George Carlin: Dark Laughter of the Trickster


Many native traditions held clowns and tricksters as essential to any contact with the sacred. People could not pray until they had laughed, because laughter opens and frees from rigid preconception. Humans had to have tricksters within the most sacred ceremonies lest they forget the sacred comes through upset, reversal, surprise.

—Professor Byrd Gibbens, Professor of English, University of Arkansas at Little Rock. From a letter to George Carlin

—From George Carlin, Napalm & Silly Putty

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Comic Fatalism without Fate

I kept thinking of the indefatigable Buster Keaton, the man who no matter how many times he failed, always picked himself up, dusted himself off, and proceeded on his way to the next failure or success, unperturbed yet full of that melancholy dreaminess that kept us laughing … and, ultimately it is this comic fatalism without Fate of which Frank Ruda speaks in his recent book, Abolishing Freedom. Which has nothing to do with abolishing freedom and everything to do with abolishing Fate.

Hegel once said that “Comedy, will generally come down on the side of fatelessness.”  …it is important to point out that the fatalism at stake here is not simply ridiculous but comic— and only by being comic can it provide a precondition of freedom. This is a fatalism without fate, since everything has always already taken place.

Tragedy is structured around and presents a struggle with fate— a fate that is brought about precisely by the ethical agent who seeks to get rid of it. Yet this ethical agent is ultimately reunited with substance (the divine being) since it ultimately has to recognize that from which it started to free itself. Comedy, in contrast, presents the absence of fate. In doing so it falls either “under the heading of absolute vitality, and consequently presents only shadows of antagonism or mock battles with an invented fate and fictitious enemy [or] under the heading of non-vitality and consequently presents only shadows of independence and absoluteness. The former is the old (or Divine) comedy, the latter is the modern comedy.” (Hegel)

Comedy demonstrates that if nothing is achieved, it is precisely Nothing that is achieved— and although this may sound comical, it is quite hard to achieve (maybe just because it is somehow always already there). This conclusion is not at all simply grotesque or satiric because comedy functions by bringing “the absolutely rational into appearance.”

– Frank Ruda, Abolishing Freedom: A Plea for a Contemporary Use of Fatalism