Laughing Matters

It is time to dig out our copies of Samuel Beckett. Jon Fosse refers his work back to a tradition of Samuel Beckett. It is interesting to re-read some of the plays of Beckett. The famous “Waiting for Godot” or “Endgame” figure prominently on the reading list and theatres even today. Laura Salisbury (2012) honours Beckett in devoting a book on Beckett with the subtitle: Laughing matters, comic timing. She refers to a tradition founded by Aristotle: “man is the only animal that laughs”. Even in the most horrible scenarios of war and suffering, the human brain brings up thoughts containing jokes. Laughing makes us a part of the human species. Humour then becomes the “locus and limit of the human” (Salisbury, p. 4).
It is obvious that the basic problem of jokes like most of our communication has a “sender” versus “receiver” problem. People just do not have the same sense of humor in many instances. We might even go as far as stating that a person feels at home, if cracking a joke is readily understood by surrounding people. Test your cross-cultural competence by trying and sharing laughter. It is hard to do.
Beckett succeeds in a formidable way on a philosophical level even to bridge cultures and spread his way to look at the world from a meta-perspective.
Waiting … for what? Endgame … what is the game? Is it a game? These are laughing matters. Not for all, but for many on the way, trying to learn about existential matters that define humanity.
Through choices Samuel Beckett made in his lifetime, it becomes clear that he did not shun away from the most existential choices. In World War II he joined the French resistance movement and risked his life to save our laughter. Jon Fosse appears in the footsteps of Beckett, who decided to seek the silence and remoteness to develop his work for years also in the tiny village of “Ussy sur Marne” near Meaux and a bit further away, from Paris.
In Beckett’s own words he defines what a comic spirit is;
“comic spirit: oscillation between equilibrium and lack of it” (Salisbury, p.20), referring back to Racine and Molière. It is a social skill and it is not always easy to master, like for example to suppress laughter. Aging might play additional tricks on us (reduced strength of affect inhibition). There is a cognitive element in laughter, but also an affective and a spontaneous mix of reactions.
Affect inhibition is linked to the ability to resist spontaneous impulses like laughter.
Resisting impusles, but also resistance on a philisophical kind is in Beckett’s work “a resistance to the given world, while nevertheless displaying all its violent administrations;”. (Salisbury, p.172-3). In asking what remains after we abandon belief makes it necessary to foster a resistance to brutal deviance from humanity. Laughing may matter here more than we might want to acknowledge.
Source: Salisbury, Laura (2015). Samuel Beckett: laughing matters, comic timing. Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press.
Image: extrait Eric Desmasière, 2000 Sous le signe de la balance.


Jon Fosse hat bereits viel Erfolg mit seinen Dramen gehabt. Wahrscheinlich können wir sein umfangreiches Werk mit der Kenntnis von Ibsens Dramen und Becketts Dramen besser verstehen, falls Verstehen überhaupt eine relevante Kategorie ist Fosses Werk. Durchaus vergleichbar mit Beckett hat Jon Fosse früh schon erfolgreiche Aufführungen seiner Theaterstücke neben seiner norwegischen und skandinavischen Heimat in Frankreich. In Deutschland hat der Regisseur Thomas Ostermeier seine Werke in Salzburg und Berlin vor ca 20 Jahren bekannt gemacht.
Suzanne Bordemann beschreibt in ihrem Buch zu der Rezeption von Jon Fosse, wie der schriftstellerische Werdegang des Kunstschaffenden verlaufen ist. Interessant ist dabei die weniger bekannte Ausgangsbasis Fosses als Herausgeber der Literaturzeitschrift Bok oder seine literaturtheoretischen wissenschaftlichen Aufsätze. Selbst seine Tätigkeit als Übersetzer von Dramen aus dem Deutschen und dem Englischen hat sicherlich zu einer Ausprägung von Sprachfertigkeit geführt, die uns heute noch einzigartig erscheint. Schreiben hat enorm viel mit Lesen und stetigem Arbeiten an Texten vielfältigster Art zu tun. Dieses literarische Gesamtkunstwerk ist sicherlich Grund für die höchste Auszeichnung des Gesamtwerks mit dem Nobelpreis für Literatur.
Aus Stille lernen heißt dann für mich, Jon Fosse selbst zu Wort kommen zu lassen. Das hat Suzanne Bordemann in ihrem 2. Kapitel vorgemacht. Als Auszug möchte ich 2 Seiten (S. 26-27) zitieren, die für mich besonders aufschlussreich waren. Sicherlich Grund genug für eine intensivere Befassung mit diesem umfassenden Werk.

On Noise

The 3 authors Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, Cass R. Sunstein have published in 2021 the impressive attempt to sell statistics to non-statisticians. The grip on the topic: “Noise. A Flaw in Human Judgment” is a bit misleading. Even the German translation (“Was unsere Entscheidungen verzerrt”), in my opinion, is grossly misleading. The work deals with judgment, or arriving at a sensible judgment. Decision-making is only the next step with a lot of other intervening processes. The German philosophical term since the enlightenment period has been “Urteilskraft“. We are all more or less familiar with the notion “bias” in judgment. Me, originating from the Moselle, will always be biased in favor of a Riesling compared to other vines. In addition to this naive bias I may apply a more professional judgment on wine. Testing several wines even from the same small area from the Moselle valley and then repeating the tasting I might make a noisy judgment.  “When wine experts at a major US wine competition tasted the same wines twice, they scored only 18% of the wines identically (usually, the very worst ones).” (p. 80). In addition to the previously defined form of “level noise, pattern noise and system noise” (p.77), we have occasion noise, when judgments vary from an overall statistical perspective.
Having received a second dose of a vaccination yesterday and having spent an unpleasant night my judgment for this review might be biased, because of impatience. So in order to reduce bias and variants of noise I shall repeat the review at a later stage. Let’s see what this returns. But for today, the Epilogue “A less noisy world” (p.377) appears rather odd to me. It is probably an illusion to believe that we can create a less noisy world, even with the best of wishes. The authors abstract from any strategic use of noise to influence judgments. The political form of choosing judges for Constitutional Courts in the U.S. needs to be dealt with. Noise in judgments is an important element, but strategic use of bias might be more influential to impact outcomes. Noise, when faced with a judge who has a reputation to be very tough in sentences might be overturned in an appeal court decision. There are plenty of procedural ways to overcome noise in judgments. I agree with the authors that you better know about the noise in judgments than ignore it. Awareness of random errors and noise involved in grading exams and recruitment decisions have determined many excellent “failures” to leave historic contributions to our world. In music, maths or literature some splendid talents probably have been impeeded at earlier stages of their life to make average or normal careers. Some of them left us with fantastic pieces thanks to the noise in judgment of others.
There seems to be an age bias in the tolerance of noise in the acoustic sense. Noise in the statistical sense has left a strong mark on me when I learned about white noise as error or stochastic process.
Image Kahneman, Sibony, Sunstein 2021. p3.