Tag Archives: humor

‘The Way Things Go’ is World Art Classic #463


The Way Things Go by Peter Fischli & David Weiss is World Art Classic #463.

Peter Fischli & David Weiss’s work is unclassifiable. Which is a good thing. Yet despite this quality of being genre-defying, their work is defined by playfulness and humor absent from 90% of contemporary art.

I rather enjoy wit and humor in art.

The absence thereof, seriousness, is, in my view, one of the faultlines in 20th century art. Modernism, for example, was reigned by a detrimental “cult of seriousness”.

I first realized my predilection for humor in art somewhere around 2006, when I saw the painting ‘Man weeping, his tears form a waterfall‘.

The humor of Peter Fischli & David Weiss reminds me obliquely of that of The Chapman Brothers, minus the Chapman’s fondness for painfullness.

I’ve recently canonized Fischli and Weiss.

As I said in the title of this post, The Way Things Go is ‘World Art Classic’ #463. Its alphabetical neighbors are The Unswept Floor, a second century AD mosaic and The Witch by Salvator Rosa.

Finding Nemo

This page May 29, 2014 is part of the comics series. Illustration: Little Nemo sitting upright in bed

Illustration: Little Nemo sitting upright in bed

When we were children, there was a joke about three boys sitting in a boat. One was called biteme, another one pinchme and a third hitme.

Hitme fell out of the boat. Who remained in the boat?

You can guess what happened next.

In Rabelais and His WorldBakhtin describes a somewhat similar word game.

A 13th century medieval monk searched all biblical and patristic texts for sentences containing the word nemo, Latin for nobody.

He then interpreted phrases such as “nemo deum vidit” (“Nobody has seen God”), along with many other references to nobody, to mean that Nemo referred to a proper noun and thus was a certain person and that the phrase actually meant “Saint Nobody has seen God”.

That text, known as the “History of Nemo“, is now lost, but its story is not and it is easy to see why it so fascinated medieval everyman.

Bakhtin remarks: “everything impossible, inadmissible, inaccessible is, on the contrary, permitted for Nemo. Thanks to this transposition, Nemo acquires the majestic aspect of a being almost equal to God, endowed with unique, exceptional powers, knowledge (he knows that which no one else knows), and extraordinary freedom (he is allowed that which nobody is permitted.)”

I am reminded of another childhood memory. I have younger brother who is called Joost. There is a Dutch expression which says “Joost mag het weten,” (literally “Joost is allowed to know [it]”) meaning “heaven knows” or “God knows” (nobody knows).

When we were children, many people used to say jokingly to my brother “Joost mag het weten.”

One day — apparently fearing that some big secret was being kept from me — I asked my mother. “Mother, when am I allowed to know it?”

PS 1. If you like these word games, I recently posted on the medieval nonsense word blituri[1].

PS 2. Nobody is also a subcategory of the void and a sister category of nothing. I recently mentioned the void [2].

When a nose is not a nose

Caricature of human nose Illustration: Napoleon III nose caricatures from Schneegans's History of Grotesque Satire

Napoleon III nose caricatures from Schneegans’s History of Grotesque Satire

Following my previous post on [1] the concept of the grotesque body in Bakhtin’s book Rabelais and His World (which mentions the term grotesque 91 times), I did some research on previous books Bakhtin mentions in Rabelais and His World with reference to the grotesque.

One of the authors whose name pops up most (13 times) is that of Heinrich Schneegans, author of Geschichte der grotesken Satire (1894).

Bakhtin criticizes Schneegans for failing to notice the connection between caricatures of the human nose (above) and the phallic symbolism of the human nose. Sometimes a nose it not a nose.