instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Comedy is a funny subject

No, seriously.

According to Aristotle, comedy as a dramatic form "aims at representing men as worse... than in actual life":
Comedy is, as we have said, an imitation of characters of a lower type -- not, however, in the full sense of the word bad, the ludicrous being merely a subdivision of the ugly. It consists in some defect or ugliness which is not painful or destructive.
He goes on to say that satisfying endings -- when "the poet is guided in what he writes by the wishes of his audience," is a pleasure
proper ... to Comedy, where those who, in the piece, are the deadliest enemies- like Orestes and Aegisthus- quit the stage as friends at the close, and no one slays or is slain.
So if we have ludicrous characters who reach a happy ending, we have a comedy.

Daily life provides the characters, Christian Revelation provides the ending. The conclusion is inescapable: The story of creation is a comedy.

And yet... well, I mean, is this funny? Human defects and ugliness are all too often painful and destructive. Is it even meaningful to talk about representing men as worse than they are in real life?

Maybe the way to keep the comedic perspective without denying the sorrow is by building the story around the most ludicrous joke imaginable: the Incarnation. How laughable, to see God Almighty as a human infant! That's even better than seeing the bank manager get a pussful of cream pie. Talk about imitating characters of a lower type.

Christians can be too close to the Gospel -- can I say too reverent? -- to categorize it according to human experience. We might even be particularly resistant, since in recent times a lot of effort has been put into reducing the Gospel to just and merely a human experience.

But while Christ's life, death, and resurrection are unique in all sorts of ways, they are still (though not merely) human experiences. In the interests of evangelization, we should be prepared to talk about them as such -- and, I'd add, in the interests of entering more deeply into their mysteries, we could do worse than thinking about them as such.

In all the complexities of human nature -- including our propensity for story and drama -- God has, so to speak, scattered lots of rifles, and I believe He's too good a dramatist to intend that they not be fired in the final act.