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email: anthonysteyning59 at gmail dot com

 

 

 

No, not my first concert, I've always been a little shy. But as I have three hands, my playing was matchless, nonetheless...





Yet my audience was unhappy, especially the tough one on your right scaring the hell out of everyone!

 

 

 

Philosophical Essay

HUMOUR, LAUGHTER, SILENCE

subtitled: The Real Messiah

Anthony Steyning

Unedited draft January 2006

 

Jean Fanchette, a doctor, a poet and a publisher, personally acquainted with Henry Miller, and an intimate of Anaís Nin and Lawrence Durrell, wrote a short treatise on Humour. He quoted Freud and Jung all over the place as his own specialty was neuro-psychiatry, whatever this entails. He sent me an advance copy of his thoughts on the subject, I remember them as fascinating but very mechanical; not once did he make me crack a smile.

 

Jean, I wrote him, Jacques Prévert told us don't mess with humour, it's much too serious a subject. But how can anyone speak of humour and be so unfunny, for heaven’s sake ease up. After this I never heard from the good and gifted doctor again. At the time I was in New York and he in Paris, the years before e-mails, months later learning that during the same week I dropped him this line he had died of a heart attack. Nothing personal, evidently, at least it's what I hope and guess.

 

It’s a rarity but man truly improved on nature in a number of sensitive ways.  Consider the high heel, doesn’t it make some women look divine? Honey, I love your architecture, and I know your ankles and toes hurt but wear them for me just one more time! And then there’s alcohol, what a treat sometimes, but was inebriation meant to be on nature’s menu, I doubt it very much?! Or music, ah music, some of it barbaric but mainly heavenly, even hypnotic at times, witness Ravel’s Bolero or Schubert’s ‘Lied’ Gretchen am Spinnrade, the poor thing slowly going insane at the spinning wheel, or that’s what it sounds like, but still so very, very beautiful. Yes, what would we do without man’s very own creations? Above all humour, and keeping science out of it if indeed Dr Fanchette’s psycho-analysis can be said to be a science. For exact it certainly isn’t, while humour certainly is: slicing, cutting, exploding with precision when at its best.

 

So I mustn’t make the same mistake as my dear friend and definitely attempt to be serious and funny at the same time. But before I go on do please check the dictionary under Humour, Laughter, Comedy, etc. and you’ll find you’re none the wiser for it: it tells you nothing, these words are poorly defined. And it is a hellishly difficult task to characterize humour spot on, but if all gave it a try dictionaries would be more accurate and societies on the whole perhaps better off. Especially once humour had become a mandatory discipline at schools, no, not schools for scoundrels, but a positive and formal part of every established curriculum. Some children never having learnt how to laugh, freely, openly, happily, in brief, brave liberating acts.

 

This is not to say that we should ridicule everything, anarchy is not the answer. And nothing gratuitous, vulgar or injurious either, just pinpointing anomalies and in particular reasons that tend to dwell in deep and hidden folds. Indeed, the self is where all laughs should start; taking oneself too seriously is a very limiting force. So that maybe, just maybe, terrors like Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, Salazar and the boys wouldn’t have made it up the ladder quite as far, quite as fast. Or better still would have mounted one far shorter, less steep and this either by their own reckoning or more likely because crowds would have roared with dismissive laughter at the exact right moment, followed by devastating silence as they walked out on them. For there’s nothing more tragic-comical that a cruel madman with a vision, particularly when he has miraculously manoeuvred himself in a position to put his idiocies to work. And all because, if anything, humour surprises and reduces, kills false truths. Humour is the pressure that diagnoses. Humour prescribes sometimes painful cures aided by strong analgesics, in the end healing what it can, promoting honesty, castigating lies. So that humour is much more than a medicine, humour is feared, pre-emptive surgery, feared by those whose ideas are irrational, destructive, people up to no good. This fear well founded, the Orwellian notion of humour being that every joke represents a tiny revolution!

 

Laughter then the physical part of that depressurization, the loud escape of discontent, the soft departure of pain. It forces eyes wide open and courage to bloom. As a point in question, never worry about not being allowed to vote, laughter of refusal is very effective, especially if that vote were meaningless. Laugh right in the mad face behind it, make it feel smaller than small, which it was before you realised it. Don’t throw Molotov cocktails or rocks, don’t burn cars, just line the street then march up to the gates of cruelty and incompetence and laugh out loud, before turning to your even louder silence. Damnation at its worst, that’s to say its best. Like when captured German soldiers defeated at Stalingrad were forced to walk through rows and rows of silent Russian civilians standing along miles of Moscow’s white frozen streets. The mute, stern faces, of ordinary men and women sapping the last grains of will and morale out of these hapless lads, whose legs must have been shaking with hunger, fatigue, defeat and now this frightful humiliation, felled a second time, by two hundred thousand or more piercing accusing eyes, a symbolic street-cleaning vehicle mopping up behind them: dirt they were and that vehicle the mechanized subliminal messenger.

 

In one of his African journals Graham Greene making mention of another phenomenon of protest, which also happened to me, in Liberia, where I visited some years ago: men point you their exposed penis as a sign of contempt while travelling passed them and in a body language that is swift and clear. So then, why not laugh and hang out your dick in the streets of wrath, pointing your finger at the problem whoever he is, slapping your companion’s back in purposeful mirth, before turning round and walking off. As indicated, it beats voting with your feet. In the mind of the sickly powerful, the notion of this decree now quickly coming to rise: It is forbidden to laugh!! But how to enforce this commandment, not even a cowed, corrupt judge would find sentencing quite as easy as before!? Accused of laughter in the street? Damn! Unconstitutional? How!? Seditious? Why? No fist raised, no malicious instigation, perpetrators, holding their bellies laughing, not advancing, suddenly falling silent and peacefully moving away! Later telling the judge, “We were merely happy, your Honour!” One who’ll exclaim: That’s impossible, but what can I do!? Happiness forbidden, calling out the army and assault it? Better clarify with the highest office: Can’t accept it, Your Excellency? And wish to do whàt about it, may I ask, Sir? Have sarcasm shot? Would anybody know where to aim? Civil disobedience, is that what it is? Ah, but everything’s working fine. The way it always did… fine but miserably. You said that, Your Excellency, and it sounded like a little joke. Was it, Sir? But you just gave your generals orders to shoot anyone and anything funny, yet your last remark was very, very funny... Generals, Generals, why are you shooting His Excellency? He claims he is the nation and a nation cannot be shot! Generals?

 

Beginning to sound familiar, these last few lines, making you think of a few fallen leaders of late? Romania, Yugoslavia, Iraq? More to come, you hope? Then try public laughter wherever the important ones move, their parades, their balconies, their galas and instead of falsely applauding them. It’s certain to speed things up.  

 

In the non-political arena calculated derision may present itself when despite the beguiling work of people like Gould and Dawkins some don’t take kindly to the notion of birds descending from dinosaurs. That the lightest of our creatures evolved precisely from the most stupendously heavy ones, over time shedding size and weight till they could fly. People feeling very strongly that’s not the way it happened. Folks insisting all existence started a flat 6000 years ago and birds didn’t derive from anything. Opponents in possession of a sense of humour that may equally be curtailed, playing their Devil’s advocate, forcing me to take that shot. Something like: of course dinosaurs disappeared, they had to!! It wasn’t an asteroid and subsequent climate change that did them in, it was natural selection at its best: they were all hopelessly over-engineered and shouldn’t have existed to begin with. Only looking like monster chickens with cellulite, to who amorous monster roosters whispered, hey, Babe, wanna come up to the coop tonight, I’ll show you my nuggets… Creatures knowing they had a problem, breaking their necks desperately climbing up then falling out of trees, learning how to fly. ‘Oh, shit’ probably the last sound they made, turning into a whistle as they hit the ground and a noise soon copied by real birds. Foghorn Leghorn ("Yes, that writer sharp as a bowling ball") behemoths that couldn’t get bird flu even if they tried, though this too may be a myth, as no one ever heard a chicken sneeze. Leviathans none too bright, who, had they survived, would have tried copulating with parked bulldozers and so cease to multiply. With Gould and Dawkins supporters rushing to the fore, saying: No way, never mind, of course birds descended from dinosaurs, look at the eggs, they’re reptiles, they’re theropods, look at those beaks, the tilt of the neck bone, it’s not as strange as you all think. Besides…. ever heard of Buffalo wings?  And rest their case.

 

This scenario wouldn’t take anything from the seriousness of the natural sciences, except to keep them honest. It’s what I mean when I tell folks when asked by them why I call my horse Humphry: you fools, because he’s not a camel, that’s why! Ah, yes, it’s all play, part of fair play, the admission that sometimes exhibiting a small sense of silliness and vulnerability is all right. That strength and convictions can be delusions and this the only way to find out they’re not. But don’t get me wrong, I do subscribe to what chaps like Gould and Dawkins had and have to say and much admire their courage and ingenuity, if only they cracked a smile once in a while: they’d have fewer enemies.

 

Take the case of Nietzsche who was no barrel of laughs himself, but one who to his credit in Beyond Good and Evil wrote he was sorely tempted to grade philosophers by the way they knew how to laugh. Recognizing that those with the greatest degree of humour in their work should lead the pack. For in science, as in religion, in philosophy, in politics, even in the arts all too often a degree of playfulness goes missing, that expression of a nominal degree of generosity towards a theory, a subject, an audience. Unlike those wise young women of the Bororo tribe in Niger who understand. Their young would-be suitors having to participate in a ceremonial Geerewol party, forced to dress up and dance, putting on outlandish make-up and making funny faces in order to win the hand of a beauty. Because  the only man worth his salt, they say, is the one who can make a woman smile and laugh, not proving his manhood through some crude masculinity display: not bad for a desert tribe, isn't it? Or look at Dada’s tongue-in-cheek art and Gilbert & George's Laurel & Hardy dead-pan antics like those of the feral Dupont et Pondu twins, not representing art at all because visually offensive, but weird and catching minimalist moral colostrum nevertheless. Better still, take in Ida Nevasayneva and Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo’s magnificent dolls from the Bronx--- don’t snicker, playfulness equals creation, expands awareness, caresses the brain and the senses. Witness the incredible genius of the progressing child; rigid disciplines and endeavours always vehicles for something else. Furthermore the very best comics mainly deadly serious, and as for those who think of the Messiah as a joke, is this perhaps because humour... is the real Messiah?

 

So let there be humour, light and laughter, except when merely facetious or cruel and ultimately representing no humour at all. The bottom line situating itself elsewhere, the bottom line being that real humour is an embrace, a genuine love for what is beautiful and right. And even when we howl a bad apple off the stage and, sticking to fruit and vegetables, spill the beans on him, aren't we impeaching his irrepressable urge to self-demolition?

 

Yes, Ollie, zebras have a striped dick.

And robots steel wool for pubic hair.

Of course toodeloo is half a fourdeloo, a third six... Ah, never mind!

And yes, remember! There are precious few outer lobes... on the Outer Hebrides!

Now go to sleep!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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