Mattia Mariotti muses about the value and nature of clowning.


Nietzsche made him one of his three metamorphoses, Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem about his hump, Camel cigarettes chose him as their symbol and, more recently, in China a jolly man with not many teeth offered me a ride on his back:  the camel. It’s undeniable, the camel has always had a pivotal role in the history of world civilization. “Why should we care?” my dearest readers will be asking themselves. Indeed, no, you are right, you shouldn’t care.

Today I’ll be talking about the value of clowning. To begin with, there is a little problem that I’ll mention in passing, namely that all I know about the topic is that I know nothing about it. When my dear friend Dominic asked me to write this article, it occurred to me that this may get in the way. Then I forgot about it.

It sounds like something Socrates could have said, you will rightfully point out, careful reader. But this would not necessarily be of any help because Socrates, being wiser than myself, always refrained from writing about clowning and, as far as I know, from writing about anything at all.

However, you are partially right, reader, that something else which Socrates apparently liked to say could come to my rescue: not “Death may be the greatest of all human blessings” as I am sure some of you couldn’t help thinking, but “Know thyself”. How can this help?

I’ll start by declaring that I have lied to you around a minute ago. This would prevent most people from keeping reading, but for the brave adventurers who would like to continue I can say that, alas, it is not strictly true that I know nothing about clowning. I know very little about it. I know, for example, that if there were a point of clowning, it would be not be very far from that of Socrates’s “Know thyself”.

However, “talking about music is like dancing about architecture” once said Frank Zappa, and talking about a “point of clowning”, I think, falls roughly under the same category. So nothing to be done.

Nevertheless, Frank Zappa might well concede, peace rest upon him, a widespread ambition of humanity seems to be that of being serious. Indeed, the ambition seems to go beyond the limits of humanity, for the Ducklett I have been training in my Pokemon White for DS is of a serious nature. Here I mean serious not as the contrary of funny, because humanity tends to want to be both serious and funny at the same time, but as the contrary of ridiculous. To be fair, I don’t know whether that’s exactly the nuance of seriousness that bothers my Ducklett, but the reader should be able to safely overlook any inaccuracy with respect to this point.

What anyone familiar with the appearance and the phenomenology of a Ducklett will not fail to notice is that it is deeply ridiculous, and that the thought of it as a creature that wants to be serious makes it look even more ridiculous. The rest of mankind will probably think that this is a property limited to Ducklett, the poor idiot. But with an easy or sometimes incredibly thorough exercise of concentration one can realize that this is not the case. Indeed, to quote Sue Morrison, “if we ever faced all directions of ourselves at once, we could only laugh at the beauty of our own ridiculousness.” The directions of the selves she talks about are something one could hardly understand without knowing some Native American metaphysics, which I don’t know, but the general idea of what she means is quite clear.  Humanity is incredibly beautiful because it is incredibly ridiculous. So is my Ducklett, and so is this fish.




And clowns are there to remind us that we are all part of the same big family of Beauty.



Mattia Mariotti


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