Apocalyptic Laughter the Laughter of a Maniac the maniacal laughter at the world’s end is fruit of vengeance, the maniac laughs because time and change have made a mockery of your petty aspirations and short sighted expectations.
"Now that it’s all over, you will plainly see what my madness," he says, "... as you called it, and for which you punished me without a shred of hesitation, or so much as a single second thought, saw all along.
"No. You punished me for seeing it, and you only told yourself that this was insanity and what you did to me you did for my benefit and that of the community, even suprising yourself, but without being drawn to investigate the reason for your surprise. How civic-minded you were, all of a sudden! You never had any such laughable thing to begin with; as always this was only another of the bare pretenses my laughter spat back at you. There was laughter, because what else was possible? Who has the strength to be light as a feather if you had never – I meant to write “nerve” – if you had never ... I did it again – if you had nerve to ... to ..."
What word? for that no word will do, whether it means look or think. It’s not that it matters so much to me, my laughter was only anticipating – no, rehearsing – for the last laugh. He who laughs last is the only one who ever laughed.
That kind of laughter in particular which bubbles up from the entrails, and then bursts through the face, seeming to come as much from the stare as from the jaw, is never encountered outside the movies. It doesn’t ring false in the mouth of a villain – the whole thing is false through and through anyway but see below – it just isn’t there at all.
A villain chortles over his victim, or in expectation of that satisfaction, which in truth goes completely against the spirit of maniacal laughter. The villain is a maniac why? Like everybody else, he wants this or that thing, he does what he can to get it; he’s just a bit unusual or flamboyant in his ways and ends. Perhaps more extravagant in his aims.
The real maniac is just there to one side of him: his pawn. The real maniac is more pure, because he loves destruction and malice for their own sake. He takes an idiotic delight in them. He’d stand and die in a burning house, transfixed by the beauty and wild power of the flames. Why transfixed? It must be because, unlike the villain who employs fire to attain this or that – and how many horror movies end with fire running wilder and wilder, and aren’t you in the audience supposed to get some vicarious sense, etc? – the maniac becomes the fire. This is his desire. He abandons everything he was.
Villains never do this. They are supposed to be more admirable for their persistence in being themselves, but they are all the more slaves insofar as they are only vessels to be filled with the audience’s frustrations. The villain resists to the end, and is justly immolated. The maniac vanishes in the explosion only to become the tower of dark light and smoke, the cracks in the earth, the force that smashes masonry and the chandelier that nearly misses the hero preserved by dumb luck.
The maniac is so wretched he’s indestructible. He will reappear in other places and times, generous to a fault he will give outright (from his point of view, but from ours, it’s only a loan) his proper laughter, which is his soul or his true name, to the villain for his use.
When have you heard someone truly laugh that way, in the street, at home, at your place of business if you can keep a straight face there at all, in school, at a funeral, inside the coffin as it descends, or through the wall from the neighboring apartment, or soft and low from the gap between houses you can feel it beat ha ha ha ha faintly in the wood. Have you ever heard it come into your ear from behind? It has a tinny, radio sound that keeps to itself. Or you might say it is like a sinuous little cone, draining into the notch.
The doctors never laugh like that, although, in the movies, only doctors laugh like that. I am a doctor myself, and I have never really laughed that way, because, as was the case with the fire, you have to disappear once and for all – once and for all into a laugh. Laughter is a state, like hunger or sleep. It’s a condition; it’s like nirvana, and so it really is too institutional a word for what I mean. It’s as if I were saying you have to disappear into the hospital or the church when what I really mean is that you LAUGH. Right there, in that unbearably long first cry, is the spot where you will disappear when the time comes. (Every word of this I have laughed.)