Pharrell’s fröhliche Wissenschaft

A couple of weeks ago, I learned through friends on social media that Happy, Pharrell’s latest earworm, had become a sort of current day revolutionary anthem. I reacted with surprise and skepticism. Where, in a song called “Happy,” could the catalyzing negativity so necessary for direct action be found?

I took a closer listen. “This song isn’t about happiness at all,” I thought. “It’s about imperviousness. It’s about self-empowerment, about transcendence. Boundlessness. Agency.” Perhaps these emotions can be found embedded within individual life and romantic love, but they are also crucial ingredients for collective resistance. Suddenly it made more sense that Brazilian students might want to claim the song as their own as they protest the mismanagement and misuse of national funding for World Cup preparation whilst so many of their fellow citizens live in appallingly poor conditions.

The sheer inner resolve that this pop song celebrates can be directly matched to the “joyful wisdom” that Friedrich Nietzsche wrote about:

“Joyful Wisdom” : that implies the Saturnalia of a spirit which has patiently withstood a long, frightful pressure patiently, strenuously, impassionately, without submitting, but without hope—and which is now suddenly o’erpowered with hope, the hope of health, the intoxication of convalescence.

The proof? Below. Slavoj Žižek eat your heart out!


(Pharrell Williams, 2013)

It might seem crazy what I’m about to say
Sunshine she’s here, you can take a break
I’m a hot air balloon that could go to space
With the air, like I don’t care baby by the way

Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do
Here come bad news talking this and that, yeah,
Well, give me all you got, and don’t hold it back, yeah,
Well, I should probably warn you I’ll be just fine, yeah,
No offense to you, don’t waste your time
Here’s why

Bring me down
Can’t nothing bring me down
My level’s too high
Bring me down
Can’t nothing bring me down
I said (let me tell you now)
Bring me down
Can’t nothing bring me down
My level’s too high
Bring me down
Can’t nothing bring me down
I said

[Chorus 2x]

Bring me down… can’t nothing…
Bring me down… my level’s too high…
Bring me down… can’t nothing…
Bring me down, I said (let me tell you now)


Certainly this man, notwithstanding his youth, understands the improvisation of life, and astonishes even the acutest observers. For it seems that he never makes a mistake, although he constantly plays the most hazardous games. One is reminded of the improvising masters of the musical art, to whom even the listeners would fain ascribe a divine infallibility of the hand, notwithstanding that they now and then make a mistake, as every mortal is liable to do. But they are skilled and inventive, and always ready in a moment to arrange into the structure of the score the most accidental tone (where the jerk of a finger or a humour brings it about), and to animate the accident with a fine meaning and soul.

Here is quite a different man ; everything that he intends and plans fails with him in the long run. That on which he has now and again set his heart has already brought him several times to the abyss, and to the very verge of ruin ; and if he has as yet got out of the scrape, it certainly has not been merely with a “black eye.” Do you think he is unhappy over it? He resolved long ago not to regard his own wishes and plans as of so much importance. “If this does not succeed with me,” he says to himself, ” perhaps that will succeed ; and on the whole I do not know but that I am under more obligation to thank my failures than any of my successes. Am I made to be headstrong, and to wear the bull’s horns? That which constitutes the worth and the sum of life for me, lies somewhere else ; I know more of life, because I have been so often on the point of losing it ; and just on that account I have more of life than any of you!” (The Joyful Wisdom, Part IV, Sanctus Januarius, Thesis 303.)

No ! Life has not deceived me ! On the contrary, from year to year I find it richer, more desirable and more mysterious—from the day on which the great liberator broke my fetters, the thought that life may be an experiment of the thinker—and not a duty, not a fatality, not a deceit !—And knowledge itself may be for others something different ; for example, a bed of ease, or the path to a bed of ease, or an entertainment, or a course of idling,—for me it is a world of dangers and victories, in which even the heroic sentiments have their arena and dancing-floor.

“Life as a means to knowledge”—with this principle in one’s heart, one can not only be brave, but can even live joyfully and laugh joyfully ! And who could know how to laugh well and live well, who did not first understand the full significance of war and victory ? (The Joyful Wisdom, Part IV, Sanctus Januarius, Thesis 324.)

Dance, oh ! dance on all the edges.
Wave-crests, cliffs and mountain ledges,
Ever finding dances new!
Let our knowledge be our gladness,
Let our art be sport and madness.
All that’s joyful shall be true! (The Joyful Wisdom, Appendix, “A Dancing Song to the Mistral Wind.”)




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