By Mari Ruti
Psychoanalytic viewpoint on what Western philosophers from Socrates to Foucault have known as "the paintings of living."
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Additional info for A World of Fragile Things: Psychoanalysis and the Art of Living (Psychoanalysis and Culture)
However, placing happiness in an elusive sphere beyond our tangible existence traps us in an endless cycle of deferral: what we want is always a step ahead of us and no matter how diligent our efforts to close the gap between our ideal of happiness and the concrete realities of our lives, we come away frustrated. While it is the case—as I already intimated in the end of the previous chapter and as I will show in greater detail—that feeling imperfect, and having aspirations, can enliven our existence by giving us something to strive for, fantasies of otherworldly happiness are insidious in that, at their most powerful, they can actually prevent us from appreciating the beauty and radiance of our regular lives.
This tendency to place happiness within a realm just out of reach may be related to the more general Western metaphysical and religious inclination to imagine that the foundations of life—what gives existence its ultimate justification— reside in an unearthly domain that can only be momentarily glimpsed through superhuman (transcendent) efforts. From the Platonic notion that all material phenomena are but imperfect reflections of a divine ideal to the Christian belief in a God in whose image we have been created and to whom we will in the end return, the Western imagination has taken comfort in the conviction that the various objects, entities, and beings of the world possess an origin that, even when it remains masked or mysterious, enjoys an absolute integrity.
Although there are numerous different stories that we can tell about ourselves—various ways of carving a place within the social horizon— we are always to some extent compelled to fashion ourselves in relation to social and ethical ideals and commitments. This explains in part why our projects of self-constitution tend to be goal-oriented despite the fact that the future is always intrinsically unpredictable. ”40 Our social embeddedness, in other words, narrows down the possibilities that the future holds by connecting us to collective conceptions of what is and is not possible.