Sublime Comedy: On the Inhuman Rights of Clowns


The thought that politics is a comedy might be a thought so untimely that, for the moment, we cannot imagine it. With his usual talent for exposing the complacency of our age, Alain Badiou, a playwright and novelist as well as a philosopher, has remarked that what our times lack most is a taste for genuine comedy. In a chapter of Handbook of Inaesthetics entitled “Theses on Theater,” Badiou writes,

I do not believe the main question of our time to be that of horror, suffering, destiny, or dereliction. We are saturated by these notions, and besides, their fragmentation into theater ideas is truly incessant. On all sides, we are surrounded by a choral and compassionate theater. Our question instead is that of affirmative courage, of local energy. To seize a point and hold it. Consequently, our question is less concerned with the conditions for a modern tragedy than with those of a modern comedy. Beckett—whose theater, when “completed” correctly, is truly hilarious—was well aware of this.


Now of course the comedy Badiou has in mind here is not that reassuring romantic comedy in which all’s well that ends well. It is the grotesque and mineral comedy of Beckett. This is a comedy of the buffoon, the clown, and the writer of doggerel. It is the comedy of errors that finds nothing funnier than sadness, the comedy that evokes the uncanny persistence of humanity as grimace, cry, and protesting laughter in the face of the absence of meaning, the deterioration of the body, and the silence of God.

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