Simon Critchley’s The Book of Dead Philosophers is the book for my trains and planes this week. You can sense the enjoyment that Critchley found in writing and researching this book.
There is an engaging interview with Simon Critchley at the International Necronautical Society. I gather he is involved in some way with this nebulous organisation. Here is a flavour of the interview, which ranges widely including literature and comedy:
TMcC: Yes. Beckett is also incredibly funny. It’s not a separate thing: his deep ethical engagement with this whole problematic and his humour are completely bound together. I mean, how do you see comedy and death as fitting together?
SC: They’re in an intimate relationship. Comedy is much more tragic than tragedy, I always think, and much more about death. Tragedy is about making death meaningful – with some exceptions: you could say that in Sophocles’s Oedipus at Colonus there’s a different relationship to death. But conventionally the tragic hero takes death into him- or herself and it becomes meaningful; we experience catharsis in relation to that and we all go away happily. Comedy is about the inability to achieve that catharsis. So either you can’t die in comedy, which is why Waiting for Godot’s a tragi-comedy: nobody can hang themselves and it’s funny. Or if they do die they pop back up to life, like in Tom and Jerry cartoons. Now what’s the more tragic thought: life coming to an end or life going on forever? The latter’s much more tragic. Swift explores this in Book Three of Gulliver’s Travels: there are the Immortals, the Struldbrugs, who are marked with a red circle in the middle of their foreheads, and lie around in corners having lost all interest in life and not even speaking the language they grew up with. They’re tragic figures. The worst thing would be not death but life carrying on forever, and comedy’s about that. It’s also linked to depression and all sorts of things like that.