Saturday, May 06, 2023

The silly and the soulful

When Adam was in maternal – kindergarten for those of you in the States - in Santa Monica,  the teachers keep a running file on his moods that included such things as angry, interested, lethargic, etc. One of the great categories was silly.
 
Now Adam is in the fifth grade, and, alas, the seriousness of life is settling in. Not for him or his classmates, not yet. But the teachers now are down on silly like a gardner is down on weeds. Say what you will of the dandelion, we don’t want it among the carrots.
 
And isn’t life just carrots?
 
Well, no.
 
I’ve been silly my whole life, if nothing else. But I recognize the powers that be.
 
The oxford english dictionary comes down pretty harshly on silly. Their primary definitions are “Ridiculously trivial”, “lack of common sense” – such is the voice of the scold, disguised as a lexicographer. But some of the first instances of “seely” means worthy or holy. In the fifteenth century, “sylyman prob. has the sense ‘goodman, husband’.In “late Middle English (in the sense 'deserving of pity or sympathy'): alteration of dialect seely 'happy', later 'innocent, feeble', from a West Germanic base meaning 'luck, happiness.' “ Seele is of course soul in German. Now, the tarot of accidental etymological encounters is no positive science, as the German philosophers say, but one of the forms of pataphysics. Still, I like this now dead meaning, which connects having a soul with having fun. Artificial intelligence, such as is displayed by the newspaper opinion writer and the middle manager, does not recognize this connection. But, to be all radical and silly about it, there is no intelligence without fun.
 
Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it.
 
To have soul, in the colloquial sense, doesn’t mean being silly –or at least that is not one of the emphasized facets. However, anybody who has ever listened to Sun-Ra knows that there is a deep cousinship between silly and soul. There is a “deep silly”.
 
What does a man gain if he trades his silly for the world? Nothing. As Ralph Ellison once said, winner’s lose.

 


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