“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dove son? che loco è questo?

LI has been thinking that what I need to do, if I am to satisfy the armies of periodizers that inhabit my nightmares, is to go from showing how the conditions for the change in the attitude towards happiness came together in the seventeenth and eighteenth century (this is what all these themes over the past half a year have been about, captain!) to showing how happiness became a norm. That is, showing how it ended up filling three places normatively - as a feeling; as a judgment over the life order (or a judgment over lifestyles); and as a justification for political and economic arrangements. So far, I’ve been trying to show that those spaces haven’t always been connected by happiness. That this threefold social phenomena isn’t simply a matter of one feeling taking over from a previous dominant one. That the three places condition each other; and that in the wake of the slow vanishing of the human limit, there was play room for a number of affective political structures. Most notably, that of volupté. I’ve liked the often quoted phrase of Tallyrand’s said about the “sweetness” of life in the ancien regime, since that seems to point to something that is not a happiness norm, but that still held down this space between the desacralizing of the life order and the absence of a normative sense of happiness as the final legitimating end of social arrangements.

How would such a life be lived? Well, I can’t really do better than point to a quartet of Mozart’s operas: Le Nozze di Figaro, Cosi fan tutte, Don Giovanni, and Die Zauberflöte.

In reading Bruce Allan Brown’s book about Cosi fan tutte, I came across the name Johann Pezzl – probably a very well known name to Mozart fans. Myself, I hadn’t heard of him before. Pezzl was a fellow mason and an inveterate scribbler, briefly one of Joseph II’s spies (another instance of the adventurer), and the producer of a number of popular books about Vienna. There are some wonderful quotes from Pezzl in Brown’s book – alas, I haven’t been able to find Pezzl’s Skizze von Wien, although I have found a copy of Neue Skizze von Wien.

I don’t have much time this week, but I want to do a little Pezzl quoting. And I wanted to link to this great production of Cosi fan tutte. Act two, scene 16 in particular seems to gather together so many of the themes I have been treating that it makes gives me the interpreter’s vertigo. You will notice that Despina speaks swabian – Mesmer’s language – and tartar – the language of Catherine’s Siberian Shaman:

Come comandano
Dunque parliamo:
So il greco e l'arabo,
So il turco e il vandalo;
Lo svevo e il tartaro
So ancor parlar


Chuckie K said...

'as a feeling' - There's an aspect I wanted to comment on before. Recently, I read a biography of John Laurens. His father Henry was the most prominent leader of the South Carolina Whigs before and during the American Revolution. Young John got his education in England and Geneva. He returned in his early 20s and served as on of Washington's aides-de-camp during the height of the war in the Mid-Atlantic. What fame he enjoys, John owes to his doomed advocacy to the Continental Congress and then to the South Carolina legislature of enlisting slaves into the American army with the promise of emancipation.

John was a philosopher and enthusiast, a lover of virtue and civic duty. Judging by the frequency with which the biographer can quote John's letters on the subject, the pursuit of happiness occupied his thoughts greatly. Thnkas to the cue from these posts, I attended to the those quotes and was struck by the absence of feeling from John's concerns. Material stability and affluence, civic commitment, benevolence and charity comprise his definition. All of them activities, the social indispensible to them.

So I am curious how 'feeling' moved to the head of the list.

roger said...

CK - great question. There's a quote in Brown, I think, from Pezzl, in which he writes about the Enlightenment - interesting, a journalist in 1790 or so responding to Kant's essay on the Enlightenment. He writes that people associate it with being irreligious, but he claims that no, it has to do with just the kind of virtues that Laurenc is working with. Indeed, part of my argument has been that the idea of happiness in the eighteenth century borrows semantic moves from the libertines, and especially in the notion of being agreeable.

So where did the feeling aspect come in? Well, I'd guess that happiness comes into play in the notion of a utilitarian calculus, which uses the units of pleasure and pain. Let's see, I have some posts that deal with this, but I don't have time to find them at the moment. Anyway, the threefold aspect of happiness shouldn't be construed as a ladder in which happiness the feeling comes first, then the judgment, then the social legitimating function - they are all interrelated, although that doesn't mean that they don't follow different paths to that moment of interrelation, and respond to their histories as well as to their unity as a social phenomenon.

Chuckie K said...

By 'head of the list' I was thinking more of a foregrounding than a hierarchy. For the last so many years I have been fulminating about 'mandatory happiness' as an item on the contemporary, pardon me, ideological agenda. "Let a smile be ... your social net." Another reason I find this question posed at greater historical depth so worthwhile. Grounds I can adduce when I urge others join me in embracing our their unhappiness. Although I may stop short of stikcing my tongue in its mouth.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

speaking of happiness, Pezzl's novel, a sort of Candide, is called Faustin.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

(oh and get hold of a copy of the Met Cosi that was Bartoli's Met debut (as despina) if you can; best ever despina.)

Le Colonel Chabert said...

"He writes that people associate it with being irreligious,"

re: "the heart", sentiment, feeling: the josephine enlighteners are with rousseau largely or close(pezzl was trying to show catholicism could be as tolerant as protestantism; or at least protestantism could be as intolerant as catholicism - he has Faustin's tutor killed in the Gordon riots)...

the education reforms under van Sweiten, secularisation, stressing 'philosophy', kind of utilitarian in the helvetian vein, drew this rebuke from Emperor Joseph: "Since an essential aspect of the education of young people, namely religion and morality, is treated far too lightly, since the heart is not being educated and no feeling for one's true duties is being developed, the state is deprived of the essential advantages of having raised right-thinking and well-behaved citizens." (Joseph to Kolowrat)

on feeling, he's basically within the scheme of Émile.

roger said...

lcc, you who know so much more than I do about opera that I can can only come up to your big toe - what do you think of that 1996 performance? I'm not going to lie - I don't have the coolness not to think that Soave il vento is the most beautiful thing ever. And among the oddest of beautiful things to place in an opera that destroys the smallest sentimental notion one might have of sincerity - or of the non-substitutability of people. Such pain, and so easily assuaged!
This is a giant mystery.

There's a bit you might be interested in in Pezzl's New Sketches of Vienna, a chapter in which he marvels about this new phrase that people are using about educating their children - "how much does it pay?" Was bezahlt es?

Le Colonel Chabert said...

"what do you think of that 1996 performance?"

superb. for me, the best on dvd.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

you would have liked a cosi i saw at glyneborne years ago; it was set as a theatre rehearsal - the opening scene 'la mia dorabella tradirmi non sa!" etc is the two young actors, script in hand, complaining to the director (alonso) that the play they're rehearsing is not plausible; he shows them how it is, makes it work, makes it moving; the whole thing takes place in rehearsal space, actors in sweats, was great; conceits like this with operas can really misfire but this one really worked.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

glynDebourne! 1999 or 2000.

roger said...

Thanks, LCC. I'm reluctantly going into the world of Netflix, so I will check these versions out!

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