Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bring On the Clowns

I have heard it argued that the clown is the closest we can come to a tragic hero in the modern world, and that farce is as close as we can come to tragedy. In a world inhabited by supreme beings whose omnipresence gave human beings a sense of order and necessity, in other words a rational context for the evidence of disorder everywhere in our lives, the human experience could be explained in the form of tragedy: the murder and mayhem we see everywhere is the expression of the will of the gods, or of God, who can prove our judge as well as our redeemer.

In a world abandoned by the gods—they/he/she left us, remember, with the arrival of the Age of Reason?—such experiences no longer have a “rational” context and appear absurd, accidental, either meaningless or with meanings that remain forever obscured in our limited understanding of the workings of the universe. This is the world of the clown, where chaos and nightmare take the form of punishing events—the exploding taxicab, the brickbat over the head—to which we can respond only with the laugh with which we disguise the inner terror. (I realize that the vast majority of Americans will tell the pollster who asks them that they believe in “God.” I happen to believe—excuse my skepticism—that this is desperation rather than true belief.

These thoughts occasioned by a particularly privileged visit, yesterday afternoon, with the great writer and director, Blake Edwards, whose movies—notably the Pink Panther series, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “10,” “S.O.B.”—are classics in anybody’s history of contemporary film. The heroes of Edwards’s movies are often clowns—Inspector Clouseau, of course, is the prime example—whose “tragedy” is found in the fact that they are desperately, futilely trying to make sense of the senselessness around them, to find order in the chaos. We laugh at them out of the knowledge that they are ourselves, and that their frantic actions succeed only in producing more unintended consequences, mor chaos in their lives. We live on the edge of insanity.

Blake Edwards is also an artist, and his artwork was the reason for my visit with him. But our talk seemed especially appropriate in the light of the current political campaign, with all its brickbats and pratfalls, its increasing absurdity, its nightmare implications. Here we are, stuck in the middle of it, disbelieving, trapped… Hasn't this become a Punch and Judy show. Here's Punch, (90% Bush) in a clever image artfully created by a new friend, Water Kerner at ("Latitude," that is)...

As for Judy, the head-basher... well, I'll leave that one to your imagination.


Mandt said...

Your thoughts are particularly insightful lately and in the often ironic way of wisdom, a kind-of fin de siecle poem, enjoyable as well as melancholy. "In a world abandoned by the gods—they/he/she left us, remember, with the arrival of the Age of Reason?"----then again, apologia as art. ie. Pascal’s ‘Pensee’s, is pure beauty of form transcending content. Peace MandT

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks, MandT. That's quite a compliment!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

The only departure from the usual Punch and Judy script is that John and Sarah are not bashing each other over the head.

The lunacy, the shrill voices, the hair trigger anger, the tantrums, check. All there.

God (or Whoever) help us.