Provocation II

In “The Laughter of the Philosophers” David Bentley Hart writes:

[F]or Kierkegaard the roots of the comic lie in the inherent contradictoriness of human nature; soul and body, freedom and necessity, the angelic and the bestial, eternity and temporality, and so on. Moreover, I learned how profound a difference Kierkegaard saw between genuine humor and mere irony. Certainly the ironist can recognize that the incongruities that throng human experience typically frustrate the quest for truth; but, having seen as much, he is then impotent to do anything more than unveil failure and vanquish pretense. Humor, on the other hand, is born from an altogether higher recognition: that tragic contradiction is not absolute, that finitude is not only pain and folly, and that the absurdity of our human contradictions can even be a cause for joy. Humor is able to receive finitude as a gift, conscious of the suffering intrinsic to human existence, but capable of transcending despair through jest. And this is why the power of humor is most intense in the “religious” sphere: Christianity, seeing all things from the perspective of the Incarnation (the most unexpected of peripeties), is the “most comic” vision of things: it encompasses the greatest “contradictions” and “tragedies” of all, but does so in such a way as to take the suffering of existence into the unanticipated absurdity of our redemption. Which yields the somewhat gratifying conclusion that, to be both a “lover of wisdom” and an accomplished humorist, one must almost certainly be a Christian; or, rather, only a Christian philosophy can be truly “comic.”

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