Friday 16 November 2012

Parody and Truth

I think if we'd written parodies of some of the e-learning projects we'd been involved in over the years we wouldn't have endlessly pursued dead-ends like Learning Design, Learning Objects or any of the other now-defunct initiatives we've been involved with. Humour is very powerful because it takes us out of our heads and back into our bodies. As I wrote the other day (see this bodily engagement - whether the involuntary spasms of laughter, or the gut-wrenching tightening of grief - brings us back to a reality which we rarely glimpse in daily political discourse. Satire has been incredibly important in politics.

The relationship between education and humour has been a difficult. Education is often so worthy, where the funniest and raciest texts - like Rabelais's Gargantua, Swift's Gulliver or Chaucer's Wife of Bath - are subject to the 'dead hand' of education. All the innuendo's get passed over in favour of 'the structure' or 'understanding the context'. Worthy textbooks are written with an artlessness of an opposite degree to the sheer glee that contemporary readers must have felt in reading the original. Music is the same, yet being more abstract has managed to find itself a place in the academy where its sexual and comedic origins can at least be directly experienced without the 'benefit' of academic comment. Although in some instances (like Purcell's drinking song below), there is hilarious and surprising 18th century rudeness!

The question I ask is whether comedy reveals a deeper truth than is possible with conventional academic analysis. This kind of truth might be called 'alethic' - the revealed true nature of things. Thinking about my post on the body, I wonder whether alethic truth is in some way related to bodily response. It is, as I argued,  directly related to the identification of shared absences: as we laugh, we know what it feels like for others to laugh. This brings us together, allows us to look into one another's eyes and to know the truth of love.

Alethic truth is politically dangerous. It challenges dogma, received wisdom and corporate speak and it challenges those who want us to believe it. This is why churches have heresy and institutions act against being 'brought into disrepute'.

Truth is not to be feared though, and parody is often the best way of creating a climate where it can emerge. In the dramatic transformation in Universities in the UK, there are a number of parodies that have been created including one mentioned by an anonymous commenter to this blog. I am amongst the people thought to have produced this. I am not. And although I admire this particular parody (and I wish my writing was as witty and light as this shows in places), I also fear its political consequences.

But I am slightly ashamed to be fearful. That's simply where we are right now. Perhaps I need to think of a parody of the fear... but I'm not witty enough to do it...

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