English R1B

Reading and Composition: On Happiness

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
8 Fall 2019 Ritland, Laura
MWF 12-1 106 Dwinelle

Book List

Smith, Danez: Don't Call Us Dead; Woolf, Virginia: Mrs. Dalloway

Other Readings and Media

All other readings will be posted on bCourses, and will include: essays, poetry, and short fiction by Audre Lorde, Sylvia Plath, Langston Hughes, Adrienne Rich, Rohinton Mistry, Madeleine Thien, Jamaica Kincaid; and (short, excerpted) philosophical and academic texts by Sara Ahmed, Lauren Berlant, Arlie Hochschild, Aristotle, Epicurus, J.S. Mill, Jeremey Bentham, and Theodor Adorno. We will also watch films—tentatively, The Hours, directed by Stephen Daldry, and Fire, directed by Deepa Mehta.


In contemporary popular culture, "happiness" is often pictured as an object just beyond our reach. We try to organize our future life-paths to be "happy," tend to collectively agree that happiness is a worthwhile pursuit, and develop whole industries to make us happier—from wedding planning agencies to meditation apps. However, what really is "happiness"? Is it an ongoing process or life ethics, as in the case of the Ancient Greeks' philosophical meditations on the "good life" or eudaimonia? Is it something that can be grasped or gained, like property or other forms of capital? Is it a political condition that every democratic citizen has a "right" to claim, as famously stated in the U.S. Declaration of Independence? Finally, and importantly, as the cultural critic Sara Ahmed has asked in The Promise of Happiness, "Do we consent to happiness?" When might happiness in fact be a dictum to assimilate to modes of life that may not be very happy at all? Can a resistance to happiness—or self-reflexive unhappiness—become a form of social resistance? And is happiness the best technique for living well, here and now?

We will approach these questions especially through literary works and narrative media by women, queer writers, and writers of color, to think about how happiness becomes defined and contested in the twentieth century. This course will also require you to think backwards into history and stretch your reading and interpretational skills through short excerpts from older philosophical texts (Aristotle, Epicurus, Bentham, etc.) and recent scholarly works (Ahmed, Berlant, Hochschild, etc.). Aside from providing a conceptual framework for you to begin to think and write about happiness, the primary goal of this course is to cultivate your skill as a writer and critical thinker. As such, you will be required to compose a series of short writing assignments throughout the course which will utimately lead to a large research paper.

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