Saturday, June 11, 2011

"If a man lacks the gift of song, then he may laugh as a substitute"

W.H. Auden, in The Enchafed Flood (writing, here, about Stubb):
A man may laugh for pleasure or joy. Pleasure or joy are not comic, and the appropriate response is song, i.e., the expression of gratitude and praise. If a man lacks the gift of song, then he may laugh as a substitute. The substitute is acceptable because there is no suffering involved, except the comic contradiction of being unable to sing in a situation demanding song and in which laughter is actually ridiculous.

For what is the comic? The comic is a contradiction that does not involve suffering, either directly in the subject or indirectly by sympathetic identification with those involved in the contradiction. [...] A man who makes a religion out of the comic is unable to face suffering. He is bound to deny it or to look the other way.

The first paragraph makes a nice pendant to "Notes on the Comic" (cf. "Among those I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.") and one is also reminded of Auden's aphorism about opera:
"No opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible."
Vpdate Re laughter cf. Spenser's faun, who "saw that pleased much his eye, / And made his hart to tickle in his brest" (i.e., Diana bathing). Like much else in this genre, via Calista.


zbs said...

Auden speaks for himself in "Notes on the Comic," but I think the interpretation of Opera is too narrow, refusing any modern form in which the one is played against another. I have on occasion imagined an opera by Beckett in which the chorus is "Ostrich-tuned."

Zed said...

I would imagine WHA meant it to be narrow, given his tastes, but one should note that (if your Beckett opera is what I think it is) on Auden's theory of laughter a comic opera is quite possible and would be roughly the equivalent of the many WHA poems that (slyly?) confess to their inadequacy. What would seem to be ruled out is an opera by Zola or Gissing. Which (though I might not rule it out myself) doesn't seem esp. plausible