Laughter : an Essay on the Meaning of the Comic eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 140 pages of information about Laughter .

Here I would point out, as a symptom equally worthy of notice, the absence of feeling which usually accompanies laughter.  It seems as though the comic could not produce its disturbing effect unless it fell, so to say, on the surface of a soul that is thoroughly calm and unruffled.  Indifference is its natural environment, for laughter has no greater foe than emotion.  I do not mean that we could not laugh at a person who inspires us with pity, for instance, or even with affection, but in such a case we must, for the moment, put our affection out of court and impose silence upon our pity.  In a society composed of pure intelligences there would probably be no more tears, though perhaps there would still be laughter; whereas highly emotional souls, in tune and unison with life, in whom every event would be sentimentally prolonged and re-echoed, would neither know nor understand laughter.  Try, for a moment, to become interested in everything that is being said and done; act, in imagination, with those who act, and feel with those who feel; in a word, give your sympathy its widest expansion:  as though at the touch of a fairy wand you will see the flimsiest of objects assume importance, and a gloomy hue spread over everything.  Now step aside, look upon life as a disinterested spectator:  many a drama will turn into a comedy.  It is enough for us to stop our ears to the sound of music, in a room where dancing is going on, for the dancers at once to appear ridiculous.  How many human actions would stand a similar test?  Should we not see many of them suddenly pass from grave to gay, on isolating them from the accompanying music of sentiment?  To produce the whole of its effect, then, the comic demands something like a momentary anesthesia of the heart.  Its appeal is to intelligence, pure and simple.

This intelligence, however, must always remain in touch with other intelligences.  And here is the third fact to which attention should be drawn.  You would hardly appreciate the comic if you felt yourself isolated from others.  Laughter appears to stand in need of an echo, Listen to it carefully:  it is not an articulate, clear, well-defined sound; it is something which would fain be prolonged by reverberating from one to another, something beginning with a crash, to continue in successive rumblings, like thunder in a mountain.  Still, this reverberation cannot go on for ever.  It can travel within as wide a circle as you please:  the circle remains, none the less, a closed one.  Our laughter is always the laughter of a group.  It may, perchance, have happened to you, when seated in a railway carriage or at table d’hote, to hear travellers relating to one another stories which must have been comic to them, for they laughed heartily.  Had you been one of their company, you would have laughed like them; but, as you were not, you had no desire whatever to do so.  A man who was once asked why he did not weep at a sermon, when everybody else was shedding

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Laughter : an Essay on the Meaning of the Comic from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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