Saturday, September 06, 2014


When I was in middle school and my favorite band was They Might Be Giants, there was plenty of music my older brother tried to sell me on that I would dismiss by saying it wasn't funny. I wanted things to be funny. It's not like I was actively into Weird Al or something like that- I liked Beck and Ween and Frank Zappa and all sorts of things that it makes sense for a particular type of nerd to be into. Nowadays, They Might Be Giants are pretty much never listened to, but the songs still exist in my head, still are some sort of platonic ideal of song-form that exists in my mind, and I think that a lot of what I registered as "humor," which I knew other people were dismissive of in music, is really just techniques of writing, extended metaphors and unconventional imagery and things that are not direct emotional appeals.

On the other hand, you will often see in reviews for some novel or another praise for the author's sense of humor, or references to the jokes present within the text. I remember thinking, back in middle school, when my older brother was lending me Douglas Adams books, that the idea that a book could be laugh-out-loud funny seemed pretty much impossible, owing to timing. I was proven wrong, those books cracked me up, and even more recently there are things I've read, more literary in intention, that have provoked actual laughter, like the novels of Donald Antrim. But, by and large, these mentions of the humor of books is completely full of shit. The praise is a response to registering the presence of some authorial voice, which most often tries to just use certain references, the smug signifiers of intellect, to establish some sort of chumminess with an imagined-to-be-quite-learned reader. Reading most novels my facial expression does not even smirk.

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