Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Deliberate Spontaneity

It was mentioned in class on Tuesday (4/13) that Bryson’s collection of columns, while well-written and good to read, seemed formulaic and best read in small increments. This comment also matches with one of the reviews in the hardcover edition I own, stating that the book is best absorbed over a period of time; while we do not have this luxury in class, this reveals two aspects of humor which I am very familiar with in my way of being funny.
Rarely do I set out to do funny things. More often are the cases in which a situation arises in which I discover a part of the scenario which can be added to; this addition is often in line with the social situation and Incongruity models of humor, and often elicits a brief yet sincere laugh. Aside from telling a joke, my humor predominantly takes this form of spontaneity and improvisation which allows me to relate well to the style in which Bryson’s articles are written. They are situational, relate to a topic of consternation or interest for him based on the week he is writing, and are full of brief situational humors. Taking the specific elements of one column and placing them in another results in disconnected gibberish; thus, while the formula for writing such stories is similar the special topics of each exist as independent entities.
Bryson also uses that element of joke- and anecdote-telling to great effect. For the articles “Enough Already” and “Word Play” the art of joke-telling is essential; covering the use of “word play,” puns, and the effect of the punch-line even in print, Bryson manages to write with a voice that almost speaks out loud, creating that timing effect that Mark Twain adamantly insists must be vocalized. While the joke told orally will never be phased out there is definite value in being able to convey humor through the written word as it requires a great deal of intention and spontaneity.
Therefore, moving from Bryson to Kalman in this regard was rather shocking. Bryson is calculated, even in conveying the most spontaneous and surprising moments later in writing; Kalman’s book is best described as a stream of consciousness, yet the apparent haphazard nature of the pictures gives way to a narrative perfectly supported by matching visuals. For those images the best word that comes to mind is “caricature.” Especially in the case of portraits, the image gives the mind’s eye a guide as the words are read, the picture is absorbed, and Kalman’s intention is complimented rather than contradicted by the mesh of words and pictures. The relationship is of course not as simple as picture matches word and vice versa. Kalman typically describes actions the pictured people are taking and it brings the scene to life, allowing the reader to create an action in his or her mind based on what Kalman has presented in her narrative and using the picture as a starting point, such as when “man chases away a red-footed pigeon” on pages 88-89.
Kalman’s spontaneous writings bring about humor with their representation of reality in an unexpected way – the incongruity model. Bryson is more attuned to the social situation as explained by Douglas, though how his humor is created must in some way be spontaneous, such as a visit to a post office inspiring him to write about his experiences. While Bryson’s laugh-out-loud articles stand on their own, Kalman’s stream of words and pictures blend together a binding narrative about life and identity and how things are perceived versus how she represents them. Each lends itself to a unique form of humor, and while it was also said in class that Kalman is not laughter-inducing in the way Bryson can be the humor does not suffer for it.

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