As you read, pay close attention to the author’s purpose: Why is he writing? (reasoning)



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  1. As you read, pay close attention to the author’s purpose: Why is he writing? (reasoning)

  2. Underline words you do not know, but don’t dwell upon them. (usage/context)

  3. When finished with the reading, write a one-sentence summary of the reading. (reasoning)

What Is Happiness (by John Ciardi)

2010-02-15 13:20:43

The right to pursue happiness is issued to Americans with their birth certificates, but no one seems quite sure which way it ran. It may be we are issued a hunting license but offered no game. Jonathan Swift seemed to think so when he attacked the idea of happiness as “the possession of being well-deceived,” the felicity of being “a fool among knaves.” For Swift saw society as Vanity Fair, the land of false goals.

It is, of course, un-American to think in terms of fools and knaves. We do, however, seem to be dedicated to the idea of buying our way to happiness. We shall all have made it to Heaven when we possess enough.

And at the same time the forces of American commercialism are hugely dedicated to making us deliberately unhappy. Advertising is one of our major industries, and advertising exists not to satisfy desires but to create them—and to create them faster than any man’s budget can satisfy them. For that matter, our whole economy is based on a dedicated insatiability. We are taught that to possess is to be happy, and then we are made to want. We are even told it is our duty to want. It was only a few years ago, to cite a single example, that car dealers across the country were flying banners that read “You Auto Buy Now.” They were calling upon Americans, as an act approaching patriotism, to buy at once, with money they did not have, automobiles they did not really need, and which they would be required to grow tired of by the time the next year’s models were released.

Or look at any of the women's magazines. There, as Bernard DeVoto once pointed our, advertising begins as poetry in the front pages and ends as pharmacopoeia and therapy in the back pages. The poetry of the front matter is the dream of perfect beauty. This is the baby skin that must be hers. These, the flawless teeth. This, the perfumed breath she must exhale. This, the sixteen-year-old figure she must display at forty, at fifty, at sixty, and forever.

Once past the vaguely uplifting fiction and feature articles, the reader finds the other face of the dream in the back matter. This is the harness into which Mother must strap herself in order to display that perfect figure. These, the chin straps she must sleep in. This is the salve that restores all, this is her laxative, these are the tablets that melt away fat, these are the hormones of perpetual youth, these are the stockings that hide varicose veins.

Obviously no half-sane person can be completely persuaded either by such poetry or by such pharmacopoeia and orthopedics. Yet someone is obviously trying to buy the dream as offered and spending billions every year in the attempt. Clearly the happiness-market is not running out of customers, but what is it trying to buy?

But, perhaps because I am Western, I doubt such catatonic happiness, as I doubt the dreams of the happiness-market. What is certain is that his way of happiness would be torture to almost any Western man. Yet these extremes will still serve to frame the area within which all of us must find some sort of balance. Thoreau—a creature of both Eastern and Western thought—had his own firm sense of that balance. His aim was to save on the low levels in order to spend on the high.

Possession for its own sake or in competition with the rest of the neighborhood would have been Thoreau’s idea of the low levels. The active discipline of heightening one’s perception of what is enduring in nature would have been his idea of the high. What he saved from the low was time and effort he could spend on the high. Thoreau certainly disapproved of starvation, but he would put into feeding himself only as much effort as would keep him functioning for more important efforts.



Happiness is never more than partial. There are no pure states of mankind. Whatever else happiness may be, it is neither in having nor in being, but in becoming. What the Founding Fathers declared for us as an inherent right, we should do well to remember, was not happiness but the pursuit of happiness. What they might have underlined, could they have foreseen the happiness-market, is the cardinal fact that happiness is in the pursuit itself, in the meaningful pursuit of what is life-engaging and life-revealing, which is to say, in the idea of becoming. A nation is not measured by what it possesses or wants to possess, but by what it wants to become.

  1. The author compares the “right to pursue happiness” to

  1. Something we can buy.

  2. A hunting license.

  3. Something we can possess

  4. A false goal.

  1. Benard DeVoto is quoted in the passage when he describes advertising as both “poetry” and “pharmacopeia”. From the context, you can infer that pharmacopeia means:

  1. Skin lotion and diet pills.

  2. Illegal drugs

  3. False optimism

  4. Lies and distortion

  1. The author argues that the advertising industry is dedicated to making us unhappy because.

  1. Happiness is an illusion

  2. We will act more patriotically

  3. Happy people don’t make the decision to buy things.

  4. That will promote a thriving economy.

  1. The tone of the passage can best be described as:

  1. Uplifting

  2. Argumentative.

  3. Sarcastic

  4. Ironic

  1. The author suggests that happiness will be difficult to define. Perhaps the best we can do is:

  1. Define two extremes and work to find a middle ground.

  2. Say what happiness is not.

  3. Look at how other cultures have defined the term.

  4. Rely on a good dictionary.

  1. For Jonathan Swift, the idea of happiness was all of the following except:

  1. The felicity of being.

  2. A hunting license.

  3. A fool among knaves.

  4. The possession of the well deceived.

  1. Ciardi suggests that the holy man’s idea of happiness may be:

  1. Taking on life engaging difficulties.

  2. Needing nothing outside of oneself.

  3. Happiness on the installment plan.

  4. Possession for its own sake.

  1. One can conclude that American commercialism is:

  1. A creature of both Eastern and Western thought.

  2. A heightening of our perceptions about life.

  3. About perfect and therefore static happiness

  4. Dedicated to making us deliberately unhappy.

  1. Ciardi suggests that the founding fathers viewed happiness in terms of:

  1. Becoming

  2. Learning

  3. Possesing

  4. Discovering

  1. The car dealers who advertised “You Auto Buy Now” were hoping:

  1. That customers would believe in planned obsolescence.

  2. That customers would believe in rapt contemplation.

  3. That customers would believe in careful budgeting

  4. That customers would believe in the duty to want

3A. ESSAY: IN ORDER FOR THE ADMISSIONS STAFF OF OUR COLLEGE TO GET TO KNOW YOU, THE APPLICANT, BETTER, WE ASK THAT YOU ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTION:

ARE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT EXPERIENCES YOU HAVE HAD, OR ACCOMPLISHMENTS YOU HAVE REALIZED, THAT HAVE HELPED TO DEFINE YOU AS A PERSON?

___________________________________________________________________________________

I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row.

I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.

Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I'm bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge.

I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don't perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. Last summer I toured New Jersey with a traveling centrifugal-force demonstration. I bat 400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me.

I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy. I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations for the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me.

I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four course meals using only a mouli and a toaster oven. I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis.

But I have not yet gone to college. –Hugh Gallagher

1) The purpose of this essay is to:

a) Confuse the admissions staff of the college.

b) Insult the admissions staff of the college.

c) Imply that “High School” achievements are not all that impressive in the real world

d) Imply that in the greater scope of things, College “achievements” may not be all that impressive in the real world.

e) That both High School and College achievements may not be all that impressive in the real world.

2) In paragraph 2, “woo” means:

a) Flirt


b) Court

c) Impress

d) Date

e) Seduce



3) The best substitute for godlike would be:

a) herculean

b) mahonian

c) divine

d) Apollo

e) Religious

4) The best substitute for: On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge. Would be:

a) On Wednesdays, I repair electrical appliances free of charge on Wednesdays.

b) I repair electrical appliances free of charge on Wednesdays after school.

c) I repair electrical appliances after school free of charge on Wednesdays.

d) After school, I repair electrical appliances, free of charge On Wednesdays.

e) On Wednesdays, after school, I am immune to scorpion venom, free of charge.

5) The purpose of: I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Is to:

a) Humorously demonstrate an understanding of the concepts of abstract and concrete while also exercising the “rule of three” list.

b) Humorously demonstrate his life experiences in artistic circles, finance and areas outside of the law.

c) Humorously demonstrate that books and art often accompany concrete concepts.

d) Humorously demonstrate that art is abstract and books are concrete.

e) Humorously demonstrate that books are abstract and art is concrete.

6) The content of paragraph 4: I am an abstract artist…Children trust me. communicates:

a) Reasons of support

b) Ironic disposition

c) Frustration of discipline

d) Diversity and contrast

e) Resume skills

7) “I have performed several covert operations for the CIA.” Covert means:

a) To change your mind.

b) To turn upside down

c) Well paid

d) Optional

e) Secret

8) Most of the claims made by the author involve hyperbole. Pick the best substitute for the word hyperbole.

a) Exaggeration.

b) Bragging

c) Experience

d) Travel

e) Accomplishments.

9) My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Pick the best substitute for the word deft.

a) Shallow

b) Effortless

c) Rapid


d) Abrupt

e) Precipitous

10) But I have not yet gone to college. The tone of this sentence could best be described as:

a) Terminating



b) Dark

c) Exuberant



d) Ubiquitous

e) Sarcastic

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