Tuesday, March 28, 2017

From "Can' to "How"

Meghan already insightfully addressed the question so often grappled with in this class: “Is humor present in everything.” Bryson notes the little, every day sort of things, Sedaris in complicated family drama and Hau’ofa in massive, problematic cultural norms and institutions as a means of answering the question with a resounding yes. One might now shift the question from “Can” to “How” because, as far as I can tell, most of the authors employ similar means to render humor in any situation. Certainly Bryson (to an irritating extent), Sedaris and Hau’ofa seem to minimize things in order to find their humor. This has been addressed, on some level, with every author studied thus far in this class but I think that Bryson might take it to an extreme. An e.g., consider his complaint that in “fancy restaurants” the food tends to be incomprehensible. There’s something more than a little condescending about smugly laughing off one’s own ignorance and lack of self awareness (at least you get to eat in a “fancy” restaurant) but that’s kind of beside the point. What’s relevant to the discussion of humor is Bryson’s establishment of something deemed benevolent but intimidating (fancy dining) and reveling in what is deemed its absurd self importance (one is just eating dinner after all).

Moreover, he contrasts these minimizations with hyperbole as a means of making them even smaller. The waitress reals off sixteen salad dressings, the specials at fancy restaurants go on for upwards of half an hour. None of this is true but what is true is that the process can be intimidating for somebody just trying to get a steak. What better way to make it less intimidating and more humorous by taking it to its absurdist extreme. He does this throughout the work, for instance he claims to believe double parking punishable by death. In doing so he draws attention to the lack of consequence so many of these small things have and that which seems to impossible, can be laughed at, if only it’s made small.

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