Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy

Robert Pinsky reviews the new book by Barbara Ehrenreich, in the New York Times Book Review:

Screenhunter_02_jan_14_2258“Take me out with the crowd,” goes the old baseball song. “I love this crowd,” repeats the classic stand-up comic. Every lecturer knows: the larger the group, the more they become an event for themselves, heightening the attention, the laughs or the emotions. At our national political conventions, people wear silly hats and bob up and down to music so stupid it is a parody of music, in order to “demonstrate” a political feeling. Participating in a demonstrative crowd gives joy, as being a mere spectator cannot. Even in a culture where recorded performance has become central, people crave the live event, largely for that group joy.

Barbara Ehrenreich wants to affirm the value of ecstatic group celebration. She aligns it with the old precolonial, precapitalist, pre-Christian religions, and with Carnival. The dancing meant by her title has ancient roots; it precedes streets. It also goes beyond them in the modern stadium, where sports and music, watching and performing, all merge. The kind of celebration Ehrenreich celebrates is communal though ungoverned, and anti-hierarchical though ancient. In the god Dionysus she sees a liberating force needed but resisted by modern Western society.

More here.