PM Pick

Happy?

The following thoughts were occasioned by reading two wildly dissimilar works in conjunction: Will Wilkinson's recent Cato Institute policy paper about happiness research and Laclau and Mouffe's Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. First of all, they couldn't be further apart on the readability scale. Wilkinson writes clean, compelling prose sprinkled with wit and pointed, impassioned polemic, while Laclau and Mouffe evince the distinct aversion to active verbs and discernible grammatical subjects that you often find in works of nebulous social theory. And they initially seem to be coming from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. Wilkinson, a libertarian, argues for as little governmental intervention as possible into the lives of sovereign individuals; Laclau and Mouffe are socialists trying to conceive of a method to bring about "radical democratic politics" to forward Leftist interests, arguing essentially that the individual has no identity outside of political struggle. Laclau and Mouffe are trying to find ways to build poltical blocs, to develop ad hoc unity among a disparate group so it can then effect social change. Wilkinson seems to be arguing against the social usefulness of collective will.

Nevertheless, maybe because I am misinterpreting them both, but I found a surprising potential for synthesis between the two works, mainly because Wilkinson's eagerness to discount happiness research leads him to take some rather nuanced, relativistic stances at various points about they way people comprehend their own interests, just as Laclau and Mouffe, eager to dispatch essentialist, given notions of what it means to be working class, systematically undermine all appeals to universal notions. There's no one determinant of class identity, any more than there is one definition of what happiness is, as experienced. (Whether an objective notion of well-being that we are not actively conscious of can be considered happiness is another question.)

Wilkinson cites approvingly a passage by philosopher Nicolas White, who argue that "As we develop a picture of what life is to be like, we don't start from a 'framework' concept of happiness (an idea of what the picture on the puzzle will be), to which to tailor our particular aims so that they'll fit into it.... For the most part we build up a conception of what happiness would be out of the aims that we have." Compare that with this passage from Laclau and Mouffe: "The fixity of every social element in the first theorizations of hegemony proceeded, as we saw, from the indissoluable link between the hegemonized task and the class that was supposed to be its natural agent.... But, insofar as the task has ceased to have any necessary link with a class, its identity is given to it solely by its articulation within a hegemonic formulation. Its identity, then, has become purely relational. And as this system of relations has itself ceased to be fixed and stable -- thereby making hegemonic practices possible -- the sens of every social identity appears constantly deferred." In other words happiness is contingent on aims, and aims are contingent on given social formations, and what values can become dominant (hegemonic) through the way they are articulated and their appeal broadened or made constitutive of identity for those swayed by them. The inefficacy of happiness research to pin down a consistent definition opens up the space in which hegemony can be constructed. Political work consists of defining happiness in such a way that suits a particular bloc while conveying a sense of individual empowerment (a sense of concrete identity and fulfillment of that identity's potential) to those throwing support behind the bloc. Happiness research, then, is discourse attempting to perform this work, constructing happiness in a politically useful way and presenting that definition as natural and inevitable. Individual happiness and the collective good administered politically thereby merge into a single conception, albeit one that is always contested and is ever-shifting, no matter how much it insists it is objective and transcendent and eternally true. To gloss White, not only is the picture on the puzzle indeterminable until you start to work at putting it together, but the pieces themselves are always shifting, as is the logic of the rules for solving the puzzle.

In short, happiness may be what L&M (not the cigarette) call "nodal points," semi-fixed notions in the field of relations that seem universal and transcendent but are actually up for grabs. Despite their tendency to shift, we still rely on them to orient ourselves in construing our own goals and in conceiving how to relate to peers and how to structure who the enemies are.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less
Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Rather than once again exploring the all-too-familiar territory of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Samantha Silva's debut novel contextualizes the work's origins and gets inside the mind of its creator.


Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has been told and retold so many times over the years that, by this point, one might be hard-pressed to find a single soul evenly glancingly familiar with western culture who isn't at least tangentially acquainted with the holiday classic. This is, of course, a bit of holiday-themed hyperbole, but the fact remains that the basic premise of A Christmas Carol has become so engrained in our culture that it would seem near impossible to imagine a time prior to its existence. It's universally-relatable themes of the power of kindness, redemption and forgiveness speaks to the heart of the Christmas season – at least as it has been presented in the 174 years since it was first published in 19 December 1843 -- just in time for Christmas.

Keep reading... Show less
6

Following his excellent debut record Communion, Rabit further explores the most devastating aspects of its sound in his sophomore opus Les Fleurs du Mal.

Back in 2015 Rabit was unleashing Communion in the experimental electronic scene. Combining extreme avant-garde motifs with an industrial perspective on top of the grime sharpness, Eric C. Burton released one of the most interesting records of that year. Blurring lines between genres, displaying an aptitude for taking things to the edge and the fact that Burton was not afraid to embrace the chaos of his music made Communion such an enticing listen, and in turn set Rabit to be a "not to be missed" artist.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image