Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Italian Humor

     Gilbert’s memoirs are almost a kind of self-help book in that she shares the teachings she has learned to improve herself and find peace. Despite the fact that struggling to escape from depression and feeling lost in life are fairly heavy subjects, Gilbert keeps the tone light, partly by introducing us to quirky characters and partly through her own self-deprecating humor. The latter is particularly useful in that this type of self-help book could easily come across as too preachy; Gilbert’s humor, however, knocks her self-serious journey down a peg.  As in many of the other works we’ve read, here humor has a uniquely palatable nature—in fact, humor as a tone even makes the content of what is said more acceptable to us, or rather makes us more receptive to it.

     The Italian section was the most lighthearted, given its description of life’s pleasures. I studied abroad in Rome last year, and I felt that Gilbert’s portrayal of the Italians as easygoing and pleasure-loving was pretty accurate. Gilbert says that when she told Italians of her plans to enjoy herself in Rome, “they didn’t have any hang-ups about it…Congratulations, they would say. Go ahead. Knock yourself out. Be our guest. Nobody once said, ‘How completely irresponsible of you,’ or ‘What a self-indulgent luxury’” (62). I myself remember being struck by the mid-day siesta in Naples and by how many Italians took long coffee breaks in Rome in the middle of working; Italians generally have a much more lighthearted sensibility about enjoying themselves. They can even poke fun at themselves about this, cheerfully talking about how work takes a long time to get done because of this cultural quirk. I felt that this related to humor in that humor is also about allowing yourself to relax and enjoy life even imperfectly, which is the message Gilbert learns in Italy. Pleasures and humor are perhaps good in and of themselves if you allow yourself to let go of self-seriousness and embrace the easy humility of humor, and Gilbert's self-deprecating tone is a good expression of this.

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