Humor: An exegesis of my nemesis

"Cameron" invariably comments derisively on the author's essays, deploying the fine arts of the poet. He is the greatest poet of our time.
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Poets and bloggers have a way with words

"Cameron" invariably comments derisively on the author's essays, deploying the fine arts of the poet. He is the greatest poet of our time.

Many readers believe that the 'ꀜCameron'ꀝ who often comments about Flip Side is a fictional character created by me. I have received a number of emails on this topic:

  • Your use of 'ꀜCameron'ꀝ as a commentator is a brilliant literary device. Against your urbane, sophisticated wit, you juxtapose the fool — not the Shakespearean fool, but the post-modern fool who, frustrated by his own unintelligibility, voices only the absence of meaning.
  • I don'ꀙt get it. Why do make up those 'ꀜCameron'ꀝ comments? Is this supposed to be funny? I don'ꀙt get it. Is Flip Side supposed to be funny? I don'ꀙt get it.
  • Your creation 'ꀜCameron'ꀝ is an insult to Seattle'ꀙs Norwegian heritage. It is racist and offensive for you to portray him as an imbecile with no sense of humor. Norwegians enjoy a good laugh, especially fart jokes.
  • 'ꀜCameron'ꀝ is one of the most interesting characters in modern American fiction. Like Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot, his inability to communicate does not stop him from trying, thereby creating an absurdist anti-hero that rivals anything in Becket.
  • I love the Cameron comments you write. These are the only funny part of Flip Side. Why don'ꀙt you have him tell some fart jokes? If you need some, I'ꀙve got some great fart jokes that I recently translated from Norwegian.

I do not write Cameron. Cameron writes Cameron, and I consider Cameron to be the greatest poet of our time. He is able to use the structural elements of poetry — rhythm, meter, punctuation, rhyme, etc. — to enhance and amplify the complex meanings of his well-chosen words.

Consider Cameron'ꀙs comment last week, a pithy one-line poem: "'Steve Clifford writes humor' Bullshit or a lie?" (My essay, on the decline of lying, had pointed out the difference between lying, which is false, and bullshit, which is phony.)

Because 'ꀜSteve'ꀝ and the first syllable of 'ꀜClifford'ꀝ are stressed, the poem opens on a spondee, immediately grabbing our attention and foreshadowing penetrating insights. This is followed by two iambs with the stresses on 'ꀜwrites'ꀝ and the second syllable of 'ꀜhumor.'ꀝ In choosing such a complex compound meter in the first six syllables, the poet underscores the complexity of his message. He seems to imply that normal meter would constrain his profound thoughts.

I believe one key to understanding this poem is the deliberate absence of punctuation after the word 'ꀜhumor'ꀝ juxtaposed against the mysterious capitalization of the word 'ꀜBullshit.'ꀝ Had the poet chosen to use a period after 'ꀜhumor'ꀝ we would have a simple declarative statement. To express skepticism he could have used a question mark. A dash or semicolon might have compelled the reader to immediately choose one of the alternatives. Brilliantly, the absence of punctuation implies limitless interpretations — all the above and more. We are placed in the eleven dimensional world of super string theory.

Read the poem out loud and you will notice the pause between 'ꀘhumor'ꀝ and 'ꀜBullshit.'ꀝ This pause, a caesura, breaks the line in two creating a troubling ambiguity. This form prefigures one of the central questions of the poem — do we really have two options (Bullshit or lie), or are both illusions?

After the caesura, the poet capitalizes the word 'ꀜBullshit.'ꀝ I contend that in doing so, he emphasizes the tension between the plural and the singular. Bullshit could be either, while a lie is clearly singular. This again reflects the theme of unity versus dispersion introduced by the caesura.

To use a musical analogy, the caesura without punctuation is a deceptive cadence, leaving us in a state of unrest and propelling us forward to the tonic to find resolution.

When the word 'ꀜBullshit'ꀝ appears in a poem, it usually employed spondaicly with both syllables stressed. Here, however the stress on the second syllable. Thus we think we continue comfortably with the iambic rhythm. We would have, had the poet chosen to end the sentence 'ꀜBullshit or lie?'ꀝ But the poet ends with the anapest, 'ꀜor a lie?'ꀝ The insertion of the article 'ꀜa'ꀝ at once heightens the singularity of a specific lie and deepens the tension between the unique and the general.

Were it not for article 'ꀜa'ꀝ the entire line could be read as iambic pentameter: "Steve Clif'ꀙ ford writes'ꀙ hu mor'ꀙ "Bull shit'ꀙ or lie'ꀙ?" By boldly including the article and ending with an anapest (unstressed, unstressed, stressed), the metrical alteration reinforces our original impulse to scan 'ꀜSteve Clif'ꀝ as spondaic. With elegant economy the employment of the article 'ꀜa'ꀝ magnifies the profound nature of the question, 'ꀜBullshit or a lie?'ꀝ Is life a lie? Are all epistemological questions Bullshit?

We must search inside ourselves for the answer.

In eight simple words, the poet has awakened our poetic imagination and compelled us to confront existential issues no matter how troubling.


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