[lit-ideas] Re: Happiness or Meaning?

  • From: David Ritchie <ritchierd@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 19 Sep 2008 11:07:32 -0700

I want to add that while memory and stillness in Emin and Hopper are clearly in play here, Diebenkorn and Richter are closer to what I have in mind, which is an exploration not of how we conjure happiness, but what happiness is nowadays. Mitchell, I don't know. The painting seems too busy and frantic, more like a representation of how we go about chasing happiness.

David etc.
On Sep 19, 2008, at 10:58 AM, David Ritchie wrote:

On Sep 18, 2008, at 10:37 PM, Eric Yost wrote:

David: Maybe somewhere between Sam Francis and Rothko, there's a way forward?

John Singer Sargent's _Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose_;

Mary Cassatt's _The Boating Party_;

Richard Diebenkorn's "Ocean Park" series;

Edward Hopper's _Early Sunday Morning_;

Joan Mitchell's _Untitled_;

Gerhard Richter's _Clouds_; even

Tracey Emin's _May Dodge My Nan_

all seem happy in their own way.

A short response. I hope I haven't compressed too much. It's probably better to start with this rather than spend days on a long essay that no one has time to read.

Yes, they do. And what do they tell us? That our metaphors concerning happiness are spatial perhaps and that they have changed over time? A constant is that happiness is associated with what is high, its opposite, with being low; happiness is expansive, it's opposite is restrictive. But there have been changes. In the amount of tranquility in that space, for example. Today the ultimate model of happiness is not eternity spent within a walled garden, or gazing from stadium seating at a very intense light bulb--I'm caricaturing two early visions of heaven. These notions of a safe lonely or social place, set apart from the world's turmoil have been translated in modern times into fantasies of tropical island escapes. But what happens when you actually become Gaugin or John Koffend today? Most people quickly feel "out of touch" with life. In the latter instance, you write a long letter to your wife, regretting all, and then you kill yourself. Contemporary concepts of happiness are not generally meditative; people want to be party of a boating party of some sort. And yet we have this idea that hell is other people, so the people in the party must be stripped to abstractions or colors if the space is to seem generally welcoming.

What, then, is the *pursuit* of happiness? Some kind of hunting party?

David Ritchie,
Portland, Oregon

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