Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Self-Directed Satire in Sedaris

            What makes Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim humorous is David Sedaris’ ability to distance himself from the person he once was. Many autobiographers evoke sympathy by detailing the various trials that they suffered in their earlier lives; conversely, they ask us to rejoice in those formative events that made them who they are today. I think Sedaris wants to avoid these self-aggrandizing tropes, and so approaches the events of his early life with a great deal of irony. In fact, it seems that he himself is the target of almost all of these stories. Even when describing a transformative and possibly traumatic moment in his development (“Hejira”), he allows himself some distance from the intensity of the scene and assumes the position of an ignorant bystander: “just another crying mother and her stoned gay son, sitting in a station wagon and listening to a call-in show about birds…” While the younger Sedaris of “Consider the Stars” drools over the popular crowd at middle school—even into his high school years!—the older writer recalling the story puts the narrative into its appropriate perspective and laughs at the sheer irrelevance of teenage drama.

            Last week, we brought up self-deprecation for the first time in the course. While we might debate whether laughter directed at others has the power to change the world for the better (e.g. Voltaire’s Candide), I think that self-deprecating humor is a healthy and normal part of human development. If I can’t laugh at the person I was five years ago, it means that all his insecurities and failures are still with me, and that I haven’t moved on and learned to use my mistakes to develop. The younger Sedaris, particularly in his interactions with his parents and other adults, appears naïve and innocent, and their failures are brushed off as odd eccentricities; in turn, the writer recognizes all the challenges of adulthood that were unapparent to the child. In this, he shows how he well he has come to recognize adult behavior and how he, as an adult, has improved upon the people his parents were.

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