Holding Fast to Laughter

Studies for the Heads of Two Soldiers in the Battle of Anghiari (1504-05) by Leonardo da Vinci.

Studies for the Heads of Two Soldiers in the Battle of Anghiari (1504-05) by Leonardo da Vinci.

But this laughter is the reason why the Tuscans invented science and the clear Tuscan drawing in their cool paintings; laughter means distance. Conversely: where laughter is absent, madness begins. Every time I’ve had a chance to observe an outbreak of psychosis or a first-rate clinical anxiety neurosis the signal has been given in the absence of humour – one is potentially insane. The whole art of learning to live means holding fast to laughter; without laughter the world is a torture chamber, a dark place where dark things will happen to us, a horror show filled with bloody deeds of violence.


It is related of Leonardo da Vinci that he had a laughter which was so beautiful that those who had heard it could never again forget it.


Of Leonardo we know that he laughed this bubbling laughter of gold, which was the Florentine laughter in the deepest sense. Yet Leonardo was not a happy man, and his laughter had nothing to do with happiness.


Dante also has this laughter.

Jens Bjørneboe. Moment of Freedom. Norvik Press, 1999 (1966)

4 thoughts on “Holding Fast to Laughter

  1. These are beautiful quotes. They’re positive without the awful banality (or delusion) of the ‘New Age.’ They don’t deny the madness but they do lift the spirits. Many thanks.

  2. Thanks Anthony! By coincidence, last week I heard a fascinating — although (as it turned out) controversial paper — by Dimitris Vardoulakis about Kafka and laughter (the title of the paper was ‘Freedom from the Free Will: On Kafka’s Laughter’). This was the abstract:

    ‘I place humor at the center of Kafka’s technique, which relies on plots in which the protagonists are seemingly totally deprived of their freedom. I argue that if there is a political thinking in Kafka, this is only possible because of his humor. The reason is that Kafka’s laughter is the tool he uses to deconstruct power. And one of the most significant ways in which our political being is conceived is by how we understand our freedom. Kafka laughs at our illusion that we have a free will. And he also laughs at the correlate of the free will, namely, the separation between a world of ideal freedom and a fallen world of confinement. As such, and pace interpreters such as Brod and Weltsch, Kafka performs also a critique of transcendence as the linchpin of both Western metaphysics and theology. At the same time, this laughter is not only critical, but also has a constructive aspect. Kafka’s laughter suggests a different sense of freedom. This is a situated freedom which does not rely on ideals separated from the here and now. It is a freedom from the free will.’ http://www.uws.edu.au/writing_and_society/events/writing_and_society_seminars

    In a few weeks, the audio from the talk should be available to stream online.

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