Laughter and the Novel
A recent essay has suggested that novelists have lost their way by moving away from the comedy aspect of life and plunging instead deep into tragedy. Julian Gough in his essay on Divine Comedy has argued: “Yet western culture since the middle ages has overvalued the tragic and undervalued the comic. We think of tragedy as major, and comedy as minor. Brilliant comedies never win the best film Oscar. The Booker prize leans toward the tragic.”
What caught my attention was his spot on description of what happens when a novel is done right:
“The novel, when done right—when done to the best of the novelist's abilities, talent at full stretch—is always greater than the novelist. It is more intelligent. It is more vast. It can change your entire internal world. Of course, so can a scientific truth. So can a religious experience. So can some drugs. So can a sublime event in nature. But the novel operates on that high level. Sitting there, alone, quite still, you laugh, you murmur, you cry, and you can come out of it with a new worldview, in a new reality. It's a controlled breakdown, or breakthrough. It's dangerous.”
Satire is one of the most effective political instruments. Societies where satire is censored or otherwise underdeveloped are far easier to control and manage. The worst thing that a dictator fears is not death: but to be subject to ridicule. One might argue that one of the co-factors to the development of democracy is satire, irony and humor; an opposition without these arrows can never effective hold those in power to account.