Ready to be unprepared

For a burst of exuberance in your life, this is a must-hear talk. Emily Levine says she is going to talk about herself and who is she? “I am a recovering narcissist. I thought narcissism was about self love till someone told me there is a flip side to it. It is actually drearier than self love, it is unrequited self love. I don’t feel I can afford a relapse.”

Emily Levine is a philosopher comedian. She tells us how she has designed her brand of comedy after going through many forms of it. She built on the idea that you cannot deny another person’s reality, you can only build on it. “And of course we live in a society that is all about contradicting the other person’s reality,” says Levine and amidst laughter recounts instances where contradictions go hand in hand: only 2 per cent of Americans do not have the answers, says a claim following up with a survey which believes 75 per cent of Americans think Alaska is in Canada. And why do you think, Levine says girls do not do math? “...I was taught to do math and read at the same time. So you’re six years old, you’re reading ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ and it becomes rapidly obvious that there are only two kinds of men in the world: dwarves and Prince Charmings. And the odds are seven is to one against your finding the prince. That’s why little girls don’t do math. It’s too depressing.”

Levine’s talk is not about anything specific and she prepares you for it by titling her talk, “Theory of Everything.” So when she talks of why girls don’t do science, she attacks the notion of rationality and objectivity. She seems to ramble on with examples from different books, but the message is loud and clear: there is nothing called objectivity and rationality. To nail her point she says, “Objectivity is the subject subjugating the object. That is how you assert yourself. You make yourself the active voice and the object is the passive many hospital nurseries, according to a book by Jessica Benjamin, the sign over little boys’ crib reads, ‘I’m a boy,’ and the signs over girls’ crib reads, ‘It’s a girl.’ the passivity was projected on to little girls.”

Levine quotes from a book titled “The Garden of Priapus” saying, “Roman humour mirrors the construction of Roman society...Roman society was very top/bottom and so was humour...there always had to be a butt of a joke...(who was) the person who didn’t share the subject status...” and talking of current times she says that she was told it was rude to hang up on telemarketers (a jibe at our attempts to an egalitarian society) so she heard one fellow for quite some time till she said, “You sound sexy.” The marketer hung up.

Interactivity, says Levine, is at the core of communication and being funny. When she studied the character of a trickster she found a trickster is a change agent because he/she crosses boundaries, much like scientists. “When you’re surrounded by people who share the same set of assumptions as you, you start to think that’s reality.” If that is one situation when you should cross boundaries, she talks of non-oppositional strategies like her grandmother who believed in being martyr-like and so let the other person co-exist. The second attribute of a trickster is a “mind that is prepared for the unprepared and an ability to hold his ideas lightly so that he can let in room for new ideas....The trickster has to walk a fine line...he has to have poise...between the prepared and the unprepared...that allows the trickster to tip into beauty. And finally, the trickster does not have a home...he is always on the road...”

Replete with jokes, the comedian brings home the fact that the tolerant, the one willing to give in when required and balances a state of preparedness with readiness to meet the unprepared, is the one who can live happily.

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