A Time Must-Read Book of 2022
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2022
Aster(ix) Journal's 12 Best Nonfiction Books of 2022
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.
Psychoanalyst Alsadir (More Shadow Than Bird) investigates the power of laughter in this thoughtful tour of humans' unconscious. True laughter, Alsadir suggests, rouses "wakefulness," expresses one's "True Self" and betrays the "False Self" constructed for social conformity and protection. The author offers resonant insight on the uses of laughter to redistribute power (liking to laugh or make others laugh are ways "of signaling a preferred position"), and finds an apt comparison for it in the musical term appoggiatura, a note that disrupts an anticipated melody and taps a deeper state of emotion. Alsadir moves confidently through the intellectual terrain of Freud, Donald Winnicott, and neurophysiologist Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne, invoking Heidegger's term aletheia, or "truth as unconcealment" as easily as she calls up pop cultural jokes about trauma or Anna Karenina. Most memorable are her personal asides, such as her account of attending clown school (she tried to drop out but "by staying, was provoked, unsettled, changed") and the piquant remarks by her daughters when asked "What does beautiful mean?" that "beautiful means most self." Gorgeously written and by turns hilarious and crushing, Alsadir's examination of humanity's "savage complexity" is not to be missed.