In an interview with Isaac Mizrahi, Maira Kalman says that throughout her life, she has always seen herself “as a third person in space.” At first, I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by this, but the more I watched her speak and reflected upon her book, the more it made sense. While reading The Principles of Uncertainty, I was greatly amused by Kalman’s unique perspective on life, but I couldn’t quite make sense of why she saw the world this way, but after watching that interview, it all came together.
Kalman brings about a whole new sense of humor that we have not really discussed in class. She is not outwardly or overtly funny in anything she writes or does, but her whimsical sense of the world around her and the odd details she picks out as highly important make her writing/illustrating extremely humorous. While comic writers tend to ask their audience to look at themselves and their world from a third person perspective due to some realization they, themselves have made and are now sharing, Kalman simply shares the world as she sees it, which is already from this perspective.
Cartoonist, Paul Rudnick, talks about writing comics and humor as a form of finding salvation in sad or hard times and this seems to be what Kalman does whether she is acutely aware of it or not. From her interviews it is pretty clear that she knows that what she does it funny, but it seems at the same time that she does not herself find it so funny as much as she simply sees it as her reality. The ways in which she finds it funny are similar to the ways in which we might in that her way of thinking and her perspective are so different from the norm.
Kalman is hyper aware of the sadness in the world and the hardships that cover the globe and it seems that her way of looking at things and her attraction towards simple diversions and distractions are her own form of “salvation.” So while we find them funny, she finds them therapeutic and it seems that through her writing/illustrating, especially that in The Principles of Uncertainty, she shows us how this functions and asks us to shift our perspective to do the same.
While many of the writers we have studied so far have this shift of perspective on their agenda, it has usually been with the goal to correct some wrong or badness in our world. In her work, Kalman is not necessarily calling us to action, but instead just bringing us a new sense of mental healthiness and hope. She knows there is only so much to be done about this world but there must be some way to live and that is what she seeks. This overall acceptance of the world as is brings a refreshing sense of honestly and wonder to her work which makes us laugh but also lifts a burden that many of the other writers have tried to press down upon our shoulders.
I am not saying that Kalman’s work does not ask for change, because it does; Kalman just asks for a different kind of change. The Principles of Uncertainty are a catalyst for a more personal than societal change which can then resonate and be reflected in our actions toward others, but it starts at the core of the self. Humor does not necessarily have to point out the wrongs, but it can make you see the beauty in the small things in order to cope with the worse parts of life. By looking at ourselves from this third person perspective, we can look at ourselves in our world and see where we stand, what we interact with and how and appreciate existence in itself.