He Says I Look Like a Jew: Anti-Semitism, Misfortune, and Crypto-Jewishness in Robert Walser’s “Jakob Von Gunten”

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What I love about a great novelist is his or her ability to surprise the reader.  However, sometimes the surprise throws everything the reader thought about the writer into question.  This is especially prescient when the main character of his or her novels is often someone we find charming, pitiable, and yet insightful.  What happens when that character says or does something surprising that puts our identification with the character (and the novelist) into question? More to the point, what happens when that surprise has anti-Semitic content?  How does it alter the way we read a writer?  And how does a reader go beyond the surface to figure out the meaning or point of this or that anti-Semitic content? All of these questions came to the surface when I came across some anti-Semitic content in Robert Walser’s 1908 novel, Jakob Von Gunten.  Reading it, I wondered if Walser, a  very subtle writer, was affirming it, rejecting it, and trying to go beyond what Karl Marx and others called the “Jewish Question,” or actually identifying with the “misfortune” of Jewishness.

Robert Walser’s characters are often pitiable and yet endearing.  In a recent essay I wrote on Robert Walser’s novel, The Tanners (written the year before, in 1907), I address an important moment in the text when Simon (the main character of the novel, who I associate with the folkloric character, Simple Simon), in a drunken state, tells a table of strangers to say cheers to misfortune.   He is a torn man.  Strangely enough, he wants to celebrate this.

Misfortune is educational, that’s why I’m asking you to raise your glasses with the glittering wine to drink a toast to it.  And again! There.  I thank you.  Let me tell you, I’m a friend of misfortune, a very intimate friend, for misfortune merits feelings of closeness and friendship.  It makes us better – that’s doing us quite a good turn…No, it’s destiny – misfortune – that’s beautiful.  It’s also good, for it contains fortune its opposite.  (259)

Reading this one feels great pity for the main character who, gradually, seems to destroy himself.  His self-hatred and torn character, which is based on the fact that he feels responsible for not being able to keep a job, cannot reconcile itself with the fact that he would rather walk or wander the world and let go of the demand of society…to work:

That I’d have to withdraw into apathy, antipathy, and bitterness.  No, things stand quite differently, they stand brilliantly, they couldn’t stand anymore brilliantly for a person just becoming a man: It is I –I – who have insulted the world.  The world stands before me like an infuriated, offended mother: that face I’m so in love with: the face of Mother Earth, demanding atonement! I tally up everything I’ve neglected, dreamed away, overlooked and transgressed. (349)

He is miraculously saved by a waitress in a restaurant he wanders into.  Unlike Simple Simon at the fair, she gives him a free taste of pie and listens to his story (with all its misfortunes).  She tells him to “stop.”

You must never again condemn yourself so criminally, so sinfully.  You respect yourself too little, and others too much. I wish to shield you against judging yourself so harshly.  Do you know what it is you need?  You need things to go well for you again for a little while. You must learn to whisper into an ear and reciprocate expressions of tenderness. Otherwise you’ll become too delicate.  (350)

These last lines are profound.  And the journey I went through, as a reader, showed me how powerful Walser’s tragic-comic message is.   Walser, in the novel, suggests that Simon’s brother, Kaspar, a visual artist, is the perfect humble servant.  Kaspar isn’t a torn servant.  Simon is.  This makes recognition him feel imperfect and like a failure.   This leads him to self-deprecate to a level which, as we see above, is nearly suicidal.  Walser’s tragic moral lesson is that when a person is going down that path he or she cannot save him or herself through writing or, as Walser puts it, “daydreaming.”  You or I need the other because nothing, save for her words, can make us stop and save us from the self-torment that comes with failure and self-sabotage.

The other – like the woman who, as Walser’s passage suggests above, teaches Simon to whisper – teaches us to whisper when speaking to her rather than scream at ourselves.

Although I was inspired by this final message in his novel, I knew full well that Walser’s characters, like Simon, are hard to read.  Their self-doubt and bitterness is lacerating, but the insights we read, and the wonderfully creative writing style, from page to page, sometimes redeems it and makes us forget about how tormented he is. Either way, these light, comic moments come in spurts.  They are, like the character, small. And the reader, for taking the reprieve they offer, becomes small and naïve.  After all, who wants to be bitter.  It’s better to dream.  Who needs misfortune?

But most recently my reading of Walser has been altered.

When I came across an anti-Semitic comment in Robert Walser’s Jakob Von Gunten, I was shocked.  Speaking of his friends Kraus, who is also at the Benjamina Institute (which teaches people how to be servants), the main character, Jakob, writes of a Kraus’s reaction to a photographic portrait of himself.  Jakob, before saying this, is a character who is quite similar to Simon of The Tanners. But this changes the portrait of Walser’s Simpleton:

The portrait, a really good one, shows me looking out very very energetically into the world.  Kraus tries to annoy me and says that I look like a Jew.  At last, at least he laughs a bit.  “Kraus,” I say, “please realize, even Jews are people.”  We quarrel about the worth and worthlessness of the Jews and it is splendid entertainment.   I wonder what good opinions he has: “The Jews have all the money,” he thinks.   I nod, I agree, and say: “It’s the money that makes people Jews.  A poor Jew isn’t a Jew, and rich Christians, they’re dreadful, they’re the worst Jews of all.”  He nods.  At last, at last I have found the person’s approval.  (57)

As one can see, Jakob tries to change Kraus’s perspective about Jews by trying to break Jews up into two groups: Jews who are wealthy and Jews who are poor.  And he expands the definition of Jew to be anybody who is rich (such as “Rich Christians”).  Even so, Jew remains a derogatory term (Karl Marx in his essay, “On the Jewish Question,” does much the same by associating capitalism with Judaism).   It is anti-Semitic.  Walser’s Jakob basically sees goodness in terms of a generic kind of poverty, and not as “Jewish.”

Kraus responds by saying that Jews and Christians really “don’t exist” there are only “mean people and good ones.  That’s all”(57).   He asks Jakob what he thinks about this idea which reduces everyone to humanity rather than to faith.   The two have a “really long discussion.”   But we don’t hear the conclusion.  It disappears.  And what happens, in stead, is Jakov’s paen to the truly humble servant: Kraus.  In contrast to Kraus, his life is meaningless and truly small:

The good, fine soul.  Only he doesn’t want to admit it….Kraus has character: how clearly one feels that.  Of course, I’ve written the account of my life, but I tore it up.  Fraulein Benjamenta warned me yesterday to be more attentive and obedient.  I have the loveliest ideas about obedience and attentiveness, and it’s strange: they escape me. (57)

I find this detour fascinating because the appeal to charm comes into conflict with the anti-Semetic thread (that he also tried to redeem by calling all rich people Jews).   He portrays himself as a hopeless daydreamer who is really innocent.  He can’t be a perfect servant, like Kraus, because his mind (like our minds) likes to wander. This is charming.

He associates morality with daydreaming:

I am virtuous in my imagination, but when it comes to practicing virtue?  What then? You see, then it’s quite another matter, then one fails, than one is reluctant.  Also I am impolite.   I long very much to be courtly and polite, but when it’s a question of speeding ahead of the inductress and opening the door for her respectfully, who’s that scoundrel there, sitting at the table?  Who springs up like a gale to show his manners? Aha, it’s Kraus.  Kraus is a knight from head to toe.  (58)

In his analogy, he is the one who sits down.  He’s belated. Kraus’s service is on time.  While Kraus is the “knight” who “belongs in the middle ages,” Jakob is an ethical failure.  Like a schlemiel, his intentions don’t match his actions.  (He is good in his imagination but fails to act…on cue.)

Kraus is the perfect model to his comical failure: “Kraus only wants what is right and good.  That is no exaggeration at all.  He never has bad intentions.  His eyes are frighteningly kind….When one looks at Kraus, one can’t help feeling how hopelessly lost in the world modesty is.  (58)

As a reader, I wonder, can Kraus redeem anti-Semitism? Has his reduction of Jew to humanity saved the day?  And can I forgive Jakob for his attempt to re-define Jewishness (albeit in a way that retains traces of anti-Semitism)?

In the end of the section, before the reader is presented with Jakob’s autobiographical essay, which he tore up, Walser’s narrator, Jakob appeals to the compassion of the reader.  The words he chooses are echoed in the work of Walter Benjamin, Franz Kafka, and even Paul Celan:

I like listening for something that doesn’t make a sound.  I pay attention, and that makes life more beautiful, for if we don’t have to pay attention there really is no life. (59)

Walter Benjamin notes something like this in his Kafka essay when he writes – reflection on what makes Kafka’s fiction so unique – that “attention is the silent prayer of the soul”(Illuminations, 134).

What’s astonishing is that this whole reflection – which ends off reflecting on the beauty of listening and attention – starts off with Kraus’s “comic” anti-Semitic insult that Jakob looked “like a Jew” in a photo.    And, strangely enough, the very last words point out why he might “look like a Jew.”  In contrast to Kraus, Jakob is too urban and distracted by the “promises’ and “turmoil” of the city:

Kraus…has an education that is as simple as it is purely human.   The turmoil of the big city with all its many foolish, glittering promises leaves him completely cold.  What an upright, tender, solid human soul!  (57)

The city makes him look tormented and pushes him to dream not act.  He is not simple.  Like the other, better, Jew, he is poor.  And his poverty is urban; it has to do with the “turmoil of the city.”  The Jew is associated with the city but also with poverty and wealth.   Only Kraus seems to be fully human.  He is a faithful servant.  Jakob is a distracted dreamer whose life is a misfortune.

I’ll end off with the first two stanzas from a well-known Heinrich Heine poem – written in the 19th century – which Walser may have heard second hand or read. The sad fact of the matter is that the author of this poem was a famous German Jew who many would call “self-hating.”  The poem speaks for itself.

 

“The New Jewish Hospital in Hamburg”

 

A Hospital for Jews who are sick and needy,

For those unhappy threefold sons of sorrow,

Afflicted by the three most dire misfortunes

Of poverty, disease, and Judaism

 

The worst by far of all three the last is,

That family misfortune, thousand years old,

The plague which had its birth in Nile’s far valley….

Addressing this “misfortune,” Heine ponders whether time will “e’er extinguish, this glowing ill.”  But then he turns to but doesn’t name Jesus directly, as the “man of deeds” and “the heart” who offers some kind of solace:

Yet in the meantime let us

Extol the heart which lovingly and wisely

Sought to alleviate pain as far as may be,

Into the wounds a timely balsam pouring.

 

….

 

A man of deeds, he did his very utmost,

Devoted to good works his hard earned savings,

In his life’s evening, kindly and humanely,

Recruiting from his toils by acts of mercy.

 

Heine’s “man of deeds” sounds a lot like Jakob’s characterization of Kraus.  But the last line of Heine’s poem tells us that “the man of deeds” is different from the Jews who can’t seem to end their misfortune.  It is incurable: He “wept deploring,/ his brethren’s great, incurable misfortune.”

Reading Walser, I wonder if and whether the irony, in the spirit of Heine, is that Jakob’s worst misfortune is not that he isn’t Kraus but that he is really….Jewish.  But as Hannah Arendt suggests in her reading of the schlemiel, this misfortune can be read in a comical sense.  Perhaps Jakob – because he can’t seem to leave misfortune behind but, at the same time, also seems to be the only one who is truly free in a world where simplicity is warped by elitism and phoniness – might be what Heine would call a schlemiel.  Like Heine’s schlemiel, Jakob could be read in terms of what Arendt would call a “lord of dreams.”

When Kraus tells him that he “looks like a Jew,” perhaps he meant it in a comical and not an anti-Semitic sense?  Either way, the fact of the matter it that the question of anti-Semitism circles around this Robert Walser character and its possible relationship to Heine’s reading of the Jew and even the schlemiel is thought-provoking (to say the least). My discovery of these pages has given me and should give anyone interested in the schlemiel or in the fiction of Robert Walser a lot to think about.

 

 

 

A New Essay for Berfrois: “How Simple is Simon? Unemployment, Masochism, and Daydreaming in Robert Walser’s “The Tanners”

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Click here to see my latest essay for Berfrois:  “How Simple is Simon? Unemployment, Masochism, and Daydreaming in Robert Walser’s “The Tanners.” It takes Robert Walser’s novel, The Tanners as its subject and tests out Walter Benjamin’s reading of poverty and unemployment. As the title suggests, I read Walser through the spectrum of unemployment, daydreaming, and masochism. Since it speaks to the issue of the poverty and misfortune of a Simpleton, I take the folkloric rhyme about “Simple Simon” as the leitmotif.  (And as you can see from the suggestive image above, I relate Charlie Chaplin’s films, which take on the travels of the vagabond, to Walser’s novel and the themes of unemployment, poverty, masochism, and daydreaming.)

I hope you enjoy the essay.

I will be writing and publishing more on Walser’s novel and the powerful ideas it suggests in upcoming posts for www.schlemielintheory.com 

 

The Power of Weakness and the Laughter of Humiliation in Georges Bataille’s “The Impossible” – Take I

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Like many people, I choose what I read selectively.  While I often read fiction that speaks to my lifeworld, I sometimes pick up a novel that challenges my life and tests my boundaries.  But what really drives me to these texts is a kind of vicarious curiosity.  What, I wonder, would it be like if I were to take on the assumptions of the main character or narrator?  What would I have to sacrifice or affirm if I were to take on the life of this or that narrator or character?   Can the tendencies of a character or narrator change my way of thinking or living?   If it stays within the private space of reading, that doesn’t seem likely.  Only if I were to, so to speak, take these characters or narrators as models – as one does in traditional Judaism or Christianity – would these texts come to life.

For many years, I have had a love/hate relationship with the fiction of Geroges Bataille.  I find many his ideas – in his more theoretical texts and in much of his fiction –  to be very disturbing, gross, and challenging.  It’s hard for me to understand how I can reconcile my beliefs in Judaism with his scatological tendencies toward an ecstasy grounded in the exchange of fluids such as blood, semen, and feces.  Amongst these tendencies is also a kind of violence – either directed at a character or the narrator, himself.  But what makes these tendencies fascinating is the suggestion that his books are – like the books of different saints and mystics – spiritual exercises.   They suggests, in other words, the possibility of embodying the text and bringing to life.

In his novella, The Impossible, and in a few other places in his work (such as his essay, “The Jesuve”), there is a unique referencing of a religious sensibility that I find intriguing.  Since I am working a lot on the notion of smallness, weakness, failure, and humor in my schlemiel project, I am interested in how these realities can be used in a sense that is at once secular and religious.  In The Impossible, Bataille’s interest in weakness, failure, and humor  borders on both but it takes them in a more Christian kind of direction.  Batialle was looking for a kind of physical embodiment – in the text – that is undergirded by the passion of humiliation.   His reading of smallness and weakness is much more ridden with pathos (and the same goes for the laughter found throughout his corpus) than all schlemiel narratives.  The humiliation we see is much more lacerating.  In its efforts to turn the text into a sensuous embodiment, The Impossible, unlike many schlemiel narratives, seems to take more to violence and excess than to a kind of humility that speaks to love and goodness.

The two epigrams of the novella come from two Christian saints: Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Teresa of Avila.  The epigram of Saint Catherine uses terms that mix the physical and the spiritual: “When he was buried, my soul reposed in peace and quiet and in such a fragrance of blood that I could not bear the idea of washing away the blood which had flowed from him onto me.”  The second epigram states that the physical “agony” of Saint Teresa of Avila provided “inexpressible delights.”

The admixture of pain with delight and the sensory exaltation of blood and its “fragrance” suggest an embodiment of spiritual experience that takes delight in pain and blood.   This is certainly counter-intuitive.  Why does embodiment of Godliness have to come through pain and waste?   Bataille insists on this connection and suggests that he is a  part of a mystical tradition that takes these elements to heart.

The first part of the book is entitled “A Story of Rats: (Journal of Danus).”  In the journal, the narrator takes us along on his spiritual search to experience “the impossible.”    His state, from the very first words, suggest that he derives pleasure from the pain that comes with love and rejection:

Incredible nervous state, trepidation beyond words: to be this much in love is to be sick (and I love to be sick).

What the narrator has is not a passion for an idea so much as for the physicality of a woman (and women) he loves.  He loses his mind over her (who he calls “B”) and revels in this loss and the ensuing weakness:

B. doesn’t cease to dazzle me: the irritation of my nerves makes her even more impressive. Everything about her is extraordinary! But in my trembling I have doubts – she’s so facile (She’s false, superficial, equivocal…Isn’t that obvious? She gets muddled and extricates herself more or less, says foolish things haphazardly, lets herself be influenced by fools.  (15)

What she wants from him (“out of playfulness, out of kindness”) is “the impossible.” What that is, however, remains a question.  Is it his love which is impossible?  Is it his powerlessness?  Since he doesn’t know what it is and how to give to her, he is humiliated.  The irony is that he enjoys the feeling of this unhappiness and wants more:

: it’s not a feeling of happiness but my powerlessness to reach her that stops me: she eludes me in any case, the sickest thing about me being that I want this and I want my love to be necessarily unhappy.  Indeed I no longer seek any happiness: I don’t want to give it to her, and I want none for myself…She’s the way she is, but I doubt that two beings have ever communicated more deeply in the certainty of their impotence. (16)

The problem with this is that there is an assumption that if the narrator torments himself more, he will come closer to her.  But really he is only coming close to himself and his failure.   The endless pull of self-deprecation and self-immolation is seen as some kind of holy passion.  And, in the end of this passage, he revels in the “certainty” of his shared impotence (as if it were objective and true).

The passion for failure and weakness are also of interest to such thinkers and writers as Roland Barthes, Maurice Blanchot, Antonin Artaud, and Jean-Luc Nancy.  It is interesting how – for both Bataille and Nancy – the pain of the body and the passion of desire are figurations for a kind of post-Christian embodiment of spirituality.   Embodiment is not just in the exposure to the desired other but the self-laceration of the subject.  The ideal state of the impossible is failure and weakness.  These categories, as one can easily figure out, are contrary to those that society emulates.  And this creates a kind of irrational passion that thrives in an excess of pain and weakness.  Torment.

For anyone to take this on, one would have to sacrifice the desire for happiness, joy, and success.  Contrary to what a reader may think, Bataille suggests, through this novella, that these sacrifices and this life of weakness are desirable and that the best figures for embodiment are based on mixing a drive for sex (Eros) with a death drive (Thanatos).    Mixing the two together, how can one live?  How can one be happy by being so…unhappy?

While many a schlemiel may live in miserable circumstances, they, by and large, are happy.  While they have what Bataille would call, in his novella, a “naïve certainty of chance,” schlemiels don’t translate each opportunity into a moment of weakness and pathetic self-humiliation.   A schlemiel, though usually a poor failure, lives a life that is more comic than tragic.   His humiliation is not so deep, bloody, and painful.  His torment is surprising, not desirable.

 

 

 

Should I Stop Moving? On the Affirmation of Stuff, Not Experience

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I recently came across an article in Slate that suggested that the “spiritual journey,” which rejects stuff in the name of “experience,” was a hoax.  I put all of these things – save stuff – into quotation marks because that’s exactly what the author of the essay does.    The author, Elissa Straus, thinks that experience is a cloak for sexism.  She takes aim at Henry Thoreau to bolster her argument:

The first proponent of experience over stuff that many of us come into contact with is Henry David Thoreau, who so quotably “wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life.” But, as Kathryn Schultz enumerates in her glorious takedown of Thoreau published last year in the New Yorker, what “not life” really meant was engaging in “a fantasy about rustic life divorced from the reality of living in the woods, and, especially, a fantasy about escaping the entanglements and responsibilities of living among other people.” In other words, it wasn’t so much stuff that he gave up—and while he did give up a lot of stuff, he got to choose what to live without—but people.

This argument suggests that what Thoreau meant about experience was sexist because it is solitary.  That would mean that any solitary experience, which needs to put people aside in order to think or come close to God, is sexist.   This would imply that philosophy and mystical experience are, by their very nature, sexist.  Women – many a saint – would also be regarded sexist for this gesture.

Straus goes on to argue that the proof is in the Beat “pudding.” It was men, not women, who went “on the road.”

The Beats made the Thoreauvian agenda of routing out “not life” their own—and adapted it to a postwar consumerist America. Minimalism for them was seeking residence in the automobile and open road, which they would accessorize with cigarettes and women. (Both of which were disposed of, and replaced, with a near-equal ease.)

Apparently, we have inherited this sexist legacy.  The desire to travel that many youth take on – for the sake of experience – is really a rejection of the domestic (which is, for the author, a feminine space):

The present day inheritor of this tradition is the regular traveler, a creature enabled by our age of affordable airfare and open borders, inspired, perhaps, by the highly produced peregrinations of Anthony Bourdain. His or her tastes might not run as expensive as Tony’s, but the insistence that experiences matter more than stuff endures. But as with those who came before, it’s the domestic, and not stuff, from which they are really rebelling.

The author, now in her 30s and running a home, suggests that she learned her lesson and that she was, in short, duped by this privileging of experience:

I fell victim to the experiences over stuff paradigm in my early teens and spent much of my 20s trying to live up to Thoreauvian and Kerouacian notions of self-actualization. I’m now, at 36, about eight years into the “stuff” phase of my life (mortgage, husband, kid), and I have learned far more about myself during this period than I ever did while sojourning around the globe. Domestic stuff—our couch, our dining table, the bathtub, the dishwasher—don’t just serve as the backdrop to my life; they are the tools we use while engaging with one another, and ourselves. Experiences. I’m living what Thoreau would likely consider “not life,” and I find it far more life-affirming than anything I could achieve alone in a cabin in the woods. A pity Thoreau never gave it a shot.

While I understand the importance of the domestic, I don’t think that the rejection of the journey in the name of the domestic (a kind of Nietzschean inversion of the Platonic – matter over ideas, etc) is the right route to take.  It suggests another kind of metaphysics that, I fear, is growing in America and in many first world countries. For arguments sake, let’s call it a a metaphysics of the couch.  This rejection of the adventure of experience has a deeper root that needs to be exhumed.  Moreover, in response to this article I think it is necessary to recover the notion of experience and reconfigure it with the domestic.

To explain, I’d like to contrast two types of experience.  Emmanuel Levinas contrasts the experience of Odysseus (in Homer’s Odyssey) to the experience of Abraham.  In his contrast, he notes that Odysseus leaves home and comes back to home. After leaving Ithaca and defeating many mythical creatures by virtue of his cunning, he exalts (as Theodor Adrono would say) the power of the reasoning self which is the master of nature and the home.  In contrast, Abraham is commanded to leave home and not to return to it. He goes out toward the other and to a land which, in the future, will be shown to him.  The contrast is between a kind of experience that is more masculinist to another that is relational.

The author of the article needs to reframe her argument to include both types rather than reject one for the other.  Kerouac and Whitman, to be sure, wanted to meet people.  They went outward. Their experience was not for their own sake. Whitman’s multitudes were not private experiences.  They were meant to be shared and worked to encourage us all – all Americans and all people who read him – to experience the world (which includes nature and people).  And in this he was a lot like Abraham.

The home, no doubt, is very important and essential.  It needs to be balanced out with this. While Whitman and Kerouac went out on their own, Abraham took his family with him on his travels.   And he also loved brining strangers into his home.  Experiences can be had inside the home, too.

Levinas writes extensively on the domestic and the home in his book Totality and Experience.  He suggests that the home is nourishing and that alterity can also happen in the home. As I suggested above and as the thinker Jacques Derrida has also suggested, in one’s home the host becomes the guest.  There is an inversion that occurs when we serve others.  I would also suggest that everydayness can become other as well by way of humor.

That aside, the metaphor of the journey (or experience) needs to be retained.  Whether in the house or outside of it, the minute we reject the notion of the journey we fall into the hole of everydayness in which nothing is new and in which wonder slips between the cracks.  Traveling is another way of going outside of oneself and one’s narrow perspective.  Staying at home, surfing the internet, checking Facebook every ten minutes, or watching Netflix on the couch with your family or a few friends, is an affirmation of a “metaphysics of the couch.”   And this would be a mistake.  We need to seek out transcendence and get away from our everydayness. To see the world as a mirror of your home doesn’t help.   Another kind of vision is needed and that requires a different way of thinking.

Instead of falling into the trap that a film like Neighbors proposes where there are only two options (nostalgia or accepting everydayness), we need to look at the spiritual experience (which is possible through movement and movement alone) differently.  Instead of snickering at it and finding it cliché, we need to once again ask when and how it is possible.  To be sure, the very act of thumbing our noses at experience – as this article does – is an act that reinforces a metaphysics of the couch.     The affirmation of stuff over experience is a dead end.  We just need to recover what was once called experience.

How can we make our world wonderful again?  Isn’t the claim that experience is over the greatest obstacle?  Aren’t we always moving toward the other and isn’t this an experience?  Where do we draw the line?  Perhaps laughter at this trade off can bring us back to our senses?  Perhaps the schlemiel – who often stumbles and spills the soup on people – leads us to rethink where we are moving?  After all, he’s on a journey and although s/he doesn’t always learn from his experiences, s/he is going somewhere.