29 jun. 2007

"The comic, in a poet like O'Hara or Wallace Stevens or Byron, Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Lautréamont, Max Jacob, is a part of what is most serious for art to get to--ecstasy, freedom, completeness, dionysiac things. One can get a hint of this ecstasy, a whiff from these heights even in a small parody, in one funny line someone writes."

--Kenneth Koch, "An Interview with Jordan Davis."

That's an essential insight. Koch goes on to argue against the tedious idea of humor as "the absurd" in everyday life. I'ts not about "thinking the world sweet and finding it bitter." We can take ourselves back to the existentialist absurdism of Koch's postwar period of formation. Camus, Beckett, Ionesco, Sartre. Sisyphus and Charlie Brown. Against this absurdist comic dourness place "I love you as a sheriff searches for a walnut" or "I sailed the Indian Ocean for a dime." It's revolutionary. A poem in Ottava Rima featuring cartoon characters...

I don't think that the comic in Wallace Stevens is that close to Aristophanes, or Byron to Max Jacob for that matter. Yet I can see how they all converge in Koch.

Isn't Koch also funnier than the postmodern fiction writers like Barth and Barthelme? Only Sorrentino at his funniest comes close.

3 comentarios:

John dijo...

I once heard Alice Notley read Koch's parody of WCW's "This Is Just to Say," and she laughed so hard that she couldn't finish the poem.

Barthelme's story "The King of Jazz" is pretty funny.

Humor may be the most subjective aesthetic category. Then again, it may not.

gary barwin dijo...

Really insightful post. That's exactly it. And, further, the humour that Koch (and you) are referring often makes people (the poetic establishment, the academy, teachers, and reader who don't trust their own instincts) nervous. Is it serious enough? Isn't poetry (or literature in general) supposed to be 'serious', 'poetic' or bitter/absurd? I think this is especially the case in Canada (where I'm writing this). Our magnificently humourous poets (for eg. David W. McFadden, Stuart Ross) don't get the recognition and the credibility that their work deserves.

Gary Barwin

Jay dijo...

Another great post. A recent article by Julian Gough in Prospect Magazine observed that the Greeks understood that comedy reflects the gods' view of life, while tragedy reflects the merely human point of view. It's an interesting piece and I recommend it. (See: http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/printarticle.php?id=9276)