Don’t worry, be happy: Feeling Good, Bad, and Everything In Between

Don’t Worry. Be Happy! Feeling Good, Bad, and Everything In Between

With Thomas Conners

1930s smile therapy for “depressed” wives

A talking trout, citing Bobby McFerrin, commands us: “Don’t worry, by happy.” Pharrell Williams encourages us to “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.” Fairy Tales end “happily ever after” with dizzying frequency. Happiness takes us over the rainbow and moon to cloud nine and the top of the world. 

Parting from contemporary imperatives to be and find happiness, as well as happiness’ function as both a synonym and barometer of success, this workshop takes at its core affects and emotions—the good, the bad, and the in between. Whether deployed idiomatically in everyday speech or song, or as the driving force behind a lifepath that must surely end with 2.5 kids and a white picket fence, happiness is operating on behalf of much more than smiles. We are led to ask: what, after all, is happiness? How is it tied to systems and structures of normativity and oppression? What of the unhappy, the sad, the anxious, the disgusted, and the angry? And what of the feelings that remain nameless altogether? When is a smile a sign of defeat and what forms does affective resistance take?

By way of exploring happiness and its alternatives, this seminar also centers affect theory’s recent turn to negative, ugly, and backward feelings. Beginning by questioning happiness and moving through its contraries, this seminar introduces participants to theories and thinkers on the forefront of feminist, queer, and cultural critique. Dialoguing with Sara Ahmed, we will interrogate contemporary imperatives to be happy while discussing the political, anti-racist, anti-patriarchal potency in unhappy figures like the feminist killjoy, the unhappy queer, the angry black woman, and the unhappy migrant. Through Sianne Ngai’s work, we will engage a wealth of ugly feelings such as envy, paranoia, irritation, and anxiety as indexes of capitalism’s ever-growing inequalities. In conversation with Heather Love and her notion of backwardness, we will ponder the aesthetic and political possibilities that resisting normative emotions (like pride) can offer. 

Reading, thinking, and feeling together, this seminar sets out to question affective norms and (re)potentiate some of our most frequent experiences and unpleasant feelings. Its objectives are threefold, aiming to 1) introduce participants, albeit briefly, to the field of affect theory and some of its major debates, 2) articulate the political, sociocultural, and aesthetic work good and bad feelings do, and 3) bridge the gap between theory and practice, connecting readings to lived experiences in this moment of heightened political dissonance, anti-affirmation, and dissent.

Thomas Conners.jpgFacilitator: Thomas Conners specializes in theories of affect, queer theory, and Latin American and Latinx literature. His dissertation centers contemporary U.S. Latinx narratives of loss to trace how literary manifestations of affects and emotions shift in relation to the advent of neoliberal multiculturalism. Conners is a Ph.D. candidate in Hispanic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania where he received his masters. He has taught a wide range of classes on culture, literature, and language at UPenn, the University of Delaware, and Ithaca College. Visit his homepage.


Readings: Pdf of Seminar Reader.
Date: Saturday, September 14, 10am-2pm
Cost: Pay-what-you-can, up to $90

We are committed to making our offerings of knowledge, dialogue, and community available to anyone who feels they can benefit from them, regardless of ability to pay. We trust you to pay what you can currently afford. If you can not afford to pay anything, but feel you can benefit from our seminars, we wholeheartedly encourage you to register for free. For others, please bear in mind that a seminar costs nearly $1000 in labor and expenses to run.


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