Interview by Simon Critchley
This conversation was recorded on December 17, 2012 before a live audience at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, as part of the Happy Talk series.
The Animated Transcript
Simon Critchley is Chair of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York.
I would definitely say pleasure is not happiness. Because I think I kill pleasure. Like I take too much of it in, and therefore make it un-pleasurable, like too much coffee, and you’re miserable. I do that to pleasure often. So I don’t… There is no pleasure that I haven’t actually made myself sick on.
I have thought a lot about this actually in my life lately to be honest, and have gotten nowhere with it, in a way that… meaning that there’s a period of time in your life where I kind of look back and I think, “Was I happy? Or was I just not aware?” It seems like a very basic question, but I really do think you reach a time where you go, “I don’t know.” It really does up-end a lot of things in your own life and in your own mind” But in my life now I think, I have three children and I think I’m happy when I’m with them and they’re okay. When I see them enjoying each other in front of me, and then they let me enjoy them in turn. That brings a feeling which I would say is happiness. Now I don’t know why. I mean I do know why, obviously, on the surface because they’re my kids, but it is a certain thing that happens, and I’m like, right now. Right now. This is it.
But there are moments when something else creeps in there. And I’m not conscious of the love. I’m conscious of something else, which happens to be my own childhood. So all of a sudden, they start to reflect something other than what I hoped my childhood to be. Being with a kid always takes you to being a kid somehow, and they really are showing me a childhood I might not have had in some way. But if something else creeps in, it becomes a different kind of reflection. It’s of your shortcomings, your inadequacies, your incapabilities, your powerlessness, and on and on and on, which wakens up a whole other thing. That’s what I mean about happiness. Does it mean it ends, it ended? That gets so discouraging to me, about well, “What is this thing?”
You know how people always say life is short. That’s kind of the phrase. Life is short. Time is short. And it does. As we get older, time does quicken. It’s long, and it’s long pertaining to that thought, that the past is not done with you because you can’t rid of it. And so therefore, it just starts to drag. You get a glimpse of what you might have wanted, or what it could’ve been, and you can start to have it right here in your life now, but then the past does creep in pretty quickly. And that is a very difficult one, on how to keep it there and not have it kind of ruin it.
If we’re so keen on being happy, why do we spend so much time in the dark watching actors as brilliant as you portraying miserable creatures? What’s going on there?
Any great novel that I can think of is actually drawing a character or narrative in such a way that is so brutally honest, in a way that you’ve thought, “oh, God, I never would have put it that way, but that’s it.” All of the sudden you come across it in a book, in such a way that you’re relieved that somebody actually got it down on paper. And you’re grateful because it is that awful or that brutal. And therefore, that memorable. And that’s why I’m talking to you about it, because if I don’t allow people to somehow identify with the worst inside themselves, they never have a chance at actually walking out with that person in their heart, or in their minds. They’re too easy to dismiss. It’s like it might not be the thing they’ll admit to a friend, you know what I mean. But if you’re honest, you kind of probably do. I do, and I know I can’t be that wildly different from everyone in this room. You know what I mean. I identify with a lot of things that I’ve done in the movies. It doesn’t mean I’ve literally done them. It’s identify with them. I identify with their source.
That’s the thing with meditation too, right? If you meditate, every day, and you really get into meditation, meditation is actually coming right up to the lip of death and saying, “I’m here. I’m scared. I’m here.” That that’s life. If you can actually live in that place, that’s what happens. Right? It’s the same kind of thing that learning how to die, is therefore learning how to live.
Okay. So, happy?
Oh, God. When I am sitting out there I’m like, “I am the stupidest man in the room and I am about to step up on that stage.” That is what I think at that time and I go, Tthat has a lot to do with what we are about to talk about.” You know that I would think that. You know that I am going to talk about something that anyone would ever have to take seriously enough to incorporate into their own thoughts. But… so don’t listen.
Watch the full Conversation
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