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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Henri Bergson thought he knew what laughter meant *

* (restored)

 

1.

It seems as though the comic could not produce its disturbing effect unless it fell, so to say, on the surface of a soul that is thoroughly calm and unruffled. Indifference is its natural environment, for laughter has no greater foe than emotion. I do not mean that we could not laugh at a person who inspires us with pity, for instance, or even with affection, but in such a case we must, for the moment, put our affection out of court and impose silence upon our pity. In a society composed of pure intelligences there would probably be no more tears, though perhaps there would still be laughter; whereas highly emotional souls, in tune and unison with life, in whom every event would be sentimentally prolonged and re-echoed, would neither know nor understand laughter. … To produce the whole of its effect, then, the comic demands something like a momentary anesthesia of the heart. Its appeal is to intelligence, pure and simple.

Laughter appears to stand in need of an echo, Listen to it carefully: it is not an articulate, clear, well-defined sound; it is something which would fain be prolonged by reverberating from one to another, something beginning with a crash, to continue in successive rumblings, like thunder in a mountain. Still, this reverberation cannot go on for ever. It can travel within as wide a circle as you please: the circle remains, none the less, a closed one. Our laughter is always the laughter of a group. It may, perchance, have happened to you, when seated in a railway carriage or at table d’hote, to hear travellers relating to one another stories which must have been comic to them, for they laughed heartily. Had you been one of their company, you would have laughed like them; but, as you were not, you had no desire whatever to do so. A man who was once asked why he did not weep at a sermon, when everybody else was shedding tears, replied: “I don’t belong to the parish!” What that man thought of tears would be still more true of laughter. However spontaneous it seems, laughter always implies a kind of secret freemasonry, or even complicity, with other laughers, real or imaginary.

 


Bill Hicks on marketing


Andy Kaufman wrestles a 327 lb. woman


Cartman ‘Kyle’s Mom’s a Big, Fat, Stupid Bitch’


Toy Car Up the Butt

 

_____________

 

2.

What life and society require of each of us is a constantly alert attention that discerns the outlines of the present situation, together with a certain elasticity of mind and body to enable us to adapt ourselves in consequence. TENSION and ELASTICITY are two forces, mutually complementary, which life brings into play. If these two forces are lacking in the body to any considerable extent, we have sickness and infirmity and accidents of every kind. If they are lacking in the mind, we find every degree of mental deficiency, every variety of insanity. Finally, if they are lacking in the character, we have cases of the gravest inadaptability to social life, which are the sources of misery and at times the causes of crime. Once these elements of inferiority that affect the serious side of existence are removed — and they tend to eliminate themselves in what has been called the struggle for life — the person can live, and that in common with other persons. But society asks for something more; it is not satisfied with simply living, it insists on living well. What it now has to dread is that each one of us, content with paying attention to what affects the essentials of life, will, so far as the rest is concerned, give way to the easy automatism of acquired habits.

Laughter, then, does not belong to the province of esthetics alone, since unconsciously (and even immorally in many particular instances) it pursues a utilitarian aim of general improvement. And yet there is something esthetic about it, since the comic comes into being just when society and the individual, freed from the worry of self-preservation, begin to regard themselves as works of art. In a word, if a circle be drawn round those actions and dispositions–implied in individual or social life–to which their natural consequences bring their own penalties, there remains outside this sphere of emotion and struggle–and within a neutral zone in which man simply exposes himself to man’s curiosity–a certain rigidity of body, mind and character, that society would still like to get rid of in order to obtain from its members the greatest possible degree of elasticity and sociability. This rigidity is the comic, and laughter is its corrective.

 


Jacques Tati ‘Playtime’


Film – Buster Keaton – Beckett -1965


Woody Allen ‘Stardust Memories’ (extract)


Rushmore, Wes Anderson (1998) – Opening scene


Stanley Kubrick/Peter Sellers ‘Dr. Strangelove’

 

_________________

 

3.

When we speak of expressive beauty or even expressive ugliness, when we say that a face possesses expression, we mean expression that may be stable, but which we conjecture to be mobile. It maintains, in the midst of its fixity, a certain indecision in which are obscurely portrayed all possible shades of the state of mind it expresses, just as the sunny promise of a warm day manifests itself in the haze of a spring morning. But a comic expression of the face is one that promises nothing more than it gives. It is a unique and permanent grimace. One would say that the person’s whole moral life has crystallised into this particular cast of features. This is the reason why a face is all the more comic, the more nearly it suggests to us the idea of some simple mechanical action in which its personality would for ever be absorbed. Some faces seem to be always engaged in weeping, others in laughing or whistling, others, again, in eternally blowing an imaginary trumpet, and these are the most comic faces of all. Here again is exemplified the law according to which the more natural the explanation of the cause, the more comic is the effect.

This soul imparts a portion of its winged lightness to the body it animates: the immateriality which thus passes into matter is what is called gracefulness. Matter, however, is obstinate and resists. It draws to itself the ever-alert activity of this higher principle, would fain convert it to its own inertia and cause it to revert to mere automatism. It would fain immobilise the intelligently varied movements of the body in stupidly contracted grooves, stereotype in permanent grimaces the fleeting expressions of the face, in short imprint on the whole person such an attitude as to make it appear immersed and absorbed in the materiality of some mechanical occupation instead of ceaselessly renewing its vitality by keeping in touch with a living ideal. Where matter thus succeeds in dulling the outward life of the soul, in petrifying its movements and thwarting its gracefulness, it achieves, at the expense of the body, an effect that is comic. If, then, at this point we wished to define the comic by comparing it with its contrary, we should have to contrast it with gracefulness even more than with beauty. It partakes rather of the unsprightly than of the unsightly, of RIGIDNESS rather than of UGLINESS.

* from Henri Bergson’s ‘Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic’ (read the entirety)

 


Richard Pryor interview 1980


Chris Morris ‘Paedogeddoni’


Dylan Moran ‘Bernard’s Letter’


Sarah Silverman vs. Paris Hilton

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. A heads-up/warning that I’m still battling my sickness thing and feeling crappy, and that plus the fact that it’s 101 degrees F where I am could result in some crabbiness on my end today that, should it occur, I can assure you is just inadvertent, misplaced leakage. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. I like that Dan Bejar makes radical shifts in his work, but I do agree that ‘ken’ is truly fantastic and one of my favorite Destroyer albums to date. He’s an almost unparalleled genius lyric writer too, for my money. Plus, an awesome seeming guy: He let Zac and me use a Destroyer track in ‘PGL’ for free because, he said, he loved our first film’s title, ‘Like Cattle Towards Glow’, which, it’s true, could easily have been lifted from his lyrics. My friend has two film roles in a row that require him to have gained a lot of weight, the Cheney role being the second of the two. For that one, yes, there are prosthetics galore. Never heard of Prayer, no. I’ll search, thanks. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Thank you. I’m coddling it, but it’s being very stubborn. ** Sypha, Hi, James. ** Misanthrope, Sweet, thank you, George, old buddy. ‘Call Me By Your Name’ … oh, that film. The intergenerational one. I think it’s too mainstream for me, but, yeah, curious to see what happens. I’m sure people will be noisy about it. Well, that’s quite good news that that LPS seems to be taking things seriously now. In the nick of time, it sounds like. Gosh, obviously, I hope he stays that course. But tentative relief for you guys, at least, and that’s something. Let me know, as ever, how it goes. Thanks for your well-wishes. Yeah, this virus or whatever it is hasn’t been cooperating with my battling and powers of positive thinking, but, I mean, it has to give up at some point. ** Jamie, Hi, Jamie. He was a dude, yeah. I used to always just take his considerable charms for granted when he was alive. The cold or whatever is persistent. I’m super fed up. How asshole-ish of it fuck up my vacation. I mean, really. So rude. Sorry you’re being haunted by health ghosts too. Did you get the scripts in order over the weekend? Good sounding cast, and, of course, a Thing-like character is pretty giddy to think about. My weekend was pretty disappointing. I did see some old friends, that was great. But a lot of lying around trying to force the energy to do stuff to the forefront. My big attempt was a concert by Aki Onda, a sound artist I love, who did a collab gig yesterday afternoon outdoors on a hillside overlooking LA. I felt bleah, but I decided to go anyway, but then the parking lot at the place was completely full, and the only parking left was at the bottom of the hill, which would have required a strenuous vertical hike to the venue in 97 degree F heat that I was incapable of, so I had to turn around and go home. Not a great weekend. But, hey, we’ll see about today. May your Monday be the least sunny and hot day in the history of our planet. Love without a single cough, Dennis. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! No, it seems the boy who does the Ambrose Haunt has taken this year off for unknown reasons. Sad. I agree with you exactly about ‘Get Out’. Your opinion and mine are one. I’m glad your weekend created contentment at least. I just laid out my mostly miserable weekend to Jamie up above. No haunted houses. I’m waiting for Zac who’s supposed to come to town this week. Today I’m going to try hard to kill this illness thing off by chug-a-lugging espressos or somehow, although, like I said at the top, it’s 101 degrees F here, and I’m not hopeful. Oh, well. I trust your Monday was way better than mine is going to be. That seems like a safe bet. But how was it? ** Black_Acrylic, Ben, howdy. He is, he is. You won the thing! Awesome, sir! Did you guys win something material? ** Nik, Hi. VP is really specific. And he inhabits his specificity with a consummate grace. One of a kind, as they say. Inimitable but unrepeatable. I love the sound of how your cave hunting went. I’m giving my cold thing until tomorrow to vaporize, otherwise I’ll … I don’t know, ha ha. When do you present the one act to the class? Congrats! ** Okay. I’m giving you a brief one day break from Halloween, so I guess enjoy it if you do and can, while it lasts. See you tomorrow.

14 Comments

  1. Oh my god, I actually remember this day. Wasn’t this a really old one, from a long time ago? Like maybe even 2007-era? I’m guessing that because, recognizing the laughing boy featured in a few of the images today, I looked up the relevant images in my “Pictures from Dennis Cooper’s blog” folder and saw that I had saved them back on October 29, 2007.

    Sorry to hear you’ve been sick on your vacation, Dennis. As you know I had a stomach bug during my own vacation last week so I can commiserate. Yesterday was my first day back at work, and what a doozy of a shift: the dreaded annual holiday changeover. Normally our store closes at 9 and I’m out of there before 10, but last night my shift was 5-1:30, as me and some of my peers were working after hours to set promotions up. I didn’t get home until two, and there was a bad fog out (due to the unseasonable heat), which made visibility nil. And I’m doing the exact same damn thing tonight! Luckily the rest of my shifts this week aren’t too bad. Of course, one of the people I was working with last night had a cold and was sneezing every which way, so I won’t be shocked if I catch that as well.

  2. Beloved Master. I would like to meet with you. I am so sorry for my delay… I have a new drugs for my agoraphobie and I really feel better. Where I could write you? I love you maestro.

  3. Can you afford to see a doctor if the cold doesn’t break soon? NYC’s late October hot spell is finally breaking, but I was able to go out for lunch wearing a T-shirt with no jacket.

    It seems like most music critics are having a “this is just another pretty good Destroyer album” reaction to KEN, when it genuinely seems really exciting to me. Maybe that happens when you’ve been working for decades. The best recent interview I’ve read with Bejar popped up on Snoop Dogg’s weed-oriented site Merry Jane, of all places. (The interviewer never once asked him if he smokes pot or brought up drugs at all, despite the venue for the Q&A.) I’m glad to hear he’s a good guy. Destroyer played a very odd benefit for Anthology Film Archives in the early 2000s, where reels of SHOWGIRLS were projected backwards and on top of each other during their set.

    I’ve got my third music review for Gay City News, on the forthcoming expanded reissue of REM’s AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE. I’m glad there seems to be no shortage of interesting music by out LGBT artists, although obviously that’s not all I want to write about and I hope I’m eventually able to write about rappers like Princess Nokia, Zebra Katz, ILoveMakonnen and Mykki Blanco in that context as well as rock musicians. The music industry seems to stop releasing new albums in December and January to allow people to catch up with 2017 releases, so I will probably won’t be pitching anything again till early next year. I was able to get contact info for a Warner Bros. publicist and E-mailed him today.

    Have you ever heard of a rapper called Lou the Human? He’s a 20-year-old white kid (who looks 16) who lifted his act from early Eminem and early Tyler the Creator: he claims to do every drug under the sun, his lyrics are full of rape jokes and lusting after lesbians (as well as the occasional hint that he’s gay), and in one video – he dresses as a janitor and walks around with a sinister guy in a mask in all of his videos – he stages a massacre at Fox..I mean, “Fux” News. This is not really my cup of tea, but given how much you like Tyler’s GOBLIN, maybe you should check out his videos. He released his debut EP earlier this month. I learned about him when Danny Brown praised him on his Twitter feed.

  4. Looks like I posted as you were finishing today’s Day, so I’m repeating below, with just the note that I’m still thinking about The Tingler: The crazy notion that fear creates an actual living monstrous thing within oneself is pretty mythic. I mean, it’s as good an idea as Jekyll and Hyde or The Wolf Man. But in actual representation it can’t help but be ridiculous. That’s kind of interesting, to me, anyway.
    So much of what everyone believes is just so preposterous. Here’s my note:

    Of course I’m a big fan of VP and follow both Facebook groups. The Tingler had this sensibility that summed up a lot of my teen years–scary and ludicrous, played very seriously. I’m completely entranced by the Valdemar sequence in Tales of Terror, and I revere Theater of Blood and The Abominable Dr Phibes–which I hear is being remade with Malcolm McDowell?
    Then there’s this
    Vincent Price: How to Cook a Small Boy
    It was so nice to hang out in Berkeley, and your reading with Eileen was kind of uncanny: y’all are so different but there seemed to be all these connections and intercurrents. I met some nice people and saw some nice people I’ve known quite a while.
    I puzzled over “New Narrative” and especially the kind of missing link of “Narrative by people who write poetry, and what’s that about?” But not for too long.
    I also met this guy in SF who didn’t know about the reading and was disappointed he’d missed it, but interestingly, was especially a fan of LCTG and had smart things to say about it, especially as not taking a simple approach to structure; and was excited to hear about the next one coming.
    So: til next time

  5. d-

    long time no speak-y. you’re in the states? for how much longer? i wanted to come to SF but i am unemployed again and so can’t travel.

    i’m going to see GBV on friday. so stoked. i’m just a little bothered because the openers are super not good. well, one opener’s pretty good, but i mostly say that because they’re friends of mine. the other opener SUCKS. shitty local ‘indie’ rock. as long as GBV are able to play for a couple hours, i’m happy. you should come down for it, even though i know you won’t.

    i remember today’s post fondly.

    life has been pretty shitty on my end. no work, not much money. how bout you? i mean, obviously you’re on vacation and sick, which is a super shitty combo, but besides that, i guess?

    well, i have some things to take care of. have fun in LA. talk soon.

    -c.

  6. Wow, Bergson’s got some astute theories. It’s said that when a joke is explained then it stops being funny but I still get a kick out of reading about how it all works. For like the past 20 years, humour’s been an integral part of my art practice and I’m always interested in how it might play out in an art context. David Robbins – Concrete Comedy is an interesting take, and includes a few of the same examples listed here.

    @ DC, the Bookish Quiz win got us the collected entrance money = a few quid each. There were also prizes of books, although I didn’t take any as I’ve already got enough to get through at home.

  7. Dennis, Andy Kaufman and Paedogeddon…classics. As are so many others here, some of which I’ve seen and others I haven’t…yet.

    Yeah, I think LPS is trying…a little harder. So far, so good. Unfortunately…and I mean this in the respect that I never wanted to be like this or thought I had to be…but I’ve had to draw boundaries and now make him earn things he wants. I canceled our NYC trip, with the condition that we’ll go in the spring for once if he gets the grades and attendance up and keeps them up and doesn’t get into any more trouble. Etc. Shit like that. So we’ll see. Me, hell, I’d rather just give the little fuckers everything they want and have them love me back all the same. But that’s too easy and asking for too much, no? 😛

    I was just talking to Mizu about illnesses. These things fucking linger nowadays, don’t they? Maybe they’re turning into superbugs. I really don’t think it’s our getting older because I see it in kids -and Kayla and LPS- all the time. It takes so long to kick this shit’s ass. Ugh. Feel better, buddy, and feel better really soon. We need you at your best.

  8. Hey Dennis, sorry you’re feeling lousy – hopefully by the time you read this, you’ll be better. The zinc I take for my you-know-what keeps me practically cold-free, but I think you have to take it in advance as a preventative. My doc confirmed when I saw him that everything’s OK and he wants to see me in 6 months. I met Perry Brass at Aleister’s book launch (which was quite nice) and we discussed the “male problem.” He’s written prostate articles for the Gay City News. Very nice guy, who I’d met a few times before. Very busy here, running around, but with a sore leg – using lots of Ben Gay. (George or someone – ready for a joke here, hah) – feel better Dennis…I like this posting time…I don’t have to toss and turn, wondering what you said in the morning, but I can’t sleep anyway, so I’m up a dawn, which is quite late these days. Enables me to do magick stuff at dawn, which I won’t explain here, but suffice it to say, it’s good.

  9. So this lovely post is pretty old? I don’t remember it at all.

    Sorry to hear you’re still feeling less than festive, Dennis. Hope you improve as the big day draws near.

    Just finished Nat Baldwin’s lovely Red Barn:
    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34402050-the-red-barn

    Very seasonal and festive, yes. Reminds me a bit of early Blake Butler, but with more blood.

    Bill

  10. Hi!

    Oh, I’m really sorry about the Ambrose Haunt, then.
    Shit, this illness! I’m sorry your concert plans got ruined, too! What a jerkish vacation indeed! Do you feel any better today?
    My Monday… I really should’ve started sorting through my stuff and deciding what I want to take with me when I move but… I was extremely lazy and ended up doing nothing. Reading all day, I mean. So. Today. Today is the day I’m starting the preparations. Right after this letter!
    How was the day on your end? I really, really hope you’re feeling better!!

    Oh, and thank you so, so much for sharing SCAB’s ‘submissions’ post on Facebook!!

  11. Hey Dennis, so sorry to hear that your weekend was tempered by that pesky cold. I hope it’s left you alone or at least subsiding. My last few trips have involved health issues and I recently realised that I’d become ‘that guy’, you know, the guy who something health-related always happens to on holiday. How you feeling now?
    I like this strange post. It makes me think of that line from Nietzche(?) that says something about every time you laugh you lose a bit of your soul. Maybe I’m getting that wrong, but it would explain why my soul’s fucked as I laugh way too much.
    I’ve almost managed to do my scripts for the week. I’m enjoying writing the Thing character (currently known as Thing) the most as he’s just being defined and feels like the wild card in the stories and can do crazy things that maybe the kids can’t get up to.
    How was your Monday?
    I hope Tuesday feels like every single sick cell in your body has been replaced with not only healthy but super-enhanced healthy cells.
    Burgermeister love,
    Jamie

  12. My Griffin Dunne interview was just published: http://www.rogerebert.com/interviews/finding-the-center-griffin-dunne-on-his-film-about-joan-didion

    The REM reissue is not coming out on Warner Bros., but an indie reissue label called Crank. I sent them a message via Facebook, but I have no other means of contact and this is really frustrating.

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