in a natural fashion, actions of the same kind,—
consequently, just so far as it forgets itself, for
were it always on the alert, it would be ever-changing
continuity, irrevertible progress, undivided unity.
And so the ludicrous in events may be defined as absentmindedness
in things, just as the ludicrous in an individual
character always results from some fundamental absentmindedness
in the person, as we have already intimated and shall
prove later on. This absentmindedness in events,
however, is exceptional. Its results are slight.
At any rate it is incurable, so that it is useless
to laugh at it. Therefore the idea would never
have occurred to any one of exaggerating that absentmindedness,
of converting it into a system and creating an art
for it, if laughter were not always a pleasure and
mankind did not pounce upon the slightest excuse for
indulging in it. This is the real explanation
of light comedy, which holds the same relation to actual
life as does a jointed dancing-doll to a man walking,—being,
as it is, an artificial exaggeration of a natural
rigidity in things. The thread that binds it
to actual life is a very fragile one. It is scarcely
more than a game which, like all games, depends on
a previously accepted convention. Comedy in character
strikes far deeper roots into life. With that
kind of comedy we shall deal more particularly in
the final portion of our investigation. But we
must first analyse a certain type of the comic, in
many respects similar to that of light comedy:
the comic in words.
There may be something artificial in making a special
category for the comic in words, since most of the
varieties of the comic that we have examined so far
were produced through the medium of language.
We must make a distinction, however, between the comic
expressed and the comic created by language.
The former could, if necessary, be translated from
one language into another, though at the cost of losing
the greater portion of its significance when introduced
into a fresh society different in manners, in literature,
and above all in association of ideas. But it
is generally impossible to translate the latter.
It owes its entire being to the structure of the sentence
or to the choice of the words. It does not set
forth, by means of language, special cases of absentmindedness
in man or in events. It lays stress on lapses
of attention in language itself. In this case,
it is language itself that becomes comic.
Comic sayings, however, are not a matter of spontaneous
generation; if we laugh at them, we are equally entitled
to laugh at their author. This latter condition,
however, is not indispensable, since the saying or
expression has a comic virtue of its own. This
is proved by the fact that we find it very difficult,
in the majority of these cases, to say whom we are
laughing at, although at times we have a dim, vague
feeling that there is some one in the background.