THE SOMBER AND THE SERIOUS
How deeply we would like, in our heart of hearts, as the poet Stephen Dunn has written, „to take the somber out of the serious!“ Yet, as is so often the case, the semantic error becomes the emotional one, so that instead of reflecting the greater wisdom (that the serious are never the somber), it reflects the lesser one (that the serious must always be „serious“). To wit the deep, immoveable melancholia (and tedium) of so many of the so-called „learned,“ who merely „sigh and quote with learned looks/ Precedents out of beautiful old books.“ (Yeats)
The power of these overly somber, much as the exaggerated power of those who have surreptitiously converted an adjective to a noun in that intimidating title: „intellectual,“ derives from the confusion between intelligence and wisdom, as it has more and more become possible to live life from the sidelines (as a purely theoretical matter), and a word („intellectual“) which was originally intended as purely descriptive of certain activities has been transmogrified into a full-time source of identity.
More than happy to consider their gloom a sign of superior status and intelligence, to spuddle out over the world (especially here in Cambridge), spouting quotes and precedents like some sort of verbal Magnificat, they try to convince the rest of us of their hegemony over the fine art of seriousness, whereas laughter is dismissed as merely a diversion for lightweights and ignoramuses. Why cackle, they ask, when you can pout? Why diddle, when you can more conveniently proclaim yourself a moralist?
And so it becomes, almost surreptitously, a world full of Dylan Thomas’s „grave men,“ who only when they are „near death“ see that „blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay.“ By which time it is, sadly, usually a tad late to get all that much mileage out of one’s epiphanies.