Monday, July 13, 2015

Ghassan Hage “On Viability: Urban Jouissance in the streets of Beirut” By Noah Tamarkin

Blog Post: Ghassan Hage “On Viability: Urban Jouissance in the streets of Beirut” By Noah Tamarkin By the time Tuesday morning’s session rolled around, we were increasingly well-versed in thinking through the manufacture of happiness in a range of affective, economic, political, and embodied registers. In his talk “On Viability: Urban Jouissance in the Streets of Beirut,” Ghassan Hage offered a take on happiness that was routed through Western philosophical theories of viability and ethnographic encounters with friends and interlocutors in Beirut, Lebanon. Here happiness emerged in a space of joyful inventiveness fostered by uncertainty and the absence of law, both conditions entwined with four decades of histories of violence in Lebanon including the civil war (1975-1991), the war against Israeli occupation (2000), political assassinations by the Syrian regime (from 2005), Israeli bombing (2006), and ongoing tension and conflict that have characterized the subsequent years. Hage’s Western philosophical viability and non-viability archive included Hegel’s theory of recognition, Althusser’s subjectification via interpellation, Lacan’s fantasizing subject, Spinoza’s joy, Heidegger’s homebuilding, and the communal viability of Durkheim, Mauss and Hobbes alongside Nietzche’s anti-community. This archive suggests that we might locate the viable self explicitly in community, and furthermore that viability is deeply contingent on not only intersubjective recognition but also the possibility of joyful belonging. With these conditions of possibility in mind, Hage guided us through a series of gleeful accounts of urban disorder. ‘Ma fi nazam b’hol balad!’ (There is no law and order in this nation!) one friend exclaimed—and here it is tone and context that makes the point. This and other similar comments were not spoken in resignation or despair but rather in playfulness: this was the language of urban jouissance. Two examples that were especially illustrative involved traffic and sandwiches. First, traffic: driving in Beirut might be characterized by the absence of rules, where drivers navigate their cars however they choose. This same state of affairs can also be framed positively: here driving, Hage explained, is like navigating a galactic ship, dodging cars imagined as meteorites and given nicknames like “the destroyer,” “the ambivalent one,” and “the wayward one.” In this framing, driving in Beirut is an adventure of galactic proportions, and the rest of the world is missing out on the fun of playing the game and having the opportunity to masterfully display one’s skill. Here jouissance is a measure of one’s attentiveness to unpredictable others. This framing pokes fun at traffic laws as absurd—picture the lone car, obediently stopped at a red light in a deserted intersection, waiting for nobody and enacting an entirely imaginary scene of safety. Hage’s mobile interlocuters inspire us to ask: against the sterile stupidity of false senses of safety, what kinds of viability might emerge from acknowledging unpredictability and attending so carefully—and joyfully—to others? Next, sandwiches. Another interlocutor explained how much he hated the European convention of standing in line, waiting for one’s turn to buy a sandwich. He relished rubbing shoulders with other sandwich-seekers, all pushing to get to the counter for the sandwich that subsequently somehow tasted better for the effort. “Queuing is for assholes!” he exclaimed. Like the unpredictable wayward drivers, the sandwich seekers enacted an intimacy that was sorely lacking in spaces of order, predictability, and ultimately social distance. Perhaps only assholes queue, but then again, perhaps queuing produces assholes. In both of these examples, Beirut emerged as an improvisational space that fostered a navigational skill that was contingent on intimate recognition of and engagement with others. This was viability as urban jouissance, against the cold lifelessness of rigidly rule-governed Western urban spaces. For Hage, the fact of comparison was critically important. It marked his interlocutors as particularly classed, mobile subjects: migrants with the privilege to view themselves otherwise, as travelers who choose where and when they circulate. Equally critical, however, is that what Hage calls “the diasporic condition” is not limited to those who travel. Rather, he argued, diaspora is the culture of Lebanese modernity, shaping the subjectivities of all those who are born into it, whether they themselves become migrants or not. Hage further argued that the diasporic condition is becoming more and more the condition of life, and as such we need to theorize an anthropology of diasporic culture that is attentive to lifeworlds. For Hage then, diasporic culture encompasses not only those who migrate but also those who do not, and it is a way of being in and of the world through which movement, transnational pastiche, and frameworks of comparison combine with surprising results. Space matters here, but not only in relation to movement. In the diasporic condition, space becomes inherently comparative and compressed: in one example, Hage emphasized that you can’t look at the mountain in front of you without also seeing, or being haunted by, that other mountain in another place that you hold as part of who you are. Suggesting that the diasporic condition can be characterized by the internalization of the space of viability, Hage left us with the intriguing notion that “the diasporic subject is not someone who asks a question, it is someone who inhabits a question.” How do we then theorize diasporic culture as a space of viability that might open up into the possibility of happiness? Hage suggests that we might do this through attention to an ethics of happiness, characterized by negotiation, intimacy, and forms of sociality. These are characteristics that are demanded of those existing outside of the law, and they point to the possibility of an existence, marked by happiness, outside of the power of the nation-state. While Hage’s vision of viability and urban jouissance were certainly compelling, his account also raises a number of questions, some of which were posed during the question and answer period. First, to what extent is the urban disorder of Beirut consistent with the absence of law, and what do we gain analytically from such binary distinctions (rule of law/absence of law)? Second, how might closer consideration of the lifeworlds of differently situated diasporic subjects, especially in terms of gender and class, shift this account of the joyfulness of urban jouissance? Third, how might we productively put this account of the diasporic condition routed through Beirut in conversation with diaspora theory and ethnography that is routed through and in relation to Africa? Finally, how might various anthropological archives on diasporic culture and theories of viability further clarify and push Hage’s conclusions? Noah Tamarkin Ohio State University

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Vinh-Kim Nguyen on Biomedicine, Unhappiness, and the Epistemology of Crisis by Michelle Pentecost

'I study wars and epidemics...happiness isn't really my thing.' Like other speakers over the past 10 days, Vinh-Kim Nguyen addressed the packed WISER seminar room with a wry opening caveat - happiness would have to be approached via its other. The title of his offering had already alerted a return to crisis as an orientating theme for thinking happiness in this workshop. Nguyen proceeded to engage the audience in an experiment: to think through (un)happiness from the perspective of an urban general practitioner. He situated this experiment in 'the clinic', a space that varied from the doctor's office in Montreal to the multi-bedded camp tent of an Ebola unit in Guinea. Nguyen reminded us that not all of these spaces fit into Foucault's clinic, the birth of which is distinctly tied to a biomedical rationale that standardises affliction. Common to all of these spaces, however, are underlying historical and social configurations that determine 'who gets to be a doctor and who gets to be a patient' - a social relation that definitively shapes the conditions of knowledge production. Against these provisos, Nguyen offered us 'doctor stories'. He did not deliver packaged vignettes, but rather a series of recollections that illustrated the practitioner's task of holding and cobbling together not-neat narratives over time. 'I wanted to give a sense of the texture of unhappiness.' As such, Nguyen's anecdotes are not another version of 'the case', that central methodological trope of both medicine and anthropology. Like the patient, the speaker did not arrive and announce his diagnosis, which could only be elicited through careful attention to his story. So what did Nguyen's tales of biomedicine and (un)happiness reveal? Nguyen placed his patients' unfolding stories within what he calls an epistemology of crisis. Here, it is hard not be reminded of Janet Roitman's description of crisis as 'an enabling blind spot for the production of knowledge...not a condition to be observed [but] an observation that produces meaning'. Crises, or turning points, precipitate the patients' visits to the clinic. For the doctor, these crises produce a series of revelations, through which the patient as person slowly emerges. Thinking with (un)happiness, Nguyen observes that for the urban GP, the patient's crisis is often one of loneliness. For Nguyen, the crisis of recognition is given no less importance than the crisis of an Ebola diagnosis - implicit here is that neither crisis nor suffering can be qualified or measured. Nguyen works across multiple registers of crisis, as well as different registers of happiness. He outlines biomedicine's versions of happiness, within the domains of psychiatry, pharmacology, the neurosciences, and 'happiness studies', and the ways in which these deploy old and new pharmaceuticals. He cites Anita Hardon's work on pharmaceutical experimentation in the Global South, where 'chemical youth' are using illicit and legal drug combinations in their everyday lives. And yet not all versions of (un)happiness will respond to a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or a round of cognitive behavourial therapy. If the clinic is a site for the management of (un)happiness, 'not being unhappy may be as good as it gets.' However, although Nguyen's 'doctor stories' are overtly concerned with crisis, they also offer moments of happiness. Eileen's Moyer's paper, Happiness After Crisis, argued that happiness is not the opposite of crisis. Happiness can be experienced in the midst of crisis, a sentiment echoed by François Vergès in her offering on happiness amidst revolution. I would add to this the potential of happiness amidst crisis in the clinical space, a possibility borne out by Nguyen's recollection of joking with his patients, his exchanging of smiles with a familiar patient in the waiting room, and his moving description of a family reunited in the midst of the Ebola epidemic. These brief moments of respite - from loneliness or pain - are a different kind of happiness, which support Nguyen's argument that like crisis, happiness cannot be standardised. As such, the general practitioner must always also be engaged in social critique - a disposition that starts to blur the boundaries between physician/anthropologist. As a medical doctor halfway through a doctorate in medical anthropology, I am also navigating this productive margin between medicine and anthropology. In particular, I am interested in how to think and write from this space from the Global South, and Nguyen has certainly inspired further exploration at this intersection. Michelle Pentecost

Friday, July 10, 2015

Ackbar Abbas Wonders, “What Do We Do Now?” by Rachel Greenspan

Riffing on Raymond Carver’s short story collection, Abbas’s synthesizing reflections on this year’s JWTC lectures poses the question, What do we talk about when we talk about happiness? His opening preoccupation is with the slipperiness of happiness as an object of analysis: like a black hole, he argues, it is only perceptible in the effects it produces. More than an affect or feeling, beyond the social or individual values it represents, the “happiness effect” must be investigated in its indirect consequences. If we take seriously the conditions of possibility widely assumed to produce happiness (love, fame, good health, etc.), how can we attend to the ways in which happiness is manufactured—that is, “forged” in both its generative and counterfeit senses? Furthermore, how does the liberal conception of happiness as a human right obscure, undermine, or underestimate what Abbas calls the “politics of disappointment” in its material and libidinal forms? The assertion of happiness as a human right is evident as early as the U.S. Declaration of Independence, a document whose language links happiness to freedom and democracy, but also to radical individualism. For Abbas, this logic extends to the pervasive idea that the depressed subject loses her subjectivity and is encouraged to exploit her “democratic right to take drugs to overcome unhappiness.” Turning to Paracelsus, the so-called father of toxicology, Abbas reminds us that medicine is a materialist, not an essentialist science. In other words, “everything can be toxic depending on the amount you take.” No substance is inherently good or bad for the body; happiness, too, can be toxic in its excess. Consider, as Abbas does, the self-defeating pleasure of consumption, which inevitably frustrates the consumer. He doubts that Imelda Marcos’s 3,001 pair of shoes bring her satisfaction beyond a fleeting fetishistic enjoyment. Though Abbas’s point about the circular, self-replicating logic of desire and its capture within capitalist forms of consumption is well taken here, his reference to the singular case of Imelda Marcos gives me pause. Why shoes? And why 3,001? Is it possible to hold together a critique of commodity fetishism (and the grossly asymmetrical, curiously gendered, regimes of power and wealth for which the shoes come to stand in this example) with an analysis of the individual enjoyments at once shaped by, and in excess of, social, political, and economic forces? I’m reminded of Joan Copjec’s brilliant essay, “The Sartorial Superego,” in which she examines the relationship between the colonial gaze as an exploitative technology of knowledge production and the specificity of French psychiatrist G. G. de Clerambault’s fetish for the drapery of North African fabric. Abbas moves in a different direction, advocating for a theory of happiness that will work actively to transform society. Thinking with and against François Vergès about “the promise of happiness” as a tool for revolutionary struggle, Abbas argues for a politics of disappointment, rather than a politics of hope. He claims that struggle grounded in hope disappears when that object of that hope fails to materialize. For him, “a politics of disappointment persists,” insofar as the political subject acts even without the prospect of its goals being realized. It is a politics that endures without hope, without guarantee. This structure is also at work in the erotics of disappointment Abbas articulates through the films of Wong Kar-wai. In Chungking Express, Happy Together, and In the Mood for Love, the romantic couple begins in a state of unhappiness, but turns that disappointment itself into a (re)source of the erotic. Thinking with David Goldberg and Jenna Ng’s lecture on the algorithmic, Abbas argues, “Disappointment isn’t the end of the whole structure,” but rather the means of generating a “counter-algorithm” that produces a kind of happiness through structures of deferral and disappointment, rather than hope. Pursuing the relationship Wong Kar-wai’s films illuminate between disappointment, failure, and art, Abbas takes Adorno’s claim, “Art is a promise of happiness,” as a provocation to assess what kinds of art can transform society and not just collude or retire from it. For Adorno, as for Abbas, failure is the only ethical means of producing art. In other words, Abbas locates the promise of happiness in the ethical principle of failure, which is not the opposite of success, but calls success into question through an ambivalent notion of happiness. Such a project calls for the emergence of a new type of artist, one like Samuel Beckett, who Abbas calls a “de-creative genius,…the great exemplar of art as failure, which is not the same as failed art.” He responds to Gabriele Schwab’s lecture by describing Beckett’s project as an effort to expose language itself as a mode of failure by preventing words from producing meaning. Ultimately, for Abbas, the art of failure requires energy, effort, and courage, generating the conditions of possibility for a transformation of the human outside the logics of humanism, and the production of happiness without hope. Rachel Greenspan Duke University

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Performing & Storytelling Theory: A Future Perfect Possibility by Rachel Ceasar

Performing & Storytelling Theory: A Future Perfect Possibility Lamenting his poverty and lack of a sleep pillow, a young boy approaches us. With his head cocked to one side, he begs in words we do not understand nor stop to listen to. We do not stop to listen and in our response, we give him coins and containers of curry. Back on the bus, my riding companion awes at the way the boy put his head, the way he spoke and made a face—what a performance, it is all a performance, he tells me. Performance is a theme that comes to mind when I was running around the city this weekend. From Friday to Sunday, we took to task to perform our way of being in a world that is Joburg. Performance occurred in many ways this weekend: We spoke about how certain people perform (aggression no, humorous yes) but in secret terms and texts exchanged across tables. We spoke about taking part in performances (strip clubs no, Soweto and pap yes), but judged too quickly instead of asking more questions. We spoke about our own performances with the city (dinners on WhatsApp yes, more poses yes! yes!) but filtered it through stacks of photos and Facebook curations. We enacted the performativity of our encounters between us and the city of Joburg through aspirations of happiness: we aspired to take part in the biggest club experience in Sandtown, the most delicious food, the best rooftops and poses. In the pursuit of a "future perfect” happiness that knows no past (to paraphrase Zadie Smith), we strove for the meta with little reflection for the now and present in front of us. At times, we forgot to take care of each other in the hope of a larger, better kind of possible happiness that was perhaps somewhere out there in Joburg. We can see this same kind of performativity in our scholarly presentations and discussions. What would it look like to introduce care into how we share our life’s work and research? To give vitality and context to theory, to speak plainly from a place of intellectual generosity (instead of intellectual vomit)? Theory need not mystify our thoughts, but act as a tool to share our stories with others. It is in spaces like JWTC that I see the potential for care to meet performance in the form of storytelling. To be an academic then comes with the responsibility of being a storyteller, as the good doctor Ike Anya encourages us to do. Storytelling our research can be a kind of performative practice, a methodology, and even a form of entertainment. Who said theory had to be dry and boring? Colleagues this week have encouraged me to storytell my work in various ways, a couple of which I share here: 1) One way we can story tell our work is by writing for blogs like Chimurenga, Africa is a Country, or The Conversation, the latter being an online collaboration between editors and academics to provide research-informed news and analysis. Writing in different registers for a more public audience is one way we can get the good word out there into the world. 2) Another way colleagues encourage me to practice my storytelling skills is to use the reminder of the JWTC workshop to think of possible ways to engage beyond theory in very concrete, practical ways: What if we spoke plainly enough at workshops like JWTC so that actual practitioners and persons of the community would want to come? Where are the Global South biologists, psychologists, journalists, and entrepreneurs with whom we can bounce ideas with, generate back and forth conversations, and possibly come up with solutions? These storytelling modes of exchange may sound idealistic, but I believe that, with a little bit of care and performance, such theoretical conversations are possible and damn right necessary for academia. Rachel Ceasar University of the Witwatersrand

On Behrooz Ghamari's "Foucault, Spirituality, and the Perils of Universal History" by Jorge Daniel Vásquez and Megan Eardley

The beginning of Friday’s session was marked by a radical commitment to putting the analysis of religion within a framework that addresses "happiness" in its political and revolutionary dimensions. Behrooz Ghamari raised questions concerning limits and the moving boundaries between history and memory as he reflected on his experience as part of the organizational process of the Iranian Revolution. Addressing the personal interest that Michael Foucault had in Shiite Islam (its rituals and legal practices) and his theoretical writing on the revolution in Iran (1978-1979), Ghamari argued that Foucault’s readers need to understand the characteristic ambiguity of the political process alongside an analysis of revolutionary religious expression. He reveals a Foucault for whom religion is a space in which the popular imagination is formed— both in the policy of the Iranian Revolution and in the Carter administration in the United States. The ambiguity that is engendered by revolutionary religious claims may open a space through and in which teleological thinking might be transgressed. Foucault arrived in Iran a week after the "Black Friday" massacre, when even the death of more than two hundred protestors, shot down from helicopters, could not stop people from their revolution. Foucault's presence in Iran can serve as an anchor for understanding his thinking about the history and the subject (i.e. the history of the present - its reinvention, the ambiguity that it produces) that is configured through a political spirituality: the subject is 'entirely' wrapped in a History that is not determined, but becomes a particular form of self-production, keeping the subject in a constant search for that is worth defending even beyond one’s own life. Thus, the analysis of the 'politics of spirituality' is located far from the reduction of revolutionary religious expression to an "archaic fascism.” On the contrary, it gives way to an important analytical challenge; to consider the religious-political phenomenon in its completely modern sense (reflecting on the relationship between different spheres in which the subject is produced). This analytical move allows Ghamari to return to questions surrounding the murder of the cartoonists of the Charlie Hebdo magazine and the “Arab Spring” beyond the Manichaeism of the freedom of expression as universalized value or Enlightened anti-Islam. To take the analysis further, we might echo some of the questions raised in the debate. In the global geopolitical context, to what extent is the analysis of the Arab Spring articulated in the same terms as Foucault’s analysis of the Iranian Revolution? What is the relationship between the specter (the ghost of the Iranian Revolution) and the ways we engage with revolution as either as a rupturing event or as an inheritance? Another entry would be to think about Foucault and the Iranian Revolution alongside the way Susan Buck-Morss thinks about the abstraction of the Haitian Revolution in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. The talk also opened possibilities of imagining a confluence of political spirituality and a political reading of the eschatological tension of St. Paul’s theology. Is a return to Saint Paul—and the tension between the now and the to-come—an attempt to take us out of the teleological prison of modern thought? What are Foucault's links with theoretical Orientalism and how can an event like the Iranian Revolution be read not as a 'break' in Foucault's thought but as a radicalization of the project which is manifested in his College de France seminars since 1977? Jorge Daniel Vásquez Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, Ecuador and Megan Eardley Princeton University School of Architecture

Maut ka Kua – The Death Well
: A Response to Anne Allison's Talk on "Greeting the Dead" by Suraj Yengde

Maut ka Kua – The Death Well
 When a talk finishes and the audience responds not only by clapping but also with cheers and whistles, in this way one can summarise the significance of the presentation they just witnessed. Cultural anthropologist, Anne Allison, was “Greeting the dead” and Managing the Solitary Existence in Japan. In a groundbreaking theory of death that derives from her book Precarious Japan published in 2013, Allison offers insights into the little-discussed socialities of Japan. Isolation, misery, pain, suffering, ‘rental’ love and death are some of the widely apprehended synonyms of shifting global capitals. Allison explains each of these in a succinctly interesting form as she narrates new forms of living as a changing “grammar of existence.”

You many think about Japan as being the country with advanced technological developments – robots, SONY, automobiles, bullet trains, etc. Apart from its highly advanced, bullet train-like growing economy, you must have also heard about “weird Japanese fetishisms,” such as relating to sex or sexual objects or widely watched pornography that interestingly hides male’s sexual parts and advertises females’. There is also another disturbing scenario that is little know and discussed in the western world: Allison brings our attention to some of the existentialities of modern day Japan. Life in this country appears as an archetype of blind spiritualists who do not believe in the notion of god and want to dissociate with religious institutions. Oxymoronically, there is also a growing tendency towards spiritualising one’s death. Death is a seductive phenomenon that has a profitable market in the growing economy of middle class, materialised Japan. While people in Japan want to immortalise the afterlife, in the present life they want to be assured of a promised dignity. The situation of Japan is such that wedding planners and the wedding industry in general are now turning towards the death business. As a simple principle of capitalism goes - business is favoured in terms of profitability. In this way we can see the more profitable business is becoming death business. Plots for the cremated ashes are sold expensively and the richer the dead ash is the better prospects the fossil gets. This is the ideal principle behind Buddhist capitalists who want to assure the Japanese a better death. Death becomes important because it assumes an important position of a certain sociality. Death is so rooted in the Japanese society that isolated people, who are abandoned from the familial as a belief system, want to be assured that they will be rest in dignity. Their fear of death is not as much an issue of temporality of life than the social life after death. Death is sold; this very phenomenon that Buddha announced as the ultimate truth, forms an assemblage with neo-materialism, producing non-confirmed fears. This results in a society becoming totally ridiculed, a masquerade of fake life undefined in its purpose of existence. All the chaos happens when religion as an institution sleeps with capital. 

It appears in Allison’s presentation that there is a limited role played by the Buddhist temples of a certain order that guarantee a ‘grave friend’ and also a service of ‘post death divorce’ in teaching the solitary society to be a part of the larger commune. Due to inappropriate advantages gained through the death business, Japanese individuals,’ especially young males, turn to find the comforts of life in immaterial things. They make virtual partners, toy friends, robot dogs and even organise a cremation ceremony for robotic pets who have lost their lives. This description of Japanese society urges those who are less fortunate (wealth-wise), to rethink and remodel the arrears of developments that they would want to undertake. The solitary society of Japan is a good example for the developing world to model: a society based on social consciousness and cultural involvements.

Allison’s presentation tries to summarise multiple issues discussed in her earlier book. That is why one is introduced to a sliding show of vignettes of experiences and narratives. While not addressed in Allison’s talk, the issues of people with different sexual orientations, woman as a fetish object, the conditions of ethnically marginalised societies and their role in the death economy, all become questions one has to start thinking about. Buddhism, on the other hand promises egalitarian rationalism and belief in community as a principle of ideal society also asking one to focus on individuality in order to attain the nirvana. In spite of the active Buddhist school of thought in Japan, the increasingly ‘social solitary’ life of the Japanese raises several questions of the capacities of such schools.

The vocabularies of security, social status, and recognition are the artificial effects reproduced by the orgasmic nature of capitalism impregnated with materialism. These identities are the result of inequality and unfavourable distribution of wealth where one grapples with detouring the phantasm of the petty economics of material life. If incidents of solitude are the result of job status and finances then it becomes an aspiring greedy middle class and upwards story. The materialist graphic nature of the Japanese abnormal society might also be the protest of the marginalised who cannot afford the richness of deaths. One might also ask, do the poor have such problems or is it the rich man’s hopeful disease?

 Suraj Milind Yengde is an Ambedkarite Africanist finishing his last bits of PhD thesis University of the Witwatersrand

Consoling Objects/Disconsoling Worlds: A Response to Gabrielle Schwab's Talk on "Apocalyptic Endgames" by Timothy Wright

For a workshop themed around the 'manufacture of happiness', there has been a surprising (but in hindsight unsurprising) tarrying with the experience of unhappiness. Unhappiness is after all the ground against which happiness becomes both legible and desirable. On days three and four of the workshop, several speakers addressed the relationship between happiness and the confrontation with death: with severe illness (Tina Sideris), with the potential of extinction in political revolution (Francoise Verges), with the prospect of dying alone and un-mourned (Anne Allison on contemporary Japan). In these situations, forms of happiness are produced from the most unpromising of contexts. In her brilliant, thought-provoking, and intricate talk 'Apocalyptic Endgames of the Mind: Ecology, Body and Affect in Samuel Beckett's Happy Days', Gabriele Schwab used Samuel Beckett's minimalist 1961 play as a 'laboratory' for exploring these themes. It is a play in which happiness and unhappiness are almost indistinguishable; in which unhappiness is seamlessly transformed into happiness. The mise-en-scene is stark: Act One opens onto a plain stage in which a woman, Winnie, is buried up to her waist in a mound of sand under a hellish sun. Her husband lives in a hole on the side of the mound and speaks little and monosyllabically. No other signs of human life are given. In Act Two, we are in the same place, but Winnie is now buried up to her neck. Despite this, Winnie somehow remains relentless upbeat. How does this happen? I want to condense Gabriele's very rich discussion on ecology -- psychic ecology as well as 'natural' -- by looking at the way she thought through the issue of adaptation, in particular the question of how one adapts to crisis. I am reminded of Shaw's famous dictum: the reasonable man changes himself to fit the world; the unreasonable man changes the world to fit himself; therefore all progress is made by unreasonable men. But Winnie's adaptation is made in the face of a world that appears utterly impervious to change, and is thus fundamentally a mode of survival. How does one adapt to a world that one cannot change? One answer is that Winnie is engaged, as Gabriele put it, in a 'self-manufactured pursuit of happiness'. The key to this manufacture of happiness is the object, which plays a peculiar role in this closed and inhospitable universe. These objects are both the physical, everyday objects Winnie removes from her handbag (a parasol, a comb, a toothbrush, a gun) and verbal or mental objects (Winnie's monologue, with its endless wry quotations from literary classics). Both words and things function as what Gabriele vividly termed 'consoling objects': consoling because they facilitate what Gabriele called -- borrowing a term from Ackbar Abbas -- Winnie's 'negative hallucination', her wish to not see things she doesn't want to see. Against the backdrop of trauma, objects allow her to protect her optimism. This works at a meta-theatrical level: the same objects reappear again and again on each night of performance as Winnie finds herself in the same space again and again, creating a sense of security and even comfort. Interesting is the way the play physically transforms affectively uncomfortable experiences into their obverse: Gabriele spoke of how, when she played the role of Winnie, she eventually grew to find the physically uncomfortable strictures of rehearsal and performance while buried to the neck consoling. One might even wonder if the play itself might function as a consoling object for the audience, a small closed world in which despair is cordoned off and managed. (Things are of course more complicated: Gabriele spoke of the way the play disrupts the audience's 'linking' with it). The consoling objects are thus more than merely outmoded consumer objects: they are objects that take on a life of their own and transform Winnie. Gabriele used this discussion of the consoling object to look at the ways in which happiness functions as an instrument of wilful blindness: a form of cruel optimism in which one survives by holding onto illusory attachments and refusing to see what is in front of one's eyes. Is happiness merely a form of blindness, an illness for which the clarity of unhappiness might constitute the antidote? In an uncanny way, the theme of objects becoming a consolation for a broken world seemed to seep into subsequent sessions. Anne Allison's talk, immediately following Gabriele's, dealt with an emergent Japanese funeral culture in which the isolated elderly Japanese purchase their own space in a funeral temple, where they can view their anticipated afterlife as an urn alongside a host of other urns - a space of sociality in death. In a similar vein she described the popularity of robot dogs for whom funerals and memorials are often conducted upon their expiration. In both cases, spaces we would expect to be occupied by a living thing were occupied by objects. It is perhaps too easy then to merely say these objects participate in the creation of negative hallucinations. A more productive way to think of the meaning of the consoling object was suggested by Kaushik, who asked whether we might think of Winnie not as a pathological subject but rather as a new form of species-being. Similarly, many responses to Anne Allison's account of new Japanese funeral practices wondered whether this was not a symptom of social atomisation but the emergence of new forms of social relation. In both cases, one might see a radical mutation in the forms of human relationships to objects, which are not merely consumed but enter into a profound relationship with human subjects. In the above examples, it is no longer clear whether the object is purely an object, or whether it has not become so bound up in our own constructions of ourselves that its objecthood is placed in doubt. Could it be the case that these 'subject-objects' are not technologies mediating, anticipating, or warding off relationships, but stand-ins for relationships themselves, something closer to a ‘bios’ than a ‘techné’, or something hovering ambiguously between the two? The question these consoling objects raise -- and it is one to which I have no answer -- is that of what a critical stance towards these consolatory forms of happiness should be. As academics we tend to take pride in exposing the rotten underbellies of the happy, in unveiling the broken world upon which happiness is erected. It is one thing to kill the joy of the self-satisfied. But who would think it moral to extinguish the fleeting joys scratched out of desperate situations, joys that ward off despair and loneliness? I was deeply moved by Anne Allison's photograph of a funeral temple where the living could see the wall of urns where their ashes would rest and find consolation in this posthumous community. I was moved both by the sadness of a world where people can only imagine community in death, and also by the joy of a genuinely beautiful space that had been created within it. What does one do with both these feelings? Timothy Wright WiSER, University of the Witwatersrand