Notebook

Laughter

Is it licit, even possible, to laugh in the face of tragedy? In a thought-provoking essay in The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik contends that it is. He reflects on the communication of Ukraines’s president Volodymyr Zelensky, that paradoxical politician, whose background is a career in comic acting. He cites something Zelensky said in an interview in 2019: ‘Laughter is a weapon that is fatal to men of marble! You shall see.’ Gopnik muses: ‘Clowns degrade order in order to make us imagine another world.’ This can have a sublime dimension. It is significant that Russia, with its long tradition of absolutist rule, should have produced the singular type of the holy fool. Gopnik’s observations make me think of a remark made by Jonathan Sacks in a broadcast produced at the height of Covid anxiety. He was commending people able to make others laugh about what was going on. For, he insisted, ‘humour is deeply connected to humanity. […] What we can laugh at does not hold us captive in fear.’