Dr. Joel Faflak

Got Happy?

Watch the video of Dr. Faflak’s talk here.

In 1800, at a time when the West seemed on its way to becoming a happier place, chemist Humphry Davy wrote that “man is obliged to be benevolent.” From ancient notions of virtue, to Christian training in a felicitous afterlife, we arrive at the Enlightenment idea of a natural right to happiness. As Roy Porter argues, the Enlightenment “translated the ultimate question, ‘How can I be saved’ into the pragmatic ‘How can I be happy?” One immediate answer was the birth of psychiatry to cure madness but also to improve society’s welfare. Emerging from eighteenth-century medicine, moral philosophy, and political economy, psychiatry reflects ethical vision but also sociopolitical efficiency, good business as well as good intentions, such as the triumph of pharmacology. This presentation reads back to the future of psychiatry as an allegory of our contemporary obsession with happiness, read within the particular context of, of all things, the American film musical.

Joel Faflak is Professor in the Department of English and Writing Studies at Western University, where he was inaugural Director of the School for Advanced Studies in the Arts and Humanities (2012-17), and Visiting Professor at Victoria College, University of Toronto. He is author of Romantic Psychoanalysis, co-author of Revelation and Knowledge, editor of De Quincey’s Confessions of An English Opium-Eater, co-editor of Palgrave Studies in Affect Theory and Literary Criticism, and editor of numerous essay collections. He’s currently working on two book projects, one entitled Romantic Psychiatry and the Psychopathology of Happiness and Get Happy! The Politics of Utopianism in the American Film Musical.

The annual MacKay Lecture Series is funded by the generous endowment of Mrs. Gladys MacKay in appreciation of the education her husband, Reverend Malcolm Ross MacKay (B.A., 1927), received in the liberal arts at Dalhousie University.

Questions? Contact mingo@dal.ca