Catalogue

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Mourning happiness : narrative and the politics of modernity /
Vivasvan Soni.
imprint
Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 2010.
description
xi, 536 p. ; 24 cm.
ISBN
0801448174 (cloth : alk. paper), 9780801448171 (cloth : alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 2010.
isbn
0801448174 (cloth : alk. paper)
9780801448171 (cloth : alk. paper)
contents note
Solon's cryptic injunction : "Call no man happy until dead" -- A mourning happiness : the Athenian funeral oration -- Difficult happiness : the case of tragedy -- Aristotle's hermeneutic of happiness : the first forgetting -- The trial narrative in Richardson's Pamela : suspending the hermeneutic of happiness -- Effects of the trial narrative on the concept of happiness -- Marriage plot -- The tragedies of sentimentalism -- Kantian ethics and the discourses of modernity -- Happiness in revolution : erasing the political concept of happiness.
catalogue key
7306435
 
Includes bibliographical references (p. 495-521) and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter
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.
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2011-06-01:
Happiness has been attracting increasing scholarly attention from neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, legal scholars, philosophers, historians, and literary critics. Soni (English, Northwestern Univ.) begins his own 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 18th 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 18th century, the age that gave birth to the Declaration of Independence and the right to "the pursuit of happiness," Soni makes the case that serious thought about happiness had already run its course by the 1770s. The complexity of the ideas and range of references will frighten off novice readers, but this is a critical resource for scholars. Summing Up: Essential. Graduate students, researchers, faculty. J. T. Lynch Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Newark
Reviews
Review Quotes
"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
"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 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."-2011 MLA Prize for a First Book Citation
"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
"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
This item was reviewed in:
Choice, June 2011
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Bowker Data Service Summary
'Mourning Happiness' shows how the obsession of 18th century thinkers with the concept of happiness culminated 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.
Main Description
For many eighteenth-century thinkers, happiness was a revolutionary idea filled with the promise of the Enlightenment. Vivasvan Soni argues, however, 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: such eighteenth-century novels as 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.
Main Description
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.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introduction: What Happened to Happiness?p. 1
Solon's Cryptic Injunction: "Call no man happy until dead"p. 27
A Mourning Happiness: The Athenian Funeral Orationp. 82
Difficult Happiness: The Case of Tragedyp. 108
Aristotle's Hermeneutic of Happiness: The First Forgettingp. 123
The Trial Narrative in Richardson's Pamela: Suspending the Hermeneutic of Happinessp. 177
Excursus: Notes toward a Prehistory of the Trial Narrativep. 211
Effects of the Trial Narrative on the Concept of Happinessp. 234
Marriage Plotp. 267
The Tragedies of Sentimentalismp. 290
Kantian Ethics and the Discourses of Modernityp. 335
Happiness in Revolution: Erasing the Political Concept of Happinessp. 411
Conclusion: The Afterlife of the Trial Narrativep. 487
Bibliographyp. 495
Indexp. 523
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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