That same evening I watched Jacques Tati’s Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, France’s supreme contribution, along with À la recherche du temps perdu, to civilized living. In the car the next day I listened repeatedly to Satie’s “Gymnopédie No. 1” performed by Philippe Entremont. At night I reread Pnin. I’ve concluded that I needed to address the charm, delight and wonder deficit. The human world in all its gratuitous ugliness was too much with me. Perhaps you have felt the same way of late. Beware: the ugliness is contagious.
There’s a quality I think of as aggrieved earnestness. People so afflicted are tuned to a narrow wavelength. Humor, beauty, irony and the frothier forms of pleasure elude them. They will never get Beerbohm. Their world is an unhappy place in need of correction at whatever the cost. They nag and bore us. They are yentas, regardless of sex. Their idea of conversation is a shrill sermon. They would never look twice at Matisse.
Of course, there’s much to be serious about. A playful sense of irony will never cure cancer. Most grownups know that. In Act V, Scene 1 of The Tempest, Ferdinand and Miranda are playing chess. She says:
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in it!”
Prospero, her father, with infinite gentleness replies to Miranda's naiveté: “’Tis new to thee.” Those four monosyllables never fail to move me.
Next up,Laurel and Hardy. And P.G. Wodehouse.