Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Moving Past Plato and Hobbes

Though the readings all shared the common theme of finding humor in contradictions, they all varied a great deal on what types of contradictions were taken into consideration. As noted by many of the blogs already posted, Plato accounted for the contrast between the weak and the powerful as the means for laughter. We reached an agreement in class that laughter at the expense of others, or in this form of the superiority model, isn’t quite as funny to many people. It is offensive and, as Socrates says, malicious. Plato doesn’t even allow room for qualifications in his reasoning, stating that even when we laugh at the ridiculousness of our friends it is a form of malice to find joy in their delusions.

Hobbes takes a one dimensional look at the contradictions as well, finding them focused on the powerful and the weak just as Plato’s argument did. He includes the standard explanation that we laugh at the unexpected, but he finds in this joy at the expense of others a selfishness and insecurity. Though I, like many of my classmates, disagree with this mindset as the main contradiction that causes laughter, it is a form of humor that some have and that most in the class have as much of an aversion to as Hobbes and Plato.

The general consensus is, however, that Kant and Kierkegaard are much closer to our list on the board with their theories that laughter in something other than this one sided and vindictive form of humor. Kant takes a very scientific approach that I have no basis for agreeing with or refuting, being unfamiliar with anything more than the basic bodily functions. However, he does seem to find that laughter is not necessarily always directed at negative things. He finds that we laugh, “not because we deem ourselves cleverer than this ignorant man…but because our expectation was strained [for a time] and then was suddenly dissipated into nothing.” Similarly, Kierkegaard found that laughter comes from more than just the contradiction between the weak and the poor, and argued even farther by bringing in the reverse side of things where sometimes it’s inappropriate to be too serious. He explains himself by stating that we find humor when there is contradiction and when this contradiction does not cause pain. This is an important clarification and it fit very well into our class discussion.

Just as we concluded in class, there are certainly limits to what is funny and what is hurtful, and we tend to find things that target only one person and allow the superiority contrast found in the power versus weak contradiction to be ignorant rather than funny. However there is definitely the opportunity, such as in Hau’ofa’s Tales of the Tikongs to create a multi-directional humor that isn’t intended to cause pain to any person yet still cracks smiles with its unexpected quips and characters. We stated that we found the book funny because there were so many little parts in it that defied our usual train of thought, but at the same time, it was a made-up island, with an invented race of people and thus very carefully avoided targeting and causing pain to any person. There was also a bit of the self-deprecating humor included that grouped the author in the jokes, and that really separated it from the malicious or simple humor that Hobbes and Plato focused on.

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