If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be a part of your revolution.
We want bread and roses, too!
Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.
Okay, so that last slogan may not have been associated with radical or revolutionary politics, but it should have. And while Free your mind and your ass will follow! could be read as a somber observation of the necessity of intellectual development in one’s liberation, set it to a beat with a thumpin’ bass and you get the right spirit.
Anyway, this is prompted by a New Yorker blog post by Sasha Frere-Jones on music and culture critic Ellen Willis. I’d heard of her—read encomiums to her upon her death—but hadn’t been much moved to read more about or by her.
I should read more of her.
Frere-Jones offers this excerpt of some emails by Willis’s friend Karen Durbin:
Ellen was that wondrous creature, an intellectual who deeply valued sensuality, which is why she wrote with such insight about rock and roll but also with such love. She respected the sensual; in a fundamentally puritanical culture, she honored it. She saw how it could be a path to transcendence and liberation, especially for women, who, when we came out into the world in the early to midsixties, were relentlessly sexualized and just as relentlessly shamed. Rock and roll broke that chain: it was the place where we could be sexual and ecstatic about it. Our lives were saved by that fine, fine music, and that’s a fact. [emph. added]
I’ve been lamenting the left’s failures to offer any alternatives to our current deracinated culture—capitalism is flattening us into consumptive nothingness—without doing much beyond, well, lamenting.
But here’s a clue for us: remember the pleasure of liberation, remember that pleasure can itself liberate.
Here’s Richard Goldstein on Willis (also quoted by Frere-Jones):
Ellen was, more than anything, a liberationist. She taught me that gay liberation was an “epiphenomenon” of feminism, and that’s something I still believe. Finally, she believed that for any leftist agenda to succeed it has to be based on pleasure, on realizing desire. This is a lesson the left has largely forgotten; indeed, the right has appropriated it, though they use social sadism the way we used orgiastic ecstasy. Ellen would surely agree that we won’t see a revival of revolutionary sentiment until we learn to make it fun. In that respect, Ellen, Emma Goldman, and Abbie Hoffman are part of a lost tradition—radicals of desire. [emph. added]
I’m much better and winnowing down than opening up, much better with distance and critique and despair blah blah, and, for the most part, I’m okay with the distance and the critique and the despair and the blah blah.
But it’s not enough, not for me personally and certainly not for any truly radical politics. If we are to have a human politics, then we have to begin with us, as humans—in our mess and despair and failures and blah blah and in our pleasure and amusement and joy and ecstasy.
Okay, so I”m a little uncomfortable with the ecstasy, but I can certainly get behind humor and dancing and ever more laughter. And while I’m also uncomfortable with my own desires, I have to admit that I have not been improved by my suppression of them.
So let’s bring it back, the mess and the desire and everything else—not as a problem, but as a given.