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the self-defeating, obtuse, and pathological dimensions of humanity. In
either form, that story would allow us to affirm our history in the midst
of defeat, for rather than merely denouncing our actions, it would find
moral complexity in them, discerning a certain dignity even in our capac-
ity to recognize that hubris. 145
We could also move to a more visceral mode of affirmation; by telling
this story as dark comedy, we could put to test the power to laugh at our
radical folly. In doing so, we might learn how to endure the world we cre-
ated through our great crime, to accept the unacceptable, to explode its
pain through a burst of laughter. Through these and other tales we could
carry out the gesture I mentioned near the end of chapter nine, daring to
affirm the nullity that we are.
Writing at an earlier but comparable moment in the wake of
Hiroshima and Auschwitz, Samuel Becket explored a version of this
emotional terrain. In Waiting for Godot and Endgame , he gave us master-
works of bleak farce, of hopeless slapstick, where nearly every sign of life
has departed, divine promises are never to be fulfilled, and the routines
of everyday life expand to ill an uterly pointless passage of time. 146 In
these plays, comedy verges on making the human condition tolerable
not by enabling us to affirm it outright, but far more subtly to make our
peace with it by affirming it as laughable . Our situation may be hopelessly
ridiculous, but it is one we can recognize, reenact, and through comedy,
accept as our own. In these plays, we can glimpse laughter's ability to rec-
oncile us with nearly every sort of folly and degradation.
But these plays also go a step further, showing us characters who can
no longer laugh, who are no longer moved by their stories, who have
lost their pleasure in rehearsing their condition; they give us moments
when even comedy fails. If laughter in some sense affirms life and helps
us go on, the radical absence of a future (especially visible in Endgame )
threatens laughter itself, inspiring characters—and members of the audi-
ence—to ponder, in the midst of laughing, whether they should laugh at
all. These plays put us on the edge of a condition ater comedy, one that
even its subtle stratagems cannot redeem.
What would a similar take on our present dilemma look like? Perhaps
the best atempt so far is T.C. Boyle's A Friend of the Earth , which features
a group of ecological activists whose atempts to save the world have
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