Are You A Joke? Do You Take Yourself Personally?


The Path of Irony, painting by Darwin Leon


By David Arthur Walters

We Take Ourselves Personally

We naturally identify ourselves with our activities. Our behavior seems to be the only obvious evidence of who we are. Various conclusions can be drawn from that behavior, but we generally intend to express a much higher opinion of ourselves than the ones we receive, notwithstanding the blatant flattery we may receive from time to time for one reason or another.

In other words, we wish to be our ideal selves in action although our deeds may fall short of same. The ideal self is free. It does not fail. Before all is said and done, there is a self prior to deeds, an innocent self before reproach, beyond good and evil, hence it is said that we should condemn not the man’s self but his bad deeds. After all, if we condemn the free self, we condemn all individuals including the judge. Nevertheless, most people do take criticism of their deeds very personally, especially when it is mocked, just as some condemned men take their execution personally, no matter what the preacher says about saved souls.

I mention criminal conduct in passing, for my main concern here is artistic endeavor. Of course, certain similarities have been noticed in the psychological make-up of artists and criminals. Be that as it may, any divorce between a self and its actions is bound to be a messy one, requiring the consummate skills of the best lawyers in the world.

While that argument proceeds, we laymen do prefer to think of our real selves as free subjects rather than as determined objects, hence it is in our most voluntary activities, in our creative efforts, that we feel we are being most true to ourselves. Jokesters love to get laughs, but if we are not joking, it is hardly surprising that we feel personally offended when our most serious creative work is laughed at as if it were a joke.

For example, imagine that you have devoted many hours to writing an essay about some general aspect of life that really intrigues you, one that has been a serious topic of philosophical discussions for many centuries, one you believe you can illuminate with your unique perspective and creative abilities. Therefore you joyfully labor to share your view with others. But no sooner than you have done so than someone appears and publicly derides your work, then expects you to “have a good sense of humor” about that. He deliberately tries to make a public joke of your creation. That is to say, your brand new baby is a joke. You quite naturally take that personally, for you created the work in order to share your person. Are you a joke?

Well, suggestible as you are, you hopefully know better than that. Still. your joker might think you are a joke while making your work a butt of his. Or he may think he is being your buddy in a joking relationship, a relationship where life must be a joke because buddies would otherwise cut each other’s throats. Or maybe he does not intend to put you down at all, but is amused by your creation in comparison to other works of art. Indeed, we have all laughed at some of the ridiculous creations out there. Yet one wonders why he must laugh out loud and record his laughter for all to hear. Maybe he feels inferior and must save himself by putting others down. Or perhaps he is just a vulgar and insensitive boor. We are often unaware of the insensitive cruelties we perpetuate on others until we suffer them ourselves. Even then we might remain obtuse. Selective retaliation is rarely effective: the mocker usually cannot recognize himself in a mirror.

Imagine that this is a special case where you know your creation is a fine one although it is not the finest in the world–an experienced baker does not have to be told what a good cake is. Assume that he laughs because he thinks make-believe itself is a joke. Perhaps he has just had a rectal examination and, being caught up with his own mortality, wants to put down what he perceives as your vanity, your confidence in make-believe, now that he knows he has cancer. It might be added that, since life is a disease ending in death, cancer is really not required for this sort of joking. Man is just a worm and not a bird, so we can ridicule his flights of fancy, his cultivation of heavenly culture, by smearing his wings with mud and excrement.

Welcome to the excremental culture where only the material “facts” are worshipped, the articles of death, or dead things. Only the particulars are important, while universals are for naught, are merely names, or signs for insubstantial fleeting processes at the very most. This is a coprophilic zone where nothing really is except a bowel movement in a cavity where therein no being, only the production and consumption of excretions, and of information that conforms everything into excrement for digital manipulation.

Moreover, it appears that the most popular culture of all, the commercial make-work culture, is necrophilic and coprophilic. Every striving for an abstract universal or ideal, for an ultimate meaning of life instead of incessant production and consumption of waste, is immediately ridiculed by “scientific” fact-worshippers, critical necrophiliacs who idolize objects and try to smother the free-spirited life with dung-heap derision.

There is a tendency today to make a joke of every creative fancy. The creative author builds his castle on the dead rock of the past. He knows his art is make-believe, yet it expresses his living spirit, the innocent spirit of a child at play. He knows it is a conceit, yet it is the best, most truthful evidence of his life when expressed. He is serious about his play. It is not a joke. It is not insignificant. It is, regardless of its particular merits as a work of art, what is most significant about himself and about man, the symbolic or spiritual animal. It is his immortality at work, his faith, his belief that life is above all meaningful. Yet alas, the worms laugh at the flight of the birds.

Ah, but you take the laughter all too seriously, do you not? You take it all too personally, thus you are a joke on yourself! Let the worms laugh as they gorge themselves. There are violent ways to stop the laughter, ranging from assault with a deadly weapon to detonation of a nuclear device, but those methods are not recommended here, even to paranoid schizophrenics. Just stay out of the dirt and the garbage cans. Above all, avoid the mouth-to-mouth dirty jokes of the coprophagous cults. Enjoy the immortal world where you will not be eaten. Tell your fairy-tales, have your magical existence, believe reality is a miracle, and let those who mock you suffer their mortality, for they only laugh at you because they take their rectal examinations too seriously.

# #

Honolulu 1999

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