Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Humor and Relationships

Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach stresses in his article, “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education” the importance of building relationships in the experience of solidarity; he writes, “Solidarity is learned through ‘contact’ rather than through ‘concepts’” (Kolvenbach 34). Kolvenbach refers to service, an experience of those who are different than the self and a better understanding of the world, but in reading the Kolvenbach essay again in context with the philosophers (particularly Kierkegaard and Hobbes) gave solidarity a whole new meaning.

In the beginning of Soren Kierkegaard’s article he compares comedy and tragedy, two seemingly opposite art forms that, according to Kierkegaard, have much more in common that meets the eye. He writes, “The tragic and the comic are the same, in so far as both are based on contradiction; but the tragic is the suffering contradiction, the comical, the painless contradiction” (Kierkegaard 83). I had never thought of this, but what came to mind in reading Kierkegaard’s article was a spectrum of sorts in which contradictions evoke an array of different emotions. Those different emotions obviously elicit various responses from hysterical laughter to hysterical tears and everything in between. In considering human emotion as a natural response to art form, I began to consider the relationship of solidarity to comedy. In sharing laughter, or tears, or anything in between, regardless of language or human experience, regardless of class, race, gender or sexuality, people form a sort of relationship, the precursor to the solidarity that Kolvenbach speaks of. The experience I described above can only happen in the case of certain models of humor, which is also interesting to consider; in a model of humor that flows only in one direction it causes separation of people instead of unity among all people.

Thomas Hobbes writes in his discussion of the philosophy of humor, “There is a passion that has no name; but the sign of it is that distortion of countenance which we call laughter, which is always joy: but what is joy, what we think, and wherein we triumph when we laugh, is not hitherto declared by any” (Hobbes 19). Regardless of the reason, the source, the experience, Hobbes claims that laughter stems from an experience of “joy.” In my eyes, joy is something that can be experienced by any person anywhere at any time; I never would have considered that humor would be capable of forming relationships, building feelings of solidarity, and creating unity. In reading these articles I am starting to consider not only the function of humor in literature, but the function of humor in life and in relationships.

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