Perpetual Euphoria

Perpetual Euphoria: On the Duty to Be Happy

Translated by STEVEN RENDALL
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Perpetual Euphoria
    Book Description:

    Happiness today is not just a possibility or an option but a requirement and a duty. To fail to be happy is to fail utterly. Happiness has become a religion--one whose smiley-faced god looks down in rebuke upon everyone who hasn't yet attained the blessed state of perpetual euphoria. How has a liberating principle of the Enlightenment--the right to pursue happiness--become the unavoidable and burdensome responsibility to be happy? How did we become unhappy about not being happy--and what might we do to escape this predicament? InPerpetual Euphoria, Pascal Bruckner takes up these questions with all his unconventional wit, force, and brilliance, arguing that we might be happier if we simply abandoned our mad pursuit of happiness.

    Gripped by the twin illusions that we are responsible for being happy or unhappy and that happiness can be produced by effort, many of us are now martyring ourselves--sacrificing our time, fortunes, health, and peace of mind--in the hope of entering an earthly paradise. Much better, Bruckner argues, would be to accept that happiness is an unbidden and fragile gift that arrives only by grace and luck.

    A stimulating and entertaining meditation on the unhappiness at the heart of the modern cult of happiness,Perpetual Euphoriais a book for everyone who has ever bristled at the command to "be happy."

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3597-3
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. INTRODUCTION Invisible Penitence
    (pp. 1-6)

    In 1738 the young Mirabeau sent a letter to his friend Vauvenargues, reproaching him for living from day to day without having any plan for achieving happiness: “See here, my friend, you think all the time, you study, and nothing is beyond the scope of your ideas; and yet you never think for a moment about making a clear plan leading to what should be our only goal: happiness.” He went on to list for his skeptical correspondent the principles that guided his own conduct: ridding himself of prejudices, preferring gaiety to moodiness, following his inclinations and at the same...

  4. PART I Paradise Is Where I Am

    • CHAPTER ONE Life as a Dream and a Lie
      (pp. 9-26)

      In sixteenth-century France and Italy, there were collective autos-da-fé or “bonfires of the vanities,” in which, as a sign of their renunciation of the trifles of the world, men and women threw into the flames playing cards, books, jewels, wigs, and perfumes.¹ During this period at the end of the Middle Ages, which was tormented by a strong passion for life, doubt was not permitted: full satisfaction was to be had only in God, and everything outside God was mere trickery and dissimulation. Thus it was necessary constantly to remind mortals of the insignificance of human pleasures in comparison with...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Golden Age and After?
      (pp. 27-38)

      In his poemLe Mondain(1736), Voltaire formulated the postulate on which the whole modern notion of happiness is based: “The earthly paradise is where I am,” a generative matrix that people endlessly imitated or repeated, as if to convince themselves that it was true.¹ A magnificent, shocking statement that demolishes centuries of backworld and asceticism and whose disturbing simplicity we are still thinking through. Later on, Voltaire, frightened like all his contemporaries by the Lisbon earthquake, rejected this flamboyant optimism, this provocative praise of luxury and pleasure, and, confronted by the arbitrariness of nature and humans, adopted a more...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Disciplines of Beatitude
      (pp. 39-66)

      In 1929 Freud declared in hisCivilization and Its Discontentsthat happiness was impossible: it is the constantly growing part of his desires that the individual has to give up in order to live in society, all cultures being based on the renunciation of instincts. Noting that unhappiness threatens us from all sides, in our body, in nature, in our relations with others, Freud draws the following conclusion: “the intention that man should be ‘happy’ is not included in the plan of ‘Creation.’ What we call happiness in the strictest sense of the word comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction...

  5. PART II The Kingdom of the Lukewarm, or The Invention of Banality

    • CHAPTER FOUR The Bittersweet Saga of Dullness
      (pp. 69-83)

      It is said that in London there is a very exclusive club that requires its members, on pain of being ejected, to utter only clichés. Anyone who tries to raise the level of conversation or expresses an idea of even the slightest interest is immediately expelled. A perilous exercise that requires no less agility of mind than does a legal plea or an oratorical contest.

      Here, we are not concerned with this obligation to stick to platitudes, this descent of people, things, and discourses into a common world that makes them all equivalent.¹ Instead, we are concerned with another kind...

    • CHAPTER FIVE The Extremists of Routine
      (pp. 84-105)

      It is monastic life, with its meticulous division of the hours of the day and its long periods reserved for prayer, that best prefigures our present experience of profane time. What is peculiar to a monk, if he belongs to a contemplative order, is that he does nothing at all in the way of action or fabrication: he is subject, just as the rest of us are, to the great disorganizing power that is called everyday life, which can affect his faith and turn him away from God. The spiritual exercises that each community has to perform are intended to...

    • CHAPTER SIX Real Life Is Not Absent
      (pp. 106-128)

      A man and a woman meet by chance at the home of friends ten years after they first met. From his earliest childhood, the man, John Marcher, has had “the sense of being kept for something rare and strange, possibly prodigious and terrible, that was sooner or later to happen” to him. This unforeseeable thing awaited him “amid the twists and the turns of the months and the years, like a crouching beast in the Jungle.”¹ It will spring on him at some time or another, he just has to be prepared. He asks the young woman, May Bartram, to...

  6. PART III The Bourgeoisie, or The Abjection of Well-Being

    • CHAPTER SEVEN “The Fat, Prosperous Elevation of the Average, the Mediocre”
      (pp. 131-148)

      In 1995 two boys threw incendiary bombs into a fashionable restaurant in Colmar. The owner died in the resulting fire. Arrested a few years later, the two young men, who came from good families, explained that they had wanted to strike a blow against a symbol of bourgeois order.

      The bourgeois! Big or little, for two centuries he has been the most hated and most reviled figure, a sort of abstract prototype of ignominy that has left its actual instantiation behind and taken its position in the pantheon of accursed gods. The whole history of antibourgeois mythology is one long...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT What Is Happiness for Some Is Kitsch for Others
      (pp. 149-162)

      In the attack on democratic culture that has been going on ever since the French Revolution, there is one word that pops up over and over:vulgarity. This word, which is of recent origin, appeared at just the time when the people ceased to be subjugated and became, nominally at least, the main actor in political life. It spread with the social mobility that led to a confusion of the classes, putting on an equal footing the noble and the commoner, the city-dweller and the peasant, the proletarian and the boss, and producing the terrible dissonance that arises from mixing...

    • CHAPTER NINE If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Give It Back!
      (pp. 163-180)

      In a striking passage, Proust describes the dining room at the Grand Hotel in Balbec as an

      immense and wonderful aquarium against whose wall of glass the working population of Balbec, the fishermen and also the tradesmen’s families, clustering invisibly in the outer darkness, pressed their faces to watch, gently floating upon the golden eddies within, the luxurious life of its occupants, a thing as extraordinary to the poor as the life of strange fishes or mollusks (an important social question, this: whether the wall of glass will always protect the wonderful creatures at their feasting, whether the obscure folk...

  7. PART IV Unhappiness Outlawed?

    • CHAPTER TEN The Crime of Suffering
      (pp. 183-205)

      In a novel published in 1872, Samuel Butler imagines a country, Erewhon (an anagram of “nowhere”), where sickness is punished as a crime and the slightest cold can land you in jail, whereas murder is considered an illness that deserves to be treated with concern and care. With acute foresight, Butler goes so far as to explain that grief and distress—for example, the loss of a dear one—are punished as a serious crime, the bereaved person being no more than a delinquent guilty for his sorrow. A judge sentences a man accused of pulmonary consumption to life imprisonment...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Impossible Wisdom
      (pp. 206-226)

      We know the famous alternative with which Voltaire confronts us inCandide: human beings are born “to live in the throes of anxiety or the lethargy of boredom.” So our only choice would be between the horror of affliction and the monotony of peace and quiet. A terrible dilemma! In reality, our appetite for life requires adversities that we can cope with, that test our freedom without destroying it. We need obstacles that we can overcome and that spare us the double experience of repeated failure and insurmountable suffering. Therein resides the paradox: good things that are obtained without effort...

  8. CONCLUSION Madame Verdurin’s Croissant
    (pp. 227-232)

    When in 1915 Madame Verdurin learns of the loss of theLusitania, a British ocean liner sunk by a German submarine, she is enjoying her first croissant of the war. The abrupt arrival of this news in no way lessens her pleasure in rediscovering a taste so familiar:

    Mme Verdurin, who suffered from headaches on account of being unable to get croissants to dip into her coffee, had obtained an order from Cottard which enabled her to have them made in the restaurant mentioned earlier. It had been almost as difficult to procure this order from the authorities as the...

  9. INDEX
    (pp. 233-244)