Special Topics in Language and Literature: Lit & The Pursuit of Happiness

English 390S-7.03

Together, we will try to figure out how the religious promise of heaven as the fulfillment of life and self, plenitude and perfect love, continues to operate in modern secular society: How did the pursuit of happiness become the driving force of a world organized by capitalism, one in which human life must seek and find self-transcendence in the world? This is powerful stuff!

To help us identify this elusive and deeply contradictory secular myth, we will consult a few of the major intellectual arguments that proposed and/or challenged it, including those by Locke, Mill, Marx, Weber, Marcuse, and Coetzee. But to understand where these arguments break down or fail to deliver on their promises, we will rely on such works of fiction as Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Oscar Wilde, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the film version of The Wizard of Oz, Phillip Roth’s Goodbye Columbus, Colm Tobín’s Brooklyn, and Colson Whitehouse’s Underground Railroad.