The Power of Laughter

Watt Samuel Beckett
Samuel Beckett

As we have seen, art can do a lot of things. Art can help us think about things in different ways, it can delve deeply into the lives of people, it can make us feel intense sadness or anger. Art can call us to action. But art can also do something else, something that we enjoy very much but don’t always think about. Art can make us laugh. Paul Astor, in a interview in the Atlantic, describes one of his favorite passages of Samuel Beckett’s work and argues that laughter is essential to writing. Astor claims that laughter, and the power that literature has to make us laugh, has a cathartic, healing effect. He claims that Beckett “worked on the pages of the-never-quite-finished Watt at night. He said he wrote the book to keep himself from going insane.” Laughter had a cathartic effect for Beckett, helping him to survive the German occupation during WWII. But it also has a cathartic effect on the readers. Astor claims that literature, even serious literature, should have comedic moments because it’s “the way we’re built as human beings, and often when we’re in dark circumstances we survive them by cracking jokes.”


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