As much as I love Pharrell's Happy song, I am a bit troubled by the constant focus on 'finding happiness,' that I see everywhere my eye turns lately. I realize that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is inscribed into the American psyche in a way that is beyond my Englishness to grasp, but this fixation on being happy, well, it's a bit over the top. Don't get me wrong, I like being happy, and, as someone who wrestles with depression, it's a rare and prized commodity for me, but it's precisley that idea that is capturing my attention of late.I am especially troubled by the linking of happiness to particular consumer products and actions. Happiness like many other things in life is constantly being commodified and linked to consumer capitalism in ways that undermine it's truer value.
I think happiness is rarer and a bit more elusive than we might imagine and not as readily attainable as we assume and I must admit that I am not sure happiness is as much of an entitlement as we would have ourselves believe it is.
Perhaps I should say that I think there are a couple of different kinds of happinesses to be experienced. One is the commodified version where happiness is linked to the fulfillment of one's desires, and often linked to some consumer practice or artifact. The other form of happiness is harder to come by, it involves the embrace of our full humanness, our brokenness, and if you like, a rejection of the 'pursuit of happiness' in favour of the pursuit of humanity, which in turn might just offer up a heavy dose of a different kind of happiness. I might also say that I find the commodification of the sacred as the most virulent form of happiness propaganda, the selling of religion as a pathway to happiess and fulfillment of desire is problematic for me, I'm not sure god exists to make us happy (not sure god exists, but another time for that one).
There is a great article on the visualculture blog about Coca-Cola, migrant workers and happiness-where of course Coca-Cola is the salvific bringer of happiness and blessing. It's a great examination of how advertising works, and how easily we can link a product to prized moral and ethical values. Definitely worth a look.
I am working on a couple of book ideas, and have been sketching out some things that I have been living with for some time. One of them is a book on (de)centering practices. I spend a lot of time in relgious environs and there is always someone teaching a class on centering something, or talking about balance, or switching off, all valid ideas, but somehow they don't resonate with the way I approach the world and they are often drawn from traditions that removed themselves from the wider world and retreated into anther environ and shaped practices out of that. I don't live that way, I do not aspire to a monastic life or community, I don't seek refuge from the world, I want to grab it by the balls. I do have mechanisms for navigating it all, like everyone I have to stop every once in a while and think through how I am making my way through life, and make adjustments, take time out etc., but sometimes 'finding simplicity or balance' is not possible. In fact I am fairly sure that a balanced life is a modern myth, so I have been thinking for a couple of years now around other ways of handling life--managing noise, negotiating complexity, navigating randomness and uncertainty, stuff like that.
Alongside that I have been thinking a lot about the 'god trajectory'; the death/post/after god conversation; the radical a/theism theology discourse; and particualrly of the post-mystical.
In my theology and culture class we just finshed a couple of weeks talking about human physicality, sexuality, identity and the theological intersections, all in an effort to join the dots in new configurations that better address the world we inhabit. We began that journey with some comments from Giorgio Agamben from his book Nudities, where he states that 'nudity in our culture has a theological signature', essentially arguing that the relationship to nakedness we hold in Western culture is rooted in a Judeo-christian informed perspective that finds its way back to Genesis, the book of beginnings, to the fall, t0 shame etc. But as I re-read the book it was the book's closing paragraphs that hit me on an entirely other level, related more to my present thinking around the above-mentioned topics.
"The ways in which we do not know things are just as important (and perhaps more important) as the ways in which we know them...it is possible, in fact, that the way in which we are able to be ignorant is precisley what defines the rank of what we are able to know and that the articulation of a zone of non-knowledge is the condition and at the same time the touchstone of all our knowledge...The act of living is, in this sense, the capacity to keep ourselves in harmonious relationship with that which escapes us."
There is a clue in here related to some of the ideas I am working with. Rather than binary oppostions silence/noise, simplicity/complexity, there is another way of thinking about things, much more complimentary and interrelated than oppositional. Agamben is not talking about not-knowing as a defective thing, as 'clumsiness' as he puts it, but a different kind of relationship between both what is known and what is unknown. To me this connects with Vattimo's concept of weak thinking and Caputo's weak theology. I'll come back to that in another post.
I'm a fan of Mark Ryden, whose latest exhibit The Gay Nineties West, has just opened at LA's Kohn Gallery. As a companion piece Ryden enlisted a number of musican friends Tyler the Creator, Weird Al, Katy Perry, Nick Cave, Kirk Hammett, Mark Mothersbaugh and more to record original covers of the song "Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)." It's a quirky bonus for his already unique artwork.