Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Not-So-Humorous Discourse on Humor

Like Marie, I found the theories on humor and laughter to be somewhat limited in respect to the broader range of human thought and emotion (when isolated). The excerpts by Plato and Hobbes leave readers wanting; feeling short-changed by their general assessment of human nature. Though there is no doubting the validity of the superiority theory of humor, in no way is it to be taken as a representative of all humor or its uses. There are compelling and intriguing components to all of the scholars’ concepts; they simply need to be read with the understanding that they are not the authority on all that humor may be.
Plato suggests that we tend to derive humor from the vices of others, namely the weak and powerless (12), but is this to say that the individual who actively chooses not to retaliate when he or she is the target of another’s humor is somehow flawed? Plato reduces laughter to the conflation of malice and the pleasure it supposedly brings us. Closely tied to Plato, Hobbes’s theory seemingly places individuals against one another. His concept of laughter seems to stem from the delight we are to take in discovering that we are in some way superior or greater than another. Though this view of humor is certainly valid, it is in no way Humor altogether.
Even Kant’s concentration on the physical aspect of laughter ultimately neglects the body’s spiritual counterpart. His understanding of the expectation or anticipation prior to the nothingness seems, at first, to hint at the stimulation of the mind (47). But he quickly clarifies that the mind is only frustrated by a desire to understand. Furthermore, it is Kant’s submission to the Epicurean conception of animal gratification or bodily sensation and its detachment from the spiritual which is alarming (49). His direction takes us from the mind to a concentration of the body. I would prefer to think that it is the physical reactions of the body which indicate some reason, some truth behind such a response, that a bodily reaction such as intense intestinal laughter leads the individual towards greater understanding (why or what is really eliciting this physical response?) Contrary, yet similarly to Kant, Kierkegaard seems to believe that the contradiction of that which we would naturally expect or assume is the main source for laughter.
When reading these scholars, it is important to keep in mind that today as well as tomorrow’s whole person is not quite the same individual they were referring to (Kolvenbach); however, there is simultaneously a transcendent quality shared by all human beings. The solidarity promoted by Kolvenbach challenges readers to take these concepts and test them through contact in and with the world (34). The aforementioned arguments are legitimate, smart insights as to the question of humor, laughter, and their purpose; however, they must be read in conversation with one another so readers may come away with a more enriching understanding of humor and its relationship to human behavior.

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