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Sat, Sep. 1st, 2007 12:40 pm
Masterpisses of the quintocento

My Book of Jokes (now 50,000 words into a projected 80,000) is basically a series of ludicrous, scurrilous episodes in the life of a single family with a super-eccentric, sexually rapacious father. The episodes are presented by the young narrator, a bland boy straight out of a bildungsroman, but they're mostly retellings -- in an incongruously serious, autobiographical mode -- of jokes. Imagine all the jokes you know being cast with the same set of family members. Since jokes tend to depict extreme situations, the family in question quickly becomes luridly dysfunctional. My narrator becomes aware of what's going on, but the only way he can deflect the family's tragi-comic fate is by trying to tell better jokes, or just waiting for the one-dimensionality of the jokes to change into some kind of complexity by sheer multiplication.

This clash of genres -- kunstlerbildungsroman autobiographical mode with joke mode -- could also be characterised as a class clash, a tone clash, and a historical time period clash. Jokes are lower class, ribald, vulgar, whereas the "artist coming of age" mode is precious, Proustian, bourgeois. The tones don't match. And if the subjective coming-of-age novel is essentially a 19th or 20th century form, jokes go much further back.

But the interesting thing is that if you go back 500 years, you find that modern distinctions between sacred and profane, respectable and vulgar, refined and ribald, collapse. Some of the most vulgar humorous writers of the renaissance were connected to princes and popes, and worked for the church and the state. Chaucer was a courtier, a diplomat, and a civil servant. He was writing about pokers being rammed up randy students' arses on quiet days during his time as a customs officer, or managing the king's forests.

Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459) is often credited with compiling the first book of jokes, the Liber Facetiarum, published in 1451. Some of his Facetiae Erotica (sex jokes, basically) have been supplying material for my book. Poggio was a secretary at the Vatican. He was such a close friend of successive popes that they formed a sort of regular comedy club, the Bugiale, where various guests gathered of an evening to tell stories, jokes and anecdotes about bishops, princes and "scurvy peasants".

"This society," says the prudish editor of one modern collection of Poggio's jokes, "was a natural product of the decadent Rome of the quintocento. Its members, comprising the enlightened spirits of the Roman curia, had brought humanism to the point of complete agnosticism and disrespect for all authority. In their reaction against the religious and moral hypocrisy of the medieval church, they mistook licentiousness for freedom and lewdness for knowledge... a frank concern with the bodily functions did not carry in those days the reproach that it bears today... Poggio, like his comrades of the “Bugiale,” delighted in broad humor and odorous jest. In his facetiae he portrays a material world of earthly desire, impiety and jocular cynicism. In this world, the women are all unfaithful and the men cuckolds; and the clergy and royalty are mercilessly ridiculed. The picture is undoubtedly exaggerated and unfair. But to a large extent it was the world which he and his comrades knew."

You can sort of see why the clergy would enjoy describing a tainted world -- condemning vice and laughing at it aren't really so far apart. There's also something nice about the fact that these dirty stories were told in "the purest Latin Poggio could command". Here's one, in English:

Of a Jealous Man Who Took Extreme Measures to Learn if His Wife Was Faithful
A man from Gubbio, called Giovanni, was fearfully jealous of his wife and did not know by what means he could positively assure himself that she was not deceiving him with other men. Finally he hit upon a plan worthy of a jealous man; he castrated himself, saying: “Now, if my wife should become with child, I will be convinced that she has committed adultery.”

Francois Rabelais (1494-1553) is the undisputed master of fabulous muck, though. Rabelais was a medical doctor and publisher's editor. He enjoyed the protection of King Francois the First and the influential de Bellay family.

From his masterpiece (or should we call it a "masterpiss"?) Gargantua and Pantagruel, here's a fabulous, um, passage about wiping your bottom:

I have, answered Gargantua, by a long and curious experience, found out a means to wipe my bum, the most lordly, the most excellent, and the most convenient that ever was seen.

What is that? said Grangousier, how is it?

I will tell you by-and-by, said Gargantua. Once I did wipe me with a gentle-woman's velvet mask, and found it to be good; for the softness of the silk was very voluptuous and pleasant to my fundament. Another time with one of their hoods, and in like manner that was comfortable. At another time with a lady's neckerchief, and after that I wiped me with some ear-pieces of hers made of crimson satin, but there was such a number of golden spangles in them (turdy round things, a pox take them) that they fetched away all the skin of my tail with a vengeance. Now I wish St. Antony's fire burn the bum-gut of the goldsmith that made them, and of her that wore them! This hurt I cured by wiping myself with a page's cap, garnished with a feather after the Switzers' fashion.

Afterwards, in dunging behind a bush, I found a March-cat, and with it I wiped my breech, but her claws were so sharp that they scratched and exulcerated all my perinee. Of this I recovered the next morning thereafter, by wiping myself with my mother's gloves, of a most excellent perfume and scent of the Arabian Benin. After that I wiped me with sage, with fennel, with anet, with marjoram, with roses, with gourd-leaves, with beets, with colewort, with leaves of the vine-tree, with mallows, wool-blade, which is a tail-scarlet, with lettuce, and with spinach leaves. All this did very great good to my leg.

Then with mercury, with parsley, with nettles, with comfrey, but that gave me the bloody flux of Lombardy, which I healed by wiping me with my braguette. Then I wiped my tail in the sheets, in the coverlet, in the curtains, with a cushion, with arras hangings, with a green carpet, with a table-cloth, with a napkin, with a handkerchief, with a combing-cloth; in all which I found more pleasure than do the mangy dogs when you rub them.

Yea, but, said Grangousier, which torchecul did you find to be the best?

I was coming to it, said Gargantua, and by-and-by shall you hear the tu autem, and know the whole mystery and knot of the matter. I wiped myself with hay, with straw, with thatch-rushes, with flax, with wool, with paper, but,

Who his foul tail with paper wipes
Shall at his ballocks leave some chips.


Speaking of chips, Graham Linehan's comedy about computer repairmen, The IT Crowd, is now two episodes into its second series; watch it here. It's funny enough, but essentially middle class fare about embarrassing oneself at the office. Pale fire indeed beside Rabelais.

29CommentReplyFlag


(Anonymous)
Sat, Sep. 1st, 2007 11:18 am (UTC)

Serious shit!

As a diversion from your flow, your mention of "scurvy peasants" reminds me I was reading last night about the Saracen Head pub opposite the Barrowlands in Glasgow, where I gave the bar a 1967 pound note (found in a stocking under a bed in Shetland)in 1987, prior to a Cocteau Twins concert.

The original Saracen Head Inn was opposite where — where "the Lords of Justiciary, after holding dread state at the Cross Court-house during the day, treated the bailies arid freeholders to a "poor man," alias, shoulder-blade of mutton, and oceans of claret at night" and
"(T)hough this hoary relic of the past, "The Old Saracen’s Head" building, "still stands" (1802), its glory has departed, as it now serves as a tenement of small houses for the humbler classes"


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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Sat, Sep. 1st, 2007 11:19 am (UTC)

mm seems I was "logged out".


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Sep. 1st, 2007 12:03 pm (UTC)

This sounds like you're making your own Patrick Keiller film!


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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Sat, Sep. 1st, 2007 01:26 pm (UTC)
robinsonner

I refer you to this post
http://niddrie-edge.livejournal.com/71227.html?thread=119867#t119867


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Sep. 1st, 2007 08:53 pm (UTC)
Re: robinsonner

I didn't know about the verb, but Keiller's "London" begins with a very specific reference to the idea of "derive", translated as "drift". Keiller definitely intended the films to be read as psychogeography.


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Sat, Sep. 1st, 2007 11:45 am (UTC)

I suppose that the lower classes had vulgar jokes with a much more direct emphasis on the vulgar, on the joke. Could it be that Poggio wanted to hide away the vulgarity behind a very respected language so people needed to think an extra time in order to understand what the joke was all about?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Sep. 1st, 2007 12:01 pm (UTC)

Or could it be that a small elite of the powerful was always laughing at the piety of the burghers behind their bejewelled fans, in their inscrutable dead languages? Perhaps the quintocento popes were the people who believed in God least.


ReplyThread Parent
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Sat, Sep. 1st, 2007 12:12 pm (UTC)

In the world of jokes, the only thing that differs the rich and the poor is language itself. I'd be my hypothesis.


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Sat, Sep. 1st, 2007 01:04 pm (UTC)

have you got a watermelon on your head?


ReplyThread Parent
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Sun, Sep. 2nd, 2007 05:06 pm (UTC)

Yes, I do!


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Sat, Sep. 1st, 2007 12:30 pm (UTC)

The IT Crowd has some good nerd jokes, though.


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scottbateman
scottbateman
Scott Bateman
Sat, Sep. 1st, 2007 12:57 pm (UTC)

...The Aristocrats!


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Sep. 1st, 2007 09:06 pm (UTC)

I really, really dislike that film The Aristocrats. I dislike the way people are dressed in it, the way they tell their anecdotes, the way they've added a digital effect which makes the camerawork look more "edgy", the "he-da-man" style of adulation of supposed masters of comedy, the tellings of the joke, and the joke itself. When a friend showed me the DVD in New York I asked her to take it off half way through. (And the DVD too.)


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mandyrose
mandyrose
Sun, Sep. 2nd, 2007 04:06 am (UTC)

Can I just tell you, that Andy Dick got ticketed by a police officer for pissing on the sidewalk a block away from my house that night?

So finally something happens in Columbus.


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stickismyfriend
stickismyfriend
stickismyfriend
Sat, Sep. 1st, 2007 01:02 pm (UTC)
be cinque-gentle with me

I suspect a pun-nudge towards the quintocential


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Sep. 1st, 2007 04:14 pm (UTC)
Julian Cope's new book

Thought that you might be interested -
As I'm aware of your love of all things Japan-orientated, have you seen Julian Cope's new book - Japrocksampler (How the Post-war Japanese Blew their minds on Rock 'n' Roll)?
I've only just bought it, so I haven't read it yet, but his book on German 70's bands - Krautrocksampler was very good. The new book features lots of bands I've never heard of, but also contains lots of interesting history and stories.


http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0747589453/ref=s9_asin_image_1-1966_p/203-5163391-0658350?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=0YMR4H503ZCEHJNDQVYK&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=139046091&pf_rd_i=468294


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revengeofshades
revengeofshades
Mattress of the World
Sat, Sep. 1st, 2007 07:46 pm (UTC)

will we be able to order your book through your website? i'm looking forward to it.


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rodebrecht
Robert
Sat, Sep. 1st, 2007 10:47 pm (UTC)

And do you plan to make another Youtube reading video? The last one was great, especially when watched in the dark.


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alphacomp
alphacomp
Digital Video Camera
Sat, Sep. 1st, 2007 10:43 pm (UTC)

Rabelais, I hate to say it but you really need a makeover. The long thin gingery hair just accentuates the rapidly receding hairline. The whispy grey/white beard doesn't do much for you either. You're of an age now where you're going to look infinitely better if you smarten up a bit. Get yourself a sharp short haircut, lose the beard, buy yourself a funky suit and you'll look so much better, and younger to boot.


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microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Sat, Sep. 1st, 2007 11:12 pm (UTC)

Feels a bit mean and cruel, but I have to agree. Rabelais, you are awesome and you are a handsome man, but the "I-am-a-twentysomething-hobo-slacker" look is not doing you any favours. Men in their forties can look really good, but not that way.


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alphacomp
alphacomp
Digital Video Camera
Sun, Sep. 2nd, 2007 12:15 am (UTC)

It's his I'm-in-a-relationship-and-I-don't-care look. I bet if Rabelais was single he wouldn't look half as scruffy.


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mssr_rabelais
François
Sun, Sep. 2nd, 2007 12:32 am (UTC)

What are you doing in New York, Dad?


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Sep. 2nd, 2007 02:55 am (UTC)
HEY MOMUS LOLZEBUB

Life called, it wants you to get one.


ReplyThread Parent
mssr_rabelais
François
Sun, Sep. 2nd, 2007 03:00 am (UTC)
Re: HEY MOMUS LOLZEBUB

HARDY HARDY HAR


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Sep. 2nd, 2007 06:58 am (UTC)
Re: HEY MOMUS LOLZEBUB



We're no strangers to love
You know the rules and so do I
A full commitment's what I'm thinking of
You wouldn't get this from any other guy

I just wanna tell you how I'm feeling
Gotta make you understand

Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

We've known each other for so long
Your heart's been aching but you're too shy to say it
Inside we both know what's been going on
We know the game and we're gonna play it

And if you ask me how I'm feeling
Don't tell me you're too blind to see

Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

(Ooh give you up)
(Ooh give you up)
(Ooh) never gonna give, never gonna give (give you up)
(Ooh) never gonna give, never gonna give (give you up)

We've known each other for so long
Your heart's been aching but you're too shy to say it
Inside we both know what's been going on
We know the game and we're gonna play it

I just wanna tell you how I'm feeling
Gotta make you understand


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Sun, Sep. 2nd, 2007 12:32 am (UTC)
nothing new here

you are obviously just biting Harmony Korine. sad sack


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Sep. 2nd, 2007 01:47 am (UTC)
Classic Post

BTW used your rhetoric for my holiday snaps, got lost in the music,

cheers.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLzGPrE_PF8

Darth.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Sep. 2nd, 2007 09:05 am (UTC)

Delightful muck. Maybe for this kind of ribaldry to work, it's important that the dirt takes precedence over the sex -- go forward a couple of centuries and Swift seems to fit in well, but Rochester less so.
Also, it's interesting that you're writing about all this good gleeful filth, just as I was thinking about shyness and folk embarrassment (http://idletigers.wordpress.com/2007/09/02/oh-georgie-a-digressive-essay-on-folk-embarrassment/) in art. I wonder what happens when these two traditions meet?

Ross


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Sep. 5th, 2007 04:43 pm (UTC)
rabelais and bumwiping

you left out the punchline of the rabelais!

the best method of wiping your arse, discovered by painstaking research

the long neck of a live goose!

softness of the down being wonderfully soothing to the perinee and the warmth of the goose communicating a wondrous sense of well-being to the fundament

blissblogga


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