Cheerfulness: A Literary and Cultural History
Cheerfulness: A Literary and Cultural History (Princeton, 2022) tells a new story about the cultural imagination of the West. Timothy Hampton (Comparative Literature and French) shows how cheerfulness — understood as a momentary uptick in emotional energy, a temporary lightening of spirit — functions as a theme in the work of major artists from Shakespeare to Louis Armstrong.
Hampton examines cheerfulness as a philosophical theme in a wide range of texts and disciplines, including Protestant theology, medical writing, Enlightenment psychology, and modern aesthetics. He also explores the role of cheerfulness as a structuring element in stories and poems. Moving across the work of such figures as Montaigne, Hume, Jane Austen, Emerson, Dickens, and Nietzsche, he traces a new history of the emotional life of European and American culture. The book concludes with a consideration of cheerfulness in pandemic days, emphasizing the importance of lightness of mind under the pressure of catastrophe.
Hampton is joined by Seth Lerer (Literature, UC San Diego). After a brief discussion, they respond to questions from the audience.