From Publishers Weekly
It is a truism that everyone seeks happiness, but public manifestations of it have not always been free of recrimination. Colonial regimes have defined spectacles as an inherently "primitive" act and elders harrumph at youthful exultation. Social critic and bestselling author Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed
) teases out the many incarnations of sanctioned public revelry, starting with the protofeminist oreibasia
, or Dionysian winter dance, in antiquity, and from there covering trance, ancient mystery cults and carnival, right up to the rock and roll and sports-related mass celebrations of our own day. "Why is so little left" of such rituals, she asks, bemoaning the "loss of ecstatic
pleasure." Ehrenreich necessarily delineates the repressive reactions to such ecstasy by the forces of so-called "civilization," reasonably positing that rituals of joy are nearly as innate as the quest for food and shelter. Complicating Ehrenreich's schema is her own politicized judgment, dismissing what she sees as the debased celebrations of sporting events while writing approvingly of the 1960s "happenings" of her own youth and the inevitable street theater that accompanies any modern mass protest, yet all but ignoring the Burning Man festival in Nevada and tut-tutting ravers' reliance on artificial ecstasy. That aside, Ehrenreich writes with grace and clarity in a fascinating, wide-ranging and generous account. (Jan. 10)
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At a time when social scientists are lamenting the loss of a sense of community, Ehrenreich offers an absorbing look at the joy of life expressed in communal rituals of dance and celebration. From cave drawings through the celebrations of weddings, religious rites, healing, and war preparations of various cultures to modern "carnivalization" of sports celebrations, she traces the appeal of synchronizing individual movements to a group. Western culture, with little understanding of the ecstasy of love expressed in group celebrations, has looked on such celebrations as primitive hysterics and banned them among African slaves, Native Americans, and other cultures. But Ehrenreich details a long history of such celebrations in European cultures, from the festivals of Dionysus to those of medieval Christians. She also explores other cultures' reactions to dance celebrations they viewed as somehow socially or spiritually subversive, whether it's Protestants banning carnivals or Wahhabist Muslims frowning on ecstatic Sufism. Given the social nature of humans, Ehrenreich is optimistic that the drive to "civilize" will never fully eliminate the impulse for group celebration. Vanessa BushCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved