Tuesday, 28 February 2012

On whimsy

In the middle of a discussion at Crooked Timber, on the prevalence of whimsical examples in certain schools of philosophy, I wondered whether what was being discussed was actually a valence of Englishness, more specifically:
I wonder if you’re putting your finger on something in the cultural DNA of certain sorts of thought-experimenting. Salman Rushdie has an essay on the difference between US and English comedy in which he characterises the former as ‘isn’t it funny that’-style humour (Friends et al) and the latter as ‘wouldn’t it be funny if-style (Monty Python and so on). I wouldn’t want to stick my neck out, but I suppose it might have something to do with living within more restrctive, though largely unwritten, codes of proper behaviour, and having mild eccentricity—whimsy—as the socially acceptable pressure valve. And being English I’m perhaps likely to think more positively of whimsy for that reason.
Actually I don't mean 'English'; I think I'm referring to something more narrowly class defined. This morning I happen to be re-reading Tolkien's 'The Monsters and the Critics' essay, and the tone of it is very erudite-whimsical, within certain precise boundaries.

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