Sunday, May 27, 2012


                According to the standards of the current times, a smile has become the most deceptive technique. We are cooking up faces- faces that may smile and smile and still be villainous. Compéres come to us as embodiments of perpetual composure. Their ravishing smiles are a matter of professional prowess. They keep smiling and laughing and keep the counters ticking. The most convenient thing about a smile is that it never betrays your real feelings.
            Humour has many variants. "Funny ha-ha" and "Funny Peculiar" seem to have become vague demarcations. Since nowadays we invent reasons to smile, the first step towards it can be to create a target audience and contrast it with a subgroup that can furnish the laughing stocks. Run-of-the-mill movies have bored us enough with slapstick comedies and of late we have started enjoying subtle humour. Slapstick comedies create a fictitious situation with an avalanche of follies and a fistful of funny characters. Allusive humour often breaches the banks to become a counterfactual political weapon.
            Shutterbugs know how easy it is to craft a smiling bunch in a good shot by asking them to pronounce "cheese", the more pious even going for "jesus." There can be formalizations of laughter. Every expression of joy warrants histrionic aspects (absence of which can question the very existence of joy), whereas a bout of rage would require biochemical triggering which is largely involuntary. A bit of wit from a boss, though stale and watery, can command a gamut of laughter (everybody can recall at least an instance of being uneasy about the laugh-worthiness of a humour underway and being forced to keep a laughter standby lest one offends the wit-cracker; this is not bothersome if the speaker is far down the rungs, you can always obfuscate him.) As a rule of thumb, the more important the person, the more vociferous should one laugh at his wit. Franciscan joy is far from such formalizations; it was rather a joy shared among a lot bound by Sacred Poverty and love. There was no hierarchy of humour involved. In "Of gods and of men" Brother Christian speaks how poverty helps us to enter into relationships other than those based on power. Things have changed a lot now. You get as many "likes" (à la facebook™) as your following and people have their own reasons to follow. No wonder, you become an instant hit!
            Judith Butler reflects on the theme of grievability. The movie "Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" is a vivid portrayal along these lines. Which losses are grievable and which are not?  It depends on the associated ideological prowess. In the Indian mythology an incarnation of a god can stamp down a just king, albeit a demon, to the netherworld and exegesis vindicates the former and the Keralites get their fair share of celebration as the nemesis wanes each year. Even your goodness shall not exceed your station, so the myth says. To the Nazarene who thought even the fall of a sparrow grievable, one knows not how to explain one's weird standards and yardsticks.
            After a spell of cancer from which she recovered, Susan Sontag notes how a scheme of victimization underlies even our understanding of pathologies. A century before, tuberculosis was considered a wretched disease and one afflicted with it as desperately unfortunate. Decades before it was cancer that was thought to be scourge. Now as lifestyle associated cancers are on the rise we tend to vilify the patients only about those cases of cancer which are linked to an abusive lifestyle by terming them as just deserts. Everything else is a "strange twist of fate." These days we can speak of AIDS as a condition which springs out of "sheer irresponsibility." Even in such vulnerable and terminal situations of life, does man maintain a hierarchy and find laughing stocks to stoke his complacency.
                Perhaps we should hark back to a pre-rational sensitivity to the life of others as profoundly explained by Levinas, Marcel, to reclaim the times which the sciences of our times robbed us of. Who knows who shall have the last laugh?
ephraem maria gilbert
Thumpoly capuchin ashram
May 26, 2012