Sunday, June 23, 2013

`Comedy of One Sort or Another'

My sons always surprise me by being happier, smarter, more outgoing and socially gifted than I was as a kid. They seem adapted to the world in a way I never was. They’re competent and fairly independent, not “needy” in the irritating adult sense. They might whine about situations in advance, but then they face them. I was always dissembling, retreating inward, immersing myself in hobbies and pastimes, the little kingdoms where I could feel like a sovereign – books and butterflies. Libraries, bookstores and the woods were sanctuary. Now I know that what begins as a weakness and evolves into a defense can become a gift, one’s strength. The Guardian asked seven writers to reflect on failure. The only one who makes sense to me is the great Howard Jacobson: 

“If the world doesn't value us, we won't value the world. We seek solace in books, in solitary and sometimes fantastical thinking, in doing with words what boys who please their fathers do with balls. We look down on what our fellows like, and make a point of liking what our fellows don't. We become special by virtue of not being special enough. I doubt many writers were made any other way.” 

Jacobson, the anti-romantic clown, might be glossing Beckett and his notion in Worstward Ho of “Try again. Fail again. Fail better”: 

“What writers at their best achieve is a saturation of shame, triumphing over it by excluding or extenuating nothing, possessing it as theirs, and handing it back again, depersonalised, in comedy of one sort or another.”

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