On Eva Brann’s “Pursuits of Happiness”

Peggy Ellsberg at the LARB:

Brann’s new book sweeps across the vast range of things that hold her interest. It thus invites us to enjoy the life of the mind and to live from our highest selves. A thoughtful encounter with this book will make you, I swear, a better person. The book includes chapters on Thing-Love, the Aztecs, Athens, Jane Austen, Plato, Wisdom, the Idea of the Good. The first half provides an on-ramp to the chapter titled “On Being Interested,” which falls in the dead center of the book. This central chapter serves as more than a cog in the wheel: it is an ars poetica. Addressing issues of attention, focus, and interest itself, as well as how and where to deploy these functions throughout our lives, “Being Interested” offers a solution for any seeker intrigued by the notion that happiness is not an accident but a vocation. Brann characterizes the pursuit of happiness as “ontological optimism […] to be maintained in the face of reality’s recalcitrance.” In her 2010 book Homage to Americans: Mile-High Meditations, Close Readings, and Time-Spanning Speculations, Brann recounts her experience of waiting for a delayed flight at the Denver Airport. Rather than whining about the tedium and soul-sucking banality of the event, she turns her exquisite attention to the actual experience of “waiting.” Possessed of a consistent ability to enjoy, Brann seems literally incapable of boredom.

more here.