“Tired, tired with nothing, tired with everything, tired with the world’s weight he had never chosen to bear.”

Or perhaps, in a less pretentious tone, why is life always so difficult?

Whilst generally being a reasonably easy-going person, my defining natural tendency is to be stressed. Those who know me will, I’m sure, be able to back me up on this: my irritations with daily life experiences such as poorly trained animals (especially children), grammatically incorrect Facebook posts and tabloid journalism as a field, result in at best a sarcastic comment and at worst a full-blown rant at the nearest unfortunate recipient. Whilst its easy to laugh about this when the things are small and inconsequential, I often find myself wondering if this general uptight nature isn’t the cause of bigger emotional upheavals in my life.

I think it’s accurate to say that I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have some kind of deep emotional turmoil raging through my mind. Whilst varying in subject, duration and intensity, I’ve always been caught up with one thing or another. Part of this is due to my character: I tend to think a lot about things, though sadly this thinking often occurs after I’ve ‘done goofed’ rather than before. As such I’m self-reflective: I can dedicate a good portion of most days to thinking about myself, be it about events in my life, my general well-being, or my relationships with other people.

People tell me I overthink things. This is undoubtedly true, and I don’t deny it, but I would question whether thinking a lot is necessarily a bad thing. On the one hand, it can bring a rational perspective to an emotional problem. Much as it is pointless to invent something and never build it, refusing to ground your problem in the real world will not only prevent you from finding any kind of solution, but can also spiral you into deeper states of sadness and misery. By accepting your emotions as part of your life experience, you learn to deal with them in a way that enables you to function as a human being. On the other hand, misery loves company, and I think that when dealing with negative emotions over an extended period of time, there is always a danger of losing yourself in them. Wallowing in self-pity is never productive, and more to the point, it slowly grinds down your willpower. If your entire self is dedicated to trying to deal with sadness, it soon becomes hard to see the good in anything. It’s easy to become bitter, jealous, angry. And in the end you just get tired. So, so tired.

But then, that’s life. I wish I could turn it all off sometimes. Just for a little bit. To float away from this place and just switch off. My constant worrying does wear me down, and I’m scared sometimes. I’m scared I’ll always be like this, and I’m scared that one day I won’t be. That one day I’ll just give up, give in to the tiny little voice in my head that tells me it’s pointless. That the easiest thing to do is to just cut everyone and everything off, and drift alone in this lonely existence. It really is tempting, and, whilst I hope it isn’t so, maybe one day I will feel that way.

But not yet. Not today.

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“With every breath we try to make this world a better place, hoping in vain that someday, in some beautiful future, our acts of faith and goodness will overshadow those who know only how to destroy.”`

Sup.

I’m back, for the time being at least. When I first started this blog I had no real idea of what it would be, other than a space for me to vent any unedited thoughts that I felt worthy of more general attention. I guess lately I haven’t been very forthcoming. I feel trapped in my own skin, which as those of you who know me will know is not a particularly pleasant place to dwell, and any kind of artistic creativity has been lost in a well of emptiness. This is all a bit melodramatic of course: I think the easiest way to put is that I am lacking in inspiration and/or motivation. I’m hoping to try and pull myself out of this funk, although as to whether or not I’ll be successful, who knows.

After a conversation I had with a dear friend last night, coupled with the beautifully poignant title quote that I found lost in a mediocre work of fantasy, I’ve been wondering what the point of it all is, really. Which again, sounds far more melodramatic and depressing than it really is, but hey, I reserve my right to try and sound dark and mysterious. Even though I’m about as dark and mysterious as a reasonably well-raised middle class white guy can be. But I digress. As a pretty non-religious bloke, I’ve never really considered the possibility of an afterlife: certainly no concept put forward by any kind of current or historical faith/religion/belief system has ever seemed like a suitable answer to such a daunting question. I’ve always believed, more or less, that the time we have on this Earth is all the time we have. And, as some guy with a pointy hat and a big stick once said, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Whilst some may find this belief pretty scary, I find a strange sense of comfort in these words. For a start, it makes life a hell of a lot simpler. No need to worry about eternal judgement or past life/future life crap: simply decide what you as a person feel you should do with your life. I mean come on, is that not enough?! You can talk about evolution and the age of the Earth until you’re blue in the face but let’s face it, eighty or so years is a bloody long time. Certainly relative to our experience. I’m twenty, and the sheer amount I’ve experienced is apparently a quarter (approximately) of my life. That’s a hell of a lot left to go, if the first twenty years are anything to go by. I’m going to have enough of a problem figuring out what on earth I’m going to do in my earthly life without wrapping my head around eternity.

Side note: when discussing eternity (as you do), I always like to paraphrase Joyce’s description of it in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In it, the reader is asked to imagine an enormous mountain of sand, made up of tiny grains and measuring a million miles in height, depth and breadth, being carried away one grain at a time by a sparrow, who comes to this mountain once every million years. And after each and every grain has been removed, one million years passing between each trip: why, then, eternity hasn’t even begun! As a species it’s a concept we struggle to get our heads around, given that, y’know, the longest someone has been alive is about 122 years and we’re talking about literal limitless time here. So yeah, that’s a bit of a mind fuck in its own right: just read Joyce and you’ll see what kind of mind produced this rather laboured but fairly adequate analogy. But returning to my point: it’s indeed possible to get bogged down in life and its endless complexities, and indeed if there is no afterlife, as I myself believe, what is the point, then, of this fleeting dance on a small rock in the Sol system? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. Who knows? We won’t find out until we get there what lies after our own personal human experiment, so honestly worrying about it too much isn’t going to do much good, in my opinion.

My advice to anyone struggling to cope with these kinds of thoughts, by which I was so often plagued in my younger years, and honestly still am now, is not to dwell on it. At the end of the day, you can’t change the big things. You are human, you are mortal, you are finite. One day you will die, your body will wither away, and slowly your presence in this world will fade. But that doesn’t mean you can’t shine brightly before you go. Every day we touch so many people, change so many lives, see so many things. Whether you dream of solving the world’s hunger problem or raising your own family, life is always worth trying. You regret more what you don’t do than what you do in life, so go out there and do it. It’s been said that what we do in life, echoes in eternity. Show eternity what you’re made of.

And hey, if it all goes wrong, you can always write about it on a irregularly updated blog.

“But it did matter. It mattered more than anything had ever mattered before.”

Heyo. Quick one whilst I’m stuck revising for my impending death (translation: exams). I’m currently looking at early twentieth-century works on the theme of ‘passing’: the act of a mixed-race man or woman ‘passing’ for white in order to gain the obvious social benefits of being white in twentieth-century America, given that under the Jim Crow segregation laws of the time, ‘one drop’ of ‘Negro blood’ constitutes being ‘black’. Just thought I would share a selection of my notes on it, as they seem potentially quite interesting and I’m actually writing semi-coherent notes (the latter of which is the far more impressive attribute given how tired I am). The texts mentioned are Passing by Nella Larsen and The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored(sic) Man by James Weldon Johnson, published in 1929 and 1912 respectively. Yes I realise this is cheating but come on, give me this one. Will try and return to a more standardised format once we’re post-op.

From:

Wells, Colin. “Passing.” Literature and Its Times Supplement 1. Ed. Joyce Moss. Detroit: Gale, 2002. Print.

  • “Racial thinking not only fostered disharmony. It also helped perpetuate the popular idea that any black blood in one’s ancestry means that one is black”
  • Like the way Irene, Clare and Gertrude consider themselves ‘black’, even though they are all light skinned enough to pass as white.
  • ‘Black Codes’ (1800-1866) followed by ‘Jim Crow’ laws (1890-1965) used this idea when defining terms of segregation/civil rights discrepancies for African Americans in relation to whites.
  • This creates the idea of a ‘colour line’; and of course, when there is a line, there is the possibility to cross over the line (passing over).
    • In Passing, both permanent and temporary ‘passing’ is displayed by various characters. Irene and Clare, for example, first meet each other again at the Drayton Hotel, a white only tearoom/cafe. In this case, both of them are ‘passing’ for white in order to gain access to a more comfortable/luxurious establishment. Irene’s passing is temporary: Clare’s is permanent, as it is revealed later in the novel that she is married to a white man, who is not only unaware of her African-American heritage, but openly racist towards blacks, even going so far as to call her “Nig” as a reference to her supposed “gettin’ darker and darker” (Larsen 55). Jack even goes far as to predict the end of the novel, joking that “she’ll wake up one of these days and find she’s turned into a nigger.” (Larsen 55)
    • In The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, the first book out of twentieth-century America to have a black narrator (source?), Johnson’s unnamed protagonist flits between both the white and black sides of his heritage, in the end settling for being white, though in the book’s closing lines he seems to regret this choice. Upon attending a conference that featured speakers such as Booker T. Washington, the African-American advisor to several presidents of the US, he feels “small and selfish”: an “ordinary white man who has made a little money” and claims, had he chosen to be black, that “I, too, might have taken part in a work so glorious” with “men who are making history and a race” (Johnson 100).
    • Some issues surrounding ‘passing’ for white are opened up looking at these two works. Firstly, consider the dubiousness of the definition of ‘black’. If ‘passing’ is such an easy thing to pull off (a newspaper headline from 1929 suggested 20,000 as an approximate figure of ‘passing’ blacks), it begs the question: what does it mean to be black or white, if so many light-skinned ‘blacks’ can ‘pass’ for white? In Passing this issue is taken to an extreme extent when ‘black’ Clare is so light skinned, and so talented at ‘passing’, that she enters into a marriage with Jack, an open racist, who doesn’t merely “dislike” blacks, but actively “hates” them (Larsen 57). Ironically Jack exemplifies the idea of the ‘ignorant white’: he never really states where this hatred comes from, and has never personally known any blacks (that he is aware of), with his “knowledge” of the “robbing and killing” of blacks coming from what “I read in the papers about them” (Larsen 57).
    • What is the difference, ethically, between Clare’s and Irene’s passing? In the immortal words of Keanu Reeves, the problem is choice. Irene points out that “white people were so stupid” when it comes to determining whether someone is white or black, choosing to look at physical features such as “finger-nails, palms of hands, shapes of ears, teeth, and other equally silly rot” (Larsen 16). Mae Henderson points out in her Notes that “the popular press teemed with warnings about those with ‘Negro blood’ sliding quietly into the ranks of whiteness and offered several physical characteristics… as a litmus test of hidden African ancestry” (184-5), presumably the same press that Jack gets his ideas of black characteristics from. Whilst Irene, then, is content to allow people to make their own assumptions (or passively ‘pass’), Clare chooses to actively ‘pass’ as white, creating tension between her and Irene as the two struggle to reconcile their respective racial identities. The issue of racial identity is also covered in The Autobiography. Johnson’s narrator, despite having a black mother and a white father, is raised as a white middle-class boy: as such, he is devastated to be separated from the “white scholars” by his school’s principal (Johnson 10-11), and returns home to his mother begging her to tell him “am I a nigger?” (11). For him, being black is synonymous with being “defective”, and whilst his view of coloured people is far more complex than that, it arguably contributes towards his choice to ‘pass’ permanently at the end of the novel.
    • Crossing the colour line is not the only kind of ‘passing’ that is considered. Particularly in The Autobiography, the narrator’s ‘passing’ is not merely racial, but also cultural, maybe even to a greater extent. From Spanish cigar-makers in Jacksonville to a “millionaire” benefactor with whom he travels to mainland Europe, the narrator experiences both sides of not just the racial divide between black and white, but also the class divide between the ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ classes. His desperate struggle to find his place in the world is ultimately undermined by his mixed heritage: even his eventual choice to become a middle-class white man is shown to not be a result of a sense of belonging, but stemming from a fear of identifying as black after witnessing a lynching. Just a few pages prior to this, the narrator leaves his “millionaire” in order to “voice all the joys and sorrows, the hopes and ambitions, of the American Negro” (Johnson 70).
    • ‘Passing’, then, is a question of identity. Whether ‘passing’ as white or ‘passing’ between different cultures, the individuals involved are either seeking an identity they can call their own, or escaping from one they can not live by. In particular for those of mixed heritage, conflicting messages of ancestry and race can present ‘passing’ as the simple solution to a complex problem, as the easy answer to an impossible question…

Who am I?

“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”

It’s busier than normal in here. I don’t like it. Always detested crowded spaces: too much going on to take in; too great a possibility of accidental trampling; just generally too much life for me to deal with at ten in the morning. I like my space, ok?! I guess it’s fun to watch people so engrossed in their daily lives though, much in the same way I appear so engrossed in mine to them I imagine. It’s like a big game of Who’s Who, except there’s no right answer. The loud group in front of me discussing child psychology; the anxious couple on the other side of the room; the quiet girl sitting on the sofa, law textbook in lap and coffee in hand: I can’t help but wonder what their story is. Who are they? Where do they come from? Which several million thought processes combined to bring them here this morning? We enter people’s lives for the briefest of the moments: half the people in this room I won’t see again, or at least I won’t remember them. Yet they are the result of so many stories, and they have so many of their own yet to create.

Not only is there a term for this overwhelming feeling of realisation (sonder, which in German means both ‘special’ and ‘without’), The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows provides the most beautiful definition for it:

n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

All this musing – which to be quite honest I’m proud of, rarely having such coherent thought this early in the day – led me back, as such thoughts often do, to what I can honestly consider my favourite book ever written: David Mitchell’s 2004 novel Cloud Atlas. I can’t remember if I’ve blogged about this before but I don’t care: it’s awesome, and you should all read it. Right now. Yes that means you.

An epic work looking back to the mistakes of the past as well as forward to the possibilities of the future, telling six stories spanning from the American Gold Rush of 1849 to a post-apocalyptic future in 2321 Hawaii, Cloud Atlas weaves a complex web of connections, community and compassion, in a story that will forever alter how you look at the human beings around you. The film is also well worth a watch: despite moving from the ‘Russian doll’ style of the novel to a more ‘mosaic’ approach (in Mitchell’s own words), it still brings the work to life with stunning visuals, heart-wrenching moments and a seriously awesome soundtrack by German composer Tom Tykwer, nominated for a Golden Globe as well as several awards from the IFMCA. Seriously it’s a lot quicker for you go read the book and watch the film then it is for me to tell you everything that makes it so fucking brilliant, I think we’d all be in our graves before I had finished. I did want to touch briefly on one aspect though.

As the title of the post suggests (it is, incidentally, one of the many memorable quotes from the book), Cloud Atlas primarily concerns itself with connections. The six protagonists of the novel could not be more different in terms of their gender, ethnicity, culture, values and even their biology (Sonmi-451 is a tank-born ‘fabricant’, a clone slave used by the corporate giants of 2144 Neo-Seoul). Yet a seemingly random set of people each set off a chain of events that impact and inspire their fellow beings in the deepest of ways. In addition to this, the connection between them has a much more simplistic element: they are united in their humanity. Freedom, love, truth: all six experience these basic inevitabilities, and deal with their opposites, in a literary symphony that I will fondly remember until the day I die.

I am not, and do not think I will ever be, a religious man. There is no one answer, simple or otherwise, to this big mess of matter that we call life. But if ever there was an argument for the presence of the soul, and its post-death transmigration that ripples and touches, however briefly, all the other lost souls around it, Cloud Atlas is it. A chaotic harmony of life and all its wonderful, fucked-up consequences, the novel will leave you changed. That is all I can guarantee. A famous gladiator once claimed that “What we do in life, echoes in eternity”. Perhaps if we were more understanding of one another, more considerate in our actions, more forgiving in our judgements… Perhaps that random act of kindness will matter more than we can ever know. Maybe we just need to slow down and think occasionally.

“Sit down a beat or two.
Hold out your hands.
Look.”

“Mankind was born on Earth; it was never meant to die here.”

Having just watched Interstellar, the epic incredible super special awesome (running out of adjectives) science-fiction film from Christopher Nolan, for the second time, I have a hunch that this feeling of bewilderment and awe is going to be with me for many more viewings to come. I can’t get over just how incredible this film is, how much it appeals to me on a personal level as both a student of literature and other media as well as a human being in general. Telling the story of an intrepid group of astronauts as they travel through a wormhole in search of a new home for mankind, Interstellar leaves you thinking a long, long time after the credits role. The first time I watched it, I was up until about 4am trying to wrap my head around the issues it raised with me. Hopefully thrashing it out on here a bit will help me sleep tonight. Disclaimer: this post will contain spoilers. I’ll try not to be too blatant (SNAPE KILLS DUMBLEDORE), but you have been warned. Much like my other favourite films, Cloud Atlas and Fight Club (based on books by David Mitchell and Chuck Palahniuk respectively), Interstellar tackles our humanity as both our greatest asset and our biggest weakness as a species: our will to power is both the cause of and the solution to our biggest challenges. Michael Caine’s character Professor John Brand concealment of the horrible truth behind humanity’s survival mission (the only way of saving the human race, as far as he knows anyway, is to send a pre-fertilised collection of eggs, leaving everyone on Earth to either starve or suffocate) presents us with a terrible conundrum: is it acceptable, as Dr. Mann proposes, to destroy one’s humanity in order to save the species? Put in a similar situation, what could any of us do to reconcile this awful decision? And yet, whilst logically Brand’s choice is sound, Cooper proves that there’s more than two outcomes when someone has a gun to your head: his stubbornness, which ninety-nine times out of a hundred would result in the destruction of his species and the death of his family, instead enables him to find a solution in the most unlikely of places. Whilst we must make allowances for the world of Hollywood, and trust that a happy(ish) ending was always on the cards, I still feel his dogged persistence against all the odds exemplifies humanity’s will to survive. And it is love, above all else, that pushes Cooper through. Amelia Brand, the professor’s daughter, observes that love is the only phenomenon that transcends both time and space: there is no social utility in loving those who have died. Cooper is obviously aware of the power of love to influence one’s decision-making, and not necessarily in a good way, evidenced by his calling out of Brand Jr for letting her desire to see the man she loves override her scientific reasoning. Despite this, the love he bears for his children is his sole motivation for chancing everything on a trip into a black hole in search of the scientific data required to save the people on Earth. He is guilty of the same emotional judgement that impedes Amelia, and yet is this belief in something more than science, more than what we can observe and reason about, that grants humanity salvation. Whilst Professor Brand’s rejection of his own humanity presents one solution, Cooper’s refusal to do the same presents a better one. Above all else, then, I feel that Interstellar presents one simple truth: above all else, even in the face of the greatest adversity, our humanity, our will to power and ability to love, is something that can not be compromised. Admittedly this is the world of Hollywood: real life is rarely so pretty and scripted, there is never a satisfying denouement or resolution that leaves every question answered. Sometimes bad things have to be done for good reasons. Sometimes life asks a lot of the individual. But there is a line. And you don’t have to cross that line to do the right things. Toe it, stretch it, but don’t break it. I leave you with a poem often quoted in the film. Written by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas in an ode to his dying father, it is a defiant challenge to the universal certainty of death, and reaffirms human spirit as the answer to life’s vicissitudes. Honestly, it’s beautiful, and sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it. Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night. Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night. Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

“Reaching the 10,000-Hour Rule is simply a matter of practicing a specific task that can be accomplished with 20 hours of work a week for 10 years”

Phew. What a busy two weeks it’s been. Between working 6-14 hours a day for fourteen days straight, catching up on all the university work I needed to do over the holidays, desperately trying to spend as much time with friends and family as possible, and of course those pesky annoying things like eating, drinking, sleeping, I’ve barely had time to think. After working myself to the point of illness, I’m finally back in York, and damn it feels good. For someone normally pretty highly strung, it’s a relief to be able to sit down and just chill out for a bit. Which also means time to write more. Lots and lots. Yay. It’s gonna be great.

Amongst other things, I was lucky enough to be able to help out a couple of old friends by playing Violin II at a performance of Mozart’s Idomeneo. A beautiful little opera set in Ancient Greece (where else), I had great fun playing (or rather attempting to play) with some very talented musicians, including a fantastic cast of soloists: Electra’s “D’Oreste, d’Ajace ho in seno i tormenti” was particularly breathtaking, and rightly received its own standing ovation after. Whilst I did enjoy myself, and the performance was well received, I couldn’t help but feel guilty: this was the first time I had seriously picked up my violin in about eighteen months, and it showed in my rusty, tenuous performance. As I was backed up by some incredible violinists far superior to myself, to all of whom I am unbelievably grateful, the quality of the performance was not affected: yet I still feel like, had I only made more of an effort to keep up musically, I could be leaps and bounds ahead of where I was in that performance.

It’s hard keeping a balance at university, true. With so much going on, people to see, things to do, and, y’know, that small matter of coming out with a respectable degree classification at the end of it, it’s hard to let things fall by the wayside a little. In my case, it was music. With very few music societies that I had the time to commit to, or in the style which I enjoy operating and playing, as well as having instrumental failure at the start of first year, gradually my instruments began to gather dust in the corner of my bedroom. I would occasionally take them out to practise, and even less occasionally to perform with some of my old music groups when I went home for Christmas/Easter breaks, but I achieved nowhere near as much as I could have. Or, indeed, should have.

In his book ‘Outliers’, Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly refers to what he calls the ‘10,000-Hour Rule’: simply put, he argues that to achieve a high level of success in any task, such as playing a musical instrument or computer programming, you need to put in 10,000 hours of practice, which can be done by practising for twenty hours a week, for fifty weeks in a year, for ten years. For those of you who took Maths Studies, 20×50 = 1,000 a year = 10,000 over ten years. I’m not going to claim I practised twenty hours a week per instrument, especially given I play two instruments regularly and seven occasionally, but still. Two years worth of practice time wasted. Two years further away from success. Maybe I’m overreacting. After all, I have many many years left ahead of me (touch wood), and getting back in touch with my musical side is definitely high on my priorities after graduating, assuming I land a job that gives me the time to do so. Still, it’s sad to see something I once took so much pleasure in doing take a backseat in my life.

Anywho, new Game of Thrones to watch. Priorities. Laters.

“Laughter is an affection arising from a strained expectation being suddenly reduced to nothing”

In response to interest on this topic, I’m posting a copy of a procedural essay I wrote last term, under mock exam conditions in about an hour. It’s about the incongruity theory of humour, and I hope it demonstrates a little of what I do at university i.e. Read books and write about them. Yeah. Not my best work but not too bad considering the time limit, I think the feedback was borderline first. Yay.

Of all the theories of humour that attempt to explain the place of comedy, and by extension laughter in society, one of the most written about is the incongruity theory. This is the idea of humour arising from the appearance of objects in relation to a concept or situation to which they should not necessarily be related: or in brief, things being out of place. German philosopher Immanuel Kant, in his 1790 publication Critique of Judgement, believed that “whatever is to arouse lively, convulsive laughter must contain something absurd” (203), thus extending the humour of the incongruous to include the absurd or the grotesque and removing the requirement for a specific situation or location in order for objects to become funny. Yet something which is absurd is not by definition humorous, and can often cause discomfort or repulsion. This essay will attempt to explain the link between the incongruous and the absurd, illustrate both the comic and tragic potential of such objects, and thus discover to what extent one can relate incongruity and comedy.

In his 2007 novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Dominican author Junot Díaz presents us with a character both tragic and comic in the eponymous young writer and science-fiction aficionado Oscar. As a reader, we laugh at Oscar mainly because he is unaware of his own amusing nature: as Henri Bergson puts it in his 1911 essay Laughter: An Essay On The Meaning of The Comic: “a comic character is generally comic in proportion to his ignorance of himself” (16). This is mainly shown through his archaic diction when conversing with other characters. In a scene with the book’s narrator Yunior, he refers to him as “You have experience in these matters”, and describes his off-putting personality as “lamentably, all I have” (Díaz 174). Oscar’s complete lack of code switching, and by extension his unawareness of the inappropriate tone of his speech, portrays Oscar as a very self-unaware, incongruous character, whom we can all laugh at. Despite this, at times his tendency towards serious, even dark actions, juxtapose with his humorous character to disturbing effect. When Oscar goes to the house of his friend’s abusive boyfriend, with the intention of killing him, the absurd image of a fat nerdy kid with a “Colt .44… [stuffed] down the front of his pants” (Díaz 46) and rehearsing the line “Come on motherfucker… I got a nice eleven-year-old girl for you” (47), as if he were in some kind of gangster movie, is laughable. But the utter seriousness in his intent to kill Manny, implied by the line “Luckily for the future of American Letters, Manny did not come home that night” (47) turns our incongruous image of Oscar from funny to worrying, presenting him as both comic and funny. Whilst Oscar is undoubtedly funny in his absurdity, he is also disturbing, and thus Díaz presents us with a key example of the fine line between comedy and tragedy, at least as far as absurdity is concerned.

Another example of this idea of ‘incongruous tragicomedy’ is present in the apostolic novel Fight Club, written by Chuck Palahniuk and published in 1996. As well as raising questions concerning gender and identity, the character of Bob gives us a portrayal of the grotesque at its finest. The hormone support therapy that Bob is on as part of his testicular cancer treatment causes him to develop “sweating tits that hang enormous” (16): this image of the well-built ex-bodybuilder sporting a large pair of secondary female sex characteristics is naturally incongruous, and obviously amusing. Yet the fact that the cause of this is a potentially life-threatening once again provides a different perspective on this once funny picture, rendering it disturbing and pitiable. This tragicomic theme is extended through the character of the Narrator. On the one hand, we all laugh at the picture of “Big Bob” and his “bitch tits” as he “pancaked down on [the Narrator]” or when his “big arms wrapped around [the Narrator]” (21), and yet the Narrator is only there to try and cure his insomnia; he does not himself have a life-threatening illness. Thus the use of physical contact, obtained through deceit, in order to provide a cathartic experience for the Narrator, is humorous as an image alone, but violating in its emotional manipulation of Bob. Whilst Kant claimed that “in all such cases the joke must contain something that can deceive us for a moment” (204), the extreme situation in which this scene is presented gives more of a feeling of repulsion or disgust than amusement or laughter. Again, whilst there is an obvious link between something incongruity and comedy, there is always a spectre of repulsion when the image becomes absurd or grotesque.

It is apparent that, when discussing incongruous humour, it is necessary to highlight both the comic AND tragic elements of certain cases. With both Oscar and Bob, their incongruity is, at least in part, a result of their absurdity of grotesqueness, and thus their situation becomes not just comic, but also tragic. Ergo, whilst anomalies and incongruities can often be read as related to comedy, in the case of the absurd or the grotesque, reactions of disgust, repulsion, or abhorrence, are also possible. What determines these reactions is a story for another essay, but certainly in these cases seems to come down to the context in which the image is presented, and also personal taste: the subjective nature of comedy will always lend itself to a varied response vis-à-vis incongruity, absurdity, and humour.