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 .
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.

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