In her essay “Action and the Pursuit of Happiness,” Hannah Arendt comments on the deep imprint of affirmation and positivity on “the American frame of mind.” Indeed, this tendency, as she points out, is a guiding principle of America’s founding documents, wherein “the pursuit of happiness” is enshrined as an inalienable human right. Never mind that everywhere, now as then, insecurity, strife, and oppression are the order of the day; still, we all possess that percularly American privilege of “pursuing a phantom and embracing a delusion.” Even Walt Whitman, our poet of joyous celebration must, in the end, wonder, “What is happiness, anyhow?…so impalpable—a mere breath, an evanescent tinge.”
Unlike many others, it is a “tinge” that is at least fostered by our dominant national ideology. What about the tinge of darkness that we all must surely experience? Call it unease, anxiety, nausea, existential angst, sadness, depression, everyday anguish, non-specific mourning, or something else, it is anathema to our collective identity and barred from serious, non-pathologized, discourse.
In this seminar, we will journey together into the (conceptual) night of dark trees and peek beneath those cypresses. Our guides will include Hannah Arendt, Friedrich Nietzsche, Emil Cioran, Giacomo Leopardi, Thomas Ligotti, Fernando Pessoa, George Friedrich Lichtenberg, Emily Dickinson, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Lev Shestov. We will read and discuss passages from their writings. Our challenge will be to avoid the traps of gothic romanticism (“woe is me!”) and scientific realism (“the universe is absolute nothingness”). Vigorously on the path to a hardy, full-bodied and generously pessimistic darkness, what might we behold?
Facilitator: Glenn Wallis holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Harvard University. He is the author of six books including Cruel Theory/Sublime Practice and Basic Teachings of the Buddha as well as numerous articles, chapters, and essays on various aspects of Buddhism per se and Western Buddhism in contemporary society. His most recent work, A Critique of Western Buddhism: Ruins of the Buddhist Real, employs the “non-philosophical” methods of French thinker François Laruelle. Wallis has taught at Brown University, Bowdoin College, and the University of Georgia.
Date: Saturday, August 4, 9am-1pm