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Dancing in the Streets

A History of Collective Joy
Paperback Book
Publisher: 
Henry Holt
 | 
December, 2007
ISBN:
9780805057249
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0
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Banyen's Description: 

This exhilarating defense of ecstatic pleasure, from a noted cultural historian, is a fascinating exploration of one of humanity’s oldest traditions: the celebration of communal joy. She shows how this impulse has been so effectively suppressed that we lack even a term for it: the desire for collective joy, historically expressed in ecstatic revels of feasting, costuming, and dancing.

Ehrenreich uncovers the origins of communal celebration in human biology and culture. Although 16th-century Europeans viewed mass festivities as foreign and “savage,” Ehrenreich shows that they were indigenous to the West, from the ancient Greeks’ worship of Dionysus to the medieval practice of Christianity as a “danced religion.” Ultimately, church officials drove the festivities into the streets, the prelude to widespread reformation: Protestants criminalized carnival, Wahhabist Muslims battled ecstatic Sufism, European colonizers wiped out native dance rites. The elites’ fear that such gatherings would undermine social hierarchies was justified: the festive tradition inspired French revolutionary crowds and uprisings from the
Caribbean to the American plains. Yet outbreaks of group revelry persist, as Ehrenreich shows…  

And yet… It does not go away, this ecstatic possibility. Despite centuries of repression, despite the competing allure of spectacles, festivity keeps bubbling up, and in the most unlikely places… The rock rebellion generated an entire counterculture… at the other end of the cultural spectrum, people undertook to carnivalize sports events, reclaiming them as occasions for individual creativity and collective joy… The
Berlin
Love Parade… Burning Man… protest movements keep reinventing carnival…

The urge to transform one’s appearance, to dance outdoors, to mock the powerful and embrace perfect strangers is not easy to suppress. The capacity for collective joy is encoded into us almost as deeply as the capacity for the erotic love of one human for another. We can live without it, as most of us do, but only at the risk of succumbing to the solitary nightmare of depression.

Well-researched, persuasively argued and deeply optimistic, Dancing in the Streets concludes that we are innately social beings, impelled to share our joy and therefore able to envision, even create, a more peaceable future.

 

 

 

 

 

Publisher’s Description: 

`Fascinating... An admirably lucid, level-headed history of outbreaks of joy from Dionysus to the Grateful Dead.`-Terry Eagleton, The Nation Widely praised as `impressive` (The Washington Post Book World), `ambitious` (The Wall Street Journal), and `alluring` (The Los Angeles Times), Dancing in the Streets explores a human impulse that has been so effectively suppressed that we lack even a term for it: the desire for collective joy, historically expressed in revels of feasting, costuming, and dancing. Drawing on a wealth of history and anthropology, Barbara Ehrenreich uncovers the origins of communal celebration in human biology and culture. From the earliest orgiastic Mesopotamian rites to the medieval practice of Christianity as a `danced religion` and the transgressive freedoms of carnival, she demonstrates that mass festivities have long been central to the Western tradition. In recent centuries, this festive tradition has been repressed, cruelly and often bloodily. But as Ehrenreich argues in this original, exhilarating, and ultimately optimistic book, the celebratory impulse is too deeply ingrained in human nature ever to be completely extinguished.

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