In trying to bind together Bill Bryson’s I’m a Stranger here Myself and Maira Kalman’s Principles of Uncertainty for analysis, I’ve settled on a common, albeit slightly broad and obvious, theme; life. Where are we from? Where are we going? Who will we meet? Where will we end up? Funny that we should be dealing with this very idea in our last classes this week, I feel that it is very fitting and a good starting point to begin to look at these texts in terms of forming an overall definition of the way we deal with humor. These questions I have found are consistent with what stage you are in your life. For example upon graduation high school every person I came in contact with, within the months of March-August would inquire, “Where are you going to school?” Throughout Freshman and Sophomore year the question became, “What are you going to major in?” Junior year, “Are you planning to go abroad?” and the disheartening, “Aw, why not?” when you respond, “No” to the former. Senior year the big question comes “So what are you going to do now?” I feel as if these questions are not really what we want the answers to. To combine all these questions into one and really get to the heart of the matter one should ask another, “Are you enjoying your life to the fullest of your capabilities?”
Both Kallman and Bryson use humor to diffuse the abritrariness, “uncertainties”, and inevitable confusion of human life. In the beginning of Kalman’s novel she opens with a passage about the Dodo bird. She writes,
“How can I tell you everything that is in my heart…Begin. With the hapless dodo. Galumping innocently around Mauritus sporting a ridiculous plume. Then out of the blue- Man arrives with a hankering for a Dodo sandwich and POOF! By 1681-extinct. No more Dodo.” (Kalman)
This passage is laced with humor (not if you are a descendant of a Dodo) but underlying is a sense of fear, the inevitability that extinction is just around the corner. Kalman’s novel is quite brilliant in that her illustrations and musings are just as random as she describes life.
Just as Kalman uses humor as a response to life’s hardships, Bryson uses humor in a similar vein, to laugh at these dangers and in doing so poke fun at his own disposition. In the chapter he describes getting his mail in the freezing cold he reflects this certain attitude. He writes, “I don’t wish to sound smug or boastful, but I have devoted much of my life to testing the tolerance to the extremes of the human body, often with very little regard to the potential peril to myself…” (Bryson) It is apparent that in order to truly know who we are and what we are capable of we must be willing to push our boundaries and laugh in the face of danger.
That being said, in Principles of Uncertainty, Kalman writes, “What is this book? What is anything? Who am I? Who are you?...This is a year in my life profusely illustrated. Abounding with anguish, confusion, bits of wisdom, musings, meanderings, buckets of Joie de vivre and restful sojourns.” (Kalman) Not knowing what “joie de vivre” meant, I was forced to look it up. In Humor Reference Guide: A Comprehensive Classification and Analysis by Warren Shibles. Joie de vivre
"can be a joy of conversation, joy of eating, joy of anything one might do… And joie de vivre may be seen as a joy of everything, a comprehensive joy, a philosophy of life, a Weltanschauung. Robert's Dictionnaire says joie is sentiment exaltant ressenti par toute la conscience, that is, involves one's whole being." (Shibles)
I have realized after completing these two drastically different novels that what connects them is humanity’s ability to thrive on joie de vivre. Regardless of whatever we encounter, as a society we are encouraged to push through and “look on the bright side.” What Kalman and Bryson have pointed out is that no matter where you are in life, a stranger in America, a stranger in England, a wanderer in your own “unfathomable world”, you must not focus on the random uncertainties of life, but rather on the consistent little joys that can be found in the cracks of confusion.