Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Don't Panic

I wanted to write a blog called, "The Birth of Comedy" in an attempt to fill in for the section on Comedy that is missing from Aristotle's Poetics. The problem is, I haven't the foggiest idea about the subject. Neitzsche wrote somewhere that we are entering the Age of Comedy, as opposed to the Age of Tragedy that we have allegedly been passing through for the last two thousand years or more.

Today I saw the HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie, and it made me laugh out loud. I snuck some wine mixed with water into the theatre, and a little baggie of trail mix. It was an early afternoon showing in a downtown theatre that doesn't even get much traffic during the busy hours, so I and two other strangers had the theatre to ourselves.

What pulls the story along through all it's absurdities is that it's about love. Not love in some vague or general sense like love for humanity, or even love for your neighbour, but romantic love for a particular individual human being. The story has a simplified Jane Austen kind of scenario, with two people working through all the evasions, self-delusions and recognitions that go along with the mysterious process that keeps the world spinning. The basic framework of the plot is decorated with all the weird and wonderful wit and whimsey of the late Douglas Adam's unique imagination, and as I was watching I had the eerie feeling that Douglas was somehow present in the theatre, grinning in approval as his Vogons stomped across the big screen reciting their excruciatingly abysmal poetry.

I was deeply touched by the movie, but it didn't spawn any profound reflections in my mind about the nature of comedy. I believe that there is really only One Story, and the comic and the tragic are just two different approaches to telling it. I also think that the mysteries of these two modes has something to do with attachment. The deepest spiritual minds seem to agree: attachment is the root of suffering--and yet who is not attached? And when it comes to the deepest and most mysterious of all attachments, that of love, how could we ever not be attached? It is the thinnest and most invisible of threads, and yet it binds us tighter than any law, religion, duty or desire--it's the trump card of attachments.

In the HitchHiker's Guide, the hero Arthur Dent shakes his attachment to everything in the world; he has no choice because the movie opens with the Earth's destruction. Somehow, despite the global apocalypse, the life paths of Arthur and Trillian, his adventurous companion, manage to intertwine. It could still be a comedy without the Hollywood love plot, but it would be of a different order. You would have to ask a literary critic for all of the different grades of irony to which the modern age has given birth, but the movie would probably fall into one of them had it been more true to the novels, where I believe it is only in the fourth book, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, that the love plot properly comes to fruition.

At any rate, I believe that love is both the subject matter of, and the force fueling the One Great Story. It's both what we humans make stories about, and the reason we make them in the first place. Of course, that's a ridiculous thing I just said, because people make stories about all different kinds of things besides love, but I'll stand by my theory anyways, for simplicities' sake. And I suppose that comedy and tragedy are just two different sides of the story of love. Separating them, somehow, is attachment. Perhaps a change in the quality of one's attachment is what brings about the movement from tragedy to comedy. Maybe tragedy is the representation in art of our attachment to attachment, while comedy is the state in which attachment becomes free to be whatever it is that it will be. I'm not sure that that makes any sense, but it will have to do for now, because it's getting late.

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