Being serious demands serious kinds of work. In Styles of Seriousness, Steven Connor reflects on the surprisingly various ways in which a sense of the serious is made and maintained, revealing that while seriousness is the most powerful feeling, it is also the most poignantly indeterminate, perhaps because of the impossibility of being completely serious.
In colloquy with philosophers such as Aristotle, Nietzsche, James, Sartre, Austin, Agamben and Sloterdijk, and writers like Shakespeare, Byron, Auden and Orwell, Connor considers the linguistic and ritual behaviors associated with different modes of seriousness: importance; intention, or ways of really "meaning things;" sincerity; solemnity; urgency; regret; warning; and ordeal. The central claim of the book is human beings are capable of taking things seriously in a way that nonhuman animals are not, for the unexpected reason that human beings are so much more versatile than most animals at not being completely serious. One always, in fact, has a choice about whether or not to take seriously something that is supposed to be so. As a consequence, seriousness depends on different kinds of formalization or stylized practice. Styles of seriousness matter, Connor shows, because human beings are incapable of simply and spontaneously existing. Being a human means having to take seriously one's style of being.
Steven Connor is Director of Research in the Digital Futures Institute, King's College, London, and Grace 2 Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of Giving Way: Thoughts on Unappreciated Dispositions (Stanford, 2019) and twenty other books.
"Connor's is a game-changing study, delimiting new terrain at every witty and penetrating turn. There is nothing like this remarkable book, with its lambent and matured critical voice and its confident obliteration of disciplinary boundaries."—Garrett Stewart, author of The Metanarrative Hall of Mirrors
"At once stunningly erudite and seriously entertaining, Steven Connor takes impish delight in revealing the way solemnity, zeal, and heavyweight intent weave across history into the fabric of philosophy, literature, and everyday life. With doom-mongering now the self-certified pastime of our current era of competitive piety, Styles of Seriousness is all the more eye-opening and deliciously irreverent."—David James, author of Discrepant Solace
"The human species, said Emerson, is the only joker in nature. Steven Connor's essay on 'the holiday virtues' deliciously shows the precarious proximity of solemnity and hilarity. His anatomy of seriousness is both a philosophical meditation on the human estate and a political skirmish against the latest rounds of fatuousness. The book is at once puckish, exacting, and morally grounded."—John Durham Peters, author of The Marvelous Clouds