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Friday, March 19, 2010


My less-than-prolific status notwithstanding, I've been spurred out of silence by David Bentley Hart once again.

In his superb collection, In the Aftermath: Provocations and Laments, Hart has an article entitled "The Laughter of the Philosophers." This should catch the eye of anyone who has ever brushed the sunken shoulders of such bleak entities as Immanuel Kant, Hegel (let's omit his entire name, shall we?), Derrida. There's a litany of vile epithets that come to mind, "funny" not being one of them. But Hart contends that humor is important. Why?

Harold Bloom has stated that the most important critical tool our age lacks is a sense of irony. Humor tends to sharpen arguments rather than hinder them. At least, this is the case in my limited experience. Those who wear their hearts on their sleeves, and proffer a slender sincerity, refuse to laugh at themselves, will often find themselves at the center of the joke. Humor is perhaps the most powerful mode of exposing a contradiction. Consider the work of such classical satirists as Swift and Voltaire. Many idols flourish within the dusty temples of humorless sages and archival moles, but humor may just be the "hammer of the gods" of which Nietzsche spoke.

I do sometimes suspect that Derrida is laughing at me beyond his convoluted grave as I wade through his sordid swamps. Isaiah Berlin must chuckle as I "thrash in the shallows"with him as Hart puts it. And what of our modern progeny? I detect very little humor in the Rorties, the Dennets (ostensibly a scientist, I suppose), Dawkins (a proselyte). Read the new atheists and they speak with the fearsome sincerity and moral candor of street preachers wielding signs declaring "the end is nigh."

Seriously, let's loosen up!

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