Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good By adrienne maree brown, 464 pgs.

May 28, 2019

From the Online Etymology Dictionary: radical (adj.)… from Late Latin radicalis “of or having roots”… Meaning “going to the origin, essential.”

Different roots serve as political starting points for entering The Struggle. For some, the starting point is education. For some, it’s ensuring that the poor have access to credit. For adrienne maree brown, it’s pleasure. Second-wave feminists said, “The personal is political”; however one interprets that (and there’s no consensus on how to interpret it), Pleasure Activism furthers the conversation.

The book is “written and gathered” by brown. In addition to essays by brown, it also features interviews by and conversations with brown, as well as essays by other people, mostly women of color, mostly sexually marginalized. The book’s theme (roughly) is finding pleasure despite trauma. You can’t be whole without pleasure and you can’t go out and truly rip it up unless you’re whole (insofar as anyone is).

Not every chapter is for everyone—I should have listened to Beyoncé’s Lemonade by now, but haven’t, and so skimmed the chapters about it—but the book is so varied that if you keep it around after reading the chapters that currently interest you, other chapters will likely interest you in a year or two (sort of like a music guide—The Wire Primers leaps to mind).

Pleasure Activism, I have to say, is dotted throughout with Oh, Christ—seriously? moments. One of the book’s blurbs is from an “anti-oppression consultant”—which I suppose isn’t necessarily a hustle. brown claims to have been bitten by a vampire (leaving unaddressed whether she’s a vampire currently). One of her interview subjects talks about the pleasure she gets from her “anti-Zionist home bubbly water machine,” whatever in the earthly motherfuck that is.

I requested the reviewer’s copy after reading online somewhere this line from the back cover summary: “How do we make social justice the most pleasurable human experience?” I thought the book was about how to attract people to activism—mainly it’s not, though brown does discuss this in her conversation with Dallas Goldtooth, a Standing Rock activist. The conversation concerns how to bring a certain amount of spirit-supporting fun to activism while still comporting yourself in such a way that people in power, and people who don’t know what to think about your movement, still take you seriously. If you’ve wrestled with that, he has thoughts for you. –Jim Woster (AK Press,