Boogie-ing and subjectivity

Rory O’Connor tears (philosophical) shit up on the dance-floor

In a club a couple of months ago, a friend wanted me to dance. I had said beforehand I didn’t like dancing. He said this was just because I was self-conscious. I was sure I wouldn’t enjoy it. But I did it. And I didn’t enjoy it. Later on (and we hadn’t had too much to drink) we had a discussion on the nature of subjectivity. 

“How can you not like dancing, Rory?”

“I don’t know how, I just know that I don’t.”

“You will, someday.”

 “OK, OK,” I said. He was right. I have become an idiotic boogie bunny. My aim, quite simply, is to dance my little brains out. This feels like a kind of Stockholm Syndrome, because I have spent long hours captive in nightclubs and diskoteki of all kinds. As I say, I didn’t enjoy it. In these hours, nice quiet pubs seemed to me as integral a part of civilisation as the Church of Rome, or the “Jupiter” Symphony. 

No longer. Tight-packed atmosphere or space to make your moves? That seems to me, now, the abiding question. For some, this is simple: atmosphere is all. But it can be unfortunate when there were moves that needed to be made, and went a-begging. I think you could tell a lot about people from their attitude to this. 

At the beginning of one night out, there was broken glass on the dance floor. And everybody was continuing to dance, which seemed suicidal to me. I went to a security guard to point it out to him, but maybe that just proves I’m not as deathlessly cool as I thought I was. The ancient Greeks had a god, Dionysus, who celebrated that kind of reckless enjoyment. The god lives yet! A friend of mine brought along some French friends, and I suspect they were thinking, “Hey, wait a minute – where’s the e?” You can see the point, of course. But in another sense the wisest dancer will abstain even from drink. 

There are no real reasons for liking to dance or not liking to. It’s just who you are. When I asked myself recently what was the reason I like dancing now, I thought I had an answer. Scholars have shown how the change from feudalism to modern capitalism in Europe involved an in-between stage of intense Protestantism. The idea is that in intense Protestantism, having money is seen as the sign of God’s grace, so all work goes into getting it. To all intents and purposes, capitalism has arrived. The change from Protestant capitalism to the modern kind is simply a matter of shucking off the skin of religion, just like a lizard. The first shift is the substance, and the second just clarifies that. 

Well, I thought it was the same with me and dancing. I started doing “ironic” dancing. Protestant dancing, if you will. I was an electric chair victim or doing lunar manoeuvres. But the point is that, really, I was just doing it. Then the mask of irony slipped, and I was clubbing with the best of them. I thought: it goes to show that irony is a complex instrument. Used lightly, it can gently introduce you to a new pleasure, even though you feel “it’s not really me”. Used heavily, it is a way of killing new possibilities. And as far as the comparison with Protestantism went – a bit of a boogie is better than a bit of a pray. 

But while that’s true, it’s not enough. I think it’s better to start out un-ironic in your pleasures. That way, you might have a laugh about them. In fact it’s better not to know what you like at all, so you might find you enjoy a lot more. In psychoanalysis, limiting the things you enjoy is called having a “defensive ego.” In everyday life, it’s called being too cool for school. It’s a bad thing. If you don’t let yourself go, how will you know how far you might get?