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Animal Joy: A Book of Laughter and Resuscitation

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An invigorating, continuously surprising book about the serious nature of laughter. Laughter shakes us out of our deadness. An outburst of spontaneous laughter is an eruption from the unconscious that, like political resistance, poetry, or self-revelation, expresses a provocative, impish drive to burst free from external constraints. Taking laughter’s revelatory capacity as An invigorating, continuously surprising book about the serious nature of laughter. Laughter shakes us out of our deadness. An outburst of spontaneous laughter is an eruption from the unconscious that, like political resistance, poetry, or self-revelation, expresses a provocative, impish drive to burst free from external constraints. Taking laughter’s revelatory capacity as a starting point, and rooted in Nuar Alsadir’s experience as a poet and psychoanalyst, Animal Joy seeks to recover the sensation of being present and embodied. Writing in a poetic, associative style, blending the personal with the theoretical, Alsadir ranges from her experience in clown school, Anna Karenina’s morphine addiction, Freud’s un-Freudian behaviors, marriage brokers and war brokers, to “Not Jokes,” Abu Ghraib, Frantz’s negrophobia, smut, the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, laugh tracks, the problem with adjectives, and how poetry can wake us up. At the center of the book, however, is the author’s relationship with her daughters, who erupt into the text like sudden, unexpected laughter. These interventions—frank, tender, and always a challenge to the writer and her thinking—are like tiny revolutions, pointedly showing the dangers of being severed from one’s true self and hinting at ways one might be called back to it. A bold and insatiably curious prose debut, Animal Joy is an ode to spontaneity and feeling alive.


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An invigorating, continuously surprising book about the serious nature of laughter. Laughter shakes us out of our deadness. An outburst of spontaneous laughter is an eruption from the unconscious that, like political resistance, poetry, or self-revelation, expresses a provocative, impish drive to burst free from external constraints. Taking laughter’s revelatory capacity as An invigorating, continuously surprising book about the serious nature of laughter. Laughter shakes us out of our deadness. An outburst of spontaneous laughter is an eruption from the unconscious that, like political resistance, poetry, or self-revelation, expresses a provocative, impish drive to burst free from external constraints. Taking laughter’s revelatory capacity as a starting point, and rooted in Nuar Alsadir’s experience as a poet and psychoanalyst, Animal Joy seeks to recover the sensation of being present and embodied. Writing in a poetic, associative style, blending the personal with the theoretical, Alsadir ranges from her experience in clown school, Anna Karenina’s morphine addiction, Freud’s un-Freudian behaviors, marriage brokers and war brokers, to “Not Jokes,” Abu Ghraib, Frantz’s negrophobia, smut, the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, laugh tracks, the problem with adjectives, and how poetry can wake us up. At the center of the book, however, is the author’s relationship with her daughters, who erupt into the text like sudden, unexpected laughter. These interventions—frank, tender, and always a challenge to the writer and her thinking—are like tiny revolutions, pointedly showing the dangers of being severed from one’s true self and hinting at ways one might be called back to it. A bold and insatiably curious prose debut, Animal Joy is an ode to spontaneity and feeling alive.

30 review for Animal Joy: A Book of Laughter and Resuscitation

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    My review for LIBER: https://www.liberreview.com/issue-1-3... A POET AND a psychoanalyst walk into a bar. That sounds like the setup to a joke, but really, it’s a scene from Nuar Alsadir’s enthralling new book, Animal Joy: A Book of Laughter and Resuscitation, and, in this case, the poet and the psychoanalyst are one and the same: Alsadir herself. In this expansive and erudite meditation on the relationship between laughter and basically everything else, Alsadir interweaves both of those strands My review for LIBER: https://www.liberreview.com/issue-1-3... A POET AND a psychoanalyst walk into a bar. That sounds like the setup to a joke, but really, it’s a scene from Nuar Alsadir’s enthralling new book, Animal Joy: A Book of Laughter and Resuscitation, and, in this case, the poet and the psychoanalyst are one and the same: Alsadir herself. In this expansive and erudite meditation on the relationship between laughter and basically everything else, Alsadir interweaves both of those strands of her identity—along with many more, including her experiences as the daughter of Iraqi immigrants and as the mother of two daughters—to explore what laughter can reveal about our deepest selves and the reality that surrounds us. On the very first page, she quotes George Orwell: “A thing is funny when—in some way that is not actually offensive or frightening—it upsets the established order. Every joke is a tiny revolution.” From there, she lets the reader ride her waves of thought, considering the ways in which this revolutionary power can be manifested in environments as diverse as her studies in a clown class at Yale University to broader contexts of activism and resistance such as those described by John Lennon: When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you—pull your beard, and flick your face—to make you fight. Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is nonviolence and humor. Or, as Alsadir puts it shortly thereafter, “By behaving spontaneously, in line with our instincts, we have the potential to provoke ourselves—and others—into possibility, whether its personal, poetic, or political.” In the associative style of Freudian talk therapy, Alsadir riffs to her audience on an astonishing array of people, topics, and theories—from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure to Primo Levi, from the Still Face Experiment to Audre Lorde, from the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings to Martin Heidegger, from Sarah Silverman to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood—all in the service of examining how the human activity of laughter is inextricably connected to our conscious and unconscious minds, our physical bodies, and our body politic. Although she deliberately avoids a clear plot, throughline, or thesis, Alsadir comes across as rhetorically persuasive on page after page. Proceeding by the method of unexpected leaps and pleasing juxtapositions, she makes the convincing case that humorous ruptures and the laughter that accompanies them stand—if they are honest—to divulge a great deal about who we are, how we live, and what we desire. Over and over again, she shows that what makes us truly laugh also has the capacity to expose hypocrisies and falsehoods. Writing of Sascha Baron Cohen’s personae—including Borat, the supposed journalist from Kazakhstan—she notes how deftly these figures can draw “real people into fictional scenarios they believe to be nonfictional in order to reveal their genuine—perverse—feelings and beliefs.” In the summer of 2020, Baron Cohen infiltrated a conservative rally against Covid-19 restrictions in Washington State, leading them in a singalong designed to expose “the extent to which the ‘rights’ the protesters were defending were entangled with the infringement on the rights of others” (e.g., “Chinese people, what we gonna do? Nuke ’em up like in World War II,” and, “Journalists, what we gonna do? Chop ’em up like the Saudis do”), until one of the organizers recognized the prank and unplugged the sound system. ALSADIR IS THE author of the poetry collections More Shadow Than Bird (Salt Publishing, 2012) and Fourth Person Singular (Pavilion Poetry LUP, 2017), which was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection in England and Ireland. Just as her style resembles therapy, so too does it resemble poetry, utilizing repetition and surprise to advance her ruminations. She crafts her book from patterns and variations, though it is also intellectually rigorous: she tells stories and also quotes experts, calling back to them as the book progresses. If the book can be said to have an overarching mission, it is arguably to help the reader regain awareness of what the psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott refers to as the “True Self,” a self that manifests in the spontaneous gestures of human infants but that begins to transform by necessity into a False or “socialized” self as the baby grows up. Both Winnicott and Alsadir argue that one way to reaccess the True Self is through unrehearsed, impetuous play, play in which we don’t worry about other people failing to affirm or accept us but to which we can simply abandon ourselves. Early on, Alsadir puts forth the concept of “addressivity” as defined by the philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin, a phenomena in which, right before we speak, we project ourselves into our listener, envisioning how they’ll receive what we are about to say and then tailoring our communication to those expectations. Addressivity is the reason why “you can feel connected speaking with one person but talk about the same thing in the same way with someone else and feel like a fumbling bore.” Perhaps addressivity illuminates why I, as one particular reader, felt absorption and pleasure in the style and structure of Animal Joy. The book was a game that I wanted to play, a back-and-forth that felt invigorating and real. The addressee of which Alsadir appears to conceive is smart and curious, sophisticated and patient, quick-witted yet eager to slowly reflect—qualities that feel potentially true but also aspirational, as if she thinks her readers are going to bring their best selves to the task of reading her words, a belief which might, in turn, encourage those selves to be present. At one point, she recounts how, during her time studying at Oxford University, she was so keen to get to know her fellow students that she came on too strong, peppering them with icebreaker-esque inquiries. Finally, one of them told her, “Here in Europe, when we try to get to know someone, we don’t ask questions. We enter into conversation and get to know a person by the way they think.” Alsadir admits she doesn’t know if this is, in fact, the European way, but that getting to see the movements of a person’s mind can be captivating. Watching the motion of her mind across her capacious subject matter is captivating as well, for we get to know her not by the questions we might want to ask (What do you do all day? Who do you love? Why did you write this book?) but by simply spending time with her as she thinks on the page. The book is full of witty but subtle touches. For instance, she titles her bibliography not “Works Cited” but “A Shrewdness of Thinkers and Feelers.” And the thoughts and feelings she cites from them are indeed shrewd, as when she quotes Joseph Brodsky as saying that in a poem, “you should try to reduce the number of adjectives to a minimum. So if somebody covered your poem with a magic cloth that removes adjectives, the page would still be black enough because of nouns, adverbs and verbs. When that cloth is little, your best friends are nouns.” Because adjectives call up prefabricated judgments in the mind of the reader rather than letting them see things directly and decide for themselves, she concludes that, “Adjectives are the canned laughter of language.” Alsadir draws her title from the opening epigraph from Chekhov: “The so-called pure, childlike joy of life is animal joy.” But perhaps the most powerful of her epigraphs is the one preceding the second section from Shirley Jackson: “I am the captain of my fate. Laughter is possible laughter is possible laughter is possible”—a necessary mantra in a world that can feel like absurdity all the way down.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Part psychological treatise, part philosophical review, part memoir, part political and social study, Nuar Alsadir discusses so much in this volume. Clowning, jokes, laughter and its social function, and all the threads you can pull from why we laugh, types of humor, laughter as a means to power. There’s a lot to further my understanding of others and myself. Alsadir is at her best when she uses experiences from her own life, as a homeowner, a neighbor, and especially, a parent, to highlight the Part psychological treatise, part philosophical review, part memoir, part political and social study, Nuar Alsadir discusses so much in this volume. Clowning, jokes, laughter and its social function, and all the threads you can pull from why we laugh, types of humor, laughter as a means to power. There’s a lot to further my understanding of others and myself. Alsadir is at her best when she uses experiences from her own life, as a homeowner, a neighbor, and especially, a parent, to highlight the aspect of the human condition she is discussing at the moment. Sometimes, she seems to stretch the material to fit: If she has rats living in her kitchen, I don’t think she has a phobia of rats, but, seriously, a rat problem. There was a short piece about an analysand with a perfect partner and then, a link to a realdoll website that I didn’t understand and was hesitant to explore online for further edification. Animal Joy abounds with literary references, contemporary politics, and examples from TV and popular song. All this makes it very engaging. There isn’t one reference to Moby Dick, though. (Bartleby The Scrivener gets some time. However, Melville is not included in the list of “Thinkers and Feelers” at the back of the book.)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bridget Bonaparte

    I was a little disappointed to find that this book is not funny nor is it really about laughter? There are parts about laughter and it runs through as a theme but I would say this book is about psychoanalysis more generally. It’s quite academic but doesn’t fit squarely in that zone but neither would I describe it as poetic as some are. Most interesting to me was the discussion of racist subjects and the psychological splitting involved to maintain that outlook which in turns motivates behaviour I was a little disappointed to find that this book is not funny nor is it really about laughter? There are parts about laughter and it runs through as a theme but I would say this book is about psychoanalysis more generally. It’s quite academic but doesn’t fit squarely in that zone but neither would I describe it as poetic as some are. Most interesting to me was the discussion of racist subjects and the psychological splitting involved to maintain that outlook which in turns motivates behaviour that is fundamentally irrational as the unconscious exerts its influence.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    This book is not for everybody. A writer of sorts myself, I often had to look up words and reread sentences and paragraphs to understand what Ms. Alsadir was saying. I am not an intellectual, so it was work to read it. Joy was hard to come by. Because it was such slow going – especially the first half – I “wore out” quickly and put the book down for long spells. I paid the price for that because of the author’s frequent references to earlier anecdotes and sources, some of which I remembered late This book is not for everybody. A writer of sorts myself, I often had to look up words and reread sentences and paragraphs to understand what Ms. Alsadir was saying. I am not an intellectual, so it was work to read it. Joy was hard to come by. Because it was such slow going – especially the first half – I “wore out” quickly and put the book down for long spells. I paid the price for that because of the author’s frequent references to earlier anecdotes and sources, some of which I remembered later and some of which I didn’t. Laughter was a recurring but not dominant theme. Octogenarian and perhaps too sensitive veteran that I am, I found myself repeatedly jolted by the author’s frequent use of “bad” words in references to scatological or sexual functions and profanity, when a euphemism would have often served the purpose. She also seemed to take every opportunity to disparage Donald Trump. That’s consistent with her promotion of free spirit and listening to one’s inner self, citing Friedrich Schiller’s arguments about being “moored to Reason” in the process. “We elude being known even by ourselves,” she writes. I’ll buy that and appreciated many of the other observations and personal sharing of this very intelligent, thoughtful, and articulate writer and good mother. But generally speaking, I don’t think old fuddy-duddies like me (and many conservatives) are going to enjoy the book or come away with life-changing perspectives after reading it. To me, the most enjoyable lines in the book were in the author’s account of when Congressman Jim Jordan was questioning acting ambassador to the Ukraine William Taylor during Trump’s 2019 impeachment hearings: “Taylor’s laughter was likely a reflexive method of disassociating from the role he had been placed into, the dishonest person he was made out to be, like a metaphysical sneeze that helped him return to a state of psychological homeostasis.” That may give you an idea of what you should be ready for if you read this book, one that my county library (gulp) obligingly bought at my request because of a favorable review I read. This is just one man’s opinion, of course – and unlike that of most other reviewers. OK, but having had it drilled into me in eighth grade that Shakespeare said “This above all: to thine own self be true,” I’m still trying to do that (to the extent I know myself). (Insert eye-rolling emoticon here.)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lee Suksi

    Consistently surprising, delightful, humane. She zooms in and out from her most intimate relationships to literature to the political scene, acknowledging painful irreconcile truths while making associative leaps that connect you playfully to the world at large. Laughter can be defensive and restorative, cruel, connecting, and impulsive. Her language washed over me. Reading it was fun, provocative and therapeutic. I love this book and will be sharing it widely.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Cordelia Coppleson

    Brilliant. I have never read a book like it. Beautifully written- funny, insightful and fascinating.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    So rich! Only sometimes repetitive and only sometimes too rigorously analytical. So many things to highlight!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ran

    A book where philosophy, psychology and poetry intersect. Exactly what I like! It starts to get a bit repetitive getting into the middle, but great writing overall.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Marije de Wit

    In Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s 1916-utopian scifi novel Herland, three male explorers enter a country in which only women live. In one of the brilliant dialogues, a woman inquires about the education system of the men's own country (which in this book is an incredibly witty parody of patriarchy). She is surprised to learn that history there is a singular school subject, and startled, she asks how they have come to separate it from psychology. Animal Joy delivers all the proof of how, indeed, there In Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s 1916-utopian scifi novel Herland, three male explorers enter a country in which only women live. In one of the brilliant dialogues, a woman inquires about the education system of the men's own country (which in this book is an incredibly witty parody of patriarchy). She is surprised to learn that history there is a singular school subject, and startled, she asks how they have come to separate it from psychology. Animal Joy delivers all the proof of how, indeed, there is no real distinction between the two.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Turkey Hash

    Needs to be a lot tighter, but maybe that would work against the central argument - found myself checking how much more I had to read quite often, but was buoyed along by a fascinating insight or argument. If I had to summarise, this is about getting to the True Self (a Winnicott term) and the way that it becomes ‘plugged’ by convention or defences. It’s a call for the true connection that can only happen when we’re honest about our feelings, with laughter - Duchenne and non-Duchenne - represent Needs to be a lot tighter, but maybe that would work against the central argument - found myself checking how much more I had to read quite often, but was buoyed along by a fascinating insight or argument. If I had to summarise, this is about getting to the True Self (a Winnicott term) and the way that it becomes ‘plugged’ by convention or defences. It’s a call for the true connection that can only happen when we’re honest about our feelings, with laughter - Duchenne and non-Duchenne - representing the opposing True and False Selves (this is a simplification, obvs!) There are a lot of situations in which we’re not supposed to laugh but if we did it would probably break something open for the good. There are also many more situations in which we laugh as a defence (a ‘plug’). Doing a disservice to the book…I already know that I’ll be going back to the highlights and drawing on their wisdom.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Grant

  12. 5 out of 5

    Yvette

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sienna

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lmitrano

  15. 5 out of 5

    sienna

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cassie

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kati Ball

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sandra

  19. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Small

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nico Boon

  21. 4 out of 5

    Karellen

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ethan Nosowsky

  23. 4 out of 5

    Xhensila Pisha

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jason Kittell

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ramy

  26. 4 out of 5

    Veronique Darwin

  27. 4 out of 5

    Frank

  28. 5 out of 5

    Diana Terlemezyan

  29. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

  30. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

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