Simon Mussell
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Feeling blue
Melancholic dispositions and conscious unhappiness
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This chapter explores how the work of first-generation critical theory can offer some interesting and timely insights into the current political economy of emotion that binds happiness and wellbeing to positivity, productivity, and measurable output. It begins by charting the major historical conceptualizations of melancholia, both in its medical and cultural iterations, since these have played such a significant role in shaping our understanding of (un)happiness. The chapter focuses on Walter Benjamin's varied and complex engagements with melancholia, many of which contrast with the traditional readings of melancholia as inherently passive, inward-looking, static, and so forth. It closes with an analysis of Theodor Adorno's form of social critique and 'conscious unhappiness', that is, a wilful rejection of any privatized or individualized notion of happiness in favour of a militant and political discontent.

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Critical theory and feeling

The affective politics of the early Frankfurt School


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