Earlier today I saw the steel sculptures of laughing people created in 2009 by Chinese artist Yue Minjun now outside the Macao Museum of Art. After briefly considering them, I read an informational card and learned they share the title "The Laugh that can be Laughed is not the Eternal Laugh".
After a few moments pondering the possible meaning of the title, I found humor in it and laughed. Then, listening to my laughter, I broke into a louder laugh finding humor in the idea that my laugh could not be an "Eternal Laugh".
I suddenly went silent. Recursion. Absurdity. Eternity. For a seemingly timeless period, my mind floated.
And then I walked away to find something to eat.
Due to an unrelated recommendation, in the evening I read "This Old Man" by American essayist Roger Angell in The New Yorker. The topic of laughter appeared again, this time in Angell's personal reflections on life, death, and growing old:
I get along. Now and then it comes to me that I appear to have more energy and hope than some of my coevals, but I take no credit for this. I don’t belong to a book club or a bridge club; I’m not taking up Mandarin or practicing the viola. In a sporadic effort to keep my brain from moldering, I’ve begun to memorize shorter poems—by Auden, Donne, Ogden Nash, and more—which I recite to myself some nights while walking my dog, Harry’s successor fox terrier, Andy. I’ve also become a blogger, and enjoy the ease and freedom of the form: it’s a bit like making a paper airplane and then watching it take wing below your window. But shouldn’t I have something more scholarly or complex than this put away by now—late paragraphs of accomplishments, good works, some weightier op cits? I’m afraid not. The thoughts of age are short, short thoughts. I don’t read Scripture and cling to no life precepts, except perhaps to Walter Cronkite’s rules for old men, which he did not deliver over the air: Never trust a fart. Never pass up a drink. Never ignore an erection.Angell follows with a joke he's been told 4th graders will appreciate, and then he shares another joke:
I count on jokes, even jokes about death.
A man and his wife tried and tried to have a baby, but without success. Years went by and they went on trying, but no luck. They liked each other, so the work was always a pleasure, but they grew a bit sad along the way. Finally, she got pregnant, was very careful, and gave birth to a beautiful eight-pound-two-ounce baby boy. The couple were beside themselves with happiness. At the hospital that night, she told her husband to stop by the local newspaper and arrange for a birth announcement, to tell all their friends the good news. First thing next morning, she asked if he’d done the errand.As Angel reacted when he first heard the joke more than fifty years ago, I laughed and was surprised to hear the joke in the particular context it was shared.
“Yes, I did,” he said, “but I had no idea those little notices in the paper were so expensive.”
“Expensive?” she said. “How much was it?”
“It was eight hundred and thirty-seven dollars. I have the receipt.”
“Eight hundred and thirty-seven dollars!” she cried. “But that’s impossible. You must have made some mistake. Tell me exactly what happened.”
“There was a young lady behind a counter at the paper, who gave me the form to fill out,” he said. “I put in your name and my name and little Teddy’s name and weight, and when we’d be home again and, you know, ready to see friends. I handed it back to her and she counted up the words and said, ‘How many insertions?’ I said twice a week for fourteen years, and she gave me the bill. O.K.?”
What does Angell, at the age of 93, believing jokes to be so important mean? What does the "The Laugh that can be Laughed is not the Eternal Laugh" mean? I'm still not sure, but where these questions lead and how they relate fascinates me.
And that I noticed a connection between Yue Minjun's sculptures in Macau and Roger Angell's essay from New York City ...
... makes part of me laugh.