Comic Exposure to Targeting: A Levinasian Reading of Andy Kaufmann and Phillip Roth’s Portnoy (Part III)

DownloadedFile-3

The last two targeting theories I’d like to look at, before I address Emmauel Levinas, Philip Roth, and Andy Kaufman come from Charles Baudelaire and Paul deMan who, apparently, follows in Baudelaire’s comic footsteps.   (I have written several blogs on Baudelaire and deMan’s reading of comedy.  What I look to do here is to summarize their views and to distinguish their approaches to a Levinas-ian one.)

Like many of the other theorists we have seen so far, the 19th century French Symbolist poet Charles Baudeliare, in his “The Essence of Laughter,” associated what he called “essential laughter” with Satanic superiority and human fallen-ness.  The target of this laughter is innocence and the result of this laughter is a kind of double consciousness of oneself in terms of otherness.  The consciousness of the Satanic – double consciousness – is sufficient to overcome and use the Satanic for social progress because, for Baudelaire, it marks a superiority over nature (one’s one and the world’s). However, in laughing at the fallen, one also feels a loss.  Both are incorporated into one’s consciousness and, taken together, they are for Baudeliare part and parcel of being modern.  The best examples Baudelaire gives come from the world of mime and the comic/horrific world of ETA Hoffman.

The element of blindness and naivite, which is found in the subject of any comic routine, act, joke, or passage, is the key to understanding the Satanic.  With respect to the mime, Baudelaire sees the movements of the mime as bringing out a blindness and a disregard for the civil (but this disregard is blind). We laugh at this disregard for the world and, at the same time, its falleness.  We identify with the excessive and odd gesturing of the mime, yet, at the same time, by laughing at the mime’s gestures we are indicating that we are superior.  And this marks our identification and dis-identification, our double consciousness that one is and one is not caught up in a kind of gestural fallen-ness.

But the fact that Baudeliare turns to the example of fallen-ness that comes to us by way of the German writer ETA Hoffman (as the final example) indicates that something is missing in the mime example.  What’s missing is a greater appreciation of how innocence and its loss play the main role in essential laughter.  The story that interests Baudelaire involves the laughter at a little girl’s shock at learning that the soldiers she has idealized are, ultimately, animal-like.  It is her father, a “magician,” who brings her to this profane revelation.  Her shock at fallen-ness and our laughter at it illustrate, for Baudelaire, our Satanic sensibility.  He calls it a kind of madness, a vertigo at this or that loss.  However, as Baudelaire argues, this madness is followed by a moral awareness of how laughter can be used for progress.  We go into the world with a, so to speak, tainted understanding of our “superiority.”  It is far from perfect and works by way of shocking the innocent.  Nonetheless, without such superiority over nature man would have no meaning.

Further to this last point, Baudelaire’s prose piece, “A Heroic Death,” shows us that laughter is far from progressive and positive; it also creates a wedge between the real artist and the artist of consumption.  The cynical conclusion of this piece is that the consumer, so to speak, has the last laugh while we, the readers, lose our innocence as we are exposed to the cruel truth that power is greater than “real” art (in this case the art of a comic mime).

In “A Heroic Death,” it is the Prince, a being in the position of the power, who embodies the Satanic-comic life.   He is the ultimate consumer.   After he learns that the comic mime (jester) has plotted to kill him with other nobles, he puts him into a test where the Mime has to make the performance of a lifetime.  When he, as Baudelaire notes, becomes one with the symbol and effaces the line between himself and what he is performing, he gives the audience something of a revelation.  They are all enraptured and “intoxicated” with what they see.

However, the Prince is troubled because he loses all of the attention of the people.  The comic mime wins their attention and, in effect, robs the Prince of his power.  In response, he laughs at the true artist who steals his power and this, in effect, leads to the mime’s pathetic (not heroic death).  To be sure, it is the artist and the correlation of acting and symbolism that are the target of modern Satanic laughter.  And we can have no doubt that Baudelaire identified with the comic mime who, in the end, although bearing the truth by way of comedy, is the target of power.  The “real artist” loses, while the artist-as-consumer wins.  The death of the mime is something of a premonition of reality TV since the Prince sees the mime’s acting under duress as a form of entertainment.  As the narrator of “A Heroic Death” tells us the prince turns to entertainment to eliminate his worst enemy: Boredom.  The murder of the artist – by way of Satanic laughter – is in the name of amusement.  It has entertainment value.  This disturbing conclusion shows that, for Baudelaire, the target of humor in the modern world is the artist.  Even s/he cannot escape the daemonic.  S/he becomes its target.

Paul DeMan’s challenge to us, today, is to argue that irony and comedy turn the target back on oneself.  Reading Baudealire, deMan sees humor as leading to madness.   But the madness he looks at is not simply the madness that the girl in the ETA Hoffman story experiences or the madness we witness at the failure of the mime’s art in “A Heroic Death.”  According to deMan, we don’t discover the Satanic in what Baudelaire called “essential laughter” so much as the nothingness of oneself.   Comedy shares nothing inter-subjective with the other.  It has no meaning save the destruction of meaning.  That is what DeMan calls the “irony of ironies.”  Meaning, the self, and the inter-subjective are, for deMan, the targets of irony.

For deMan, what we find in the wake of the Prince’s Satanic laughter, so to speak, is the abyss.  The best things humanity has to emulate – innocence, hope, and art – are the targets.   And the elimination of these targets leaves one alone, abandoned, speechless, and cynical.

I would like to suggest that Levinas’s interest in the relation to the other can be understood as a challenge to deMan and to the tradition of comic judgment and targeting.   As Levinas notes in several of his texts, the notion of the isolated consciousness and “essance” – which deMan and the other comic theorists we have discussed, return us to by way of laughter – are challenged by way of the other.  In relation to the other, I am vulnerable, exposed.  I cannot separate my consciousness from the other.  Using hyperbole, Levinas argues that we must use an “amphiblology” when speaking of our relation to the other because we are assymetically related to the other.  Our words cannot approximate our relation to the other; they fall short of what he, elsewhere, calls infinity.   Our signification in relation to the other is Saying.  And, as I would argue, it is comical.  In relation to the other, we are comical but we are not alone.  The comedy is in the relation and not in the act of targeting.

We risk ourselves when we relate to the other who can accept or reject our love or care.  We are, as Levinas says, “traumatized” and “inspired” by the other.   Although Levinas sees this as a very serious affair, the fact of the matter is that comedy can expose us to vulnerability. More importantly, it can expose the audience to its violence against the other.  Through comedy, we can bear witness to being traumatized and inspired by the other.  But, as I’d like to show in the next few blog entries, this witnessing can invert the targeting that is, as we have seen above, part and parcel of nearly every theory of comedy from Aristotle to deMan.

We can see the oscillation of the comic target in relation to what Phillip Roth would call the tradition of “sit down” comedy and to Andy Kaufmann’s “stand-up” comedy.   In the next blog entries, I’d like to contrast the two so as to show how the schlemiel, as a comic character, can be read in terms of traditional theories of comedy which lay emphasis on targets and superiority and to a Levinasian way of reading comedy – one which looks to show how the comic target is inverted by the other.

But can the fool(ish) text do Humanity any Good? Maimonides, Derrida, and Gasche (Part II)

DownloadedFile-1

Echoing Jacques Derrida’s reading of Stephen Mallarme’s “Mimique,” Gasche writes that:

If the mime of “Mimique” only imitates imitation, if he copies only copying, all he produces is a copy of a copy.  In the same manner, the hymen that comes to illustrate the theatrical space reduplicates nothing but the miming of the mime.  Miming only reference, but not a particular reference, Mallarme keeps the Platonic differential structure of mimesis intact while radically displacing it.  Instead of imitating, of referring to a referent within the horizon of truth, the mime mimes only other signs and their referring function.

Derrida, Gasche tells us, calls this miming of other signs re-marking.

Gasche notes that this remarking has the “structure of the hymen.”  But instead of focusing on a static structure, Gasche looks to depict its dynamic nature.  For this reason, Gasche focuses on “the manner” in which “the double structure of the hymen relates to itself.”

He calls this “manner” a “reflection without penetration.”

In other words, Gasche sees the mime and the reader as taking on a manner of reflection without penetration.  Gasche derives the evidence for this “manner” from a line in Derrida’s essay that depicts the double structure of the hymen in terms of a “violence without blows.” But what Gasche misses is that Derrida links this dynamic structure, which manifests a “violence without blows, or a blow without marks,” to a person who is “made to die or come laughing.”

In fact, for Derrida, remarking is an event.  The manner of reflection without penetration happens when there is a “violence without blows, or a blow without marks.”  When this happens, one “is made to die or come laughing.”   And this laughter is exemplary of what is, so to speak, remarkable.

With all the undecidability of its meaning, the hymen only takes place when it doesn’t take place, when nothing really happens, when there is an all-consuming consummation without violence, or a violence without blows, or a blow without marks…when the veil is without being, torn, for example, when one is made to die or come laughing (232)

Gasche fails to underscore that, for Derrida, the “manner” of the double movement is comic and perhaps tragic (as one is made to either “die” laughing or made to “come laughing”).   Derrida is denoting how the event of  “a reflection without penetration” is the event of laughter.

Perhaps this is because language, unlike God, does not show us, in a prescriptive manner, ethical or political ways of being; rather, the text shows us its absent-minded ways.  In fact, if the text prescribes anything, it prescribes the manner of absent-mindedness.  Or, as Derrida says in his essays in on the poet Edmond Jabes (in Writing and Difference), the text prescribes the detour and the ellipsis.

In the same essay on Jabes, Derrida notes how the text prescribes exile from God. Unlike Maimonides, Derrida would say that the text does not prescribe any ethical or political ways of being.  The text doesn’t perfect man.   While Maimonides would say that Moses was exiled from knowing God and having a “penetrating reflection,” he would not say that God only prescribed exile for Moses.  In fact, as Maimonides argues, God prescribed His ways to Moses for emulation, imitation, and practice.

In contrast, if we reread Gasche by way of Derrida’s own remarks, we can say that the manner of the reader and the text is the manner of a schlemiel.  This manner is prescribed.  Unlike the text (which is unaware of itself), the attentive reader is aware of its absent-mindedness.  If one reflects on the text’s schlemiel-ish “reflection without penetration,” the attentive reader will be conscious or become conscious.  And this, Derrida might say, would happen when one laughs.

But are we who laugh at the foolish text, for this reason, better (or superior)?  As I have shown in other blog entries, this is exactly what Baudelaire proposes at the end of his essay on laughter.   However, this is a conclusion which, as I also have shown, Paul deMan disagreed with.   In fact, if anything, the consciousness that comes out of this, for deMan, leads to madness and self-destruction not superiority.

Would Derrida agree with deMan?  Does the absent-minded schlemiel text, and the reader’s attendant “reflection without penetration,” lead to vertigo, madness, and self-destruction?  Should we read Derrida’s comment that one may “die of laughter” in lieu of deMan?

By virtue of its inability to know itself, by virtue of its being a “reflection without penetration,” the text presents itself as absent-minded.  Recognizing what the text doesn’t see, Derrida seems to be suggesting that the reader will either “die” of laughter or “come to” laughter.  Why?  Because he or she realizes that the only thing he or she can follow is an opaque and aleatory text which, in its absentmindedness, dynamically flows, warps, and weaves in different directions, one will either die of laughter or come to laugh.

Regardless, one laughs at the text’s absent-mindedness.  Perhaps one also laughs at the fact that one’s “reflection without penetration” on the text is also risible.  But in knowing that language doesn’t have a meaning or know of any, are we, in a deManian sense, mad?

Derrida’s text implies that, upon reading the hymen, we are either made to die or “come laughing.”  Derrida seems to be suggesting that we either affirm this “reflection without penetration” with a yes, and laugh or we don’t.  This, in fact, is a suggestion he makes on his essay “Ulysses Gramophone: Hear Say Yes in Joyce.”  Without such a suggestion, it would seem that deMan and Derrida would be in agreement: the manner of the text would be a manner of madness and self-destruction.  In other words, the person who reflects on what deMan calls the “irony of ironies” would die laughing or go mad.

Derrida, in that essay (which I will return to in an upcoming blog entry) suggests that we should describe and affirm the reflection without penetration; and, in doing so, say yes to it.  This affirmation, this yes-saying, in a Nietzschean and Joycean spirit, is a prescription of sorts.   Like Sancho Panza who follows Don Quixote on his Journeys, the postmodern saint says yes to following the aberrant and absent-minded ways of the text.  Instead of Moses following the ways of God, we have a much more secular (and risible) model of observance.

So, here’s the question: Do we – like Sancho Panza – learn and repeat the schlemiel’s manner?  Is this, according to Derrida, our postmodern prescription and destiny?  Is this our postmodern ethic?  And will the foolish text do humanity any good?

Since the text has the structure of the hymen, Gasche would say that the repetition of the text (and the “reflection without penetration”) is inescapable.  The text repeats itself and we repeat the text repeating itself.  That’s it.  Nothing more nor less.

But what is the point of the text or our lives if they always remain caught up in an endless textual ellipsis?  Again: What good will this do for humanity?

The structure of the schlemiel, its manner, for Gasche and Derrida, would be an endless reflection on the surface.  It would be a manner of moving across an endless surface or as Deleuze might say, a thousand plateaus.  And in response to it we will, as Derrida –that is, Rabbi Derissa – de (of) the risus (laughter) – claims, either die laughing or come laughing.

(Enter laughter)

On Aggressive Comedy, Souvenirs, And Prehistoric Schlemiels

DownloadedFile

Comedians can be very aggressive and may sometimes exude rage.  The comic rant, which we are all-to-familiar with, is an illustration of how comedy sometimes becomes indistinguishable from anger.

One need only think of the Three Stooges, Larry David, Andy Kaufmann, Lenny Bruce, or even Louis CK to see how rage plays out through comedy.

Given the history of the schlemiel in Jewish comedy, this is an interesting phenomenon.  Traditional schlemiels – of the Yiddish variety – are often very humble and are not filled with rage; but, in America, we often see a different variety of the schlemiel which is more aggressive.

This difference is noteworthy and it prompts a lot of questions about how the schlemiel, a character which, by and large, is traditionally innocent and humble, became aggressive.

The trajectory of my blogs over the last week leads us toward a way of framing and addressing these questions.

Over the last week, I have spent a lot of time thinking through Walter Benjamin and Paul deMan’s reading of Charles Bauldaire’s reading of comedy.  I have also addressed Walter Benjamin’s “s(c)h(l)ocking” discovery that he was a schlemiel.  The thread that joins all of these entries is what Walter Benjamin, following Charles Baudelaire, would call Spleen.

What is Spleen?

In his unpublished work of maxims, insights, and aphorisms entitled “Central Park,” Walter Benjamin defines Spleen (which is also part and parcel of Baudelaire’s Prose Collection – Paris Spleen) as “the feeling that corresponds to the permanent catastrophe.”

Max Pensky, in his book on Benjamin entitled Melancholy Dialectics, interprets Spleen as a “mode of melancholia in which the subject can no longer mournfully ‘observe’ the permanent catastrophe of natural history, but rather, in a quite literal sense is the catastrophe”(170).

Pensky’s reading of Spleen, at many points, sounds much like Paul deMan’s reading of the “irony of irony” which I addressed in a recent blog.  But Pensky sees it as the source of Spleen and not simply, as deMan does, as the essence of laughter.  Pensky points out the emotional tonality of Spleen: it is an “emotional complex consisting of various permutations composed of the two simple elements of profound fear and rage: primal emotions, in keeping with the power of the commodity to awaken prehistoric, savage modes of existence”(171).

Moreover, “Spleen is characterized in the first instance as ‘naked horror’; that is, the primitive, infantile fear of being swallowed up by the mass of objects, the fear of flying to pieces, disappearance in the diffraction and multiplication of selfhood.”

The very language of this description – “the fear of flying to pieces, disappearance in the diffraction and multiplication of selfhood” – echoes that of Paul deMan’s description of the effect of Baudelaire’s “irony of ironies.”

But the main point is that Spleen prompts Baudealire to write poems and allegories.  It is through them that Baudelaire exhibits a “heroic melancholy.”  It is here that, I contend, we can find the modern, aggressive schlemiel.

In the context of Benjamin’s reflections on Baudelaire’s notion of Spleen, the best model for relating Spleen to the schlemiel is by way of Benjamin’s reflection on the relationship of pre-history to history.

To be sure, the fact that Pensky says that Spleen is pre-historical reflects Benjamin’s concern with the relationship of pre-history to history. This is a concern that we see in his writings on Baudelaire and in Benjamin’s essay on Franz Kafka where, I would like to note, we see the most explicit engagement with the schlemiel.  The pre-historic nature of the schlemiel, in that essay, is associated with the innocent aspect of this character; however, I would like to argue that his comic characterization of Kafka’s characters and their innocence is Benjamin’s response, in some way, to Spleen.

Evidence of this can be found in the fact that Benjamin, in several places in that essay, discusses Kafka’s characters in relation to pre-history.

In “Central Park,” Benjamin notes that Baudelaire’s poems and prose pieces are a response to Spleen.  Benjamin calls the trace of this response, or rather, this “heroic” struggle, a souvenir.  The artwork-as-souvenir exposes us to this trace while protecting us from its shock.  Nonetheless, the heroism is not complete.

The souvenir emerges out of the “endless catastrophe of capitalism.” As we have seen from Pensky’s description, this catastrophe destroys the subject. The souvenir is the only thing that remains and, like an angel, saves the artist from Spleen, that is, from impotent rage and self-destruction.

For some strange reason, comedy is the only response to Spleen that Benjamin doesn’t address in depth.  Rather, as we saw in our reading of Benjamin’s interpretation of Baudelaire’s “Essay on Laughter,” the only thing that remains for Benjamin of comedy, the only souvenir, so to speak, is the Satanic smile that touches everything, even children.  Although this seems devastating, it is not.  In fact, the smile, for Benjamin, seems to be a “double image” which protects him from the catastrophic effects of Spleen.  (As Scholem notes, Benjamin associated the smile with “satanic serenity.”)

More importantly, I would argue that the trace of the struggle with Spleen touches Benjamin’s image of himself as a man-child. To be sure, we can say that the image of his handwriting in the Goethe Dream (found in his “Vestibule” aphorism), which is written in loud, childish letters, is a souvenir.  It retains the trace of a struggle with Spleen.  It doesn’t overcome it. And this trace of Spleen can be seen if we simply reflect on the fact that Benjamin, in the dream, is the subject of a Prank!

In other words, his self-image – in terms of his name being written/signed in childish letters – is a souvenir.

Likewise, the souvenirs that Benjamin finds in Kafka’s world are also traces of a battle with Spleen.  In that essay, he relates Kafka’s characters to a Jewish form of Spleen:  Exile.

What all of these figures of the schlemiel share is the fact that all of them are, as Benjamin says in his Kafka essay, pre-historic.

The schlemiel and all traces of the struggle with Spleen are pre-Historic because they cannot enter history.   They cannot assert the heroic and enter the historical struggle.

In fact, this was the critique leveled by Hannah Arendt and many Zionists against a Jewish people which had “degenerated” due to exile.   They level this criticism against the schlemiel which was, for them, the figure of Exile.   As Arendt had argued, the Jews were to accustomed to powerlessness and Exile to take action and enter history.  (I will return to this in a later blog entry.)

For them, the schlemiel was a figure of “impotent rage” that they believed had much to do with Exile (Diaspora).  It would fade away with the founding of a new state.  But as we have seen, the schlemiel remained in America; but what happened, in many cases, was that it more and more often started bearing the traces of Spleen.  The meaning of this agressivity has much to do with the power of art.

The American Schlemiel, seemingly, no longer embodies that sadness, that Melancholy, that Benjamin aspired to.  If anything, it has taken on Spleen.  It is full of rage and sarcasm.  Perhaps this has to do with the fact that entertainment has displaced art and the heroic artist has been defeated by the stand-up comic.

Perhaps the pre-historic has been displaced or perhaps the American schlemiel still hasn’t entered history.  Perhaps, as Benjamin feared, art cannot sustain the “endless catastrophe” of capitalism.  As a result, they only thing left for humor is “impotent rage.”

Is that what we see, so often, in Curb Your Enthusiasm?

A Map of Misreading: Paul deMan’s (Mis)reading of Madness in Baudelaire’s “Essay on Laughter.”

DownloadedFile

One can tell a lot about an author by virtue of things that he or she mentions and highlights in his or her writings.  Charles Baudelaire, a poet and an incredibly talented prose writer, was fully aware of what is at stake in an essay.  And he knew full well that the final “notes” of any essay should hit on the main point.

To be sure, Baudelaire’s essay on laughter ends on a positive note.  There, he points out that the Absolute Comic, which is best illustrated in the work of ETA Hoffman, evinces man’s superiority over nature.  And that all laughter, all comedy, is inter-subjective and shared by human beings.  Baudelaire’s reading of laughter is amplified and given exquisite detail by the philosopher Henri Bergson, who, like Baudelaire, sees an intersubjective element of comedy which is based on the superiority of élan vital over the mechanical.  Laughter, for Bergson, is equated with life and becoming (not stasis and empty repetition).  And like Baudelaire, Bergson emphasizes the progressive aspects of comedy.

However, Baudelaire doesn’t arrive at such a view without a few misgivings.  It must be noted that, earlier in the essay, Baudelaire points out that the significant comic and the laughter that attends it do in fact manifest a kind of (Satanic) madness of superiority.  And, as I pointed out in my last blog entry, he also notes that comic madness is diametrically opposed to the madness of humility.  Nonetheless, he argues that, in the end, man’s sense of himself as different from nature may manifest madness, but, ultimately, this madness is mitigated by the Absolute comic.

To be sure, Baudelaire says that since the madness of humility is no longer an option for modern society, all nations must become pure by way of a madness that asserts superiority over nature.  And comedy is the means to achieving such an intersubjective “purification.”

In other words, comedy, for Baudelaire, is a “good” thing.  As Baudelaire notes in his description of mimes like Pierrot, the laughter evoked by the Absolute Comic is intoxicating.  It enlivens the crowd and produces joy.

There is one problem.

As I mentioned above, Baudelaire notes, early on, that the comic is Satanic.  He points out that it is a manifestation of fallen-ness.  But by the time he finishes the essay, this is no longer the main issue.  Baudelaire decided that it was more important to emphasize man’s inter-subjective superiority over nature than to emphasize fallen-ness, madness, and the Satanic.

Paul deMan, in his essay “The Rhetoric of Temporality,” was not satisfied with Baudelaire’s conclusion.  He ignores Baudelaire’s final note and, instead, focuses in on madness and the hidden meaning of man’s superiority over nature.  In deMan’s hands, “superiority” has a very negative and alienating note.  In addition, Baudelaire’s insistence that comedy is shared and inter-subjective is rejected.

Right off the bat, deMan notes:

In the first place, the accent falls on the notion of dedoublemant (duality) as the characteristic that sets apart reflective activity, such as that of the philosopher, from the activity of the ordinary self caught in everyday activities.  Hidden away at first in side-remarks such as this one, or masked behind a vocabulary of superiority and inferiority…the notion of self-duplication or self-multiplication emerges at the end of the essay as the key concept of the article, the concept for the sake of which the essay had in fact been written (212).

In this gesture, deMan shifts the focus from superiority and doubling to “self-duplication or self-multiplication.”  DeMan goes on to argue that “superiority” is not in relation to others – which is what Baudelaire and also Henri Bergson note.  Rather, superiority “merely designates the distance constituitive of all acts of reflection.”

In deMan’s reading, Baudelaire is really telling us that the effect of laughter is extreme alienation from the world and oneself.  Instead of attaining self-knowledge by way of laughter, deMan tells us that the laughing subject experiences the abyss.  His madness is not based on superiority so much as on a radical and debilitating loss of his center.

For Baudelaire…the movement of the ironic consciousness is anything but reassuring. The moment the innocence or authenticity of our sense of being in the world is put into question, a far from harmless process gets underway.  It may start as a casual bit of play with a stray loose end of fabric, but before long the entire texture of the self is unraveled and comes apart.  The whole process happens at an unsettling speed. (214)

DeMan’s rhetoric, as Jacques Derrida might say, “supplements” Baudelaire and rewrites his text.  In deMan’s hands, Baudelaire affirms madness and eschews all forms of inter-subjectivity.

Irony is unrelieved vertige, dizziness to the point of madness.  Sanity can exist only because we are willing to function within the conventions of duplicity and dissimulation, just as social language dissimulates the inherent violence of the actual relationships between human beings (216).

By writing in this way, DeMan is, so to speak, going backwards.  He is unraveling Baudelaire’s text to show that at the root of his comedy is what Baudelaire would call Spleen: the physical and symbolic organ associated with rage, anger, and melancholy.

Walter Benjamin saw Baudelaire’s allegorical prose and poetry as a response to Spleen – or what Max Pensky calls “impotent rage against the world.” Benjamin saw such aesthetic responses as a manifestation of “Heroic Melancholy.”  However, deMan does not.  Rather, beneath all of Baudelaire’s laughter he only sees insanity and Spleen.

What we need to ask is whether such a reading has any validity.  Is laughter or irony, in reality, an admittance to one’s radical alienation from the world and oneself?  Is laughter, in other words, self-destructive and anti-social?

And, with respect to Walter Benjamin, is his ironic return to childhood noting more than the experience and re-experience of his radical alienation from himself and others?  In other words, can we apply deMan’s reading of irony and laughter to Walter Benjamin’s humor?

Is Paul deMan right or radically wrong in his reading of irony?  To paraphrase Harold Bloom, how do we read Paul deMan’s “map of misreading” Baudelaire?  Was Baudelaire – or even Walter Benjamin- hiding something behind his laughter? Namely, his endless comic humiliation and fallenness?