Mourning Happiness: Narrative and the Politics of Modernity

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9780801448171: Mourning Happiness: Narrative and the Politics of Modernity
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For many eighteenth-century thinkers, happiness was a revolutionary new idea filled with the promise of the Enlightenment. However, Vivasvan Soni argues that the period fails to establish the importance of happiness as a guiding idea for human practice, generating our modern sentimental idea of happiness. Mourning Happiness shows how the eighteenth century's very obsession with happiness culminates in the political obsolescence of the idea.

Soni explains that this puzzling phenomenon can only be comprehended by studying a structural transformation of the idea of happiness at the level of narrative form. Happiness is stripped of its ethical and political content, Soni demonstrates, when its intimate relation to narrative is destroyed. This occurs, paradoxically, in some of the most characteristic narratives of the period: eighteenth-century novels including Pamela, The Vicar of Wakefield, and Julie; the pervasive sentimentalism of the time; Kant's ethics; and the political thought of Rousseau and Jefferson.

For Soni, the classical Greek idea of happiness―epitomized by Solon's proverb "Call no man happy until he is dead"―opens the way to imagining a properly secular conception of happiness, one that respects human finitude and mortality. By analyzing the story of Solon's encounter with Croesus, Attic funeral orations, Greek tragedy, and Aristotle's ethics, Soni explains what it means to think, rather than feel, a happiness available for public judgment, rooted in narrative, unimaginable without a relationship to community, and irreducible to an emotional state. Such an ideal, Soni concludes, would allow for a radical reenvisioning of a politics that takes happiness seriously and responds to our highest aspirations rather than merely keeping our basest motivations in check.

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About the Author:

Vivasvan Soni is Associate Professor of English at Northwestern University.

Review:

"Soni's approach to the concept of happiness is highly original and could even be seen as a landmark study in its insistence on the form of the idea of happiness as an alternative to other examinations of its contents." - Mihaela Culea (Vasile Alecsandri University of Bacău, Romania), The European Legacy: Toward New Paradigms

"Cast appropriately as a contribution to republican inquiry ..., Soni explains like no other what has happened to the once-central concern for "public happiness," which might still register as a value, but has no institutional support (456) like the welfare state that demands some concrete commitment to the happiness of others. ... The poverty of our public commitments have a long and important history we can now better understand as it is tied, surprisingly, to the fate of a trivial concern." - Daniel M. Gross (UC - Irvine), Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net

"This argument about the eighteenth-century origins of the trial narrative is an ambitious intervention in literary history ... This properly tragic view of Western modernity emerges in Soni's book from bravura readings of familiar texts. In them, he shows--often with breathtaking theoretical acumen--how the narrative of trial occupies modern stories of all kinds, forcing happiness out of them. The coruscating critical energy of such readings derives from Soni's fierce ethical commitment to the Solonian ideal of mortal happiness." - Neil Chudgar (Macalester College), The Eighteenth Century

"a staggeringly impressive book. Mourning Happiness is a work of deep learning and rare theoretical sophistication, offering a powerful and far-reaching critique of modernity in the tradition of Freud, Adorno and Horkheimer, Foucault, and MacIntyre. ... At a time when literary studies is so interested in sensory and affective experience, there is something refreshingly contrapuntal in Soni's insistence that only such an abstract form of happiness can truly be said to respect "human finitude and mortality" (7)." - Brian Michael Norton (CalState - Fullerton), Eighteenth-Century Studies

"Soni's is far and away the most brilliant reformulation of the question of happiness in recent years...You would have to go back to Habermas's public sphere book to find another volume of such reach and accomplishment...Soni is by turns a first-rate intellectual historian, a virtuoso philosophical exegete, and a groundbreaking literary critic.Yet one of the wonders of reading his work is the creeping realization that beneath a prose this calm and expository...there can lurk an idea reckless and militant: single-minded, obsessive." Christian Thorne (Williams), Eighteenth-Century Life

"Soni begins his erudite, wide-ranging account of happiness with the Greek philosopher Solon's dictum, 'Call no man happy until he is dead,' and derives from it a 'tragic' conception of happiness, one grounded in human mortality. He then traces the happiness 'trial narrative' through the long history of philosophy and literature from Aristotle to the eighteenth century, especially Samuel Richardson, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Oliver Goldsmith, Adam Smith, Henry Mackenzie, Laurence Sterne, and William Wordsworth. Along the way he challenges conventional wisdom: where many have argued that happiness came into its own in the late eighteenth century, . . . Soni makes the case that serious thought about happiness had already runs its course by the 1770s. . . . This is a critical resource for scholars. Summing up: Essential."—Choice, June 2011



"Mourning Happiness powerfully transcends the usual field limitations of academic scholarship, making a compelling case for how an ancient Greek construal of happiness could reawaken the radical force of that denuded concept in our own present. . . . This provocative study affirms the importance of narrative form to one of our most upheld and yet least examined ideals."—Citation for the 2010 Modern Language Association Prize for a First Book



"Mourning Happiness is meticulous and wide-ranging. Vivasvan Soni has made a stunning argument for happiness as a foundational problem in politics."—Wai Chee Dimock, Yale University



"Mourning Happiness, a work of rare scope and power, grapples with the big questions: Is happiness the proper end of life, as the Greeks conceived it to be, or is life, as it appears since the early English novel, an endless trial? Soni supports his overarching thesis about the ancient and future value of the happy life with careful and engaging close readings of an unusually wide variety of literary and philosophical texts. The result is a major contribution to both narratology and ethics—indeed, Soni shows that the two cannot properly be separated."—Adam Potkay, William R. Kenan Professor of Humanities, The College of William and Mary

“ambitious, theoretically reflective, and potentially transformative study...Soni’s critically engaged, analytically precise, deeply thoughtful, nuanced, illuminating readings of this philosophical tradition are impressive in their own right.Yet Mourning Happiness is also a literary history, and it is the way in which Soni links philosophy with literature that makes this book such an innovative study...Mourning Happiness is a formidable accomplishment that must be taken seriously by those interested in philosophy, literature, and political theory.” Neil Saccamano (Cornell), Eighteenth-Century Fiction

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Book Description Cornell University Press, United States, 2010. Hardback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. For many eighteenth-century thinkers, happiness was a revolutionary new idea filled with the promise of the Enlightenment. However, Vivasvan Soni argues that the period fails to establish the importance of happiness as a guiding idea for human practice, generating our modern sentimental idea of happiness. Mourning Happiness shows how the eighteenth century s very obsession with happiness culminates in the political obsolescence of the idea.Soni explains that this puzzling phenomenon can only be comprehended by studying a structural transformation of the idea of happiness at the level of narrative form. Happiness is stripped of its ethical and political content, Soni demonstrates, when its intimate relation to narrative is destroyed. This occurs, paradoxically, in some of the most characteristic narratives of the period: eighteenth-century novels including Pamela, The Vicar of Wakefield, and Julie; the pervasive sentimentalism of the time; Kant s ethics; and the political thought of Rousseau and Jefferson.For Soni, the classical Greek idea of happiness--epitomized by Solon s proverb Call no man happy until he is dead --opens the way to imagining a properly secular conception of happiness, one that respects human finitude and mortality. By analyzing the story of Solon s encounter with Croesus, Attic funeral orations, Greek tragedy, and Aristotle s ethics, Soni explains what it means to think, rather than feel, a happiness available for public judgment, rooted in narrative, unimaginable without a relationship to community, and irreducible to an emotional state. Such an ideal, Soni concludes, would allow for a radical reenvisioning of a politics that takes happiness seriously and responds to our highest aspirations rather than merely keeping our basest motivations in check. Seller Inventory # AAJ9780801448171

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Book Description Cornell University Press, United States, 2010. Hardback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. For many eighteenth-century thinkers, happiness was a revolutionary new idea filled with the promise of the Enlightenment. However, Vivasvan Soni argues that the period fails to establish the importance of happiness as a guiding idea for human practice, generating our modern sentimental idea of happiness. Mourning Happiness shows how the eighteenth century s very obsession with happiness culminates in the political obsolescence of the idea.Soni explains that this puzzling phenomenon can only be comprehended by studying a structural transformation of the idea of happiness at the level of narrative form. Happiness is stripped of its ethical and political content, Soni demonstrates, when its intimate relation to narrative is destroyed. This occurs, paradoxically, in some of the most characteristic narratives of the period: eighteenth-century novels including Pamela, The Vicar of Wakefield, and Julie; the pervasive sentimentalism of the time; Kant s ethics; and the political thought of Rousseau and Jefferson.For Soni, the classical Greek idea of happiness--epitomized by Solon s proverb Call no man happy until he is dead --opens the way to imagining a properly secular conception of happiness, one that respects human finitude and mortality. By analyzing the story of Solon s encounter with Croesus, Attic funeral orations, Greek tragedy, and Aristotle s ethics, Soni explains what it means to think, rather than feel, a happiness available for public judgment, rooted in narrative, unimaginable without a relationship to community, and irreducible to an emotional state. Such an ideal, Soni concludes, would allow for a radical reenvisioning of a politics that takes happiness seriously and responds to our highest aspirations rather than merely keeping our basest motivations in check. Seller Inventory # AAJ9780801448171

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