Celebration

It’s the “Celebration” chapter of Happiness Myth today in HAP 101, wherein ancient Greek bacchanalia and medieval carnival craziness are brought to bear on our strange modern ways. You’ll never look at the news (but do you look at the news?) the same way again. You may have more fun at your next wedding. You may feel less guilty for getting ecstatic when your team wins. You may even learn to love a parade.

JMH says we western individualists, we preservers of private life, are really built for public display. We’re pack-wolves, and festive public celebration is one of our “few pragmatic routes to happiness.”  

The specific forms taken by such festivity is often  at some level absurd, even when no inter-species suckling or naughty baked goods are involved; but it doesn’t cost very much, it can last a long while, it’s not inherently illegal (though it may be licentious); it feels free, and it’s a community-builder. It creates solidarity, elicits empathy, forges fellow-feeling. 

Take the little fete my old Grad School peers and I put on for our teacher awhile back, for instance. 

It dipped by turns into moments of silliness and solemnity, shook loose old memories and affections, and in general made us all happy to be there. Of course, it came up well short of anything you’d describe as revelry or carnival. But JMH’s point is that when we enact shared rituals of celebration in public we participate in an age-old human device for releasing joyful energies and making happy connections. We don’t have to “go crazy” on such occasions. It’s enough to just simply climb out of our personal chambers of self-reference for awhile and join the party. We’re a social species, and our most valued experiences are typically inter-personal.

It’s an odd inversion we’re on the long end of, in the “developed” post-modern world. “Historically, the average person expected to be a little miserable most of the time, and ecstatic on festival days.We now expect to be happy all the time, but never riotously so.” Is that about right? It would explain a lot.

“Thanksgiving with the family,” I confess, is something I dread every year this time. That’s not the way I should feel, if I felt as expansively toward the extended communal family and its celebratory occasions as Hecht implies I might. Does anyone else feel that way? Do you want to talk about it? 

The Dionysian abandon of Greek fest with its state of trance and revelation, its secret-sharing and “deep woman-weirdness,” is atypical nowadays. Our parties more often partake of the spirit of medieval carnival, says Hecht. (I think Hecht has, or when she wrote this had, a more interesting party life than I.)
In medieval Europe, partying was not about mad ecstasy. Instead, it was raucous, filthy, flirty, teasing, and soaked in ale. In this sense we are more like them than like the ancient Greeks.

That sounds like the Animal House-style frat party scene. I don’t go to those. The closest I come to representations of either form of frenzied communal festivity, most of the time, is on my daily circuit around “Musica.” Alan LeQuire’s sculpture is meant to evoke the spirit of music and creativity in general. Not sure it quite captures the Nashville sound and vibe, but the dancers do seem to be having a good time. They appear happy.  They appear to be mortal, too. Something we can all relate to, in our quest to “perceive the world in its laughing aspect.” Or smiling, at least.

I was smiling broadly just the other week, as the baseball season finally wound down and my team almost wound up on top. “Spectator sports work even better than religion in some ways,” not because of gambling or the wave or the spectacle in the stands but because… I don’t know, just because. Have I mentioned Annie Savoy’s Church of Baseball? Of course I have. I will again.
 I believe in the church of baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there’s 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there’s 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. …It’s a long season, and you gotta trust it. I’ve tried them all, I really have. And, the only church that feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the church of baseball.

No, it’s not for everyone. But sometimes the game really does “work in the same ways as historic festivals, occasioning expressions of sorrow and triumph.” That’s not peculiar to my game. But you must take your dopamine perks where you can. If you doubt the meaning-potential of spectator sport, watch Jimmy Fallon with his little season ticket-holding Fenway community in “Fever Pitch.”  

[And here I have to interrupt myself, at 6:17 a.m., to note the drop-dead gorgeous sky just outside my window. I glanced up and there it was. Almost missed it. Looks and feels like something to celebrate. If we’d arranged our workaday world more sensibly, such moments would occasion public celebration. We’d not just “appreciate” breathtaking cloud formations and colorful sky palettes, we’d spill out into the streets and party. Carpe vitam, again…. and another glance shows the sky resettling itself to “normal,” which also deserves more celebration than we give it.]

Of the other celebratory forms JMH considers, I’m sure we all relate better to some than others. I did go to a Star Trek “con” once, though not in costume or character and (though I do appreciate Gene Roddenberry’s original humanist impulse to honor an idealized future involving collective and cosmopolitan inter-species flourishing and the urge to “boldly go,” etc.) not entirely without a sense of irony. But I do like the franchise’s original innocence and confidence. Contemplation of a world in which humans have conquered ancient prejudice, greed, and short-term thinking can be intoxicating. Shared contemplation can amplify the feeling.

And yes, I do have a nutty “special kind of allegiance” to Monty Python. JMH is quite  right: immerse yourself in one of these worlds, and for the duration you can expect to feel “no shadowy worry of meaninglessness.” Isn’t that worth a bit of absurdity? Oompa Loompas are underrated as a source of repeatable Happy Days. Get enough of those and you can’t help having a Happy Life. But try not to get stuck on the Holo-deck.

“The big part of you has no words and it’s a wolf.” Take that out of context and you get the gist of this chapter: experience and life and richer than words can say, and human nature is wilder than we might want to admit. We can deplore this, or we can celebrate.

And one more reminder, as Halloween recedes: “you have a better chance of happiness if you do not let actors do all the dressing up.” We need, the rest of us, a Festivus.

JMH loves to make lists and check them off. She closes the chapter with a list of nine questions about your next party oppportunity. Will it let you drop decorum, dance, dramatize, disrobe, impersonate the other gender, act absurdly, eat a lot, get lost in the crowd? Is it your birthday? If you have just three yes answers, she says, go. “Get out there.” 

via Blogger http://jposopher.blogspot.com/2013/11/celebration.html

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