Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Nature of Comedy -- Essay 3

This week I had my first experience "teaching" a graduate-level seminar. Yay!

One of my former professors had to leave town to attend a conference, and to my delight she asked me to substitute for her one night.

The seminar discussion centered on Silko's novel Ceremony, and while I mangled the pronunciation of the word "synecdoche" -- as well as malaproply referring to the anthropic principle as the "anthropomorphic theory" (sheesh) -- I think it went pretty well. The people in the class all seemed engaged, with the exception of one soul who looked as if they would rather be anywhere else but there.

And, bonus teaching moment fun -- after class, one of the students asked my advice on their final project. How cool is that?

I learned more about Silko's book through this teaching experience, as I hoped I would. All told, a really fun change of pace for me, and I hope it was an equally good experience for those students.

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Since I have heard the handful of people who stop by here are as busy as I am -- and therefore too busy to ask for, or read, those essays I've been posting -- I am changing the format.

Going forward, I'll post the first paragraph and the last, so you can get a tiny bit of the wrap-up. Let me know if this is mo' bettah.

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“But Elizabeth Knew Nothing of the Art”:
Society, Comedy, and Portraits in Pride and Prejudice in Relation to Bergson’s “Laughter”


As Jane Austen herself intimated in Pride and Prejudice, an artful portrait—whether painted with words or with brush—can provide a sufficiently different perspective from one’s own prejudice to shift the viewer’s, or reader’s, internal social landscape. In this brief paper, I will consider some of the ways in which Austen’s palette of laughter in Pride and Prejudice supports Henri Bergson’s statement, “By organizing laughter, comedy accepts social life as a natural environment, it even obeys an impulse of social life.” (Bergson 71) I will also show how Austen’s work undermines both the continuation of that statement, “And in this respect [comedy] turns its back upon art, which is a breaking away from society and a return to pure nature” (Bergson 71), and Bergson’s notion that comedy is not quite art. Moreover, I will explore the role of the comic impulse, defined by Bergson as vanity and its puncture (Bergson 71-72), in Austen’s portrait of Elizabeth and her visit to the Pemberley picture gallery.

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However, the scene itself shows the prejudice in Bergson’s statement, “And in this respect [comedy] turns its back upon art, which is a breaking away from society and a return to pure nature.” (Bergson 71) There is nothing further from pure nature than late-18th century English portraits. (Tscherny) Comedy may turn its back on the flattering vision Reynolds produced, but “pure nature” is nowhere in evidence. Further, when Bergson writes that comedy is not quite art (Bergson 63), Austen’s artful work in her social comedy contradicts him. Elizabeth’s comedic arc is Bergsonian in that her vanity, vanity held because of others’ regard for her wit and insightfulness, is punctured. That puncture began in the picture gallery, where a somewhat idealized portrait allows her to feel something new for Darcy. It is the non-Bergsonian emotion at the end of the novel, in that last mention of pained laughter in Pride and Prejudice, where Elizabeth’s portrait is nearly complete. Austen’s painting of Elizabeth’s dreadful doubt surpasses Reynolds, and vanity’s puncture no longer matters. Her, and our, hope for love and a happy ending carries us away from Bergsonian laughter into something richer.

3 comments:

Knitting Painter Woman said...

So now I get to look up Synedoche (the word, not the movie) AND anthropic.
Reading your stuff makes for stretchy times!

am said...

That's so cool about teaching the graduate-level seminar, lori. Wish I'd been there for the discussion! Silko is a favorite of mine.

Thanks so much for the first and last paragraph format. Wonderful to read!

(Taking a little break from my studies . . . )

Ed Maskevich said...

Hey Teach,

Tell Murray, for me, that you are a most wonderful writer and that is why I read it.