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 peculiar 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 and imaginative) night of dark trees, and peek beneath those cypresses. Our guides will include Julie Reshe on depressive realism; Eugene Thacker on the “color” black; Chaim Wigder on revolutionary pathology; Martin Heidegger on anxiety; Mark Fisher on systemic depression; François Laruelle on the dark universe; and Barbara Ehrenreich on the tyranny of positivity. Good fun, huh!? Our challenge will be to avoid the traps of gothic romanticism (“woe is me!”) and scientific realism (“the universe is absolute nothingness–all the way down!”).