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Number 1: Spring 2008

How Not to be a Happy Homosexual

Peter Nevins

It seems that this thing called ‘happiness’ has become just that, a ‘thing’, a ‘thing’ that we can have as long as we do ‘the right things’. In the scenario outlined by Adrian White, we can have it if we live in the right part of the world, earn a living, are educated, and possess good health–it’s called ‘health, wealth and education’.

It is not so much that people want to be happy that bothers me, it’s the kind of fakery that surrounds its promulgation and then the attendant distress caused by not being happy once you have got whatever it is you think will make you happy. Indeed, it is at the site of such false hope that I want to pinpoint the blame for our ‘miserable’ lives. Happiness isn’t a commodity that you can buy but it is presented as one and has become part of the Žižekian Big Other, that ordering mythology which says, ‘If you do it like this, strive for the right goals, live the right kind of life, then you will be happy.’

In the world of mental health we have Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which is going to make us all happy–from the depressed to the chronic schizophrenic. Just replace positive thought (‘things’) for bad ones and hey presto–‘happiness’.

(Adam Mars Jones once said that Adam Philips is, ‘The closest thing we have to a philosopher of happiness.’ One Adam may very well make the other happy, but I doubt if happiness was the name of the game for Adam Phillips. It somehow registers as a ‘good thing’ to say and equally we somehow assume we know what is meant. The Big Other knows.)

Continuing the story of the Big Other, here is an example of the kind of games we unwittingly play with politeness. If asked, ‘How are you?’ my automatic response is to say, ‘Fine thank you–and you?’ without any reference to how I really might be feeling. This is what’s called for. It would be regarded as impolite if I were to respond on a sunny day in Islington, ‘Well, actually I’m thoroughly depressed; I don’t really know why but…’

We have long been steeped in the notion of identity politics.2 This situation can be construed as emerging from the failure of our Liberal democracy and/or the liberal social order within which we expect to live. More specifically, liberal democracy has spectacularly failed to deliver its promise of equality: one of the symptoms of this failure is the appearance of groups needing to identify the specific nature of their oppression and fight their own corner. The production of identity politics out of this kind of injurious situation is relevant to the picture I want to paint today. I have borrowed Wendy Brown’s formula for psychologising political theory and want to see what it would look like if we politicise psychoanalysis and this particular topic along the same lines.

  1. A conference entitled ‘Homosexuality: Why Psychoanalysis?’ bears witness to this idea.