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 .

A close examination will show us that the absurdity of this dialogue is by no means an absurdity of an ordinary type.  It would disappear were not the speaker himself one of the twins in the story.  It results entirely from the fact that Mark Twain asserts he is one of these twins, whilst all the time he talks as though he were a third person who tells the tale.  In many of our dreams we adopt exactly the same method.


Regarded from this latter point of view, the comic seems to show itself in a form somewhat different from the one we lately attributed to it.  Up to this point, we have regarded laughter as first and foremost a means of correction.  If you take the series of comic varieties and isolate the predominant types at long intervals, you will find that all the intervening varieties borrow their comic quality from their resemblance to these types, and that the types themselves are so many models of impertinence with regard to society.  To these impertinences society retorts by laughter, an even greater impertinence.  So evidently there is nothing very benevolent in laughter.  It seems rather inclined to return evil for evil.

But this is not what we are immediately struck by in our first impression of the laughable.  The comic character is often one with whom, to begin with, our mind, or rather our body, sympathises.  By this is meant that we put ourselves for a very short time in his place, adopt his gestures, words, arid actions, and, if amused by anything laughable in him, invite him, in imagination, to share his amusement with us; in fact, we treat him first as a playmate.  So, in the laugher we find a “hail-fellow-well-met” spirit—­as far, at least, as appearances go—­which it would be wrong of us not to take into consideration.  In particular, there is in laughter a movement of relaxation which has often been noticed, and the reason of which we must try to discover.  Nowhere is this impression more noticeable than in the last few examples.  In them, indeed, we shall find its explanation.

When the comic character automatically follows up his idea, he ultimately thinks, speaks and acts as though he were dreaming.  Now, a dream is a relaxation.  To remain in touch with things and men, to see nothing but what is existent and think nothing but what is consistent, demands a continuous effort of intellectual tension.  This effort is common sense.  And to remain sensible is, indeed, to remain at work.  But to detach oneself from things and yet continue to perceive images, to break away from logic and yet continue to string together ideas, is to indulge in play or, if you prefer, in dolce far niente.  So, comic absurdity gives us from the outset the impression of playing with ideas.  Our first impulse is to join in the game.  That relieves us from the strain of thinking.  Now, the same might be said of the other forms of the laughable.  Deep-rooted in

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