G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

H. P. Lovecraft: "What a man does for pay is of little significance. What he is, as a sensitive instrument responsive to the world's beauty, is everything!"

Martin Amis: “Gogol is funny, Tolstoy in his merciless clarity is funny, and Dostoyevsky, funnily enough, is very funny indeed; moreover, the final generation of Russian literature, before it was destroyed by Lenin and Stalin, remained emphatically comic — Bunin, Bely, Bulgakov, Zamyatin. The novel is comic because life is comic (until the inevitable tragedy of the fifth act);...”

Werner Herzog: “We are surrounded by worn-out, banal, useless and exhausted images, limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Justin E.H. Smith: “One should of course take seriously serious efforts to improve society. But when these efforts fail, in whole or in part, it is only humor that offers redemption. So far, human expectations have always been strained, and have always come, give or take a bit, to nothing. In this respect reality itself has the form of a joke, and humor the force of truth.”

विलास सारंग: "… . . 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In Marathi Popular Culture, a false division between Laughter and Thought

Howard Jacobson has won the Man Booker Prize.

I plan to read the book. Not because of the prize but because of the essay HJ wrote for The Guardian October 9 2010:

"...But there is a fear of comedy in the novel today – when did you last see the word "funny" on the jacket of a serious novel? – that no one who loves the form should contemplate with pleasure. It isn't as though we have lost the capacity to laugh. Stand-up comedy is riding higher than ever. If anything there is an argument to be made that we are laughing too much. But we have created a false division between laughter and thought, between comedy and seriousness, between the exhilaration that the great novels offer when they are at their funniest, and whatever else it is we now think we want from literature.

For some reason we are running scared. Aspiring writers of pornography are warned by publishers who specialise in such work not to let comedy anywhere near. This precaution makes perfect sense. Comedy breaks the erotic trance. Comedy breaks every trance – that's its function. Comedy is nothing if not critical. From the very beginning the comic novel set out to argue with everything and to set us arguing with one another. The need for such a form has not gone away: consensus is still a curse; we are no less pious than we ever were, for all that our pieties have changed their object; we remain sanctimonious; and we have relegated reading to a sort of sleeping, praising books whose pages we cannot stop turning – as though the automatic act of moving forward is a virtue in itself...

...The novelist, at his swelling comic best – a Dickens or a Dostoevsky, a Cervantes or a Kafka, a Joseph Roth or a Henry Miller – goes where Hamlet dares the skull of Yorick to go, straight to my painted lady's chamber, rattling his bones and making her laugh at the terrible fate that awaits her. His comedy spares nothing and spares no one. And in the process asserts the stubbornness of life. Why would we want to read anything less?..."

Marathi needs a large dosage of this. We have created too many holy cows. I want to see that Marathi "comedy spares nothing and spares no one".

In Marathi too, 'stand-up comedy is riding higher than ever. If anything there is an argument to be made that we are laughing too much" but we have created a huge "false division between laughter and thought, between comedy and seriousness, between the exhilaration that the great novels offer when they are at their funniest, and whatever else it is we now think we want from literature".

The only exceptions, from 20th century, I can cite to the above are novelist C V Joshi (चिं वि जोशी), poets Sadanand Rege (सदानंद रेगे), Arun Kolatkar (अरुण कोलटकर) and grand dame of Marathi literature Laxmibai Tilak (लक्ष्मीबाई टिळक).

(I say 20th century because in Marathi's poet-saint literature there is no false division between laughter and thought. Leading practitioners of that are Tukaram तुकाराम and Eknath एकनाथ among others)


Artist: J C Duffy, The New Yorker, May 12 2003