They’ve wanted to buy humour
but he just wouldn’t be bought!
They’ve wanted to kill humour
but humour gave them the finger.
Fighting him’s a tough job.
They’ve never stopped executing him.
His chopped off head
was stuck on a soldier’s pike.
But as soon as the clown’s pipes
struck up their tune
he screeched out ‘I’m here!’
and broke into a jaunty dance.
From Humour, by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, set for bass soloist and male voice choir in Shostakovich’s thirteenth symphony. Where the rulers are the enemy, the only weapon of the ruled against them is mockery. Where the rulers are the enemy, it is a fight to the death.
The Barcelona Series by Joan Miro shows monstrous creatures with sharp teeth: Franco and the Fascists. Yet: what is this? There is such uncertainty in these distorted eyes. Cupidity, of course, lust, violence and destructiveness- but also fear. You need to guard yourself from these monsters, but the proper attitude to them includes pity. There is sympathy in the pictures, an attempt to understand what it is like to be these creatures. The act of drawing includes sympathy: Alasdair Gray says that you cannot paint or draw an expression which you cannot wear on your own face.
Possibly I am reading too much into the Barcelona Series (I have not quite accepted Derrida). Yet it is something I want to see in the pictures, because it is my own attitude: What is it like to be this person? always has to be a useful question. Where is our common ground?
The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.
So I treat mockery with great care. It creates barriers. It makes conciliation less likely.