Thursday, December 06, 2007

Coffee and Chocolate

Last night I had another random encounter with humanity. In the Starbucks line, waiting for my desperately needed Americano, and cookies for the beasties, I feel into joking with an older man. He had a box labeled "Coffee and Chocolate." "It just didn't get much better than that I told him." We ended up joking with his wife and the clerks. I know, cheesy, but I really feel warmed by those encounters during the "SEASON."

Coffee and chocolate are really true of the earth's loveliest delights. Right up there with sex. I was thinking about pleasure yesterday. In the class I'm TAing for, we had our final discussion for year on Neopaganism. The book we read is a wonderful book examining Pagan festivals. We were discussing why Neopagansim is one of the fastest growing religions in the U.S. (along with Pentecostalism). Several students kept pointing to how good people felt at these festivals. S, my professor, mentioned that this is not work that has been done in sociological/anthropological religious study work but that this question of pleasure seemed important. And this had me thinking all day, on the drive home, throughout the evening but yes pleasure! Why are we so scared too look at the pleasure religion provides? Would it make religion easier to dismiss for those of so "enlightened"? And I'm not talking pleasure in the Marx, opium way, but pleasure...the kind of pleasure we get from sex, a good glass of wine, fine music, etc. Does anyone have recommendations for books on pleasure? I'd great appreciate some call outs.

And today I was also thinking, as I prepare to send out the secondary materials to UNC (I'm sick to my stomach on this one) that I greatly appreciated all the encouragement from everyone. In particular, I wanted to mention a certain friend, from the lonely Isle, who asked important questions about my thesis proposal. Those questions really forced me to hone in what I was trying to say. I love that I get this kind of critical feed back here. I won't lie...sometimes it makes me grumpy but most of the time I get past that to see the spirit it was offered in. Critical discussions, not polemic discussions, are ways that only make us better thinkers. I appreciate that not only do I get encouragement but the pushes that I often need to just be better.

And yes, I will be finishing up editing my sample paper, then all this will be sent out to UNC. I am feeling a terrified. I have too much riding on this application. And deep down I know my chances are very very slim but I keep hoping that I'll slide in on that slim chance.

Depression...still there but I no longer feel like I'm drowning. Talking to someone earlier, I realized that writing about my dad all summer brought up some feelings I have about Christmas. Maybe I can find some time to write about those memories and feelings later.

Piper told me that when we got a cat, she wanted to name it Morrissey.


John B-R said...

According to some theorists of the Enlightenment, e.g. Pocock, one of the factors that motivated the philosophes etc was a reaction against "enthusiasm", which I think is a lot like pleasure. The reaction was generated at least in part by the religious wars of the previous century, fought mostly by "enthusiasts". "We don't want to go through THAT again" is how I think of the Enlightenment. Coffee and chocolate are solo pleasures, not group pleasures. Religious pleasures seem to have been group pleasures, which have of course been theorized, e.g. in terms of mob behavior, the attractions of Nazism, etc.). I think the reason so little positive work has been done about religious pleasure is because many of us, I include myself, are terrified of the common aftereffects of group pleasures (I'm just waiting for to end up in "Auschwitz", to be honest ...)

Ginger said...

But the Nazis were not religion. They had the trappings of religion but that is not what they are.

I do understand why we don't study that...but I'm not sure if that's a good enough reason. I suspect that we might be scared that emotions like this can be positive.

Do you really think that all forms of groups pleasure are inherently negative?

Lolabola said...

I was thinking of nazi's and cults when I read this and tried to figure out what that fear is. For me it's really the idea that I will forget to explore life and somehow brainwash myself into feeling 'safe' by adopting certain behaviours or ideas and sticking rigidly to them. It's an easy thing to do.

okay this comment is getting long and personal. I'll post on my blog instead of taking over your comment section to rant about me. ;)

I don't think group pleasure is inherently negative but I do think individuals are prone to losing themselves in group dynamics.

MTP said...

I agree that chocolate and coffee are wonderful, wonderful things. If I had to choose I think I would take coffee (but I'm a caffeine addict).

My feeling is that things are pleasurable because of the effect they have on us (especially in stimulating our dopamine/reward systems). As for group pleasures, I think some things are better shared with others (we are social beings after all). I take more pleasure in seeing a good movie in a crowded theater than an empty one; there is something enjoyable about the energy in the room. Concerts are the same way, a concert of one wouldn't be much fun.

Good luck on the rest of your applications!!

John B-R said...

"Do you really think that all forms of groups pleasure are inherently negative?"

No, of course not. (Digers on St George's Hill; Grateful Dead, New Year's Eve, 1976, 5000+ people in one room, ALL high on acid; the folks involved in Francis Alys' "Faith can move mountains", etc.) But. I think that group pleasure is potentially dangerous, and that the historical record bears this out. As to whether Nazism is/was a religion, I think the real question is: how analogous is "Nazi pleasure" to "religious pleasure"? If they strike the same chords in the psyche, then religious pleasure is something that must be handled with care. (I guess this is just what "lolabola" is saying ...)

On the other hand, obviously the Enlightenment was at best (!) a partial success, and certainly can be and has been critiqued on many grounds.

Ginger said...

Well you know that the term cult has taken an amaingly negative context dating from only the 70s and 80s and that much of that fear was stirred by Evangelical Christians. I also want to point that the whole accusation of brainwashing has been called into serious question. There is an assumption in that term that those who join New Religious Movements are weak and ignorant and that is often not the case.

Having come from a very strict religious upbringing I will say that it was never easy to follow the rules nor did I ever feel truely safe. I always find it intersting that people see religion as providing some kind of security. I never felt that.

Anyway there is a very good by my professor on how the media created the cult scare, and he points out the misconceptions, etc. I'll put the link if anyone is interested.

Anyway, I am not a type of religious scholar that believes that all forms of group activities are religious in nature. I do find it very intesting that it is only negative groups that get tagged as religious. If the Nazi's are a religious group then what about the Democrats? How about any music festivals?

As for losing the indivdual into the know I'm not always sure that's a bad thing. I'm not sure what it means to be an invidual anyay. There was time when this fear would have been very puzzling. You lose yourself in so many things...children, love, etc. And of course I am not so naive that I think that all group activities are wonderful. I just would really like there to be a serious take on pleasure.

Oh, and as an added note, there has been much work done questioning the notion of group mentality. Many scholars are suggesting that it may not really be about people getting caught up in the moment and really beleiving in something. Rather it appears that individuals within the group are actually functioning on many different levels: some are true believers, some are curious, others don't dare speak of, etc. So I don't think that one say there is a "group mind."

Lolabola said...

interesting bit about the 'group mind'.

I hope you post the link to your prof's bit.

John B-R said...

iAfter writing earlier, I started thinking more about this: I guess some group pleasures don't bother me at all; otherwise, why would I have offered you a hug?

I don't argue that there was a Nazi etc group mind, but I will say I'd hate to have lived in Nazi Germany, since Jews like me were often attacked by people who never would have attacked ANYONE under other circumstances ... and not only would I have died ... it would have been so sad to have died at such under-other-circumstances-reasonably-innocent hands ...

And yes, please provde the link ... this is very interesting.

Ginger said...

I will provide the link tomorrow.

And of course I agree that group pleasure has the ability to move both ways;P I'm just curious at scholars rel. in my field to look at this seriously.

I suspect you're right John B-R that it has much to do with Englightenement thought. But Englightenment didn't make us any less emotional. It just gave emotoinal intensity a backseat...but interestingly that hasn't always worked. And I also think that it assoiated emotions with irrationality and this made them place emotions on people they viewed as irrational.

But think, Nazis, etc. I'm not excusing it. In fact, if group think is now what we think it is, doesn't it make almost worst? Worst to disagree and still say nothing? Worst to get cuaght up so you won't get caught?

Basically I am not trying to say group think or group pleasure is a good or bad thing. But I do think that scholars should tackle this in religion, and tackle it in a thoughtful, intelligent way.

John B-R said...

I think that scholars in other fields are looking at this, Ginger. I have seen books in psychology that locate emotions outside human beings, in the space between them (that's putting it really crudely, but ...), for instance.

Do we even know what emotions ARE?

I agree w/you entirely re: the Enlightenment. But that doesn't make me anti-Enlightenment. It's just that we're not, have never been, will never be, rational actors.

Oh, by the way, I wrote a poem for you. Get depressed, get a poem in return. It's "medicine". It's up on ZS. I hope you like it.

Ginger said...

You've hit on the head John. What are emotions? And that is huge in the social sciences right now. I'm trying to bring into the humanities. There's a lot being done in Religious Studies in Medieval Christianity. But even then there is not much being done on pleasures.

Enligtenement. I'm not anti...I mean that would be silly don't you think? I can't erase it and I wouldn't if I could. On the other hand, I do think that the Engligtenment didn't really ease hatred, killing, or conflict. In fact, maybe taking the emotional element out made it all the easier to kill? You hear so often about irrational religious people, and during colonization the argument that Natives were not rational beings turned into a good argument of extermination.

Thanks all for such a great conversation.

And John, loved the white magic, and it did work some magic last night.

Jon said...

Okay, off discussion a little:

Michel Onfray is a french philosopher whose career seems to deal with hedonism and pleasure. Only I don't know if his books are translated into English. If they are check them out - he's good even when he's wrong.

Two books that deal indirectly with pleasure are Bachelard's *Poetics of Space* and Victor Burgin's *The Remembered Film*. Totally interesting in relation to this is Michel de Certeau's *The Practice of Everyday Life*, which deals with how people use the world around them. Bachelard is the most fun to read, I think. There's no doubt psychoanalytic texts on this too, but I would tend to avoid them as being depressing (*Beyond the pleasure principle* for instance).
This is all I can think of right now...

And coffee is both solitary and social as a pleasure, isn't it? Going for coffee is as pleasurable, if not more so, than drinking it...


Ginger said...

Thanks for the recommendations. H has recommend Bachelard to me awhile ago so I guess with yet another commendation I need to get to it eh?

I've read Beyond the Pleasure Principle, and yes a tad depressing;P

I don't know about more pleasurable but I do enjoy cafe with others, but I also like going alone and watching people (and spying!).