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  • Happiness, Theoria, and Everyday Life
  • Claire Colebrook (bio)

Everyday Happiness

Why is it that we choose our unhappiness? Any answer to this question would seem to refer us to the ambiguous quality of everyday life. It is possible to argue that everyday life, left to itself in its full immediacy provides a pure unreflected happiness. This happiness would be one of simplicity, innocence and (possibly) animality. Think of Nietzsche’s cow grazing in the field with no thought of today or tomorrow, no sense of its death, of necessity, of the limits of life, or of its own located personality (60–61). Such happiness is ‘everyday’ precisely because it is not burdened with perspectives of life as a whole; it is, in itself, nothing other than itself. It is this form of everyday life—a life not yet encumbered with metaphysical schemas, logics, or laws—which, from the enlightenment to the present, has been appealed to in opposition to the grand narratives of religion and metaphysics that supposedly rob human life of its own immanent joy and power. The most intense affirmations of this un-self-conscious human happiness occur in the contemporary appeal to everyday life, where everyday existence is defined as not yet subjected to the fixed logics or constituted powers of some perceived social or cultural whole.

For Michel de Certeau, it is precisely because everyday tactics do not have a specific end in view, or do not have an intended outcome, that they are capable of disrupting the ordered logic of social strategies. Everyday life is everyday because it has not yet projected or anticipated any end beyond itself. And such a life is felicitous, not because it is directed against dominant strategies, but because it is not yet related to a force or power beyond itself. 1 More recently, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have affirmed the power of living labour, with its potential for joy lying in a refusal of any logic or axiom other than life’s [End Page 132] own becoming. The fulfilment of living labor in the joy and love of the multitude will be achieved, Hardt and Negri argue, through a communicative production that is no longer directed to the production of external information or—as in Habermas—some ideal and distant goal of justification. 2 The transition to immaterial labour frees the multitude from specific and constituted communities to form a global and open community that has no identity outside itself (E 290). The joyous multitude therefore needs to be distinguished from the populace, the people or the mob, for these latter groups are defined in negative relation to other classes or the state (E 316). The self-constitution of living labour occurs as ongoing production and expression, and not as the occupation of a conceptual or cognitive identity: the group or multiplicity is an assemblage without any governing or detached rubric. Hardt and Negri’s proposed liberation from theory—the detached point of observation above life—appeals explicitly to the image of the machine and the efflorescence of technology (E 291). When communication and production take place for their own sake, no longer directed to surplus or external production—labour producing and expanding itself—only then will the immanence of life reach its joyous fulfilment. Hardt and Negri conclude Empire with the multitude united by love: an affective rather than cognitive achievement (E 408). For love is not a subject object relation, a departure from the self’s own energies and enjoyment through the formation of a totality. Collective love allows each aspect of life to remain itself in and through its expansion with others.

What Certeau, Hardt, and Negri share is a resistance to certain earlier forms of Marxism that regard everyday life as a mystified false consciousness requiring the illumination of theory. For Certeau, it is the un-self-conscious, unintended, and uncertain movement of everyday life that disrupts constituted knowledges and solicits theory. For Hardt and Negri, it is only when the living labour of the multitude expresses its own love and joy in a community freed from any transcendent idea, that happiness may be given to us all: “no transcendent power or measure will...

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pp. 132-151
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