Hopeless but not serious


If “seriousness is that intermediate position of a man who stands midway between despair and futility”, as Jankelevitch nicely puts it, then humor, by contrast, may be said to opt resolutely for the two extremes… For the lucid eye, what isn’t cause for despair? And for the despairing eye, what isn’t futile? We can still laugh about it all; in fact, that’s probably all we can do. What good is love without joy? What good is joy without humor?….
The truth of humor. The situation is hopeless but not serious.

Andre Comte-Sponville, A Short Treatise on the Great Virtues (Vintage 2003) pp.211-2
photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/postaletrice/3204779348

10 thoughts on “Hopeless but not serious

  1. Most humour is built on disjuncture, from the pratt fall to the pun, from the punch line to the satiric cartoon. Discomforture — being momentarily placed outside our comfort zones — does indeed smack of futility or despair at times. Of course, one always trusts that it’s temporary!

    As the hapless John Cleese character says in Michael Frayn’s film Clockwise (and I paraphrase), “It’s not the despair I can’t stand, it’s the hope!” It always raises a wry grimace from me.

  2. Helen Garner once said of laughter, ‘It purges me of my disgust.’ This may have been true for her at the time. (We were both pretty young.) I don’t think of the purging qualities of laughter so much as a relief from utter hopelessness. My favourite form of humour – and Gert, you are a consummate mistress of this – is one that understands the absurdity of the world and doesn’t shrink from it.

  3. Yes, I find it hard to get my head around that idea of purging disgust. The way it’s expressed here is really the way I think of it – a blessed relief and an equilibrating thing, a way of putting things into perspective and seeing the littleness of all our preoccupations in the great sweep of time. Thanks for the compliment, very welcome if a bit too flattering, considering our very deep light-mindedness.

  4. Great discussion, Gert. It applies to the end stages of academic finickiness in getting an MFA. Laughter is the preferred choice.

    A couple of other things. Just read that Julian Assange wanted to be Australia’s ambassador to the US — not sure how that was going to come about?? https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/11/the-secret-correspondence-between-donald-trump-jr-and-wikileaks/545738/

    Also we are thinking of taking the train from Sydney to Melbourne (or vice versa). Have read both good and bad reviews, but seems like going first class it ought to be reasonably fun and interesting (also assuming that the problems from a few years ago have been fixed and that we wouldn’t be stuffed into a bus for part of the trip).

    Still mostly focused on finishing school, although am doing a two-session tanka/renga class that makes me miss Allegra Wong even more. This is a good class,and fun to be working the form, but it’s not the instructor’s specialty.

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