现代英文选评注 | We Need Humor 我们需要幽默 Malcolm Muggeridge


本文原题“America Needs A Punch,”刊于1958年四月号Esquire杂志“英国专号”。作者马尔科姆·马格里奇(Malcolm Muggeridge,1903 - 1990)曾任英国幽默杂志Punch之主编多年。这篇文章虽然讨论幽默,但是本身文字似颇严肃。此处所摘几段,大致可说明幽默对于人生之重要。

During the five years that I was responsible for bringing out the avowedly humorous publication,?Punch, I brooded intermittently on the subject of humor. It was a somber, but by no means unrewarding endeavor.

  • bringinging out:刊行。
  • Punch:为英国幽默杂志,林语堂博士曾把其名译为“笨拙”。按:Punch原为英国木偶戏中的一个角色(好像中国木偶戏中的猪八戒),勾鼻红脸,圆睛长颏,那本杂志就拿那个木头人作为标记。
  • avowedly:自认地,自称地。此字原为动词avow(承认,自认),加-ed成形容词,再加-ly成副词。“笨拙”标榜幽默。
  • intermittently:断断续续地。brooded…on:思考。
  • It:思考幽默这个题目。这是件somber(让人感到不愉快、不乐观)的工作,但是把这个问题想一想,也不是“花不来”的(by no means unrewarding)。

Humor, I have come to feel, is an expression in terms of the grotesque of the enormous disparity between human aspiration and human performance. Thus, self-importance is funny because everyone really knows in his heart that, whatever else is conceivable, it is quite outside the bounds of possibility that one mortal man should be inherently more important than another.

  • I have come to feel:我渐渐地有这个看法。这几个字一般中国学生用来,会把它们放在全句之首,成为全句之主句,然后用连词that,再说humor如何如何,而以humor is…为从句。在这里I have come to feel这五个字,只是临时插进去的(parenthetical),在全句文法结构上,几乎不占地位。按理说,这五个字本是可有可无,如把它们放在主句的地位,的确是太抬举它们了。中国学生对于这种“插入语句”(parenthetical expression)如能善加利用,英文句法可以活泼得多。照现在这样的用法,全句的重心在Humor一字,I have come to feel读起来很轻。这样读法,语气很顺。
  • human aspiration:人类的理想。human performance:人类的行为。人类的理想与“实际表演”之间有很大的差别(enormous disparity),幽默就是以荒谬怪诞的方式(in terms of the grotesque),表现这种差别,例如,人人心中想做勇士,崇拜勇士;但是人实际上所表现的,却是以懦怯为多。西洋的滑稽电影,常常就由一个丑角(如Danny Kaye),以奇怪的动作,配合荒谬的故事,演出一个“勇敢的懦夫”或“懦怯的勇士”。
  • grotesque:奇形怪状的。此字为形容词,此处和the连用,就当作名词用了。
  • self-importance:自以为了不起。everyone really knows后面跟一个很长的名词从句,that...,一直到全句之末。
  • whatever is conceivable:任何别的事情我们都可以想象(conceive),但是有一件事情我们是不能想象的(或者说,任何别的事情或者都是可能的,但是有一件事情是绝不可能的,是很超过可能性的范围的:quite outside the bounds of possibility)。此事为何?就是:大家都是人,谁都不是神(因此都是凡人mortal),怎么会有一个人在本质上(inherently)比别人更重要呢?人人有超过别人的“理想”,但是他的表现却常常与别人无殊,有这么一点差别在,所以一个高视阔步,神气活现的人,也常常是个可笑的人。
  • it is quite...中的it代替后面的that one...那个名词从句。

On a basis of this definition it can readily be seen why humor, in its social application, is normally distasteful to those set in authority over us. When the governed laugh, the governors cannot but have an uneasy feeling that they may well be laughing at them.

  • it代替“why”clause,readily:这是很容易被看出来的;我们很容易了解这点道理。
  • in its social application:在它社会应用的一方面。在私人来往之间我们可以说笑话,做滑稽的动作;但是我们假如把幽默应用到社会上去,假如我们的幽默牵涉到的,不是我们自己,也不是我们的朋友,而是某种社会制度,或是社会上的知名之士,那么这种幽默就将为权威人士所不喜。
  • distasteful to:不对(某种人的)胃口。normally:通常说来。set是过去分词。那种有权威,地位在我们之上的人。
  • the governed:被统治者。the governors:统治者。cannot but:不得不。统治者心里必有不安,以为人家很可能(may well)笑的就是他。laughing用进行式使得前面when the governed laugh中的laugh更为生动。

Humor, in fact, is an aspect of freedom, without which it cannot exist at all. By its nature, humor implies, when it does not state, criticism of existing institutions, beliefs, and functionaries. Absolute power means absolute solemnity, and the degree to which a society is free, and therefore civilized, may be measured by the degree to which it permits ridicule.

  • aspect:方面。幽默是自由之一方面,没有自由(without which),也就没有幽默。
  • By its nature:就幽默的本质说来。幽默就包含(implies)着“批评”的意义:对于现有的制度、信仰和官吏(functionaries)的批评。when it does not state:这种批评有时候是明白说出来(state)的;即使在不明白说出来的时候,幽默也“暗含”着批评的意义。
  • Absolute power:绝对的权力(没有限制,无可批评的权力)必须要配合着(means)绝对的庄重。一个社会自由到什么程度,(自由就是文明的表现,因此我们可以说,一个社会文明到什么程度),是有一样东西可以测量(measured)的:这个社会究竟许不许人家说笑话?许到什么程度?

All this is obvious enough, and we who inhabit what we like to call the "free world" complacently assume that, in contradistinction with the state of affairs across the Iron Curtain, with us humor is unrestricted and abundant. But is it? I have come to feel of late that in the United States, as well as in Britain, the area of life in which ridicule is permissible is steadily shrinking, and that a dangerous tendency is becoming manifest to take ourselves with undue seriousness. Irreverence is decidedly out of fashion, and the clown or satirist, if he is to continue in business, must keep a careful eye on his targets lest they frown unduly.

  • obvious:明显的。we:我们住在“自由世界”的人;作者认为这样说,意义尚未够精确,改为,我们这种居住于我们常称之为“自由世界”那地方的人。complacently:自鸣得意地。assume:作此假定。
  • state of affairs:情形。我们常自以为:和不自由地区的情形相比,我们这里(with us)幽默是大行其道——丰富而不受限制。但是事实真是这样吗?(is it?=is humor unrestricted and abundant?)
  • of late:最近。I have come to feel:在前面有一段是用作“插入语句”的,这里可是“主句”了。在前面那一段,作者要强调humor这个字,故把那五个字贬为“插入语句”。在本句中,作者要批评英美人,说他们的幽默逐渐丧失,这种话也许是不中听的,作者怕得罪人,乃吞吞吐吐,故意不把想说的话说出来。在这种情形之下,I have come to feel就成了主句了。
  • 此句的吞吞吐吐,可由其起句的缓慢见之。I have come to feel of late非主要的话也(虽然文法上是主句);in the United States, as well as in Britain,亦非主要的话也,话说了这么多,说到主要的意思,仍旧用一种婉曲的说法:在英美两国,讥笑可以适用的范围是越来越小了;人生中可以容许讥笑的范围是不断地在缩小。英美两国,虽号称民主,但是碰到有些问题,也不敢出之玩笑口吻的。
  • I come to feel后面跟两个名词性从句。第二个名词性从句,也是以that领头:我们可以渐渐看得见有一种危险的倾向(原文是:“有一种危险的倾向正成为明显”),那就是,我们把自己的生活弄得太严肃。undue:过度的。
  • Irreverence:不敬,玩笑。clown:丑。satirist:讽刺家。
  • continue in business:假如他还想吃这一行饭的话。古之弄臣,可以谈笑之中进忠谏,今之滑稽明星,假如讥笑了社会上某种人士,他就可能不受欢迎。targets:(讽刺的)目标。丑角一定要时时看清楚他的目标,只怕(lest)受讽刺的人皱起眉头,脸色大为不悦。

In King Lear's misfortunes his only faithful and true counselor was the Fool. It might be so with us. The ultimate safeguard is perhaps not atomic weapons, larger and better bases, louder radio stations, but more fools. The foolishness of man, Blake wrote, is the wisdom of God; and it may well be that those who seek to suppress or limit laughter are more dangerous than all the subversive conspiracies which the F.B.I. ever has or will uncover. Laughter, in fact, is the most effective of all subversive conspiracies, and it operates on?our?side.

  • King Lear是莎士比亚悲剧中的主人翁,他受不了女儿的虐待,无家可归,在暴风雨中徬徨,只有一个小丑(Fool)陪伴着他。小丑说些不着边际的话,其实都是针对着Lear的痛苦。counselor:顾问,谋士。在老王遭遇不幸的时候,唯一忠实而说真话的谋士,是那个小丑。我们现在也处在一个不幸的时代,我们可能也需要小丑来做朋友(It might be so with us)。
  • ultimate safeguard:(自由世界)终究的保障。
  • William Blake(1757—1827):英国神秘主义诗人。
  • subversive conspiracies:颠覆(政府)的阴谋。
  • F.B.I.:美国联邦调查局(Federal Bureau of Investigation)。uncover:揭发(阴谋)。联邦调查局历来揭发各种颠覆阴谋,将来这种工作还要继续下去,但是一切颠覆阴谋,要论危险,还比不上那种不许人家笑的人。事实可能是这样:那种设法(seek)要禁止人家笑,或是限制人家笑的人,是比那种种阴谋更为危险。这是一个paradox。
  • 事实上,笑才是最有效的颠覆活动。民主国家不怕老百姓笑口常开,极权国家才怕人笑。嘻嘻哈哈,而极权统治休矣。最后一句our重读,表示笑可颠覆极权的政府,是有利于我们自由世界的。