“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Laughter, Irony, Pain

Some people yesterday thought that I was too funny throughout my talk and the Q&A. There are many ways to think about this and many ways to address it.

But one way I was thinking of that might be of benefit to others and not simply me, is that there is a kind of laughter that goes along with pain. The kind of laughter you hear in addiction recovery programs. The kind of laughter that happens within grief.

Laughter doesn't have to reinforce our distance from the world. It can be the laughter of intimacy, of impossible situations.

Laughter can also be disturbing in its excess. Some of my Buddhist friends and teachers have made me laugh so hard I realized I don't really exist...at some point vertigo sets in.

We are not the only animal that laughs. Anyone who knows dogs and chimps can attest to that. And we are not the only animals with a sense of irony. As the keeper of many cats I'm convinced.

“Only the Jews can laugh about the holocaust.” This was said to me. Yes perhaps. But inside global warming—I know it's not a gas oven, but we're all suffering together.


Trebbe Johnson said...

We are better able to cope with ANY situation if we stay in tune with the emotional currents of the moment. To express humor during or even about a tragic situation can shake things up, get you thinking in a different, take you closer to the wild, dramatic, horrible, beautiful reality of life. It's one of the principles behind Radical Joy for Hard Times. http://radicaljoyforhardtimes.org

elliott.will said...

There does seem to be an affinity between global phenomena like climate change, unfolding on disorientingly wide spatial and temporal scales, and the absurd— those "impossible situations" in which we're "intima[tel]y" situated. Eco-absurdity seems to provokes a range of different laughing modes— where do we find them and how do we distinguish them from one another?

[] bitter laughter of black comedy

[] flippant laughter of postmodernist cynicism

[] rueful / accepting laughter of populations intimately familiar with the amorality of environment— its boom and bust cycles, senseless deaths and unexpected windfalls

[] & the 5 other laughing modes listed in your post?