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Laughter: The Music of Absurdity of Existence

Roya's Corner...
By Roya Monajem, Tehran

"Girls should never laugh loudly!" This is one of the first things that our fathers - fearful of their daughter's fate in a third world traditionalist country with its ethics and morality encoded in their 'collective unconscious' or 'genetic pool' no matter how educated and 'modern' they 'think' they are - say when we reach the age of forceful, yet natural abandonment of childhood innocence, and many up to then permissible and often 'amusing' behaviors suddenly change to the opposite and become taboos. (Most of this entails the life of men too.) And they say it in such a serious solemn way as to make sure we would never forget it. And through fanatic religious grandparents or other close relatives or teachers, the above 'rule of conduct' is completed by fearful addenda such as 'for women it is a great sin if a strange man hears their voice, let alone their loud laughter' (it was for this reason that in the past, women had to put a pebble in their mouth when talking to strange men). And they say it in such a serious solemn way as to make sure that we would hide in the darkest cell of guilt feeling for the rest of our life if we do otherwise. And we might be brought up by 'modern' mothers who talk about 'equality of men and women' and how we should 'fight' to prove to the whole world that 'no woman is any less than a man.' And they talk in such a serious solemn tone as to make sure that we would never forget that 'life is a serious struggle and if you want to win you should never waste your life on any trivial or non-serious things' (that would naturally include anything that may provoke laughter particularly of a loud type.) And then one day when we are as old as our parents and other influential grown ups of our life when they were busy teaching us our first lessons of life in the amazing kaleidoscopic societies of the so-called third world and we see our early pre-mature gray hair and the deep furrows on our foreheads engraved as though by the ploughshare of 'inflexible seriousness' and we see those lines that grief has built like a fence around our lips, lest they might open to receive laughter and we read and see thousand and one story of happiness and suffering and joy and pain and love and grief and... in the color of our eyes, suddenly something breaks in the depth of our being with a deafening sound, and we feel so amused and shocked by the absurdity of all those 'seriousness and solemnity and struggle and prejudice and pride and nobility and conscience and guilt and sinfulness and shame and morality and acceptability and equality of rights and all the rest of 'words of wisdom' that we can have no reaction other than to laugh in the loudest possible way -that is we commit the very wrong and grotesque and sinful act that we should have never done. It is now and here that for the first time we feel with our own flesh and blood the experience that has been philosophically described as 'absurdity of existence,' 'nihilism,' 'nothingness,' 'emptiness' and .... Then from the moment that this inner 'big bang' is experienced totally and thoroughly with the external precipitating causes such as the collapse of all your dreams about those beautiful castles that all your countrymen and women were supposed to live after the Revolution (which later turned to be an Islamic one with the promise of water, gas, electricity and other essentials of life served gratuitously!), and then the complete destruction of these dream castles during the war with Iraq, and the consequent emptiness caused by eradication of all ideals and values and absolutes and certainties and utopias, each time that you find yourself 'taking anything too seriously' you automatically burst out laughing, no longer caring how this loud laughter of yours would be judged by others. The only thing you know and care about is to remind yourself that in a world 'whose god is dead' the only salvation is to take the 'path of least resistance' as I Ching puts it or 'to take things easy, for the world takes it hard on hardworking people,' as Hafez says, in a tremendous fear of 'going mad,' you desperately appeal to anything that could teach you to follow the 'line of least resistance in life' or 'to take things easy for the world takes it hard on hardworking people.' In other words, you decide to 'see life as a truly playful game.' After all hasn't Descartes, the pioneer of scientific thinking said, 'I think, therefore I am?" so it might very well be that you only think that you are, and Hinduism is right in saying that everything is Maya (or nothing is real). But no matter how much you pretend that you no longer wish to make life difficult by caring about other's judgments, the way people look at you when you are going through one of those crises of laughter at yourself for 'taking life seriously' again, make you wonder and ponder on the subject of laughter. The first discovery in this relation is a purely physical one. You observe that it seems people's capacity for laughter is physically and perhaps physiologically insignificant compared to their capacity for crying. The best well-known example among Shiite is their two long days of mourning (Ashura and Tasoua) for Imam Hussein! Can they laugh even one-tenth as much? Yes, we all can cry for hours without feeling any physical discomfort, (in poor men who are not considered men, if they cry, we can say, they can stay tense, suffering from long days of headaches and chest pains and insomnia and...) while as soon as we burst out laughing our abdominal muscles start to ache and we feel quite uncomfortable in other physical ways, having tears running from eyes, our nose running, cheek muscles hurting and...! So the question rises whether this is an inborn human characteristic or whether it is acquired. And you remember that after passing the blissful years of childhood, the time you have spent on crying has been much more than the time spent on laughing. And you remember that even your parents have made you cry much more than they have made you laugh. How many parents have you seen telling jokes to their teenage children merely for the sake of making them laugh, for example? The only time they might do it is when their children are sad and they want to cheer them up. Even that is very rare. Usually, if they find you crying for any reasons, suppose because you had an argument with your best friend, they usually immediately start to remind you 'it is all your fault that the other person has treated you thus and you should... and you should not...' that makes you only cry more - no doubt with the good intention of helping you to suffer less later in your life. For that reason, in such already miserable emotional states, they start telling you about all the other possible and more serious unhappiness and suffering and pain and ugliness and... that are waiting for you to experience. And they remind you that they are going to be so hard to bear that what is now causing you depressed which you might presently feel beyond your endurance would be nothing compared to what is life pregnant for you! What a beautiful life they picture for us - ignorantly, foolishly, unconsciously, and as something that they have learnt from their own parents without any further thoughts. That is how we are conditioned to see and concentrate on life's negative side more than its positive side. And all this is done with good intentions! In addition there are other social 'superstitious' unconscious (we might call them mental or psychological) beliefs such as 'there are always tears following laughter' or 'never tell others how happy you are, lest they get jealous and you might fall the victim of "evil eyes"' and as such that make you scared each time you laugh and... So as time passes and life responsibilities increase we laugh less and less until we might even forget the sound of laughter. No wonder that in the world of grown ups, laughter is usually regarded as a sign of either intoxication or madness. (The only other places that one might hear loud laughter without 'bad judgments' is in circuses and in theater halls if a comedy is shown.) And in traditionalist countries, as the former (that is intoxication) is naturally forbidden for women, (in religious Islamic countries women should not laugh loudly, full stop!), your laughter is bound to be regarded as an inevitable symptom of madness, particularly when they find you laughing for apparently no reasons! Is there any reason more justifiable for laughing loud than 'how absurd everything is!' That the more you take life seriously, the more life becomes a serious and arduous business. Nietzche says 'Man is the only animal that had to invent laughter' (he probably meant 'something sound-full as I personally have seen dogs' and cats' big smiles) and he says "a philosopher who fails to laugh at himself is not a philosopher." What a great day it was when I discovered these 'virtuous' axioms while translating his works. Eureka, I had found the 'absolute intellectual' justification for my absurd deafening laughter! Now I wanted to see who would dare to tell me, 'this great philosopher,' "Why all this loud absurd laughter!" In Persian language the sound of crying is heq heq (q=gh, like 'r' in French) while the sound of laughter is more or less like writing the same term inversely with a change of the middle vowel, that is qah qah. In other words, they are like mirror-images! So in addition to above 'intellectual' justification, and according to your habit of reversing as many as social cultural conditional educational values as possible, instead of that habitual, empathy, sympathy inspiring sound of heq heq (which is perhaps the more appropriate sound to produce when one realizes what a great mistake one has committed in life) you use its odd, contemptible, nerve-racking mirror sound of qah qah! Nevertheless, as we do have a great influence on each other, and as we normally like to think of ourselves as some 'kind, considerate, devoted' individuals and therefore we don't like to offend our dear ones in any possible way, we may gradually forget that 'life should be lived like a playful game,' and stop laughing again sometimes for ever and sometime until the next time that again that 'somebody' in the mirror that you always take for granted and pass 'her/him' indifferently, 'seriously' calls you again and screams at you at the top of her/his voice: "Look. Look carefully! Don't try to escape it as you have done all your life! Keep still and look! Look at YOU as vigilantly and thoroughly as you can. Is this the very person or personality that you wanted to be? And the words 'to be' as though caught in between parallel mirrors, echo and resonate infinitely in your ears and you go delirious, but as you are not of the type of heq heq (only weak people cry, was another one of those highly emphasized 'words of wisdom' learnt during childhood), once again you appeal to its mirror image 'qah qah.' And for those whom you have to convince that you are not 'mad' for laughing loud, you quote the verse 'Tears no longer help, that is why I laugh." And since deep down you think all these 'unreasonable' 'unjust' agonies and grief and sufferings and pains and wars and bloodsheds and thirst for power and the rest of that 'absolute absurdity' are most likely the result of 'unrestrained development of reason and rational pragmatist thinking' without simultaneous and checking role of 'feelings', you feel blissfully happy when you read that neuroscientists - true descendants of Cartesian thinking - are now discovering in their in vivo and in vitro observations that it seems Descartes' eternal 'logo' 'I think therefore I am' seems scientifically baseless and if not the truth, but present reality is most probably what Spinoza was shouting, that is, 'I feel, therefore I am.'[1] You rejoice because you feel that perhaps the history is now taking another path. You think and hope that perhaps if the world manages to escape a third world war, it might really become a better place as science would help it to be ruled by heart (love) rather than mind (cold solid reason). And people will develop a better capacity for laughter and you do not need to forcefully make yourself to remember: Life is essentially as splendid and wonderful as those pink orchards overlooking a country road along a roaring river.

1. "I feel, therefore I am' by Emily Eakin, New-York Times, April 19, 2003.

... Payvand News - 4/25/03 ... --

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