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The would be satirists need buckets of gall

As it happens I was mentally composing an introduction to a retrospective of satires I had written 'over the turn of the century' when I was referred to a piece in today's Australian Not easy to be jester in court gone mad.

In the article, historian and novelist Ross Fitzgerald laments that while "satirists exaggerate personal characteristics and situations in much the same way as caricaturists do," they do so in order ,"to get people thinking about the way we are and where we are heading.This is why writing satire is so difficult, and so necessary, never more so than now. Even so, any self-respecting satirist has his or her work cut out playing catch-up with the absurdities of real life."

Way back when I was writing these satires -- primarily theatre pieces and a weekly newspaper column BB (before blogging) --  my engagement was serious stuff. I ran a thing called The Satire Workshop and would now and then be called upon to rule on the contemporary state of satire.

I ruled in interview mode enough to be a  registered expert.

Without over writing this post instead of  composing my introduction ahead of time, I need to point out that there is no subject as old penny relentless as 'the death of satire'.

Despite its  imperative -- as Fitzgerald insists -- why should satire  die off every now and then so that it seemingly appears to be in a permanent state of funerary?

I think the answer is a strange but simple one: satire requires satirists.  With the construction of satire there is always a shortage of trades people.

It has to be a chosen career path. And once chosen, the artisan must willingly accept its vocational limitations.

Unless you are Michael Moore it won't make you rich. In fact the more savage your attack  the less likely you are of winning a wider audience.

That's the rub, you see. For satire "to get people thinking about the way we are and where we are heading" requires frank honesty about where we are at.  No punches pulled.

Often to do that requires the would-be satirist to step outside the accepted bounds of regular humour-making into a world of such mordancy and bitterness that  you are going to make your audience very uncomfortable.

My objection to much satire that is written or performed is  that it loses its political nerve precisely when that challenge is  approached. It deflects, and drops its sights to target an easier quarry: an individual rather than  'the way we are' or 'language' rather than the consequences of what is being said.

In a sense, this penchant to diversion panders to a ready obsession with the Absurd. Instead of 'satire' you'll get an exploration of madness but a disjointed madness that loses conscious satirical interest. Madness that has no political meaning: it just is. This is why I think so much of what we accept as satire masquerades as parody.

I may say that satire requires satirists but the complication is that there is no international fellowship which has peer reviewed membership.  To "get people thinking about the way we are " is going to require a bit more than a few political jokes in front of a pub crowd.

That begs the question of whose satire is better than most's?

If you do your homework you can have a fun time: Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, etc in classic mode  will raise the bar; but for me, the master of 20th century satire (and there was a 18th Century vogue of course) is the German (Austrian actually)  Karl Krauss -- some one you have probably never heard of.

Like Jonathan Swift, Krauss (portrait above by Oskar Kokoschka) is a total satirical package.

Without having to reference the rather limited samplings of Krauss in translation, my respect for his work rests on his courage never to drop the ball -- to chase a political contradiction all the way way home.
A Krauss Sampler
I and my public understand each other very well: it does not hear what I say, and I don't say what it wants to hear.
When someone behaves like a beast, he says: 'After all, one is only human.' But when he is treated like a beast, he says, 'After all, one is human.'
The real truths are those that can be invented.
You don't even live once.
The world has become uglier since it began to look into a mirror every day; so let us settle for the mirror image and do without an inspection of the original.
How is the world ruled and how do wars start? Diplomats tell lies to journalists and then believe what they read.
Sentimental irony is a dog that bays at the moon while pissing on graves.
A child learns to discard his ideals, whereas a grown-up never wears out his short pants.
That's what I aspire to in my fashion as after blogging ab hoc these last few years I'm moving back into satirical mode.

Thus the introduction to the retrospective collection -- an exercise designed to give me confidence. .. and gall (as the would be satirist needs buckets of gall).

After thought: Since I have gone on about a favorite topic maybe I should offer some in situ suggestions? Maybe I should post a list of works by the selected few which I think make for good great political satire -- my favs? Why not? So soon enough I will post here an annotated list from atop-of-my-head stuff that I like and respect such that you can imagine me before them laid out in a state of  groveling   obsequiousness.

And since I always want more...if you have a preference  for some one or some work, please share it with me so I can partake of it too.


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