Sunday, September 14, 2008

Aristotle vs. Innocent Smith

Here is a quote from Aristotle's "Poetics"

As for Comedy, it is (as has been observed) an imitation of men worse than the average; worse, however, not as regards any and every sort offault, but only as regards one particular kind, the Ridiculous, whichis a species of the Ugly. The Ridiculous may be defined as a mistakeor deformity not productive of pain or harm to others; the mask, forinstance, that excites laughter, is something ugly and distortedwithout causing pain.

Would you not call Innocent Smith ridiculous in one way or another? It cannot be denied that his Aristotelian "fault" is a virtue. Innocent Smith is ridiculous on purpose because he enjoys it. The characters in "The Birds" (an ancient Greek Comedy) are ridiculous because they are extremely lazy and decadent (although they do tell a few very clean, very funny, not specifically lazy jokes). I don't think we have to be ridiculous to love life as much as Smith does, but if we enjoy it (as I do) why not?

8 comments:

Hans Lundahl said...

LundahWho said that: Manalive were a comedy (in Aristotle's sense) or that Innocent Smith were ridiculous (in Aristotle's sense)?

Black Adder or Iznogoud is what "Ehrenstottel" (as the English pronunciation of Aristotle sounds in my ears) is talking about.

Old Fashioned Liberal said...

That was almost the point of the post: to distinguish between the behavior of Innocent Smith. Smith's behavior and the behavior of the person whose rediculous behavior is a fault. I never said they were rediculous in the same way: I said that Smith was rediculous in "one way or another," implied that there might be an equivalence between the two rediculouses (excuse my word-making), and then explored the paradox. I daresay that there are other differences, but since these would be related to sin and/or stupidity, they would be far more boring to discuss because all of us know about those things already. Thank you for encouraging me to clarify my meaning.

Lucia Rosa said...

This is very interesting, though; you should write a fuller post on "ridiculousness" in pagan and Catholic societies. I'm fairly certain a lot of people considered Socrates ridiculous; would Aristotle have agreed but said that in his case it was a good thing? Or Diogenes? Does this difference in attitudes toward the ridiculous have to do with the absence of a pagan virtue of humility?

Hans Lundahl said...

Not sure at all.

I think, though, that the humorous, as an aesthetic category distinct from ridiculous, but even more so from the very elevated, may be a Christian invention, at least as far as occidental literature is concerned.

In Manalive you do however get really ridiculous characters, like the men who refused to praise God for their existence and still winced at leaving it: or the men bent on proving Innocent Smith a lunatic ripe for asylum. Pym and Gould are ridiculous, same category as the learned women or the bourgeois gentleman in Molière.

Hans Lundahl said...

ps, sorry for retyping the beginning of my surname in corpus of message, just a lack of attention

Old Fashioned Liberal said...

I do think that there is a connection between willful ridiculous behavior (meaning behavior that one does on purpose that others find absurd as distinct from behavior done on puropose or by accident that acutally is absurd (such as being bored) or behavior done by accident or by bad habit/vice that others find absurd (such as habitually falling down)) and humility. The willfully ridiculous person is definitely not vain, as they do not care what others think of them. And as the only reason I can think of to be ridiculous is because it is somewhat happy (which requires some humility), the willfully ridiculous person is not vain and has some measure of humility.
Chesterton does mention, in The Maniac chapter of Orthodoxy, the "Random acts of a happy man" and mentions such things as hitting the grass with a stick or kicking one's heels. Slightly socially absurd. You wouldn't do them if you weren't happy, were proud, or were vain.

Old Fashioned Liberal said...

P.S. Beware of the long parenthesis in an inconvenient spot in the last post. I know it's rhetorically flawed, but I'm not actually trying to change anybody's mind on anything (except maybe what they think of my post, and that isn't important), so what's the point of wasting time by writing in a different style from the way I think?

Lucia Rosa said...

Well, it actually reminded me of a Chesterton quote to the effect that angels can fly beacause they take themselves lightly. Or, as the Philosopher at Large puts it, (oddlots.digitalspace.net/leithian)if you can be spontaneously silly when circumstances suggest it, it means you're not looking at yourself from the outside all the time. Of course, some people are just naturally more staid, but people who are afraid of beginning to dance by the light of the moon on a particularly beautiful summer night just because people might laugh at them, are obviously lacking in humility. As a rule, the ancient Greeks erred on the side of decorum. In fact, I read just yesterday a quote from Plato or Aristotle to the effect that there is no virtue of modesty, because it is a habit that is admired only in young people. Adults should not have to be modest (in the true sense of un-vain), because they should have nothing to be ashamed of, and thus every cause to hold up his head. Which in turn reminds me of Braintree's remark that Aristotle's magnanimous man seems to be a pretty conceited fellow! So I really think you have something here.