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 .
parts as to eliminate the ready-made and oppose the mechanical operations of inversion, transposition, etc., which one would fain perform upon it as on some lifeless thing.  The rigid, the ready—­ made, the mechanical, in contrast with the supple, the ever-changing and the living, absentmindedness in contrast with attention, in a word, automatism in contrast with free activity, such are the defects that laughter singles out and would fain correct.  We appealed to this idea to give us light at the outset, when starting upon the analysis of the ludicrous.  We have seen it shining at every decisive turning in our road.  With its help, we shall now enter upon a more important investigation, one that will, we hope, be more instructive.  We purpose, in short, studying comic characters, or rather determining the essential conditions of comedy in character, while endeavouring to bring it about that this study may contribute to a better understanding of the real nature of art and the general relation between art and life.




We have followed the comic along many of its winding channels in an endeavour to discover how it percolates into a form, an attitude, or a gesture; a situation, an action, or an expression.  The analysis of comic characters has now brought us to the most important part of our task.  It would also be the most difficult, had we yielded to the temptation of defining the laughable by a few striking—­and consequently obvious—­examples; for then, in proportion as we advanced towards the loftiest manifestations of the comic, we should have found the facts slipping between the over-wide meshes of the definition intended to retain them.  But, as a matter of fact, we have followed the opposite plan, by throwing light on the subject from above.  Convinced that laughter has a social meaning and import, that the comic expresses, above all else, a special lack of adaptability to society, and that, in short, there is nothing comic apart from man, we have made man and character generally our main objective.  Our chief difficulty, therefore, has lain in explaining how we come to laugh at anything else than character, and by what subtle processes of fertilisation, combination or amalgamation, the comic can worm its way into a mere movement, an impersonal situation, or an independent phrase.  This is what we have done so far.  We started with the pure metal, and all our endeavours have been directed solely towards reconstructing the ore.  It is the metal itself we are now about to study.  Nothing could be easier, for this time we have a simple element to deal with.  Let us examine it closely and see how it reacts upon everything else.

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