Comedy Trumps Tragedy

I've mentioned this before but comedy gets no respect from literary types. Why does it seem like the majority of people are stuck on depressing reads nowadays? In mainstream America Oprah's making everyone read the super dreary The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Granta recently released Best of Young American Novelists 2 but don't let the colorful cover fool you; many of the stories inside are angst-ridden and depressing. Don't get me wrong, they're not bad, just filled with a bit more gloom and doom than I'd like. I'm glad, though, to see that a few people are starting to stick up for the comic. I'm with William Skidelsky from The Guardian, who writes, "how come only miserable new writers win acclaim these days? I for one could do with a decent comedy."

Read Skidelsky's article, "Don't make me laugh: the rise of wrist-slitter fiction" here.

In his article, Skidelsky mentions a great essay by Julian Gough that appears in Prospect Magazine and who really goes in-depth about our friend "divine comedy". Plus, Gough lauds The Simpsons so he's in my good books. Here's an excerpt:

What is wrong with the modern literary novel? Why is it so worthy and dull? Why is it so anxious? Why is it so bloody boring?

Well, let's go back a bit first. Two and a half thousand years ago, at the time of Aristophanes, the Greeks believed that comedy was superior to tragedy: tragedy was the merely human view of life (we sicken, we die). But comedy was the gods' view, from on high: our endless and repetitive cycle of suffering, our horror of it, our inability to escape it. The big, drunk, flawed, horny Greek gods watched us for entertainment, like a dirty, funny, violent, repetitive cartoon. And the best of the old Greek comedy tried to give us that relaxed, amused perspective on our flawed selves. We became as gods, laughing at our own follies.

Many of the finest novels—and certainly the novels I love most—are in the Greek comic tradition, rather than the tragic: Rabelais, Cervantes, Swift, Voltaire, and on through to Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and the late Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5.

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.

To read all of Julian Gough's essay "Divine Comedy", go here.

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