Sunday, 21 March 2010

Dancing in the streets

I've just finished Barbara Ehrenreich's marvelous Dancing in the Streets - A History of Collective Joy. The below are a few notes.

The book explores 'the 3,000 year old struggle between Pentheus and Dionysus, between popes and dancing peasants.

Festivities were just another bad habit that the English lower classes would have to be weaned from, like the English workers observance of 'St Monday' as a day to continue, or recuperate, from the weekend's fun.

The difference between an audience and a crowd
In a crowd people are aware of other people's presence and embolden by their numbers. In an audience by contrast, each individual is, ideally unaware of other spectators as a mass; caught up in the speech, the spectacle, the performance.

Rock can be seen as a rebellion against the role of audience.

On sport
What finally made spectator sports acceptable to the elites who at first disdained these unruly gatherings was the use of sports events, in Eric Hobsbaum's words, as 'a medium for national identification and factious community'

On the demise of festivities
In modern times older more participatory forms of festivities had been replaced by spectacles in which the crowd serves merely as an audience.

So how can civilization be regarded as a form of progress if it precludes something as distinctively human, and deeply satisfying, as the collective joy of festivities and ecsatic rituals.

Guy Debord describes the Society of the Spectacle as occurring in 'an epoch without festivities'

Today we have more in common with prehuman primates who had not yet discovered the danced ritual as a biotechnology for the formation of larger groups.