Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Amy Really Likes Us

Before leaving class yesterday, Dr. Ellis called to our attention the non-linear reading experience that Amy Sedaris’ I Like You creates for the reader. This, I feel, ties in with the general consensus that she doesn’t use the superiority model of humor in her work, and that the multi-directional humor (at herself and at others) she does use is reflected in the very back-and-forth reading that the form of her book entails.

From the very beginning of the book, Sedaris gives the impression that the humor in the book will not be one-directional. In “The Art of Hospitality” one of the first things she writes is, “ ‘That was the best time I ever had,’ and it’s always me saying it. But I do know in my heart they all feel the same way, probably’.” In those two sentences, Amy seems to be setting up the type of humor she uses in her book; that is, a humor that is both good for the self and for others, and the very material she writes about—social gatherings and parties—further manifests that idea. For, as discussed in class, we don’t usually throw parties merely for the self-gratification in knowing that we can be good hosts or in having the company of people we like, but also so that those whom we invite can have a good time, too.

In fact, Sedaris seems to employ a lot of this back-and-forth concept throughout the course of her book, mainly in the odd comparisons she uses. Similar to what Perry does in juxtaposing two dissimilar things (like exercise and running from the police), Sedaris does the same. In her introduction when she is writing about the word “entertainment,” she says, “it sounds charmingly old-fashioned, like courtship or back-alley abortion.” Essentially, she’s calling us to do a mental leap, a mental back-and-forth, between these ideas of courtship and back-alley abortion, which, like in Perry’s book, are cast in a new light. We are forced to consider how courtship and back-alley abortion are similar so as to be paired together. We are forced to fill in the gaps between those two words that will form a bridge to connect them.

This can in turn be tied back to the arrangement of the book itself, since we are forced to flip back and forth between pages in order to draw connections between the first and latter halves. The first half of the book seems to have little we can ground ourselves in and just seems to be mostly frivolousness without the references to the recipes in the back of the book. Much of the humor she uses in the beginning is dependent on the recipes she mentions, and if we don’t get the recipes, we don’t really get anywhere. Similarly, if the latter half of the book didn’t have the first half, most of the humor wouldn’t even exist. It’d just be a plain old cookbook. Thus, the form of Sedaris’ book exemplifies how dependent the first and second halves are on each other, and, consequently, how the humor she uses and how the parties she instructs us on organizing, are dependent not just on one (excuse the pun) party, but of several.

The spontaneity and randomness, the quirky comparisons, and the sometimes exhausting method of reading Sedaris’ I Like You, therefore all seem to condense into one particular motive: to show us and to move us toward making connections. And connections are the first step toward building community. I think maybe it’s what Sedaris has been telling us all along, explicitly in her title. “I like you.” The connector? Like. Definition of like? To find enjoyable or agreeable, and to be of a similar kind. The breakdown? I find you enjoyable and you are similar to me.

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