Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Incongruity and Superiority the basis of comedy?

The Kant, Kierkegaard, and Hobbes readings explain the different aspects of two basic models of humor. kant and Kierkegaard's ideas both deal with the "Incongruity Theory" of humor, while Hobbes and (to some extent) Plato discuss models of humor that fall into the "Superiority Theory" category.

At the basis of Kantian humor is the "sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothin" (47). That is to say humor lies in a sitution in which certain expectations arise, and then at a crucial point (i.e. the "punch-line") those expectation dissipate into nothing. Kant also focuses on the physical mechanics of laughter in the body as crucial to the idea of humor. He makes the claim that all of our thoughts are connected in some way to our bodily functions, that they are "harmonically combined with a movement in the organs of the body" (48). So this mental build-up of expectations that in a moment are transformed into nothing creates an internal shift of our organs that produces a feeling of vitality (what Kant calls 'gratification') that produces a feeling of health and well-being.

Kierkegaard also discusses a contradiction between expectation and reality as key to humor, though his idea of incongruous comedy seems to center around more of an opposition to expectation emerging rather than Kant's idea of the complete dissipation of the expectation. Kierkegaard also states that comedy is a painless contradiction, or a contradiction in which pain is non-essential. He discusses the satirical form of comedy that is present in Tales of the Tikongs when he says "Satire also entails pain, but this pain has a dialectic which gives it a teleology in the direction of a cure" (83). I understood this to mean that (for instance) the satirical comedy of Hau'ofa's stories can be taken to make fun of a lot of people/groups, which may entail a certain level of pain. However the satite is aimed at pointing out certain faults that exist, so that an awareness of them is created and perhaps a cure reached. This made me think a little about comed'y potential use, specifically in the Jesuit agenda of service of faith an promotion of justice outlined in Kolvenbach's essay. Comedy like this sature potentially can point out the many injustices present in the world that Kolvenbach describes. This awareness can lead to the kind of action-oriented reactions that he and the Jesuits advocate.

Plato an Hobbes, on the other hand, both discuss issues that are involved in laughing at the inadequacies of others. Hobbes claims that laughter is mainly a reaction to a moment of 'sudden glory' that we feel at the realization of someone inferior to us. By this measure, laughter seems to be a marker of insecurity, especially when Hobbes says laughter is most common in men "who are forced to keep themselves in their own favor by observing the imperfections of other men" (19). A certain level of malice seems to be key in this model of humor.

Malice is also a main component of the model of humor that Plato lays out. He notes that comedy is a mixture of pleasure and pain felt by the soul. To my understanding, Plato explains that we laugh at the ridiculous and delusional nature of men, and when we laugh at the delusions of our friends specifically, it is malicious. Malice, according to Plato, is a pain of the soul, so in this situation the pain of malice is mixed with the pleasure of laughter. Something about this model of humor that I find problematic, thought, is that it only applies to the specific situation of laughing at our friends. What I don't understand is how laughter is a mixture in the soul of pleasure and pain when we laugh, say, at enemies (which Plato establishes isn't 'malicious').

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