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Slothrop
08-03-2010, 12:46 AM
Anyone know any useful starting points on the theory of humour - specifically what functions it fulfills in society / culture / literature, rather than why a given thing is funny.

Alison's come up against some stuff in the line of work where puritans writing about colonial wars suddenly go into exaggerated slapstick or farce to break the tension and maybe divert attention away from the elephant in the room ie the fact that in the name of standing up for christian civilization against savages they're going around ruthlessly massacring women and children.

But she's got no idea what's already out there regarding the use of humour as a literary device, and doesn't want to reinvent the wheel too much... any suggestion as to what she should be looking at?

Thanks!

Corpsey
08-03-2010, 01:31 AM
I recently wrote an essay on Flaubert's use of humour in 'Madame Bovary' and read a little bit of humour theory - Bergson's mechanical theory of humour*, for example, and Sartre's theory of the derisive laugh as a sort of defensive strategy for the social status quo to be reaffirmed. I don't know the original source of that Sartre theory but there's stuff on it in Hazel Barnes' back on Sartre/Flaubert.

* http://www.123helpme.com/preview.asp?id=105639

shiels
08-03-2010, 07:51 PM
Freud's 'The joke and it's relation to the unconscious' might be of interest, it's still sitting unread on my shelf.

woops
08-03-2010, 07:55 PM
A joke is the epitaph on the death of an emotion, Nietzsche via Martin Amis
It was a dark 1 when I read of laughter as apes indicating they'd found the food.
The professional comic narrator of one of Michel Houellebecq's novels grows to hate laughter.

Corpsey
08-03-2010, 07:55 PM
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabelais_and_His_World

Was reading an intro to Bakhtin's 'Master and Margerita' today and in the introduction it says that this book is all about how 'folk' humour was used in Rabelais/french society to celebrate and attack the privileged. Sounds quite relevant.

woops
08-03-2010, 07:58 PM
spot on. after reading up on Control, the Prison etc. theorising Carnival is like a breath of fresh air

3 Body No Problem
08-03-2010, 08:28 PM
There are lots of theories about humor, from antiquity onwards, it's a popular subject to write about. Writers usually adopt one of the following theories:

Superiority theories: suggesting that by making jokes we ard expressing our superiority over others.

Relief Theorien: some kind of tension management.

Incongruity theories: which suggests that humor happens when we juxtapose ideas that somehow don't fit together.

I dont have time to go into details, but all three are too simpleminded, though catching essential insight. Humor also has a strong social component other than expressing superiority over others. Anyway, here are some classic references on the subject matter.

Hazlitt, Lectures on the English comic writers.

Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft.

Schopenhauer, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung.

Platon, Philebos.

Aristoteles, Poetics, Chapter 5, 1149a32.

Aristoteles, Nicomachean Ethics, Book IV.

Hobbes, Human Nature.

woops
08-03-2010, 08:34 PM
I dont have time to go into details, but all three are too simpleminded, though catching essential insight... Anyway, here are some classic references on the subject matter.


post in full when you get a moment

Slothrop
08-03-2010, 11:47 PM
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabelais_and_His_World

Was reading an intro to Bakhtin's 'Master and Margerita' today and in the introduction it says that this book is all about how 'folk' humour was used in Rabelais/french society to celebrate and attack the privileged. Sounds quite relevant.
Yeah that's the right sort of approach, but in kind of the opposite situation. Here we're looking at someone writing an account (part of a really awful verse epic, no less) of burning an Indian encampment and dropping in a crack about how on hearing the screams of the dying he'd though that all that cooked flesh would have seemed quite tasty if he was a cannibal. The general question (badly paraphrased) is about how the literary style accounts of the wars reflect the puritans trying to view themselves as the saintly elect at the same time that they're doing really unspeakably unpleasant stuff. And biblical models are a big part of that - but somehow humour seems to be another.

Slothrop
08-03-2010, 11:48 PM
post in full when you get a moment
Yeah, that sounds fantastic.

Corpsey
10-03-2010, 09:04 PM
Makes me think of

http://www.amazon.com/Humanity-Moral-History-Twentieth-Century/dp/0300087152/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1268254860&sr=1-3

there's quite a lot of stuff in here about the 'cold joke' - using humour to dehumanise the victims of genocides, partially in order to enable acts of violence.

Slothrop
14-03-2010, 11:38 AM
The 'cold joke' sounds like it's absolutely bang on. Thanks!

tyranny
19-04-2010, 12:28 PM
Makes me think of

http://www.amazon.com/Humanity-Moral-History-Twentieth-Century/dp/0300087152/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1268254860&sr=1-3

there's quite a lot of stuff in here about the 'cold joke' - using humour to dehumanise the victims of genocides, partially in order to enable acts of violence.


That's an absolutely brilliant book.

Sick Boy
20-04-2010, 12:49 AM
Though it won't explicitly help you, a lot can be learned by enduring lots of Carlos Mencia stand up and thinking about what it must be like to be him, especially what it is like to be him also watching Carlos Mencia stand-up, although at 2am, alone, and savagely drunk on whiskey.