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Laughing At, With, and Against Evil: Phil Klay on Humor and Darkness in Literature
May 2, 2023 at 8:30 pm - 10:00 pm EDT
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While humor is a part of art, it rings most true because it is a part of life. Moments of levity are intractably woven through us from the everyday mundane to our darkest and most dramatic times. And so it follows that the dark stories we tell often feel incomplete if devoid of it. More than just background though, humor often does the heavy lifting on our heaviest topics. Mel Brooks turns the Spanish Inquisition into a Broadway musical. Dickens’s Mr. Guppy comically falls out of love with Esther upon discovering her recent smallpox scars. What’s true of plague and persecution is true of life. It goes better with a laugh. But why?
We often talk about the humor in war stories as being a sort of spoonful of sugar that helps the bitter truth go down. Or, perhaps humor is the mechanism which reveals falsehood by mocking our pretensions and conceits—a valuable if purely destructive role. But it’s possible something else is going on; something more affirmative and essential for speaking truthfully about human beings in confrontation with pain and evil.
Selected books and writings by Phil Klay: