Monday, May 17, 2010

If Life is a Joke, Retell It Your Own Way

In his novel The Book of Jokes (2009), Momus' narrator lives in a preposterous world governed by the laws of bad jokes and dirty jokes. But the narrator has a revelation concerning the magic of words:
I have discovered that there is a way to escape this grim fate—the misfortune of joke dharma. The solution, I believe, is that I should assume, myself, the responsibility of telling the very jokes which constrain and define me, and to make, each time, a small alteration in their telling, an alteration which restores a few shreds of dignity, human decency, beauty and sensuality to the tale.

It might begin by embroidery; I add a few details which are not normally included in the rush to the punchline. I must ensure that the story is so well-told that my audience loses interest in the farcical pay-off, the money-shot. I tell the tale several times, from different angles and with different emphases, forcing my listeners to pay attention to small formal questions, adverbs rather than verbs, hows rather than whats.

By these methods, little by little, I believe I can improve my world. Even if you are not in the same grim situation as me, you might want to try this technique for yourself. (51-52)

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