Perpetual Euphoria: On the Duty to Be Happy

Princeton University Press
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Happiness today is not just a possibility or an option but a requirement and a duty. To fail to be happy is to fail utterly. Happiness has become a religion--one whose smiley-faced god looks down in rebuke upon everyone who hasn't yet attained the blessed state of perpetual euphoria. How has a liberating principle of the Enlightenment--the right to pursue happiness--become the unavoidable and burdensome responsibility to be happy? How did we become unhappy about not being happy--and what might we do to escape this predicament? In Perpetual Euphoria, Pascal Bruckner takes up these questions with all his unconventional wit, force, and brilliance, arguing that we might be happier if we simply abandoned our mad pursuit of happiness.

Gripped by the twin illusions that we are responsible for being happy or unhappy and that happiness can be produced by effort, many of us are now martyring ourselves--sacrificing our time, fortunes, health, and peace of mind--in the hope of entering an earthly paradise. Much better, Bruckner argues, would be to accept that happiness is an unbidden and fragile gift that arrives only by grace and luck.

A stimulating and entertaining meditation on the unhappiness at the heart of the modern cult of happiness, Perpetual Euphoria is a book for everyone who has ever bristled at the command to "be happy."

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About the author

Pascal Bruckner is the award-winning author of many books of fiction and nonfiction, including the novel Bitter Moon, which was made into a film by Roman Polanski. Bruckner's nonfiction books include The Tyranny of Guilt (Princeton), The Temptation of Innocence, and The Tears of the White Man (Free Press).
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Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jan 10, 2011
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Philosophy / Political
Political Science / Comparative Politics
Political Science / History & Theory
Political Science / Political Ideologies / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Collected here in this 4-in-1 omnibus are the most important books ever written on the art of war. The Art of War By Sun Tzu translated and commented on by Lionel Giles, On War by Carl von Clausewitz, The Art of War by Niccolò Machiavelli, and The Art of War by Baron De Jomini. These four books will give you as complete a view on the art of war as you can attain. This is the most important book ever written about warfare and conflict. Lionel Giles' translation is the definitive edition and his commentary is indispensable. The Art of War can be used and adapted in every facet of your life. This book explains when and how to go to war, as well as when not to. Learn how to win any conflict whether it be on the battlefield or in the boardroom. Although Carl von Clausewitz participated in many military campaigns, he was primarily a military theorist interested in the examination of war. On War is the West's premier work on the philosophy of war. Other soldiers before him had written treatises on various military subjects, but none undertook a great philosophical examination of war on the scale of Clausewitz's. On War is considered to be the first modern book of military strategy. This is due mainly to Clausewitz' integration of political, social, and economic issues as some of the most important factors in deciding the outcomes of a war. It is one of the most important treatises on strategy ever written, and continues to be required reading at many military academies. Niccolo Machiavelli considered this book his greatest achievement. Here you will learn how to recruit, train, motivate, and discipline an army. You will learn the difference between strategy and tactics. Machiavelli does a masterful job of breaking down and analyzing historic battles. This book of military knowledge belongs alongside Sun-Tzu and Clausewitz on every book shelf. Antoine-Henri Jomini was the most celebrated writer on the Napoleonic art of war. Jomini was present at most of the most important battles of the Napoleonic Wars. His writing, therefore, is the most authoritative on the subject. "The art of war, as generally considered, consists of five purely military branches,-viz.: Strategy, Grand Tactics, Logistics, Engineering, and Tactics. A sixth and essential branch, hitherto unrecognized, might be termed Diplomacy in its relation to War. Although this branch is more naturally and intimately connected with the profession of a statesman than with that of a soldier, it cannot be denied that, if it be useless to a subordinate general, it is indispensable to every general commanding an army." -Antoine-Henri Jomini
The sexual revolution is justly celebrated for the freedoms it brought--birth control, the decriminalization of abortion, the liberalization of divorce, greater equality between the sexes, women's massive entry into the workforce, and more tolerance of homosexuality. But as Pascal Bruckner, one of France's leading writers, argues in this lively and provocative reflection on the contradictions of modern love, our new freedoms have also brought new burdens and rules--without, however, wiping out the old rules, emotions, desires, and arrangements: the couple, marriage, jealousy, the demand for fidelity, the war between constancy and inconstancy. It is no wonder that love, sex, and relationships today are so confusing, so difficult, and so paradoxical.

Drawing on history, politics, psychology, literature, pop culture, and current events, this book--a best seller in France--exposes and dissects these paradoxes. With his customary brilliance and wit, Bruckner traces the roots of sexual liberation back to the Enlightenment in order to explain love's supreme paradox, epitomized by the 1960s oxymoron of "free love": the tension between freedom, which separates, and love, which attaches. Ashamed that our sex lives fail to live up to such liberated ideals, we have traded neuroses of repression for neuroses of inadequacy, and we overcompensate: "Our parents lied about their morality," Bruckner writes, but "we lie about our immorality.?

Mixing irony and optimism, Bruckner argues that, when it comes to love, we should side neither with the revolutionaries nor the reactionaries. Rather, taking love and ourselves as we are, we should realize that love makes no progress and that its messiness, surprises, and paradoxes are not merely the sources of its pain--but also of its pleasure and glory.

Today we like to think that marriage is a free choice based on love: that we freely choose whom to marry and that we do so, not so much for survival or social advantage, but for love. The invention of marriage for love inverted the old relationship between love and marriage. In the past, marriage was sacred, and love, if it existed at all, was a consequence of marriage; today, love is sacred and marriage is secondary. But now marriage appears to be becoming increasingly superfluous. For the past forty years or so, the number of weddings has been declining, the number of divorces exploding and the number of unmarried individuals and couples growing, while single-parent families are becoming more numerous. Love has triumphed over marriage but now it is destroying it from inside. So has the ideal of marriage for love failed, and has love finally been liberated from the shackles of marriage?

In this brilliant and provocative book Pascal Bruckner argues that the old tension between love and marriage has not been resolved in favour of love, it has simply been displaced onto other levels. Even if it seems more straightforward, the contemporary landscape of love is far from euphoric: as in the past, infidelity, loss and betrayal are central to the plots of modern love, and the disenchantment is all the greater because marriages are voluntary and not imposed. But the collapse of the ideal of marriage for love is not necessarily a cause for remorse, because it demonstrates that love retains its subversive power. Love is not a glue to be put in the service of the institution of marriage: it is an explosive that blows up in our faces, dynamite pure and simple.
"Un nouveau stupéfiant collectif envahit les sociétés occidentales : le culte du bonheur. Soyez heureux ! Terrible commandement auquel il est d'autant plus difficile de se soustraire qu'il prétend faire notre bien. Comment savoir si l'on est heureux ? Et que répondre à ceux qui avouent piteusement : je n'y arrive pas ? Faut-il les renvoyer à ces thérapies du bien-être, tels le bouddhisme, le consumérisme et autres techniques de la félicité ? Qu'en est-il de notre rapport à la douleur dans un monde où le sexe et la santé sont devenus nos despotes ?

J'appelle devoir de bonheur cette idéologie qui pousse à tout évaluer sous l'angle du plaisir et du désagrément, cette assignation à l'euphorie qui rejette dans l'opprobe ou le malaise ceux qui n'y souscrivent pas. Perversion de la plus belle idée qui soit : la possibilité accordée à chacun de maîtriser son destin et d'améliorer son existence.

C'est alors le malheur et la souffrance qui sont mis hors la loi, au risque, à force d'être passés sous silence, de resurgir où on ne les attendait pas. Notre époque raconte une étrange fable : celle d'une société vouée à l'hédonisme, à laquelle tout devient irritation et supplice.

Comment la croyance subversive des Lumières, qui offrent aux hommes ce droit au bonheur jusqu'alors réservé au paradis des chrétiens, a-t-elle pu se transformer en dogme ? Telle est l'aventure que nous retraçons ici."


Pascal Bruckner, né en 1948, est romancier et essayiste. On lui doit La Tentation de l'innocence (Prix Médicis de l'essai en 1995) et Les Voleurs de beauté (Prix Renaudot en 1997).

Le soir de ses trente ans, Sébastien a une révélation : il comprend en un éclair qu'il a eu jusque là une vie réussie, mais que la réussite est une prison où il serait un condamné à perpétuité. Une femme jolie et ambitieuse, un trio d'enfants, une carrière sans surprises au Quai d'Orsay, une bande d'amis aussi soudés que s'ils formaient une société d'entraide, en bref une molle résignation au confort. Comment s'affranchir de cet esclavage du quotidien ? Comment renaître en homme neuf ? A la terrasse d'un café, une femme riche et ridée lui offre de l'argent pour passer une heure avec lui. Quel choc... C'est sans le vouloir que Sébastien devient un mois plus tard un prostitué mâle. Attiré par la perspective d'une vie parallèle, Sébastien s'établit en tapin clandestin dans le quartier du Marais, comme d'autres rejoignent une profession libérale. En bon Samaritain qui distribuerait sa semence à des créatures souvent disgracieuses, il copule avec ferveur et méthode, associant bientôt à son entreprise où le don de soi l'emporte sur le vice, une brune disciple : Dora. Juive et antillaise, sang-mêlée qu'obsèdent la chair et la religion, bigote et bimbo, mystique et lubrique, capable de cacher sous un livre de prière un vibromasseur, Dora va emmener Sébastien au-delà de ses limites. Le libertinage d'un bourgeois en rupture s'inverse en oeuvre pieuse : Dora se rêve en Christ femelle, cruxifiant son Saint-Sébastien sur la croix du plaisir. Le sublime glisse vers l'ordure. A la veille de ses quarante ans, Sébastien a tout perdu. La bouffonnerie des sens a fini en tragédie. Mais est-il bien sûr que Sébastien n'a pas d'autres ennemis que lui-même ? Qui voudrait réduire cet apôtre du désir à l'état d'une loque asexuée ? Depuis Lune de fiel, Pascal Bruckner n'était jamais allé aussi loin : c'est un roman charnel et moral, qui donne à l'amour tarifié l'intensité de scènes religieuses ou scabreuses, dans une volupté de détails dont l'auteur semble avoir le secret. A rebours du sexuellement correct d'aujourd'hui.
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