Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sarcasm as the Food of Love

David Sedaris has an uncanny knack for making the mundane trivialities of everyday interactions completely hilarious.  His secret weapon—the one that works best on me, anyway—is the all-access pass into his thought process this narrative provides. Sedaris’s obsessive-compulsive behavioral quirks are delightfully strange, but his overactive imagination is what catapults him over the bounds of normalcy. The way he presents his snap judgments about people make them seem as natural as breathing—which they are.  As critical social beings, judging others is something we do instinctively.  Sedaris is set apart by his willingness to fully illuminate what takes place inside his head; he allows us to feel every electric pulse of appraisal or vindictive spite within.  The more shameful thoughts—like his staunch resistance to relinquish any of his “hard-earned” Halloween candy to the Tomkeys, even the chocolate pieces that made him ill—are presented in a clearly self-deprecating light. Sedaris is generally unapologetic, but why should he have to apologize for his thoughts? He uses exaggeration to inherently acknowledge his own ridiculousness, allowing us to laugh at it more comfortably.

Despite the unremitting stream of glib sarcasm spiking the narrative, Sedaris manages to convey the genuine care he feels for members of his immediate family and his partner, Hugh. It is interesting that the device of sarcasm, so often used as a defense mechanism and distancing technique in life, manages to solidify closeness. In class discussion, several people agreed on the point that the closer someone is to someone else, the more specific and humorous that person’s ‘zings’ against him will be.  Sedaris presents his loved ones’ odious quirks in shameless detail and yet somehow manages to make traits like his father’s stubborn penny-pinching and his brother’s Hicksville gutter mouth seem charming.  The feelings of irritation he conveys add striking realism to the anecdotes—after all, who can get under your skin better than family?

The conversation David has with his oldest sister when she calls him out on pimping his family’s personal lives to the reading public was a poignant moment for me.  Although his presentation conveyed his own closeness with his satirical subjects, I remained comfortably distant from them, blithely assuming their complicity in the writing process. When Lisa calls him out, it gets real. For the first time, we see that even Sedaris himself may not be altogether comfortable with his subject matter. But close sardonic narrative may well be the conduit through which he is able to express his love most fully—as counter-intuitive a means as it may be. 

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