Zadie Smith on the distinction between pleasure and joy

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Credit: Esra Roise, http://www.esraroise.com/news/2013/4/29/vinduet-zadie-smith/

 

I adore this essay. Here, Zadie Smith sublimely – and funnily – describes the subtle difference between pleasure and joy. Pleasure, she writes, is relatively easy to find, instant, and replicable. For Smith, a pleasurable experience is embodied in a pineapple popsicle from a stand on Washington Square, or the ecstasy she experiences people watching on the streets of New York City. Joy, on the other hand, is a more tangled experience in which, Smith says, one can find no pleasure at all, but still need in order to live. To make the point, she writes of her experience in having a child:

“Occasionally the child, too, is a pleasure, though mostly she is a joy, which means in fact she gives us not much pleasure at all, but rather that strange admixture of terror, pain, and delight that I have come to recognise as joy, and now must find some way to live with daily.”

Joy is something you can lose and never regain (consider, as Smith does at the end of the essay, the loss of a partner or a child). It is painful, vulnerable and more often than not completely lacking in pleasure.