Academia and Other Farces

The Human Comedy“–that’s the description Balzac gave to the nonsense that his characters were up to in his novels. Perhaps he was alluding to “comedy” in the sense of Dante’s Divine Comedy (which isn’t very funny cause it’s a description of hell). But I prefer to interpret “comedy” in our contemporary sense. Indeed, Balzac invented a wonderful array of outright liars, schemers, fools, and social climbers who bounce up and down in fortune through a combination of their own arrogance and stupidity, that of other people, and, of course, the acts of indifferent Fate.

Now maybe you haven’t read Balzac, but perhaps you’ve read Voltaire, who, if he were alive to read Balzac, would probably have loved him since Voltaire also had an appreciation for the human comedy. Like a true literary bad-ass, Voltaire was sent to prison for writing a satirical verse about the prince regent who was a dickclown. After spending about 11 months in “a windowless cell with ten-foot-thick walls” (or what I would term a ‘grad student library carrel’) he emerged still not giving a single fuck and continued to write mocking, hilarious satire about human absurdity sparing no politician or theologian until his death-bed where, after being asked by a priest if he were ready to renounce Satan, Voltaire replied, “This is no time to be making new enemies.”*

Voltaire’s famous novella Candide is often tragically assigned to high school students who believe it is a historical artifact instead of a warning. Thus, they neglect to read it. That’s a shame, since it’s basically an eloquent subreddit mocking human rationalization. Seriously people, make the effort to get used to language from earlier time periods cause they weren’t writing books for moderns to be tortured. They were writing about the same bullshit that’s still going on.

Candide, or /r/optimism is a story about a graduate student named Candide who spends his entire life learning about the world from inside a tower by listening to the eloquent lectures of his advisor, Dr. Pangloss, who is an expert on “metaphysico-theologo-cosmo-idiotology” (srly, Voltaire was trolling). Sure, Candide hasn’t actually gone outside, but he knows that this is the best of all possible worlds thanks to the metaphysical explanation of Dr. Pangloss, which is obviously correct because Dr. Pangloss is an intellectual who can write expansive demonstrations and Candide can’t. So whenever Candide’s stupidity leads him to doubt that this is the best of all possible worlds, you know, when he sees torture and earthquakes and war, his advisor Dr. Pangloss is happily there to explain why it was necessary. Since Candide isn’t smarticle enough to refute the arguments of Dr. Pangloss and disprove that this is the best of all possible worlds, the reader ends the book feeling reassured that it must be.

Would highly recommend.

There are moments of genuine beauty and love on this planet, but those aren’t difficult to cope with. You revel in them when they happen. Maybe you write poetry about them. But it’s the incomprehensible stupidity and shittiness of the human being that demands coping mechanism. If tragedy enshrines beauty and love through contrast with human failure, comedy makes human failure a form of entertainment. Laughter somehow assuages the existential pang that comes with having any degree of intelligence and decency and being forced to reside on earth. As Ella Wheeler Wilcox put it,

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;

I may not have the genius of Balzac or Voltaire, but I take inspiration from the same subject matter–the human being. I’d like to think of this blog as doing nothing more than providing wry commentary on a comedy that writes itself–the human comedy. In this blog you will find glimpses on a farcical cycle that will play itself out endlessly until our species exits the stage. The perspective I’ll be giving you will come from my own experiences–the world of academia, for example–but I’m sure you’ll manage to relate. After all, as long as the human being remains the subject matter, it doesn’t matter where you look–academia, politics, your personal life–similar patterns of ass-hattery will emerge. It’s just that each takes on the special characteristics of a sub-genre.

Hopefully, in the process of mocking other people’s nonsense, I will also discover my own nonsense since, after showing my friend this blog, she remarked to me with prescience and wit, “You know, Alice, you really are a master of irony. You constantly complain about postmodernism in a blog that is a postmodern art piece.”

I prefer Da-da, but point taken.

Our current series featuring academia is Sipping Scotch at Tolkien’s Table Whilst We Talked of Demons:

Part I: Recursive Masturbation and the Demonical Deduction
Part II: Then He Sayeth Unto Him, “Macaroni and Cheese!”
Part III: Alien Jesus
Part IV: A New Hope in Mon Calamari Christ
Part V: Mon Cala Strikes Back
Part VI: Return of the Angels


*Ok, so this is apocryphal but still, it’s in the spirit of the man.

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