Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Catatonically Speaking


The Lucid Lunacy of Satire

While I was at college, we read French satirist Voltaire's "Candide" in one of my literature courses. The piece was howlingly hilarious, and I could not put it down. Of course, it was hilarious not in that inane way that, say, "Austin Powers" is funny, but hilarious in a darker, more disturbing sense. Voltaire excoriated the foibles and excesses of society at the time, and was particularly harsh toward the Catholic church and its scandalous hypocrises. Even though I was young and had barely lived, Voltaire's sharply focused lens enabled me to see the absolute absurdity of traditions, and the tragic folly of life. At the tender age of 20, when my life was a dizzying dance of friendships, exuberant parties and yes, even stimulating studies, I fell in love with satire, that most biting of literary genres. Satire threatened to undermine my naive take on existence, and yet I was all too eager to bathe in its glowering glow. Satire catalyzed the flourishing of my more cynical side. I was later able to translate this dour pessimism into something resembling sobriety - meaning, I was no longer drunk on cynicism, but rather, hung- over on reality.

Another piece of literary satire that has made an indelible impact is Jonathan Swift's infamous "A Modest Proposal." I have long been passionate about the injustices of poverty and homelessness, and Swift's "proposal" to cook poor children in order to ease Ireland's economic troubles, helped energize me into thought and action. Swift's piece numbingly nailed home the travesty of poverty, but did so in a manner that wittily underscored his point. I read this piece in college as well.

Mark Twain's "The Damned Human Race" is the final piece of literary satire that has imposed itself onto my ideology. I didn't actually read this piece, however, until I became a teacher myself. Amazingly, the essay is part of some tenth grade literature curricula. The teenagers that I have taught invariably display mixed reactions to the piece - some love it while others regard it with skepticism - but I think its thesis that animals are more honest than and therefore superior to humans is a solid one. Twain pounds home his points in a rather savage way - but then, that's Twain, rancounteur writer who does not equivocate when it comes to highlighting humanity's deplorable foolishness.

Movie-wise, one of my favorite early satirical flicks is "Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." Stanley Kubrick's film is a most delectable lampoonery of war and politicians. And one of my favorite modern satirical movies is "Borat." I was one of the ones who had to be dragged kicking and screaming to see this movie (well, okay, I actually rented it), because the previews made it look so vulgar and puerile. And, granted, it IS vulgar and puerile, but that's just the veneer of this multi-layered mockery of American culture. What finally prodded me into watching the film was a New York Times article written by someone as suspicious as I was about the movie's intentions. When I finished watching the movie, not only did I have laughter-induced abdominal cramps, but my mind felt giddily liberated from the constraints foisted upon it by a too-rigid society. Some would say that my love for the seemingly regressive "Borat" is at odds with my progressive passion, but I would counter that unhinged satire of the sort that "Borat" represents is very progressive, because it unshackles us from our austere, orthodox ways of thinking, and shines a glaring light on societal sickenesses with an aim to heal them, or at least spur some interesting dialogue.

So in my view, satire is the most elevated form of art. It takes as its topic, "Things that are wrong with people," does a Google search, and from the pages and pages of results, culls the most absurd examples, and pokes fun of them in the most scathing way. Satire is the smartass offspring of that odd couple, Comedy and Tragedy, who conceived their child in an haze of lucidity in between bouts of aggressive bemusement. Satire illuminates the gleaming Cheshire Cat grin in a night-suffused world.

This issue of Clockwise Cat is rife with satire. Here is what we have to offer this month in the way of lampoonery: two pieces that satirize that sacred cow, academia, a piece that mocks the vacuity of local news networks, a book review of stories penned by George Saunders, who parodies modern society in the most surreal way imaginable, and spot-on political cartoons.

Among these gems, we offer the usual palette of quality pieces, a few of which may even contain some latent satire, detectable by the most discerning minds. And we feature poetry this month by Rob Plath. Plath's verse is vividly realized - written in a deceptively simple manner, these pieces astound for their clarity and pointed purpose.

While you're perusing this issue of The Cat, keep in mind that, as Twain said, "When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained."

May lunacy be our salvation.

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars..." (Jack Kerouac)

2 comments:

Daniel said...
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Daniel said...

What a cogent, yet pleasingly flippant, phrase defining satire!
"Satire is the smartass offspring of that odd couple, Comedy and Tragedy," I am going to copy it into my aphorism sectionr right now.

Did you read any Aldous Huxley?
I went on a Huxley read-athon after reading BNW. though none of his later books seem as good, except for maybe Point Counter Point.

The best is Slaughterhouse 5 by Vonnegut and Modest Proposal by Swift though I also like Animal Farm by Orwell.

Thanks for the blog
Daniel Wilcox