Thursday, September 19, 2013

Anagogic jokes (re-upped)

Back in the late ‘70s, while Haj Ross was visiting Berkeley, he and George Lakoff and a couple of others put on an informal Friday-afternoon “Humor Workshop”.   These sessions I attended with pleasure, and initially with anticipation, wondering to what depths of analysis  these premier talents of linguistics would plumb.  As it turned out, mostly people just told jokes, laughed, and passed on to the next one.    About the first joke anyone told was this one:
            Q:  Why is a rat’s turd  tapered at both ends?
            A: So the rat’s asshole won’t snap shut.

After the chuckles died down, someone duly asked,  “Well, why is that funny?” 
Some puzzled looks, and half-hearted attempts at lucubration;  then, “Well, because it’s true.”
That was about as deep as exegesis was to go.

Stop me if you've heard this one

Still, they were good jokes, which yet I remember and continue to tell, after  lo  these many winters have struck these oak locks ashen.   Many were scatalogical;  yet as I sat there, as yet unbaptized   but created for a better world,  it struck me that a great many of the jokes had what we may term an anagogic moment -- something striving upwards and beyond the confines of our sorry japery.   If time permits and I am spared, I may share with you some examples and analysis.

~     ~     ~ 

Our colleague, friend, and spiritual advisor, Dr. Keith Massey, Webmaster and artistic director of this very site, has just posted a joke of his own, which he told me many years ago in response to my request for Lutheran Humor:  Sven and Ole, and the beast of burden.   It happens to feature the same humble orifice as in the joke above, whose lowly but essential labors  go largely unsung by scop or bard.

Listen to him tell it  as only a Norwegian can tell it.  A bit later this evening (again, if I am spared), when the G., in close cooperation with the T., has had time to complete its merciful work, cleansing the arterioles of the dust of human toil, I may return to the task  as one newly armed,  and explain what we may hear there -- what melody tolls behind the simple text.


There is a category of jokes that make fun of simpletons, usually from an identified town or rural area.   For Denmark (to remain in the Scandinavian sphere for now), the butt of such jokes is Aarhus.
Here is an Aarhus meta-joke:

At a convivial table, one present announces that he will now tell a joke about some simpletons from Aarhus.
Someone coughs and speaks up, albeit hesitantly.  “Please…bear in mind… that I myself am from Aarhus.”
The jokester waves a dismissive hand.  “That’s all right -- I’ll tell it slowly.”

Now, as our Wisconsin-Norwegian joke starts out, with the amiable but not overly intellectual pair of farmers Sven and Ole, it looks as though it may fall into this genre.  But matters take a surprising -- and Christian -- twist.

So:  Sven and Ole cannot agree on whether their faithful beast of burden is a donkey or a mule.  So, they go to the man they most respect:  Pastor Thorlitsen.  He renders a Solomonic decision that spares the feelings of both:  they are to call the animal by its Biblical name, the ass.
Now at this point -- all of us having been eight years old at some point -- we know perfectly well what is coming.   A pun, a dumb pun, involving buttocks.  How is this joke-in-progress going to manage to be any good at all, assuming you’re older than eight?
We are given a good long time to ponder this paradox, as the telling rather rambles on, shaggy-dog fashion.  Finally, the faithful farmers are digging a deep grave for their departed quadruped, longtime companion of their tilling toils.   A passer-by says, mockingly,  “What’re y’digging, a fox-hole?”
“Not according to Pastor Thorlitsen!” they reply.
And thus endeth the joke.  That was the punchline.


Now, the strange and rather wondrous thing is that, for a second or two, I didn’t get it.   Despite having known roughly what was coming -- indeed, despite having heard this exact same joke some years before, told by this very same deipnosophist -- all I could think of was the goodness and wisdom of Pastor Thorlitsen. 
“Are you digging a fox-hole in fear of imaginary armies, here in the peaceful pastures of Wisconsin?” -- “Nay, for we put our whole trust in the Lord, as preached by Pastor Thorlitsen!”
“Is life a meaningless charade, our toil all for naught, with nothing that awaits us but the grave?”  -- “O nay and fie, we seek eternal life, guided by our shepherd, Pastor Thorlitsen!”
“And is that sad dead beast a mere sack of offal, soon to be forgotten by all but the worms?” -- “O nay, for ‘tis the very image and emblem of that same faithful mount, which bore our Lord into Jerusalem.   God bless this beast, God bless us men and animals all, and God bless Pastor Thorlitsen!”

For a couple of seconds, I was in a hazy state of grace.  But now mark:   What makes the joke finally, triumphantly, so wonderful, is that, by implication, Sven and Ole never do notice the pun.  Their hearts are filled with love, their minds with reverence, they are quite beyond the reach of such crude mockery.   And so the passer-by passes on  -- lo, we know him, for he is dusty, from walking up and down in the Earth;  yet here he finds no prey, among these simple Christians.  Thanks to Pastor Thorlitsen.

THANK U, Lord, 4 Pastor Thorlitsen !!

~   ~
For a story  of epiphany,
try this:
Murphy and the Magic Pawnshop
~   ~
[To be continued, D.V...]

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