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The Comic Spirit in Art and Faith


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#1 du Garbandier

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 10:53 PM

So, any theories about the general lack of critical approbation for comic films not only in the A&F Top 100 lists, including the 2010 incarnation, but seemingly in so many other forums (like the Best Picture Oscar category, with its apparent predilection for earnest drama, biopic, epic, etc.,)?

This thread might be a good place to discuss:

-- the relation between art and the comic spirit
-- the relation between the comic spirit and faith

Thus, here are a few loosely related thoughts on such matters which you may or may not find useful:

Comedy ... is not only possible within a Christian society, but capable of much greater breadth and depth than classical comedy. Greater in breadth because classical comedy is based on a division of mankind into two classes, those who have arete and those who do not, and only the second class, the fools, shameless rascals, slaves, are fit subjects for comedy. But Christian comedy is based upon the belief that all men are sinners; no one, therefore, whatever his rank or talents, can claim immunity from the comic exposure and, indeed, the more virtuous, in the Greek sense, a man is, the more he realizes that he deserves to be exposed. Greater in depth because, while classical comedy believes that rascals should get the drubbing they deserve, Christian comedy believes that we are forbidden to judge others and that it is our duty to forgive each other. In classical comedy the characters are exposed and punished: when the curtain falls, the audience is laughing and those on stage are in tears. In Christian comedy the characters are exposed and forgiven: when the curtain falls, the audience and the characters are laughing together
--W. H. Auden, The Dyer's Hand


[Flannery O'Connor's stories] created the chief turning point of my entire academic and religious life. For I saw in her work the integration of two worlds that I had theretofore thought to be not only separate but opposed, even divorced: uproarious comedy and profound Christianity. I had thought that the sour saint was the model of the Christian life, and that somberness was the ultimate sign of serious faith. O'Connor taught me, exactly to the contrary, that the deepest kind of Christianity, as well as the best kind of literature, is finally comic and joyful, glad-spirited and self-satirizing. For the Cross and Resurrection, because they free us from taking ourselves with a damnable seriousness, enable us rightly to delight in all of the good things of the good creation.
--Ralph C. Wood, Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South


...all comic novels that are any good must be about matters of life and death.
--Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners


So far from it being irreverent to use silly metaphors on serious questions, it is one's duty to use silly metaphors on serious questions. It is the test of one's seriousness. It is the test of a responsible religion or theory whether it can take examples from pots and pans and boots and butter-tubs. It is the test of a good philosophy whether you can defend it grotesquely. It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.
--G. K. Chesterton, All Things Considered


...all grotesqueness is itself intimately related to seriousness. Unless a thing is dignified, it cannot be undignified. Why is it funny that a man should sit down suddenly in the street? There is only one possible or intelligent reason: that man is the image of God. It is not funny that anything else should fall down; only that a man should fall down. No one sees anything funny in a tree falling down. No one sees a delicate absurdity in a stone falling down. No man stops in the road and roars with laughter at the sight of the snow coming down. The fall of thunderbolts is treated with some gravity. The fall of roofs and high buildings is taken seriously. It is only when a man tumbles down that we laugh. Why do we laugh? Because it is a grave religious matter: it is the Fall of Man. Only man can be absurd: for only man can be dignified.
--G. K. Chesterton, All Things Considered

Finally, let us pause to consider the profundity of this.

Edited by du Garbandier, 24 February 2010 - 10:54 PM.


#2 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 25 February 2010 - 06:47 AM

Oh. Jesus was laughing. He looks like He is in some sort of reverie. Not really what I'm expecting when I am looking for a laugh. I suppose that's what you get when you limit yourself to Sunday School handout aesthetics.

Edited by Rich Kennedy, 25 February 2010 - 05:27 PM.


#3 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 25 February 2010 - 05:36 PM

Comedy ... is not only possible within a Christian society, but capable of much greater breadth and depth than classical comedy. Greater in breadth because classical comedy is based on a division of mankind into two classes, those who have arete and those who do not, and only the second class, the fools, shameless rascals, slaves, are fit subjects for comedy. But Christian comedy is based upon the belief that all men are sinners; no one, therefore, whatever his rank or talents, can claim immunity from the comic exposure and, indeed, the more virtuous, in the Greek sense, a man is, the more he realizes that he deserves to be exposed. Greater in depth because, while classical comedy believes that rascals should get the drubbing they deserve, Christian comedy believes that we are forbidden to judge others and that it is our duty to forgive each other. In classical comedy the characters are exposed and punished: when the curtain falls, the audience is laughing and those on stage are in tears. In Christian comedy the characters are exposed and forgiven: when the curtain falls, the audience and the characters are laughing together
--W. H. Auden, The Dyer's Hand



Aha! One wonders if THIS is part of the reason that ancient, and/or anachronistic cultures and ideologies have such a tough time with humor, art, and criticism of said culture and ideology. Take, for example the reaction in some quarters to editorial cartoons depicting Mohammed. I'm sure there can be hilarious mocking of those labelled infidel. However, trashing hallowed persons and hallowed customs cannot be accepted if Auden is both right and able to be drawn further. Nice




#4 du Garbandier

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Posted 25 February 2010 - 06:00 PM

Aha! One wonders if THIS is part of the reason that ancient, and/or anachronistic cultures and ideologies have such a tough time with humor, art, and criticism of said culture and ideology. Take, for example the reaction in some quarters to editorial cartoons depicting Mohammed. I'm sure there can be hilarious mocking of those labelled infidel. However, trashing hallowed persons and hallowed customs cannot be accepted if Auden is both right and able to be drawn further. Nice


That whole cartoon affair was altogether unpleasant from a Christian perspective. On the one hand we should all be humble enough to take some jokes or even satire at our expense, even when that sort of thing is unjust or even profane. The lack of tolerance for mockery is understandable but telling. And yet the use of free speech as a kind of experiment in mockery dishonors the dictates of charity.

#5 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 26 February 2010 - 01:44 AM

The lack of tolerance for mockery is understandable but telling. And yet the use of free speech as a kind of experiment in mockery dishonors the dictates of charity.

I should point out that all totalitarian ideologies are weak in this way. But charity, in such situations, is usually something that is existentially only sourced and acknowledged by the one excercising it. Therefore, the dishonor only seems so to those on the side of the one excercising charity (hence the "heeping of coals of fire", etc.). If the one mocked has little time or inclination to charity, the confrontation escalates almost automatically.