, and that wisdom is the only good, and ignorance the only evil?”
“…the inference is that every man should by all means to try and make himself as wise as he can?” (p. 88)
Two of the best extracts are not available free. Yet another reason you should subscribe. Nothing is free. I will give you the reader’s digested version, the Pascal piece from a different translation than the one in the issue, but I trust you will get the gist. In 1651 Blaise Pascal writes:
“Diversion.—When I have occasionally set myself to consider the different distractions of men, the pains and perils to which they expose themselves at court or in war, whence arise so many quarrels, passions, bold and often bad ventures, etc., I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber. A man who has enough to live on, if he knew how to stay with pleasure at home, would not leave it to go to sea or to besiege a town.”
“Whatever condition we picture to ourselves, if we muster all the good things which it is possible to possess, royalty is the finest position in the world. Yet, when we imagine a king attended with every pleasure he can feel, if he be without diversion, and be left to consider and reflect on what he is, this feeble happiness will not sustain him; he will necessarily fall into forebodings of dangers, of revolutions which may happen, and, finally, of death and inevitable disease; so that if he be without what is called diversion, he is unhappy, and more unhappy than the least of his subjects who plays and diverts himself.”
“Hence it comes that play and the society of women, war, and high posts, are so sought after. Not that there is in fact any happiness in them, or that men imagine true bliss to consist in money won at play, or in the hare which they hunt; we would not take these as a gift. We do not seek that easy and peaceful lot which permits us to think of our unhappy condition, nor the dangers of war, nor the labour of office, but the bustle which averts these thoughts of ours, and amuses us.
“The king is surrounded by persons whose only thought is to divert the king, and to prevent his thinking of self. For he is unhappy, king though he be, if he think of himself.
This is all that men have been able to discover to make themselves happy. And those who philosophise on the matter, and who think men unreasonable for spending a whole day in chasing a hare which they would not have bought, scarce know our nature. The hare in itself would not screen us from the sight of death and calamities; but the chase which turns away our attention from these, does screen us.
“As men who naturally understand their own condition avoid nothing so much as rest, so there is nothing they leave undone in seeking turmoil. Not that they have an instinctive knowledge of true happiness …
So we are wrong in blaming them. Their error does not lie in seeking excitement, if they seek it only as a diversion; the evil is that they seek it as if the possession of the objects of their quest would make them really happy. In this respect it is right to call their quest a vain one. Hence in all this both the censurers and the censured do not understand man’s true nature.”
“They do not know that it is the chase, and not the quarry, which they seek.”
Project Gutenberg, paragraph 139. What happiness is not, perhaps? I think this issue of L.Q. inquires into that a lot, perhaps hoping that the process of elimination will reveal the holy grail.
Pascal is immediately followed by Ann Bridge and a Singing Waters extract. She is equally insightful, in brief at least. Some reviewers I read are not totally enamored with her work. Her short Wikipedia entry is noteworthy, as is the longer one on her friend, 1924 Everest climber George Mallory. Informative and entertaining side-reads. Bridge:
“We are a most terribly unhappy people. Spiritually, emotionally, and sexually, we have lost our way; politically we never really knew it. We do not know what we want, nor where we are going. So we just grasp desperately at the things we can get–wealth, comfort, amusement; we have built up a great structure of material luxury to keep out the empty spaces of the spirit… …We keep the radio going all the time to distract our empty hearts. We console ourselves with clever mechanical gadgets as a homesick child consoles itself, desperately, with toys.”
“Human life has run on on much the same lines for four thousand years–sowing and reaping, spinning and weaving, cooking and eating food; loving and marriage, birth and death, the pursuit of knowledge… …And till the nineteenth century it has run at much the same temp, the same pace. The one great shake-up before that was the discovery of the printing press, which made it possible to disseminate ideas much more widely and more rapidly than before.”
“But since the beginning of the nineteenth century have come also the steam engine and the internal combustion engine, the telegraph, the telephone, and the wireless… …At the same time the invention of machinery and the flooding of the world with mass-produced goods have modified many aspects of human life… …This is the great modern problem for the whole world.” (pp. 98-99)
It’s a work of fiction, or is it? What happiness is not.
Darwin’s very brief extract is called Face Value. I refer to it as the anatomy of happiness in small children. I’m also amazed at his acute powers of observation, but that should be no surprise. Have a look and a chuckle online.
John Berger has a noteworthy analysis of pleasure, pain, and happiness. Here are a few paragraphs to whet the appetite:
“Human happiness is rare. There are no
happy periods, only happy moments. But hap-
piness is precisely a generalized pleasure. And
the state of happiness can be defined by an
equation whereby, at that moment, the gift of
one’s well-being equals the gift of the existent.
Without a surplus of pleasure over and above
functional gratiﬁcation, such well-being could
not exist. Aesthetic experience is the purest ex-
pression of this equation.
Traditionally, this equation was read as
the sign of the existence of a benevolent God,
or at least of a God sometimes capable of be-
nevolence. The arbitrariness of happiness was
interpreted as a divine intention. And from this
arose the problem of suffering and pain. If plea-
sure was a gift, if happiness was intended, why
should there be pain? The answers are hard.
It has never been easy to relieve pain. The
productive recourses have usually been lacking-
food, adequate medicines, clothing, shelter. But
it has never been difﬁcult to locate the causes
of pain: hunger, illness,cold, deprivation. ..It has
always been, in principle, simpler to relieve pain
than to give pleasure or make happy. An area of
pain is more easily located.
With one enormous exception—the emo-
tional pain of loss, the pain that has broken
a heart. Such pain ﬁlls the space of an entire
life. It may have begun with a single event, but
the event has produced a surplus of pain. The
sufferer becomes inconsolable. Yet what is this
pain if it is not the recognition that what was
once given as pleasure or happiness has been
irrevocably taken away?” (p. 108)
My conclusion on Happiness so far? (Perhaps I’ve gone far enough already.) Elusive, fleeting, brief.
I earmarked nearly the entire passage from Epicurus. It’s another logical analysis of pleasure and pain. Have a look if you like, online.
“Accordingly, we have need of pleasure only when we feel pain because of the absence of pleasure, but whenever we do not feel pain, we no longer stand in need of pleasure. And so we speak of pleasure as the starting point and the goal of the happy life because we realize that it is our primary native good, because every act of choice and aversion originates with it, and because we come back to it when we judge every good by using the pleasure feeling as our criterion.” (p. 115)
Nietzsche has some cogent lines. I can never remember whether it’s him or Kant I’m supposed to like. (!) I think it is Nietzsche who was an inspiration, for better or worse, to Ayn Rand, who I do like, and Kant was the philosophical anti-hero. He was in a crossword the other day. ‘Philosopher of the categorical imperative.’ Wikipedia says “The categorical imperative (German: kategorischer Imperativ) is the central philosophical concept in the deontological moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Deontological. Riiiight. (The study of the nature of duty and obligation, it seems.) Well, I’ve lost myself with either, talking about that of which I know nothing. N’s lines:
“In most of the good deeds that are done for the unfortunate, there is something outrageous about the intellectual frivolity with which the pitying person assumes the role of Fortune: he knows nothing to the totality of the inner consequences and interconnections that he calls unhappiness in my case or in yours!” (p. 119) [What we call checkbook charity these days? –JH]
“Every time a war breaks out, a desire invariably breaks out at the same time among precisely the noblest people in the nation, though they are naturally loath to disclose it: they enthusiastically throw themselves into this new risk of death because they believe that by sacrificing themselves for their country, they have finally obtained the permission which they have long sought–the permission to abandon their aims; war is for them a detour to suicide, but a detour with a good conscience. And although I prefer to remain silent here about some things, I will not remain silent about my morality, which says to me: live in obscurity so that you are able to live for yourself!” (p. 120) [Yes, that’s Ayn Rand. “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” John Galt speaking, Atlas Shrugged. –JH]
Sacrifice for country. “Country First!” John McCain’s campaign slogan when he ran against Barack Obama. And I liked McCain. The slogan is much better than the mercifully short-lived speech by George H.W. Bush at the United Nations: Toward A New World Order. Triple-cringeworthy, IMO. I guess conspiracy theorists had a field day with that one. We’ve moved on. Now it’s MY world order, and I don’t mean me, I mean der furor. Thank
Benjamin Franklin, of course, found time to expound on happiness. He starts:
“The desire of happiness in general is so natural to us that all the world are in pursuit of it; all have this one end in view, though they take such different methods to attain it and are so much divided to their notions of it.” (p. 122) It’s online.
Your luck continues. Sherwood Anderson, the umpteenth author in L.Q. I’ve never heard of, has a thoughtful, descriptive, well-written fiction. L.Q. offers it here. The full story is the section Godliness, found here.
Hang on, dear reader. We are getting there. Andy Rooney might have pondered ‘why are you a dear reader?’ You’re not dear at all. Well, some of you, at least. I suspect. But you really are dear if you are still reading this far. I withdraw the question.
Many fine pieces have been skipped and many remain.
Zadie Smith (?) is inquiring:
“It might be useful to distinguish between pleasure and joy. But maybe everybody does this very easily, all the time, and only I am confused. A lot of people seem to feel that joy is only the most intense version of pleasure, arrived at by the same road–you simply have to go a little further down the track. That has not been my experience.” (p. 134)
Online, I liked the Claire de Duras piece (unrequited love?) and the Disneyland Prospectus is somewhat of a chuckle.
Mary Oliver (?) is beautifully descriptive in her piece:
“On the windless days, when the maples have put forth their deep canopies, and the sky is wearing its new blue immensities, and the wind has dusted itself not an hour ago in some spicy field and hardly touches us as it passes by, what is it we do? We lie down and rest upon the generous earth. Very likely we fall asleep.” (p. 170)
Margery Kempe is a curiosity, as is her late 14th century writing, ‘considered the oldest extant autobiographical writing in English’. She was a bit of a religious mystic and ascetic who had fourteen children. (!) Not free, but it is Chapter 3 in the following ebook sample:
The Further Remarks section at the end of Lapham’s Quarterly contains full-length, 8-12 page, contemporary essays, always available in full online. The first talks about Man’s relationship to animals, his sense of superiority, and how our best efforts at ecotourism may be having the opposite effect. The second discusses the Happiness Ministries being formed in various governments, and falling short again. The third essay is Hell. Just Hell. Is it ‘out there’ somewhere, or here and now on Earth? Food for thought, as always.
The Table of Contents is online. Underlined items are available to read free online, extracts underlined on the left, authors on the right. Of course one can subscribe, but perish the thought.
Another source for browsing the issue and its various bits is via Happiness (click List for a better selection).
I almost forgot. Did I find happiness? Hmm. It remains elusive. I have enjoyed L.Q.’s insights. Sooo many authors, so many inquiries. As ‘they’ say, it’s the journey, not the arrival. CLIMATE is here. I must catch the next train.