Sunday, December 26, 2010

`This Frivolous and Charming World'

The epigraph to Moore Moran’s "Just Joking" won my heart, as did Moran’s poem and the rest of The Room Within (Swallow Press, 2010), a Christmas gift:

“Frivolity is the species’ refusal to suffer.”

John Lahr, senior drama critic at The New Yorker, made the remark in a 1987 television documentary, Vaudeville! The sentence that precedes it is pertinent:

“There is nothing more important – though we’ve lost it in our moment – than frivolity.”

“Frivolous” entered English in the mid-fifteenth century from the Latin frivolus, “silly, empty, trifling, worthless, brittle.” The deep etymology is revealing: Frivolus is from frivos, “broken, crumbled,” from friare, “to break, rub away, crumble.” Fancifully if not etymologically, the frivolous is what remains when something breaks – shards, fragments, remnants, Beckett’s realm. Here’s a nice symmetry: John Lahr’s father, the vaudevillian and comic actor Bert Lahr, played Estragon in the 1956 American premier of Waiting for Godot. And another, from Molloy:

“It was in this frivolous and charming world that I took refuge, when my cup ran over.”

The final lines of Moran's poem plumb a similar “frivolous and charming world”:

“I think what it comes to is
the bewildered heart in us,
Which year by year measuring our slim attainments
With mounting despair, still feeds
In its recesses some faint hope, despite
The certain knowledge that what it hopes for
Cannot change the tide,

“And in these moments, a joke,
Shaggy, cosmic, learned or foul,
Needs no defense.”

Some of us can't help laughing.

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