- Houses of Abundance
As US liberals wring their hands over the current White House occupier's daily racist, xenophobic, misogynistic rants, their elected Democratic representatives hem and haw over the efficacy of impeachment. Every news cycle another outlet insists that "[w]e are finally on the path" to indicting Trump,1 but even the most rabid retweeters understand that the likelihood of this happening "by the book" is virtually nil, since the book is in fact written to prevent a sitting president from being charged with a crime, much less unseated from office. Meanwhile, Puerto Ricans have taken to the streets en masse to successfully force the resignation of their own homophobic, racist, misogynistic governor Ricardo Rosselló. They now demand more than a return to the status quo—the island's instrumentalization, exploitation, and neglect at the imperial claws of the United States. Indeed, the protests target the violent inadequacy of governmental responses to Hurricane Maria, which continues its course of devastation nearly two years after the main event. Yet, write Dan Berger and Carly Goodman in The Washington Post, "[t]he marches in Puerto Rico… have been as joyous as they are indignant."2 Channeling the carnivalesque image of gay pop icon Ricky Martin reclining atop a vehicle, grinning, and waving a pride flag as fellow protestors carouse around him, they observe that, "collective action can be a joyous affair. In fact, it can supply the joy needed to survive hard times."3
That collective action can be joyful, that activism can make its practitioners feel good, and that political movement work must actually cultivate pleasure in order to move and work, is the central lesson of adrienne maree brown's rigorously sumptuous Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good (2019). The book's introductory epigraph, Toni Cade Bambara's declaration that, "[t]he role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible," intentionally foregrounds the author's contribution to a genealogy of Black feminist pleasure work that includes Audre Lorde's paradigm-shifting "Uses of the Erotic," Octavia Butler's speculative explorations of cross-species sexuality and desire, Joan Morgan's recent theorization of "pleasure politics," and more. But Pleasure Activism's relation to its lineage is refreshingly nonlinear and anti-hierarchical. Unlike so many academic monographs (perhaps because it isn't one!), brown's volume doesn't regurgitate and/or refute the arguments of its predecessors and peers in a singular authorial voice. Instead, the book models a fractal constellation of theories and praxes of pleasure. Threaded through brown's own essays and poetry are offerings from an expansive selection of interlocutors—critical reflections, personal meditations, transcribed conversations and interviews, and even a few glossy pages of psychedelic pussy art! Pleasure Activism is as much a cornucopia as it is a galaxy. The book revels in its own abundance.
Which is entirely the point. From the jump, brown generously, and without condescension, recounts how the logic of scarcity endemic to capitalism leads individuals to foreclose the possibility of "an abundance from which we [End Page 300] can all have enough" (15). Many people have troubled relationships to their own pleasure, she writes, "because a small minority of our species hoards the excess of resources, creating a false scarcity and then trying to sell us joy, sell us back to ourselves" (15). No shade on Marx, who is cited an appropriate amount of once in this decidedly anti-capitalist collection (182n6), but brown's description of the sense of paucity that accompanies life under white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy resonates with this particular reader more strongly than any Marxist mansplanation of the present predicament ever has. Reading her introduction for the first time, I felt as I did when I first began reading theory: that something I'd known viscerally (or to use one of brown's key terms, somatically) was being articulated back to me, given a shape so that I could grasp it—and potentially, in the grasping, transform it. What was in my bones made its way to my head...