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 .

Proceeding further in the same direction, we discover that there is also such a thing as a professional logic, i.e. certain ways of reasoning that are customary in certain circles, which are valid for these circles, but untrue for the rest of the public.  Now, the contrast between these two kinds of logic—­one particular, the other universal—­produces comic effects of a special nature, on which we may advantageously dwell at greater length.  Here we touch upon a point of some consequence in the theory of laughter.  We propose, therefore, to give the question a wider scope and consider it in its most general aspect.


Eager as we have been to discover the deep-seated cause of the comic, we have so far had to neglect one of its most striking phenomena.  We refer to the logic peculiar to the comic character and the comic group, a strange kind of logic, which, in some cases, may include a good deal of absurdity.

Theophile Gautier said that the comic in its extreme form was the logic of the absurd.  More than one philosophy of laughter revolves round a like idea.  Every comic effect, it is said, implies contradiction in some of its aspects.  What makes us laugh is alleged to be the absurd realised in concrete shape, a “palpable absurdity";—­or, again, an apparent absurdity, which we swallow for the moment only to rectify it immediately afterwards;—­or, better still, something absurd from one point of view though capable of a natural explanation from another, etc.  All these theories may contain some portion of the truth; but, in the first place, they apply only to certain rather obvious comic effects, and then, even where they do apply, they evidently take no account of the characteristic element of the laughable, that is, the particular kind of absurdity the comic contains when it does contain something absurd.  Is an immediate proof of this desired?  You have only to choose one of these definitions and make up effects in accordance with the formula:  twice out of every three times there will be nothing laughable in the effect obtained.  So we see that absurdity, when met with in the comic, is not absurdity in general.  It is an absurdity of a definite kind.  It does not create the comic; rather, we might say that the comic infuses into it its own particular essence.  It is not a cause, but an effect—­an effect of a very special kind, which reflects the special nature of its cause.  Now, this cause is known to us; consequently we shall have no trouble in understanding the nature of the effect.

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