Tuesday, March 13, 2012

To Make Truth Laugh

“Perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at the truth, to make truth laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from insane passion for the truth.” –Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

I like this. To make truth laugh. It’s a good mission in life. But is this just a pleasantly phrased excuse to hug the middlest of the road we can, never actually thinking but attempting to stay as far away from both extremes as possible? Or is it some kind of Truth? Does the fact that I need to know doom me and all the rest of mankind to insane passion forever? Despite the fact that I like the quote, which perhaps dooms me to eternal ignorant peace? The two sides of it tug at me so that the very quote itself becomes an exercise of its own meaning. Meta-trapped.

I want to lounge in the garden and grow fat on pears and honeydew—you can keep your apple of knowledge. Or perhaps it’s just the passion that’s wrong? We are free to pursue truth lazily, indolently, with pococurante nonchalance, as long as it leads to neither crusade nor jihad. As long as it harms no one. Because in this quote, the precondition is love for mankind. That is the assumed essential Truth that allows us to laugh, and learn so languidly as we will. It’s only those who still need to prove this Truth who must run to insane passions in their frenzied efforts to explain why, and how, and who is included in “mankind,” before they accidentally destroy mankind because they lack the instinctive morality that teaches us both what’s funny and what’s right.

Of course this quote is already true, whether with insane passion or no. I fight to chuckle, to frame knowledge in giggles and values in guffaws, every day of my life. We trust the The Daily Show more than mainstream media. Wilde’s quips and Twain’s bon mots and Austen’s slyly subversive, humorous sketches edge into the deeps of life so much more realistically than anything else. Humor means honesty. Perhaps it’s the reason this quote resounds—it praises something I already think, but haven’t articulated before. Just like all the best literary truths.

Next up in literary cogitations: Harry Potter og Fangen fra Azkaban. Get excited. 

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