He Who Gets Slapped

When I was a child I was taken to the circus. There I saw a long series of entrancing performances that caused men and animals to execute every kind of astonishing and unexpected manoeuvre. And throughout, but particularly when the scenario and its appurtenances were being changed, there appeared a grotesque personage, vaguely resembling a human being, who interfered with everything but effected nothing. He fell over the carpets, bumped himself against every object, was slapped and kicked, and then took all the applause as though he were responsible for everything. We thought him very funny and laughed at him like anything.

Now that I am no longer a child he seems to me to be a perfect image of the I-concept, whose function is apparently his, and whose performance corresponds in all respects with that of the clown, in the circus which is our life. In all respects but one: we laughed at the clown in the circus, but we take seriously the clown in the circus of life, although the one is as ineffectual as the other. We even believe that he is responsible for the performance, whereas as children we could see that he was responsible for nothing that happened, that his 'will' was totally ignored by the circumstances to which he was subjected, and that in every event he was an unnecessary nuisance.

In one respect, however, our attitude is unchanged: in both the circuses we love the clown dearly and consider him more important than anything else in the show.

(© RKP, 1963)

* * * * *