On Humour is a fascinating, beautifully written and funny

book on what humour can tell us about being human. Simon
Critchley skilfully probes some of the most perennial but least
understood aspects of humour: why is it that we mock death
with laughter? Why are so many comedians depressives?
If humour is uniquely human, then why do we spend so much
time laughing at animals? If we laugh with the body, then do we
also laugh at the body? Is humour revolutionary or does it
simply reinforce the status quo? What is going on in racist
and sexist humour? Is joking a private matter or is humour
something essentially shared and social?
From antiquity to modernity, and drawing on work from a vast
range of authors, in particular Swift, Sterne, Shaftesbury,
Bergson, Beckett and Freud, On Humour turns the comical
inside out to reveal some delectable insights about what we find
funny. Above all, Critchley reveals that the humanity of humour
is in being able to laugh at oneself, in finding oneself ridiculous.
Humour is the great anti-depressant that does not lead one to
escape reality but to face up to it more intensely, but not
without a certain lightness.
On Humour will interest readers in a range of disciplines, in
philosophy, theology, literature, psychoanalysis, history and
anthropology. It will also intrigue anyone with a sense of
humour, which hopefully is all of us.
Simon Critchley is Professor and Head of the Philosophy
Department at the University of Essex and Directeur de
Programme at the College International de Philosoph ie, Paris.
He is author of The Ethics of Deconstruction (1992), Very
Little ... Almost Nothing (Routledge, 1997) and Ethics-
Politics-Subjectivity (1999). His most recent book is
Continental Philosophy. A Very Short Introduction (2001).
H·IIIII- I I I ' ~ · III ACTION
EDITED BY SIMON CRITCHLEY AND RICHARD KEARNEY
PHILOSOPHY I LITERATURE
COYER IMAGE: JOE WRIGHT
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SIMON CRITCHLEY
On
Humour
London and New York
First published 2002
by Routledge
11 New Fetter Lane. London EC4P 4EE
Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada
by Routledge
29 West 35th Street. New York. NY 10001
Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group
© 2002 Simon Critchley
Typeset in Joanna and DIN by Keystroke. Jacaranda Lodge. Wolverhampton
Printed and bound in Great Britain by T J International Ltd. Padstow. Cornwall
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or
reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic. mechanical.
or other means. now known or hereafter invented. including
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British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
A catalog record for this book has been requested
ISBN 0-415-25120-6 [hbkl
ISBN
0-415-25121-4 [pbkl
The bitter, the hollow and - haw! haw! - the mirthless. The bitter
laugh laughs at that which is not good, it is the ethical laugh. The
hollow laugh laughs at that which is not true, it is the intellectual
laugh. Not good! Not
true
l
Well, well. But the mirthless laugh is the
dianoetic laugh, down the snout - haw! - so. It isthe laugh of laughs,
the risus purus, the laugh laughing at the laugh, the beholding, the
saluting of the highest joke, in a word the laugh that laughs - silence
please - at that which is unhappy.
Samuel Beckett, Watt
Introduction One 1
Three Theories of Humour 2
The Phenomenology of a Joke 3
Comic Timing 6
Laughter as an Explosion Expressed With the Body 7
Changing the Situation 9
Reactionary Humour 11
Structured Fun 1 2
Jokes: Good, Bad and Gulliver 14
Laughter's Messianic Power 16
Sensus and Dissensus Communis 1 8
Tristram Shandy, or Back to the Things Themselves 20
Is Humour Human? Two 25
Eccentric Humans 27
A Small Bestiary 29
Horace and Juvenal, Urbanity and Disgust 31
Outlandish Animals 34
Kant's Parrot 36
Laughing at Your Body - Post-Colonal Theory
Three 41
Being and Having 42
Physics and Metaphysics 43
Our Souls, Arseholes 45
Peditology 47
The Black Sun at the Centre of the Comic Universe 50
The Laughing Machine - a Note on Bergson
Manic Intoxication 99
and Wyndham Lewis Four 55
Humour as Anti-Depressant 101
Super-Ego I and II 102
A Cabbage Reading Flaubert - Now That's Funny
58
Ideal Sickness 104
How Humour Begins in Philosophy 59
Laughter I and II 105
Smiling - the Mind's Mime 107
Foreigners are Funny - the Ethicity and
The Risus Purus 109
Ethnicity of Humour Five 65
The Universal and the Particular 66
Notes 113
Ethos and Ethnos 68
Bibliography 121
There was a Frenchman, an Englishman and
Thanks 125
an Irishman ... 71
Index 127
Having the Courage of our Parochialism 73
Cornic Repression 75
The Joke's on All of Us - Humour as
Sensus Communis Six 79
2
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Shaftesbury's Reasonable Raillery 80 C 2
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Disenchantment of Folly or Democratization of Wit?
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Intersubjective Assent 85
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Jokes as Everyday Anamnesis 86
Anaesthesia of the Heart 87
The Phenomenology of Phenomenology 88
Why the Super-Ego is Your Amigo - My Sense of
Humour and Freud's Seven 93
Finding Oneself Ridiculous 94
Subject as Abject Object 96
Melancholy Philosophers 98
Three heads of an eagle and three heads of men in relation to the
eagle
Source: Cnac-Mnam/Dist RMN. Charles Le Brun
Introduction
One
Human beings are troubled with the opinions Idogmata] they have of
things, and not by the things themselves Ipragmata].
Epictetus, as cited by Laurence Sterne
Jokes tear holes in our usual predictions about the empirical
world. We might say that humour is produced by a disjunction
between the way things are and the way they are represented
in the joke, between expectation and actuality. Humour defeats
our expectations by producing a novel actuality, by changing
the situation in which we find ourselves. Examples are legion,
from boy bishops reciting learned sermons, to talking dogs,
hamsters and bears, to farting professors and incontinent
ballerinas, to straight linguistic inversion: 'I could wait for you
until the cows come home. On second thoughts, I'd rather wait
for the cows until you come home'. Of course, this is hardly
news. One already finds Cicero writing in De Oratore, 'The most
common kind of joke is that in which we expect one thing
and another is said; here our own disappOinted expectation
makes us laugh' . The comic world is not simply' die verkehrte
Welt', the inverted or upSide-down world of philosophy,
but rather the world with its causal chains broken, its social
practices turned inside out, and common sense rationality left
in tatters.
of course, a similar tension between expectation and
actuality might itself be claimed in the relation between the
various objects of humour and any theoretical explanation
thereof, the difference being that a theory of humour is not
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humorous. A joke explained is a joke misunderstood. In this
case, what might make one laugh - albeit as dramatic irony -
is the audacity or arrogance of the attempt to write a
philosophy of humour. For example, persons who might not
otherwise feel themselves to be experts in metapsychology or
French spiritualism somehow feel confident in dismissing
Freud's theory of jokes or Bergson's account of laughter
because they are either not funny or simply miss the point.
When it comes to what amuses us, we are all authorities,
experts in the field. We know what we find funny. Such a claim
to implicit or tacit knowledge is interesting in itself, for reasons
that I will endeavour to spell out in a later chapter. However,
the fact remains that humour is a nicely impossible object for
a philosopher. But herein lies its irresistible attraction.
THREE THEORIES OF HUMOUR
In an effort to approach this nicely impossible object, I have
been filling much of my time lately reading books on humour
and laughter. As a glance at my bibliography will reveal, it is
a surprisingly vast field, and much of the empirical research
is extremely pleasurable. The further one looks, the more there
is to see, not so much in philosophy, but more in the areas of
history, literary history, theology and history of religion,
SOCiology and anthropology.
There are many explanations of laughter and humour, that
John Morreall does well to distill into three theories: the
superiority theory, the relief theory and the incongruity theory.
1
In the first theory. represented by Plato, Aristotle, Quintillian
and, at the dawn of the modern era, Hobbes, we laugh from
feelings of superiority over other people, from'suddaine
Glory arising from suddaine Conception of some Eminency
in our selves, by Comparison with the Infirrnityes of others,
or with our owne formerly'. Laughter is that 'passion, which
hath no name', which would be forbidden to the virtuous
guardians of Plato's imagined philosophical city. It is the
superiority theory that dominates the philosophical tradi-
tion until the eighteenth century, and we shall have recourse
to it in the discussion of ethnic humour.
2 The relief theory emerges in the nineteenth century in the
work of Herbert Spencer, where laughter is explained as a
release of pent-up nervous energy, but the theory is best
known in the version given in Freud's 1905 book Jokes and
Their Relation to the Unconscious, where the energy that is relieved
and discharged in laughter provides pleasure because it
allegedly economizes upon energy that would ordinarily be
used to contain or repress psychic activity.
3 The incongruity theory can be traced to Francis Hutcheson's
Reflections Upon Laughter from 1 750, but is elaborated in related,
but distinct, ways in Kant, as we shall see presently,
Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard. As James Russell Lowell
writes in 1870, 'Humour in its first analysiS is a perception
of the incongruous'. Humour is produced by the experi-
ence of a felt incongruity between what we know or expect
to be the case, and what actually takes place in the joke, gag,
jest or blague: 'Did you see me at Princess Diana's funeral?
I was the one who started the Mexican wave'. Although I
will discuss the other theories below, I would like to begin
by exploring this idea of humour as incongruity.
THEPHENOMENOLOGYOFAJOKE
Can we describe what takes place in a joke? How might we
give what philosophers call the 'phenomenology' of a joke?
First, joking is a specific and meaningful practice that the
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audience and the joke-teller recognize as such. There is a tadt
sodal contract at work here, namely some agreement about the
social world in which we find ourselves as the implidt
background to the joke. There has to be a sort of tadt consensus
or implicit shared understanding as to what constitutes joking
'for us', as to which linguistic or visual routines are recog-
nized as joking. That is, in order for the incongruity of the joke
to be seen as such, there has to be a congruence between
joke structure and social structure - no sodal congruity, no
comic incongruity. When this implicit congruence or tadt
contract is missing, then laughter will probably not result,
which can be the experience of trying - and failing - to tell
a joke in a foreign language. Bergson explains what he calls
'the leading idea in all our investigations' in Le rire:
To understand laughter, we must put it back into its natural
environment, which is society, and above all we must
determine the utility of its function, which is a social one.
[ ... 1 Laughter must answer to certain requirements of life
in common. It must have a social signification.
2
So, in listening to a joke, 1 am presupposing a sodal world that
is shared, the forms of which the practice of joke-telling is
going to play with. Joking is a game that players only play
successfully when they both understand and follow the rules.
Wittgenstein puts the point perspicuously.
What is it like for people not to have the same sense of
humour? They do not react properly to each other. Irs as
though there were a custom amongst certain people for one
person to throw another a ball which he is supposed to
catch and throw back; but some people, instead of throwing
it back, put it in their pocket.
3
This is also what Mary Douglas has in mind in her ground-
breaking anthropological work on the subject when she
compares jokes with rites.
4
A rite is here understood as a
symbolic act that derives its meaning from a cluster of sodally
legitimated symbols, such as a funeral. But insofar as the
joke plays with the symbolic forms of sodety - the bishop
gets stuck in a lift, 1 spread margarine on the communion
wafer - jokes are anti-rites. They mock, parody or deride the
ritual practices of a given society, as Milan Kundera remarks,
'Someone's hat falls on the coffin in a freshly dug grave, the
funeral loses its meaning and laughter is born'.
5
Suppose that someone starts to tell you a joke: 'I never left
the house as a child. My family were so poor that my mother
couldn't afford to buy us clothes'. First, 1 recognize that a
joke is being told and 1 assent to having my attention caught
in this way. Assenting to having my attention caught is very
important and if someone interrupts the joke-teller or Simply
walks away in the middle of the joke, then the tacit sodal
contract of humour has been broken. This is bad form or
Simply bad manners. Instead of throwing the ball back, 1 put
it in my pocket. In thus assenting and going along with the
joke, a certain tension is created in the listener and 1 follow
along willingly with the story that is being recounted. When
the punch-line kicks in, and the little bubble of tension pops,
1 experience an affect that can be described as pleasure, and 1
laugh or just smile: 'When 1 was ten, my mother bought me
a hat so that 1 could look out of the window'.
What happens here i&, as Kant puts it in a brilliant short
discussion of laughter from The Critique of Judgement, a sudden
evaporation of expectation to nothing (' ein Affekt aus der
plotzlichen Verwandlung einer gespannten Erwartung in
nichts').6 In hearing the punch-line, the tension disappears and
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we experience comic relief. Rather than the tiresome and
indeed radst examples of jokes that Kant recounts, involving
Indians and bottles of beer, witness Philip Larkin (that
celebrated anti-radst!) in a characteristic flourish,
When I drop four cubes of ice
Chimingly in a glass, and add
Three goes of gin, a lemon slice,
And let a ten-ounce tonic void
In fOaming gulps until it smothers
Everything else up to the edge,
I lift the lot in silent pledge:
He devoted his life to others.
7
The admittedly rather dry humour here is found in a com-
bination of two features: conceptual and rhetorical. On the one
hand, there is the conceptual disjunction between the wanton
hedonism involved in preparing the gin and tonic, and the
avowed altruism of the final line. But also - more importantly
- there is the rhetorical effect generated by the sudden bathos
of the final line in comparison to the cumulative and almost
Miltonic overkill of what precedes it. Picking up on Hobbes's
word, it is important to emphasize the necessary suddenness of
the conceptual and rhetorical shift. Both brevity and speed are
the soul of wit.
COMIC TIMING
Mention of the suddenness of the bathetic shift that produces
humour brings attention to the peculiar temporal dimension
of jokes. As any comedian will readily admit, timing is every-
thing, and a mastery of comic forms involves a careful control
of pauses, hesitations and silences, of knowing exactly when
to detonate the little dynamite of the joke. In this sense, jokes
involve a shared knowledge of two temporal dimensions:
duration and the instant. What I mean is that when we give
ourselves up to being told a joke, we undergo a peculiar and
quite deliberate distention of time, where the practice of
joking often involves cumulative repetition and wonderfully
needless drcumlocution. This is a technique brought to its
digressive nadir in the 'shaggy dog' or 'cock and bull' story,
such as Tristram Shandy.
Digressions, incontestably, are the sun-shine - they are the
life, the soul of reading, - take them out of this book for
instance, - you might as well take the book along with
them.
8
In being told a joke, we undergo a particular experience of
duration through repetition and digression, of time literally
being stretched out like an elastic band. We know that the
elastic will snap, we just do not know when, and we find
that anticipation rather pleasurable. It snaps with the punch-
line, which is a sudden acceleration of time, where the
digressive stretching of the joke suddenly contracts into a
heightened experience of the instant. We laugh. Viewed
temporally, humorous pleasure would seem to be produced by
the disjunction between duration and the instant, where we
experience with renewed intensity both the slow passing
of time and its sheer evanescence.
LAUGHTER AS AN EXPLOSION EXPRESSED WITH
THE BODY
It is important to recall that the succession of tension by relief
in humour is an essentially bodily affair. That is, the joke invites
a corporeal response, from a chuckle, through a giggle to a
guffaw. Laughter is a muscular phenomenon, consisting of
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spasmodic contraction and relaxation of the facial muscles with
corresponding movements in the diaphragm. The associated
contractions of the larynx and epiglottis interrupt the pattern
of breathing and emit sound. Descartes puts the point much
more exotically and powerfully in Article 1 24 of The Passions of
the Soul,
Laughter consists in the fact that the blood, which proceeds
from the right orifice in the heart by the arterial vein,
inflating the lungs suddenly and repeatedly, causes the air
which they contain to be constrained and to pass out from
them with an impetus by the windpipe, where it forms an
inarticulate and explosive utterance; and the lungs in
expanding equally with the air as it rushes out, set in motion
all the muscles of the diaphragm from the chest to the
neck, by which means they cause motion in the facial
muscles, which have a certain connection with them. And it
is just this action of the face with this inarticulate and
explosive voice that we call laughter.
It is just this interruption of breath that distinguishes laughter
from smiling, a revealing distinction which will be important
for my sense of humour in the conclusion to this book (when
all is said and done, it is the smile that interests me most).
As a bodily phenomenon, laughter invites comparison with
similar convulsive phenomena like orgasm and weeping.
Indeed, like the latter, laughter is distinguished by what
Helmuth Plessner calls 'A loss of self-control as the break
between the person and their body' ('Verlust der Selbstbeherrs-
chung als Bruch zwischen der Person und ihrem Korper').9
In laughing violently, I lose self-control in a way that is akin
to the moments of radical corporeal exposure that follow an
orgasm or when crying turns into an uncontrollable sobbing.
Picking up on a word employed by Descartes, and used by a
whole tradition extending to Charles Baudelaire, Andre Breton
and Plessner, laughter is an explosion expressed with the body.
In a lovely formulation, Kant speaks of 'die Schwingung der
Organen', 'The oscillation of the organs'. When I laugh
vigorously, I literally experience an oscillation or vibration
of the organs, which is why it can hurt when you laugh, if
you engage in it a little too enthusiastically. Of course, as Jacques
Le Goff reminds us, the" historical associations between laughter
and the body cannot be overemphaSized. I 0 It is this link to the
body that was the reason for the Christian condemnation of
laughter in the early Middle Ages, its careful codification in
the later Middle Ages, before the explosion of laughter in the
early Renaissance, in the work of Rabelais and Erasmus.
CHANGING THE SITUATION
But is that an end to the matter? Hopefully not. For I want to
claim that humour is not just comic relief, a transient corporeal
affect induced by the raising and extinguishing of tension, of
as little social consequence as masturbation, although slightly
more acceptable to perform in public. I rather want to claim
that what goes on in humour is a form of liberation or elevation
that expresses something essential to what Plessner calls
'the humanity of the human'. We will have to wait until my
final chapter, and in particular my use of Freud's conception
of humour, before I can make good on this claim. But, as a
provisional outline of the thought I am after, let me turn to the
character of Eddie Waters'; the philosopher-comedian from
Trevor Griffiths's brilliant 1976piece Comedians,
A real comedian - that's a daring man. He dares to see
what his listeners shy away from. fear to express. And what
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he sees is a sort of truth about people, about their situation,
about what hurts or terrifies them, about what's hard, above
all, about what they want. A joke releases the tension, says
the unsayable, any joke pretty well. But a true joke, a
comedian's joke, has to do more than release tension, it has
to liberate the will and the desire, it has to change the
situation."
A true joke, a comedian's joke, suddenly and explosively lets
us see the familiar defamiliarized, the ordinary made extra-
ordinary and the real rendered surreal, and we laugh in a
physiological squeal of transient delight, like an infant playing
peek-a-boo: nurse to uncooperative patient, 'We have to see
if you have a temperature'; uncooperative patient to nurse,
'Don't be silly, everybody has a temperature'. Humour brings
about a change of situation, a surrealization of the real which is
why someone like the great surrealist Andre Breton was
so interested in humour, in particular the unsentimental
subversions of what he baptized 'l'humour noir'. 12
This idea of a change of situation can be caught in Mary
Douglas's claim that, 'A joke is a play upon form that affords
an opportunity for realiSing that an accepted pattern has no
neceSSity' .13 Thus, jokes are a play upon form, where what is
played with are the accepted practices of a given society. The
incongruities of humour both speak out of a massive con-
gruence between joke structure and social structure, and speak
against those structures by shOwing that they have no necessity.
The anti-rite of the joke shows the sheer contingency or
arbitrariness of the social rites in which we engage. By pro-
ducing a consciousness of contingency, humour can change
the situation in which we fmd ourselves, and can even have
a critical function with respect to society. Hence the great
importance that humour has played in social movements that
have set out to criticize the established order, such as radical
feminist humour: 'How many men does it take to tile a bath-
room?', 'I don't know', 'It depends how thinly you slice them'.
As the Italian Situationist street slogan has it, 'Una risata
vi seppelliri' , it will be a laugh that buries you, where the 'you'
refers to those in power. By laughing at power, we expose
its contingency, we realize that what appeared to be fixed and
oppressive is in fact the emperor's new clothes, and just the
sort of thing that should be mocked and ridiculed.
REACTIONARY HUMOUR
But before we get carried away, it is important to recognize
that not all humour is of this type, and most of the best jokes
are fairly reactionary or, at best, Simply serve to reinforce social
consensus. You will have noticed a couple of paragraphs back
that, following Eddie Waters, I introduced the adjective 'true'
into our discussion of humour. 'True' humour changes the
situation, tells us something about who we are and the sort
of place we live in, and perhaps indicates to us how it might
be changed. This sounds very nice, but it presupposes a great
deal. A number of items cry out for recognition here, some
of which will be picked up in later chapters.
Most humour, in particular the comedy of recognition - and
most humour is comedy of recognition - simply seeks to
reinforce consensus and in no way seeks to criticize the estab-
lished order or change the situation in which we find ourselves.
Such humour does not seek to change the situation, but
simply toys with existing social hierarchies in a charming
but quite benign fashion, as in' p.. G. Wodehouse' s The World
of ]eeves. This is the comic as sheer pleaSing diversion, and it
has an important place in any taxonomy of humour. More
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egregiously, much humour seeks to confirm the status quo
either by denigrating a certain sector of society, as in sexist
humour, or by laughing at the alleged stupidity of a social
outsider. Thus, the British laugh at the Irish, the Canadians
laugh at the Newfies, the Americans laugh at the Poles, the
Swedes laugh at the Finns, the Germans laugh at the
Ostfrieslanders, the Greeks laugh at the Pontians, the Czechs
laugh at the Slovaks, the Russians laugh at the Ukrainians,
the French laugh at the Belgians, the Dutch also laugh at the
Belgians, and so on and so forth. Such comic scapegoating
corresponds to what Hobbes means in suggesting that laughter
is a feeling of sudden glory where I find another person
ridiculous and laugh at their expense. Such humour is not
laughter at power, but the powerful laughing at the powerless.
The reactionary quality of much humour, in particular
ethnic humour, must be analysed, which I will attempt in
Chapter 4, where I claim that such humour lets us reflect upon
the anxious nature of our thrownness in the world. What I
mean by the latter is that in its 'untruth' , as it were, reactionary
humour tells us important truths about who we are. Jokes can
therefore be read as symptoms of societal repression and their
study might be said to amount to a return of the repressed.
In other words, humour can reveal us to be persons that,
frankly, we would really rather not be.
STRUCTURED FUN
Humour is being employed as a management tool by con-
sultants - imagine, if you will, a company called 'Humour
Solutions International' - who endeavour to show how it can
produce greater cohesion amongst the workforce and thereby
increase efficiency and productivity. This is beautifully caught
in the slogan: 'laughter loves company and companies love
laughter' . Some management consultants refer to such activity
as 'structured fun', which includes innovations like 'inside out
day', where all employees are asked to wear their clothes inside
out, or 'silly hat day', which rather speaks for itself Despite
the backslapping bonhomie that such fun must inspire, it is
difficult not to feel a little cynical about these endeavours, and
the question that one wants to pose to the idea of 'structured
fun' is: who is structuring the fun and for what end? Such
enforced fun is a form of compulsory happiness, and it is
tempting to see it as one further sign of the ways in which
employees' private lives are being increasingly regulated by the
interests of their employers.
I was recently in Atlanta, staying at a huge hotel, and had
occasion to observe some structured fun from my breakfast
table one morning. In one of the vast, anonymous, carpeted,
windowless suites that pepper every large hotel in the USA,
about fifty people from the same company were engaged in
collective hopscotch, frisbee and kickball. It was quite a sight
and much yelping and clapping was to be heard - the very
soundtrack to happiness, I pondered. But looking at the
sweating, slightly desperate faces of these mostly overweight
grown-ups, one almost felt moved to tears. After breakfast, I
found a huddle of employees standing outside, resolutely
smoking in the Georgian January drizzle and we exchanged a
few words. I was enormously reassured that they felt just as
cynical about the whole business as I did, but one of them said
that they did not want to appear to be a bad sport or a party
pooper at work and that was why they went along with it.
Also, he concluded, they were not really offered a choice. I
think this incident is interesting 'for it reveals a vitally sub-
versive feature of humour in the workplace. Namely, that as
much as management consultants might try and formalize fun
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for the benefit of the company, where the comic punch-line
and the economic bottom line might be seen to blend, such
fun is always capable of being ridiculed by informal, unofficial
relations amongst employees, by backchat and salacious gossip.
Anyone who has worked in a factory or office knows how the
most scurrilous and usually obscene stories, songs and
cartoons about the management are the very bread and butter
of survival. Humour might well be a management tool but it
is also a tool agai....'1st the management. 14
JOKES: GOOD, BAD AND GULLIVER
To talk, as I do, of true humour must presuppose some sort
of normative claim, namely a distinction between 'good' and
'bad' jokes. However, such a claim must not be reduced to
moral crispbread, but must be properly leavened and smeared
vvith tasty examples. I vvill try and do this below when I make
the distinction between laughing at oneself and laughing at others. In
my view, true humour does not wound a specific victim and
always contains self-mockery. The object of laughter is the
subject who laughs. By way of preparation for this thought,
we might cite a few of the closing lines from 'Verses on the
Death of Dr Svvifi', an exquisitely bleak apologia pro sua vita,
Perhaps I may allow the Dean
Had too much satire in his vein;
And seemed determined not to starve it,
Because no age could more deserve it.
Yet malice never was his aim;
He lashed the vice but spared the name.
No individual could resent,
Where thousands equally were meant.
His satire points at no defect,
But what all mortals may correct;
For he abhorred that senseless tribe,
Who call it humour when they jibe:
He spar'd a hump or crooked nose,
Whose owners set not up for beaux.
True genuine dullness moved his pity,
Unless it offered to be vvitty.1S
The critical task of humour, then, would not be sheer malice
or jibing, but the lashing of vices which are general and not
personal, 'no individual could resent,/Where thousands
equally were meant' . Also, such lashing of vices does not point
at a fundamental defect, 'But what all mortals may correct' . That
is, true humour can be said to have a therapeutic as well as a
critical function. The studied reversals of perspective and
fantastical geographical displacements of Swift's Gulliver's Travels
offer, it is true, a devastating critique of the follies and vices
of the modem European world, but the intent of the satire is
therapeutic, to bring human beings back from what they have
become to what they might be. Satire is often a question of
scale, of the familiar becoming infinitely small or grotesquely
huge, which can be seen in Gulliver's voyages from the
littleness ofLilliput to the bigness of Brobdingnag. But, I would
insist, from the studied savaging of modem mathematics,
science and government in Laputa and the Academy of Lagado,
through to the final descent into misanthropy caused by life
vvith the fully rational animals of the land of the Houyhnhnms,
Swift is offering a teaching of virtue that permits Gulliver and
the rest of us to be reconciled to life amongst the vicious
Yahoos. In my view, this is what Svvift means when he
complains to Alexander Pope in correspondence from 1725,
'I tell you after all that I do not hate mankind, it is VOllS autres
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who hate them because you would have them reasonable
animals, and are angry for being disappointed'. 16 For, after all,
I am a Yahoo and you are too.
LAUGHTER'S MESSIANIC POWER
As well as being something of a revenge of the eighteenth
century against the present, in this book I want to defend a
two-fold claim: (i) that the tiny explosions of humour that we
call jokes return us to a common, familiar world of shared
practices, the background meanings implicit in a culture;
and (ii) indicate how those practices might be transformed
or perfected, how things might be otherwise. Humour both
reveals the situation, and indicates how that situation might
be changed. That is to say, laughter has a certain redemptive
or messianic power. So, does this mean that true humour has
to be religious?
The argumentation linking humour to religion is impec-
cable enough and much great comic writing is Christian,
particularly when one thinks of Pope, Swift and Sterne.
The briefest glance at M. A. Screech's Laughter at the Foot of the
Cross confirms the place of laughter in the Bible and in the
self-understanding of Christianity through the ages.
17
From
the standpoint of the worldly-wise, Christ appears to be a
kind of madman. Where the world admires money, power and
success, the Christian indifference to these values turns the
secular world upside down. It is this folly of the cross that
Erasmus understood so well, and which makes his Praise of Folly
a powerful work of both comedy and confession. Christianity
offers us a topsy-turvy world that inverts our worldly values.
W H. Auden is therefore quite right when he says that,
The world of Laughter is much more closely related to the
world of Prayer than either is to the everyday secular world
of Work, for both are worlds in which we are all equal, in the
first as individual members of our species, in the latter as
unique persons. !. . .lIn the world of Work, on the other I
hand, we are not and cannot be equal, only diverse and
interdependent ... those who try to live by Work alone,
without Laughter or Prayer turn into insane lovers of power,
tyrants who would enslave Nature to their immediate
desires - an attempt which can only end in utter
catastrophe, shipwreck on the isle of Sirens.
18
Iflaughter lets us see the folly of the world in order to imagine
a better world in its place, and to change the situation in which
we find ourselves, then I have no objection to the religious
interpretation of humour. True jokes would therefore be like
shared prayers.
My quibble is rather the follOwing: that the religious world-
view invites us to look away from this world towards another
in which, in Peter Berger's words, 'the limitations of the human
condition are miraculously overcome'. 19 Humour lets us view
the folly of the world by affording us the glimpse of another
world, by offering what Berger calls 'a signal of transcendence'.
However, in my view, humour does not redeem us from this
world, but returns us to it ineluctably by shOwing that there
is no alternative. The consolations of humour come from
acknowledging that this is the only world and, imperfect as
it is and we are, it is only here that we can make a difference.
Therefore, the redemptive power of humour is not, as it is in
Kierkegaard, the transition from the ethical to the religious
point of view, where humour is the last stage of existential
awareness before faith. Humour is· not nuomenal but phe-
nomenal, not theological but anthropological, not numinous
but simply luminous. By showing us the folly of the world,
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humour does not save us from that folly by turning our
attention elsewhere, as it does in great Christian humour like
Erasmus, but calls on us to face the folly of the world and
change the situation in which we find ourselves.
SENSUS AND DISSENSUS COMMUNIS
Laughter is contagious - think of the intersubjectivity of
giggling, particularly when it concerns something obscene in
a context where one should be serious, such as listening to a
formal academic paper. In such cases, and I am sure (or hope)
that we all know them, the laughter can really hurt. One might
say that the simple telling of a joke recalls us to what is shared
in our everyday practices. It makes explicit the enormous
commonality that is implicit in our social life. As we will see
in more detail in Chapter 5, this is what Shaftesbury had in
mind in the early eighteenth century when he spoke of
humour as a form of sensus communis. So, humour reveals the
depth of what we share. But, crucially, it does this not through
the clumsiness of a theoretical description, but more quietly,
practically and discreetly. Laughter suddenly breaks out in a
bus queue, watching a party political broadcast in a pub, or
when someone farts in a lift. Humour is an exemplary practice
because it is a universal human activity that invites us to
become philosophical spectators upon our lives. It is practically
enacted theory. I think this is why Wittgenstein once said that
he could imagine a book of philosophy that would be written
entirely in the form of jokes.
The extraordinary thing about humour is that it returns
us to common sense; by distancing us from it, humour
familiarizes us with a common world through its miniature
strategies of defamiliarization. If humour recalls us to sensus
communis, then it does this by momentarily pulling us out of
common sense, where jokes function as moments of dissensus
communis. At its most powerful, say in those insanely punning
dialogues between Chico and Groucho Marx, humour is a
paradoxical form of speech and action that defeats our expec-
tations, prodUcing laughter with its unexpected verbal
inversions, contortions and explosions, a refusal of everyday
speech that lights up the everyday, shOwing it, in Adorno's
words, 'as it will one day appear in the messianic light'. 20 Some
sundry examples:
'What'll I say?', 'Tell them you're not here', 'Suppose they
don't believe me?', 'They'll believe you when you start
talking' .
2 'Do you believe in the life to come?', 'Mine was always
that' .
3 'Have you lived in Blackpool all your life?', 'Not yet'.
4 'Do me a favour and close the window, it's cold outside'.
'And if I close it, will that make it warm outside?'.
5 'Do you want to use a pen?', 'I can't write', 'That's OK, there
wasn't any ink in it anyway'.
6 'Which of the follOwing is the odd one out? Greed, envy,
malice, anger and kindness'. (Pause) 'And'.
7 'Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look
like an idiot, but don't let that fool you. He really is an idiot.
I implore you, send him back to his father and brothers who
are waiting for him with open arms at the penitentiary.
I suggest that we give him ten years at Leavenworth, or
eleven years at Twelveworth'. 'I tell you what I'll do. I'll take
five and ten atWoolworth'.21
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TRISTRAM SHANDY, OR BACK TO THE THINGS
THEMSELVES
To put it in a rather baroque formulation, humour changes the
situation in which we find ourselves, or lights up the everyday
by providing an' oblique phenomenology of ordinary life'. The
meaning of this claim will hopefully emerge as we proceed,
but let me begin to illustrate it by recalling my epigraph from
Epictetus, which itself provides the motto to Volumes 1 and
2 of Sterne's Tristram Shandy: 'Human beings are troubled with
d the opinions (dogmata) they have of things, and not by the
things themselves (pragmata).' How is one to understand this
epigraph in relation to Sterne's book? Tristram Shandy can
evidently be viewed as an extended exploration of the fact
that human beings are more troubled with dogmata, or their
hobby horses, than with the things themselves. What Sterne calls
'the Shandian system' is entirely made up of digreSSions. For
example, the digreSSions on the character and opinions of
Mr Walter Shandy show him unable to view the world except
through what Sterne calls his hypotheses: on names, on noses, on
the best technique for birth in order to protect the delicate web
of the cerebellum, and so on, and on, and on. And sweet Uncle
Toby only sees things hobby-horsically through his obsession
with the science of fortification and the attempt to reconstruct
the precise dimensions of the Siege of N amur where he received
the terrible, but ever-obscure, blow to his groin.
Of course, the world viewed from a hobby-horsical,dog-
matic perspective inevitably goes awry: Walter Shandy's son
is given the wrong name, Tristram instead ofTrismegistus, his
nose is crushed follOwing a forceps delivery, and the web of
the cerebellum - seat of all wisdom - is irreparably crushed
follOwing a head-first birth. And I almost forgot to add that
Tristram is inadvertently circumcised by a window sash. Uncle
Toby exchanges his heroic campaigns with Corporal Trim
on the bowling green for his amours with the Widow Wadman,
which end in disenchantment when the good Corporal
explains to Toby that Mrs Wadman's interest in the wound
upon his groin is not Simply born from compassion. As Sterne
remarks, 'Endless is the quest for truth'.
Yet, where do all these digreSSions lead? What cosmic truth
does the Shandian system reveal to us? Perhaps this: that
through the meandering circumlocutions of Tristram Shandy, the
story of 'a COCK and a BULL ... and one of the best of its
kind, I ever heard', we progressively approach the things
themselves, the various pragmata that make up the stuff of what
we call the ordinary life. That is to say, the infinitely digreSSive
movement of Sterne's prose actually contains a contrary
motion within it, which is progreSSive. We might think of this
as a comic phenomenology which is animated by a concern
for the things themselves, the things which show themselves
when we get rid of our troubling opinions. Humourless dog-
matism is replaced by humorous pragmatism. Although it is
hardly a Cartesian discourse on the method, Sterne writes of
his procedure in the book,
For in this long digression which I was accidentally led into,
as in all my digressions (one only exceptedl there is a
master-stroke of digressive skill, the merit of which has all
along, I fear, been overlooked by my reader, - not for want
of penetration in him - but because 'tis an excellence
seldom looked for, or expected indeed, in a digression: -
and that I fly off from what I am about, as far and as often
as any writer in Great Britain; yet I constantly take care to
order affairs so, that my main business does not stand still
in my absence ( ... 1
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By this contrivance the machinery of my work is of a
species by itself; two contrary motions are introduced into it,
and reconciled, which were thought to be at variance with
each other. In a word, my work is digressive, and it is
progressive too, - and at the same time.22
This is why, to recall my earlier citation from Sterne,
digreSSions are the sunshine, the life and the soul of reading,
'take them out of this book for instance, - and you might as
well take the book along with them'. Inasmuch as the book
digresses, it also progresses by a contrary motion. In my
view, it is this combination of these two contrary motions
- progressive and digreSSive - that is at the heart of humour.
That is to say, through the endless displacement of seeing
the world through another's hobby horse, through the eyes
of a Walter or a To by Shandy, one is brought closer to the things
themselves, to the finally laughable enigma of ordinary life.
Two heads of a camel and three heads of men in relation to the
camel
Source: Cnac-Mnam/Dist RMN. Charles Le Brun
Is Humour Human?
Two
Animals come when their names are called. Just like human
beings.
Wittgenstein
Humour is human. Why? Well, because the philosopher,
Aristotle, says so. In On the Parts of the Animals, he writes, 'no
animal laughs save Man'. I This quotation echoes down the
centuries from Galen and Porphyry, through Rabelais to Hazlitt
and Bergson. Now, if laughter is proper to the human being,
then the human being who does not laugh invites the charge
of inhumanity, or at least makes us somewhat suspicious.
Apparently Pythagoras and Anaxagoras never laughed, neither
did the Virgin Mary, and Socrates laughed rarely. If laughter is
essentially human, then the question of whether Jesus laughed
assumes rather obvious theological pertinence to the doctrine
of incarnation. One of Beckett's more monstrous anti-heroes,
Moran, debates the point with one Father Ambrose,
Like Job haha, he said. I too said haha. What a joy it is to
laugh, from time to time, he said. Is it not? I said. It is
peculiar to man, he said. So I have noticed, I said. A brief
silence ensued [ ... 1 Animals never laugh, he said. It takes
us to find that funny, I s.aid. What? he said. It takes us to find
that funny, I said loudly. 8e mused. Christ never laughed
either, he said, so far as we kno,w. He looked at me. Can you
wonder? I said.
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As M. A. Screech shows in impressive detail, the theological
importance of showing Christ's humanity, and therefore his
sense of humour, led many medieval scholars to trawl the
Evangelists for evidence of levity.
3
Some support for the case
can be found in the first of Christ's recorded miracles, the
marriage at Cana (John 2: 1-11). Discovering that the wine
has run out, the distraught host somehow alerts Mary, who
orders her son to do something about the problem,
presumably knowing that he can. This is in itself interesting,
as there is no evidence heretofore that Mary was aware that
her Son could perform such impressive party tricks. She says
to him, 'They have no more wine'; to which Jesus replies
somewhat coldly, from his full messianic height, 'Woman, my
time has not yet come'. However, like the good Jewish mother
who knows what is best for her-Son-the-Messiah, Mary turns
to the servants and says 'Do whatever he tells you'. At which
pOint, the water is miraculously turned into wine and the party
can continue.
This is an odd moment, bearing a family resemblance to a
scene from Monty Python's The Life of Brian, where Brian's
mother insists, 'He's not the Messiah, he's just a very naughty
boy'. Although the joke is on Jesus to some extent insofar as
he is made to look slightly foolish by his mother, the marriage
at Cana might nonetheless be seen as evidence of humorous
humanity on Christ's part. It might indeed appear curious
that Jesus' ministry beginS with an encouragement to imbibe.
However, to the perfervid imagination of medieval Christ-
endom, this first miracle was seen analogically as a New
Testament response and recompense for the Old Testament tale
of the drunkenness of Noah (Genesis 9: 20-29). Noah was, of
course, the first human being to cultivate the vine and sample
its fruits, 'and he drank of the wine, and was drunken'. Noah's
son, Ham, looked on his inebriated father 'uncovered within
his tent' and told his two brothers who walked in backwards
and covered his nakedness with a garment. A presumably rather
hung-over Noah was none too pleased with Ham and lay
an awful curse of servitude on him and all of his Canaanite
progeny. Hence the Old and New Testament stories are
connected both by theme - wine - and location - Cana. Now,
was Ham's sin that of laughter? The Bible does not say.
ECCENTRIC HUMANS
Any philosophical and theological assurance that laughter
is unique to the human being becomes somewhat unsure
when one turns to the anthropological literature. One need
only observe the behaviour of chimpanzees and dogs to see
that animals certainly play, and they do get frisky, but the
question is: do they laugh? They certainly do not seem to laugh
at my jokes. But in her 1971 paper, 'Do Dogs Laugh?', Mary
Douglas sets out to trouble the assumption that we can divide
human from animal along the faultline of laughter.
4
She cites
Konrad Lorenz's Man Meets Dog and Thomas Mann's A Man and
His Dog to show how the panting, slightly opened jaws of man's
best friend look 'like a human smile' and can give 'a stronger
impression of laughing'. However, the evidence is anecdotal
and, to my mind, not particularly convincing. The interpre-
tation of the dog's laughter seems rather anthropomorphic
and evidence of a crude learnt response on the dog's part,
particularly when Lorenz admits that the same facial expression
of the dog that denotes also indicates the beginning
of erotic excitement, or getting frisky in another way.
We are not going to be able to decide the issue here, and
animals are full of surprises. So whilst we cannot say with any
certainty whether dogs laugh or not, we can, I think, grant that
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humour is an anthropological constant, is universal and
common to all cultures. There has been no society thus far
discovered that did not have humour, whether it is expressed
as convulsive, bodily gaiety or with a laconic smile. Thus,
humour is a key element in the distinction of the human from
the animal; it is a consequence of culture, and indeed of
civilization as Cicero's Latin word for humour, urbanitas,
/
1 would suggest. If, as ethologists report, laughter originated
in the animal function of the aggressive baring of teeth, then
the transformation of the social meaning of this physiological
act is one testament to the distance of human culture from
animal life.
As Plessner puts it, laughter confirms the eccentric
(exzentrisch) position of the human being in the world of nature.
Plessner's thesis is that the life of animals is zentrisch, it is
centred. This means that the animal Simply lives and experi-
ences (lebt und erlebt). By contrast, the human being not only
lives and experiences, he or she experiences those experiences
(erlebt sein Erleben). That is, the human being has a reflective
attitude towards its experiences and towards itself This is
why humans are eccentric, because they live beyond the limits
set for them by nature by taking up a distance from their
immediate experience. In living outside themselves, the
reflective activity of human beings achieves a break with
nature. Indeed, Plessner goes further and claims that the
human is this break, this hiatus, this gap between the physical
and the psychical. The working out of the consequences of
the eccentric position of the human is the main task of a
philosophical anthropology, which is why laughter has such
an absolutely central role in Plessner's work.
s
Plessner's thesis is pretty convincing, but is it true to say that
animals always exist in sheer immediacy? Do they - even the
cleverest of them - always fail to take up an eccentric position
with regard to their life, not even when they seem to know that
they are going to die? In a word, are all animals incapable of
reflection? I simply do not know, and if a lion could talk then
we could not understand him. Furthermore, I do not know
how Plessner can know what he seems so sure of, namely that
animals are incapable of reflection. Let us just say that I have
my doubts about Plessner's certitude.
A SMALL BESTIARY
If humour is human, then it also, curiously, marks the limit
of the human. Or, better, humour explores what it means to
be human by moving back and forth across the frontier that
separates humanity from animality, thereby making it unstable,
and troubling the hiatus of which Plessner speaks. Humour
"'.
is preCisely the exploration of the break between nature and ;
culture, which human to be not so much a category I '1\". §
by itself as a negotiation between We might even
define the human as a dynamic process produced by a series E
of identifications and misidentifications with animality.
6
i
Thus, what makes us laugh is the reduction of the human to ..!!!
the animal or the elevation of the animal to the human. g:;
The fact that we label certain comic genres in animalistic
terms, like 'Cock and Bull' or 'shaggy dog' stories is perhaps
revealing.
Examples of bestiality in literature are legion, from Aesop's
fables, through to Chaucer's Chaunticleer in The Nun's Priest's
Tale and Le Roman de Renard. Animals litter the history of literature,
in particular parrots, dogs, cats and bears. A more bizarre
example of the identification with animality, because of
the unhappy mental state of the author and the fact that it
was penned in Mr Potter's mad house in Bethnal Green, is
Christopher Smart's Jubilate Agno written sometime between
1 758 and 1 763. Smart begins thus,
For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily
serving him
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he
worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round
with elegant quickness.
And so on, and so forth, for page after rambling page. My
favourite lines are the following,
For by stroking him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God
sends from heaven to sustain the bodies of both man and
beast.
i )" f- For G o ~ has blest him in the variety of his movements.
:f \. v For tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
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For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than
any other quadrupede.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.
7
Smart was sadly less than smart when he wrote these lines, but
their electrical warmth expresses something approaching
humanity towards Jeoffry the cat.
The exploration of the hiatus between the human and the
animal is obviously at the heart of Book IV of Gulliver's Travels,
where the power of Gulliver's identification with the rational
animals or Houyhnhnms is proportionate to his misanthropic
disgust at his all-too-human Yahoo-ness. Swift explores a
similar paradox in 'The Beast's Confession to the Priest' by way
of a critique of Aesop's 'libelling of the four-foot race',
For, here he owns, that now and then
Beasts may degenerate into men.
8
This comic inversion of the human and the animal continues
in the twentieth century in Orwell's Animal Farm and Kafka's
Metamorphosis, a text that Breton quite properly places in his
Anthologie de !'humour noir, but he might also have included many
of Kafka's ever-strange short stories, such as 'Investigations
of a Dog' and 'Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse-Folk'. This
tradition continues on to a book like Will Self's Great Apes, not
to mention a whole tradition of satirical cartooning whose
contemporary expression would be Gary Larson's The Far Side.
HORACE AND JUVENAL, URBANITY AND DISGUST
The two effects produced by such humour here might be
considered in terms of the distinction between the benign
mockery or urbanitas of Horatian satire, and the brooding, black
misanthropy of Juvenalian satire. In the eighteenth century,
of course, this is the distinction between the satires of Pope
and Swift and the accompanying genres of mock-heroic and
travesty: the epic elevation of the insignificant and the
deflationary belittling of the sublime. On the one hand we find
the comic urbanity of the animal, where the humour is
generated by the sudden and incongruous humanity of the
animal. A wonderful example of this is given by Peter Berger,
A bear is charging this hunter in the woods. The hunter
fires, and misses. The bear breaks his rifle in two,
sodomizes the hunter, then walks away. The hunter is
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furious. The next day he is back in the woods, with a new
rifle. Again the bear charges, again the hunter misses, again
he is sodomized. The hunter is now beside himself. He is
going to get that bear, if irs the last thing he does. He gets
himself an AK-47 assault rifle, goes back into the woods.
Again the bear charges and, believe it or not, again the
hunter misses. The bear breaks the assault rifle, gently puts
his paws around the hunter and says, ·OK, come clean now.
This isn·t really about hunting, is ip·9
On the other hand, the Juvenalian reduction of the human to
the animal does not so much produce mirth as a comic disgust
with the spedes. This is something which Petronius employs
to great effect in 'Trimalchio's Feast' from the Satyricon, where
the slave Trimalchio - himself some sort of twisted reflection
of Petronius's employer, the Emperor Nero - appears like a
great, shining pig. His epitaph, composed himself in what
Beckett would call pigsty Latin, reads,
Here Lies C. Pompeius Trimalchio
He could have had any job in Rome
But didn't.
Loyal, brave and true,
He started with a nickel in his pocket,
And left his heirs thirty million;
AND HE NEVER ONCE LISTENED TO A PHILOSOPHER. 10
Whether we think of Yahoos shitting from trees, Gregor Samsa
wriggling on his back, or Orwell's further twisting of the
animal-human coupling by presenting the tyrant Napoleon
finally upright on two legs, the history of satire is replete with
Juvenalian echoes. In his oddly eighteenth-century novel, Great
Apes, Will Self writes,
Sarah sat at the bar of the Sealink Club being propositioned
by men. Some men propositioned her with their eyes, some
with their mouths, some with their heads, some with their
hair. Some men propositioned her with nuance, exquisite
subtlety; others propositioned her with chutzpah, their suit
as obvious as a schlong slammed down on the zinc counter.
Some men·s propositioning was so slight as to be
peripheral, a seductive play of the minor parts, an invitation
to touch cuticles, rub corns, hang nails. Other men's
propositioning was a Bayreuth production, complete with
mechanical effects, great flats descending, garishly
depicting their Taste, their Intellect, their Status. The men
were like apes - she thought - attempting to impress her by
waving and kicking things about in a display of mock
potency."
When the animal becomes human, the effect is pleasingly
benign and we laugh out loud, 'OK come clean now. This isn't
really about hunting, is it?' But when the human becomes
animal, the effect is disgusting and if we laugh at all then it
is what Beckett calls 'the mirthless laugh', which laughs at that
which is unhappy.
Staying with the example of Will Self, it seems to me that
he combines both Horatian and Juvenalian effects in a
wonderfully macabre short story called 'Flytopia'. One sultry
summer, in the somnolent Suffolk village of Inwardleigh, our
hero Jonathan is trying to complete the index to a tome on
ecclesiastical architecture. Irritated by the insects which plague
his cottage and break his concentration, he resolves to destroy
them with the use of sundry toxic products. Then awakening
one morning, after insect-haunted nightmares, a pullulating
mass of silverfish on his draining board shape themselves into
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the words, 'WELCOME TO FLYTOPIA'. He then enters into a
bizarre contract with the insects: they cease bothering him and
keep the house clean and he lets them live and even feeds
them. The Horatian humour consists in the sometimes pro-
tracted dialogues on the draining board with the silverfish,
with Jonathan pedantically correcting their spelling. But the
effect becomes more Juvenalian when we are treated to
the image of Jonathan's person being cleaned by his new-
found insect friends, 'He found their assistance in his toilet not
simply helpful, but peculiarly sensual'. Finally, after haVing
agreed to give over a spare bedroom to his insects, for breeding
and feeding purposes, he happily sacrifices his girlfriend,
unhappily called Joy, in response to their request for 'MORE
MEAT',
Jonathan listened to her feet going up the stairs. He
listened to the door of the spare bedroom open, he heard
the oppressive giant fluttering hum, as she was engulfed,
then he rose and went out to pay the cabY
OUTLANDISH ANIMALS
Humour is human. But what makes us laugh is the inversion
of the animal-human coupling, whether it is Horatian urbanity
or Juvenalian disgust. If being human means being humorous,
then being humorous often seems to mean becoming an
animal. But, paradoxically, what becoming an animal confirms
is the fact that humans are incapable of beComing animals. For,
the sad truth is that in humour humans show themselves to be
useless animals; hopeless, incompetent, outlandish animals,
shitting from trees and grunting like great apes. There is
something charming about an animal become human, but
when the human becomes animal, then the effect is disgusting.
All of which confirms the human being's eccentric position
in the world of nature. Consider the following remark from
Wittgenstein,
Two people are laughing together, say at a joke. One of
them has used certain somewhat unusual words and now
they both break out into a sort of bleating. This might
appear very extraordinary to a visitor coming from quite a
different environment. Whereas we find it quite reasonable.
(I recently witnessed this scene on a bus and was able to
think myself into the position of the someone to whom this
would be unfamiliar. From that point of view, it struck me as
quite irrational, like the responses from an outlandish
animal.]'3
There is something rather surreal about visualizing
Wittgenstein on a double-decker bus thinking that thought
whilst watching two people imitating sheep, but that is not the
point. Satire works in precisely the way he describes. Namely,
we are asked to look at ourselves as if we were visitors from
an alien environment, to examine terrestrial existence from a
Martian point of view. When we do this, then we begin to look
like outlandish animals, and reasonableness crumbles into
irrationality. This can be linked to an idea dear to the French
philosopher Gilles Deleuze, what he calls' deterritorialization' ,
and which he interestingly chooses to translate into English
as 'outlandishness' . 14 The critical task of the writer is to write
from the place of the animal, to look at human affairs with a
dog's or beetle's eye, as in Kafka's stories.
Satire transforms us into outlandish animals, and the natural
history of humanity is the vast research archive of the writer.
By criss-crossing the frontier between the human and the
animal, writers like Swift or Kafka produce a kind of shock
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effect that shakes us up and effects a critical change of
perspective. Satire stands resolutely against the self-images of
the age. Adorno famously writes that the only thing that is true
in psychoanalysis is the exaggerations. But this would seem
to be even more true of satire. In Book IV of Gulliver's Travels,
Swift was not persuaded of the existence of talking horses.
Rather, his critical point is that there is nothing to prevent this
possibility once we begin to conceive of ourselves as rational
animals. The truth of satire is obviously not to be assessed in
terms of literal verifiability, but rather to warn us against a
danger implicit in our self-conception. To have an effect, the
warning signals have to be deafening.
KANT'S PARROT
In this chapter, we have been pursuing an interesting paradox.
On the one hand, humour is what picks us out as human, it
is what is proper to the human being, situated as we are
between beasts and angels. Humour confirms the human
being's eccentric pOSition in nature, as improper within it, as
reflectively alienated from the physical realm of the body and
external nature. Yet, on the other hand, what takes place in
humour, particularly in satire, is the constant overstepping
of the limit between the human and the animal, demonstrat-
ing their uneasy neighbourhood. But, bringing together
both sides of this paradox, we might say that the studied
incongruities of humour show the eccentric pOSition of the
human in nature by recalling the benign humanity of the
animal and the disturbing animality of the human. The human
being is amphibious, like a boat drawn up on the shore, half
in the water, half out of it. We are a paradox.
Mention of water brings to mind a final maritime example
of humour, humans and animals in Thomas Bernhard's
wonderful 1 978 play Immanuel Kant. Kant is sailing to America,
the country that was always for him 'eine Perversitat', to receive
an honorary doctorate from Columbia UniverSity and to have
an operation for his glaucoma. Of course, absolutely none of
this is true. Kant travels in the company of Frau Kant, his
servant Ernst Ludwig, and his parrot Friedrich. Being Kant's
parrot, Friedrich has awesome philosophical ability. Indeed,
Kant says that the great Leibniz declined to give a lecture in
KOnigsberg because he knew that Friedrich the parrot would
be present. The whole piece has a wonderfully Dadaist, almost
dreamlike, quality which is crowned by the mini-dialogues
between Kant and his parrot, where the animal bathetically
mirrors the great philosopher's words. Let me give a flavour of
the German alongside my translation,
Kant: [Kant:
Ich bin von Anfang an From the beginning
nur mit Friedrich gereist I only travelled with Friedrich
heimlich clandestinely
naturgemal"J natu ra lly
durch ganz Deutschland through all of Germany
Kant ist aus Konigsberg It is said that
nicht hinausgekommen Kant never
wird gesagt left Konigsberg
aber wo Kant ist but where Kant is
ist Konigsberg is Konigsberg
Konigsberg ist Konigsberg is
wo Kant ist where Kant is
[zu Friedrich] [to Friedrich]
Wo ist Konigsberg? Where is Konigsberg?
Friedrich: Friedrich:
Wo Kant ist Where Kant is
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Kant:
Und wo ist Kant?
Friedrich:
Kant ist wo Konigsberg ist.
15
Kant:
And where is Kant?
Friedrich:
Kant is where Konigsberg is.]
Much could be said about parrots. They are surely the most
unnerving of animals because of their uncanny ability to
imitate that which is meant to pick us out as a species:
language. Comic echo of the human, holding up a ridiculing
mirror to our faces, the parrot is the most critical beast of all
the field. The first century Neapolitan poet Statius writes,
PARROT, Prince among birds, delightful slave,
you speak just like a person, and make more sense
than most, repeating to us what we say to yoU.
16
Two heads of a cat and four heads of men in relation to the cat
Source: Cnac-Mnam/Dist RMN. Charles Le Brun
Laughing at Your Body - Post-Colonal Theory
Ich bin, aber ich habe mich nicht
[I am, but I do not have myself)
Three
The incongruities of humour light up the eccentricity of the
human situation with regard to ourselves and nature. Humour
effects a breakage in the bond connecting the human being
to its unreflective, everyday existence. In humour, as in anxiety,
the world is made strange and unfamiliar to the touch. When
I laugh or just smile, I see myself as the outlandish animal
that I am, and begin to reflect on what I had previously
taken for granted. In this sense, humour might be said to be
one of the conditions for taking up a critical position with
respect to what passes for everyday life, prodUCing a change
in our situation which is both liberating and elevating, but
also captivating, showing all too clearly the capture of the
human being in the nets of nature. In this sense, we might
want to describe our sapience and our humanity as powerfully
exemplified in the attainment of a humorous attitude.
Homo sapiens is therefore not so much homo ludens as lohan
Huizinga famously argued, where humanity would be iden-
tified with the capacity to play. Rather, we are homo ridens,
laughing beings, or indeed, homo risibilis, which suggests both
'the risible or ridiculous being', and 'the being gifted with
laughter'. I Humour is hUIn?!l, all-tao-human. In Hebrew,
the name 'Isaac' or 'Isha-ak' means 'the one who will laugh' ,
and the fact that, in Genesis 1 7, God himself chooses this name
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for the son of ninety-nine-year-old Abram and the ninety-
year-old Sarai shows that He too is not without a sense of
humour. Indeed, on hearing that a child will be born to
him, Abram incredulously falls down laughing. As reward for
their faith in Him, God adds syllables to the elderly couple's
names, becoming AbrAHam and SarAH - an onomatopoeic
'Ha-Ha'.
BEING AND HAVING
I would now like to focus these thoughts in relation to the
body, which is the butt of so much humour. In his very useful
study oflaughter, Peter Berger recalls Max Scheler's distinction
between being and having.
2
Let us assume, classically enough,
that the animal is its body. I simply do not know whether
this is true (if a lion could speak then we could not under-
stand him, but when a parrot does speak then we assume
that he does not understand himself But who knows?). The
claim here is that the eccentric position of the human being
in nature is confirmed by the fact that not only are we our
bodies, we also have our bodies. That is, the human being
can subjectively distance itself from its body, and assume
some sort of critical pOSition with respect to itself This is
most obviously the case in the experience of illness, where
one might say that in pain we all try and turn ourselves into
Cartesian mind/body dualists. In pain, I attempt to take a
distance from my body, externalize the discomfort and insulate
myself in thought, something which occurs most obviously
when we lie anxiously prone in the dentist's chair. But more
generally, there are a whole range of experiences, most
disturbingly in anorexia, where the body that I am becomes
the body that I have, the body-subject becomes an object for me,
which confirms both the possibility of taking up a critical
pOSition, and also underlines my alienation from the world and
nature.
Yet, the curious thing about such experiences is that if! can
distance myself from my body, where being becomes having
and subject becomes object, then can I ever overcome that
distance? If, the moment that reflection begins, I become a
stranger to myself, a foreign land, then can I simply return
home to unreflective familiarity? Might one not conjecture
that human beings, as eccentric animals, are defined by
this continual failure to coincide with themselves? Does
not our identity preCisely consist in a lack of self-identity, in
the fact that identity is always a question for us - a quest,
indeed - that we might vigorously pursue, but it is not some-
thing I actually possess? It is this situation that is suggested
by my epigraph: I most certainly am, but yet I do not have
myself
PHYSICS AND METAPHYSICS
This is perhaps a disturbing, perhaps a consoling thought. Let
me try and explain how it works in relation to humour.
Humour functions by explOiting the gap between being a body
and having a body, between -let us say - the physical and meta-
physical aspects of being human. What makes us laugh, I would
wager, is the return of the physical into the metaphysical,
where the pretended tragical sublimity of the human collapses
into a comic ridiculousness which is perhaps even more tragiC.
Vene, vidi, vici says the great Kenneth Williams playing the dying
Caesar in what is, for me, the best of the classic British Carry
On films, 'I came, I saw ... (pause, he expires) ... I conked out'.
We might pause to recall that when Williams took his own life
in 1988, his final words were 'Oh, what's the bloody point?'3
Funny, eh?
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Yet, if humour is the return of the physical into the meta-
physical, then its physicality is essentially that of the body. The .
physical particles of the comic universe are the body parts,
what Bakhtin rather euphemistically calls 'the material-bodily-
lower-stratum'.4 If we laugh with the body, then what we often
laugh at is the body, the strange fact that we have a body. In
humour, it is as if we temporarily inhabited a Gnostic universe,
where the fact of our materiality comes as some-thing of a
surprise. This is why the administration of humour is delegated
to the MiniStry of Silly Walks. One thinks of the way in which
certain comics, like John Cleese, so awkwardly inhabit their
I bodies. Even more powerfully, one thinks of Monsieur Hulot's
visible disconnection with his body, exacerbated with its short,
t· ill-fitting raincoat, too-short trousers, and trilby, all of which
" merely emphasize his strangeness with regard to the world
in which he finds himself
If humour takes place in the gap between being a body
and having a body, then Will Self is someone who delights in
this gap. His 1992 book, Cock and Bull, is made up of two stories:
in Cock, a woman grows a penis and rapes her useless, ex-
alcoholic husband. In Bull, a man who grows a vagina behind
his knee is seduced by his male doctor. What interests me here
is the way in which the protagonists experience this somewhat
unexpected transformation. After a slow process of realization,
Carol, the heroine in Cock, finally realizes what has slowly been
taking shape between her legs for the past few weeks,
Carol stood in front of the full-length mirror that formed the
cupboard door, regarding its incongruity: peeking out from
her hair-bedraggled lips, devoid of the pouch that perhaps
ought to accompany it. She sat down on the edge of the bed
and the fingers of both her hands toyed with it. It was at
least three, or even five centimetres long. A pinky-brown
roll of flesh could be pulled back from its tip to reveal a
little mushroom, in the centre of which was a dry eye. It
was, Carol decided, a penis.
5
This is pure having. The body, which is indeed Carol's own,
albeit customized, is experienced as radically alien, as belong-
ing to another sex. Will Self wonderfully elicits a sort of sensual
disgust, or, better, a disgust produced by an exceSSively acute
description of the sensuous, where all the awful imperfections
of the flesh are revealed by being too microscopically detailed.
The way such humour works is through a play of distance
and proximity, where the reader has their nose rubbed in the
physical object being described, but in a manner that is remote
and resolutely unsentimental. It is a little like Gulliver's trip
to the giants of Brobdingnag, where he describes in horrible
detail the breast of a female giant,
It stood prominent six foot and could not be less than
sixteen in circumference. The nipple was about half the
bigness of my head, and the hue both of that and the dug so
varified with spots, pimples and freckles, that nothing could
appear more nauseous.
6
In humour, there seems to be an unspoken contract between
misanthropy (and, in Swift's case, misogyny) and sensuality.
The body is comically distanced in being so closely described
and the self wilfully and eccentrically tries to pullout of its
orbit.
OUR SOULS, ARSEHOLES
The comedy of the body is most obviously and crudely
exemplified in scatological humour, where the distinction
between the metaphysical and the physical is explored in the
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gap between our souls and arseholes, where we are asked to look
at the world with the 'nether eye' that is the focus for the
completely anal wit of Chaucer's The Miller's Tale.
This Nicholas anon let flee a fart,
As greet as it had been a thonder-dent,
That with the strook he was almost yblent;
And he was redy with his iren hoot,
And Nicholas amydde the ers he smoote.
7
This is the research field that I want to baptize 'post-colonal
theory' .
8
Of course, the undisputed heavyweight champion of
scatological wit is Rabelais. We find Gargantua injuriously free-
associating in the following manner,
Shittard
Squittard
Crackard
Turduous
Thy bung
Has flung
Some dung
On us.
Filthard
Cackard
Stinkard
May you burn with St Anthony's fire
If all
Your foul
Arseholes
Are not well wiped ere you retire.
9
Connecting this with what I said above about animality, the
body returns in laughter in the form of an eruptive, animal
physicality. In this sense, animal jokes are a sort of code for the
body and its rather wayward desires - 'look, this isn't really
about hunting is it?'
Another splendidly tasteless example of scatological wit is
Swift's 'Cassinus and Peter: A Tragical Elegy', which concludes
with the unforgettable couplet,
Nor, wonder how I lost my wits;
Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits. 1 0
The joke here is not on Celia, but on Cassinus and Peter, 'Two
college sophs of Cambridge growth/Both special wits, and
lovers both'. The bathetic final couplet comes at the end of an
agonizingly prolix series of circumlocutions where Peter tries
to ascertain from Cassinus what it is about Celia, his love, that
ails him so. The author being Dean Swift, the humour here is
gratuitously direct. What makes us laugh is the return of the
most physical of facts into the spiritual seclusion of the two
beautiful souls - the return of being into having.
PEDITOLOGY
And whilst we are trying to look at things with 'the nether
eye', we should consider the lowly fart, for if the body is what
returns in humour then surely the fart is both the auditory and
olfactory announcement of the body's imminent return. My
favourite example of what might be called pedito-logical wit
comes from Beckett's Molloy, where the eponymous hero
engages the topiC of theimpermeablility of The Times Literary
Supplement,
Chameleon in spite of himself, there you have Molloy,
viewed from a certain angle. And in winter, under my
greatcoat. I wrapped myself in swathes of newspaper, and
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did not shed them until the earth awoke, for good, in April.
The Times Literary Supplement was admirably adapted to
this purpose, of a never failing toughness and
impermeability. Even farts made no impression on it. I can't
help it, gas escapes from my fundament on the least
pretext, irs hard not to mention it now and then, however
great my distaste. One day I counted them. Three hundred
and fifteen farts in nineteen hours, or an average of over
sixteen farts an hour. After all, irs not excessive. Four farts
every fifteen minutes. It's nothing. Not even one fart every
five minutes. Irs unbelievable. Damn it, I hardly fart at all,
I should never have mentioned it. Extraordinary how
mathematics help you to know yourself."
What is so humorous here is not the simple admission of
farting - which is not that funny in itself, despite the
unforgettably direct farting scene in Mel Brooks' 1 974 film
Blazing Saddles - but the way in which Molloy concocts a
mathematical analysis of his flatulence, dividing the 3 1 5 farts
in something like a travesty of the technique of the division
of the theme in a medieval sermon. The tension we feel in
reading or listening to this passage is produced by the sheer
incongruity between the item under discussion - farting - and
the mathematical method for treating it. We are led from one
end of the joke to the other with a feeling of increasing
absurdity whose conclusion produces a straightforward logical
contradiction: having begun by admitting to gas escaping his
fundament on the least pretext, Molloy concludes by denying
his original statement, 'Damn it, I hardly fart at all'. At this
point, the whole scene seems to evaporate into nothing as Kant
would put it, to go up in a cloud of rather odious smoke. The
realization that our willing suspension of disbelief has Simply
resulted in an elaborate piece of nonsense, makes us laugh. It
is a wonderful example of what Freud means by humour being
an economy in the expenditure of affect.
However, that is not the end of the story, for there then
follows a typically Beckettian flourish that can be described
in terms of what Beckett calls 'the syntax of weakness'. This
is a syntax that can be found throughout Beckett's work in a
whole series of wonderfully self-undoing, self-weakening
phrases: 'Live and invent. I have tried, Invent. It is not the word.
Neither is live. No matter. I have tried'. 12 The thought that
I would like briefly to follow here is humour as a syntax
of weakness, as a comic syntax. To see how this might work,
let me go back to the quotation from Molloy. I laugh at the
phrase, 'Damn it, I hardly fart at all', but then Molloy adds
the clause, 'I should never have mentioned it'. I think this has
. the effect of making the laughter stick in our throats, calling
it into question, and acknowledging that perhaps the whole
joke was Simply a waste of time, a mere bubble. This would
seem to be compounded by the final phrase of the passage,
'Extraordinary how mathematics help you to know yourself'.
Regardless of how much mathematics might be said to
contribute to self-knowledge, it is clear that in the case at hand,
it has contributed exactly nothing at all. Mathematics meanders
into meaninglessness or at least into the paralysed stoicism
described in Murphy.
The genius of Beckett's humour is that he makes us laugh
and then calls us into question through that laughter. This
is the highest laugh, the. mirthless laugh, the laugh laughing
at the laugh, the risus purus of the epigraph to this book. It is
laughter that opens us up and causes our defences to drop
momentarily, but it is preCisely at that moment of weakness
that Beckett's humour rebounds upon the subject. We realize
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in an instant that the object of laughter is the subject who
laughs. After the wave of laughter has hit us with its saline
spray, an undertow of doubt threatens to drag us under the
water's surface. And there is no wave without the undertow.
THE BLACK SUN AT THE CENTRE OF THE COMIC
UNIVERSE
Let me go back to the body. If humour is, as I suggested, the
return of the physical into the metaphysical, then it is impor-
tant to point out that the human being remains an ineluctably
metaphysical entity, which was what I meant with the amphib-
ious image of the human being as a rowing boat, half in the
water, half out of it. If the bodily dimension of the comic takes
place in the gap between being and having, between our souls
and arseholes, then this hole cannot be plugged or bunged
up. We cannot Simultaneously be what we have. The critical
distance with regard to the world and nature that opens up
in the incongruities of humour is testified to in the alienation
we experience with regard to our bodies. This is why the
experience of the body in pain is so oddly analogous to
the pleasures of laughter - which is why it can hurt when
you laugh. As the example from Beckett indicates, when the
laughter dies away, we sense, with a sadness - a Tristram-tristesse
- that is always the dark heart of humour, what an oddity the
human being is in the universe. Ultimately, it is this moment
\
when the laughter dies away, the black sun of depression at the
centre of the comic universe, that irreSistibly attracts me.
In humour we orbit eccentrically around a black sun. In
Peter Chelsom's wonderful 1994 film Funny Bones, one of the
legendary Parker Brothers says in his first words in 12 years,
'Nobody's pain is like ours, but the moon's dark side draws
the tides'.
To put this in other words, if humour is the return of the
physical into the metaphysical, then this does not mean that
we can return to the phYSical. We cannot go back to the posi-
tion where we are our bodies, because we continually stumble
over the fact that we have them. Such is the curse of reflection.
Furthermore, we have our bodies in a way that can unsettle the
way they are, as is revealed in the numerous, multiple conver-
sion hysteria to which we are prone - eczema, acne, rashes,
nausea, convulsive vomiting, coughing, tics, etc. In this sense,
importantly I think, comic figures like Panurge and Gargantua,
or Harlequin and Scaramouche from the commedia dell'arte,
or even Sir John Falstaff, do not represent human possibilities,
but rather some outbreak of the inhuman or the more-than-
human, some reminder of a relation to the body that is not
available to us. Inter alia, this is my worry about Mikhail Bakhtin,
whose identification of a culture oflaughter (Lachenkultur) with
'the immortal collective popular body', is both historically
questionable, because so much medieval and early renaissance
humour was a terribly learned and clerical affair, but can also
lead to a romanticization and heroization of the body. 13 In my
view, the body that is the object and subject of humour is an
abject body - estranged, alien, weakening, failing. I think Larkin
is once again closer to the truth in his comically cruel
description of senescence in 'The Old Fools' ,
At death, you break up: the bits that were you
Start speeding away from each other for ever
With no one to see. It's only oblivion, true:
We had it before, but then it was going to end,
And was all the time merging with a unique endeavour
To bring to bloom the flower
Of being here. Next time you can't pretend
There'll be anything else.
14
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There is a metaphysical unease at the heart of humour that
turns on the sheer difficulty of making our being coincide with
our having of that being. We are eccentric creatures doomed
to experience ourselves with what Nietzsche calls a 'pathos of
distance' that is both the mark of our nobility and the fact
of our solitude, an existential bleakness, a basic ineradicable
human loneliness. This is why the highest laughter, the
mirthless laughter, sticks in our throats, a little like when we
recall Kenneth Williams' desperate final words, or, indeed,
when we think of the final words of Bill Beckett, Sam's deeply
mourned father, whose final words to his son were 'Fight,
fight, fight', followed by 'What a morning'. IS Funny, eh?
I'
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Three heads of an owl and three heads of men in relation to the owl
Source: Cnac-Mnam/Dist RMN_ Charles Le Brun
The Laughing Machine - a Note on
Bergson and Wyndham Lewis
Eigentlich komisch ist nur der Mensch
[Really, only the human being is comical)
Plessner
Four
Alongside Freud's 1905 Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious,
Henri Bergson's Le rire from 1900 is the theory oflaughter that
exerted the greatest influence in the twentieth century.
Bergson's principal thesis is the following,
Let us then return, for the last time, to our central image:
something mechanical encrusted on something living [du
mecanique plaque sur du vivant). Here, the living being
under discussion was a human being, a person. A
mechanical arrangement, on the other hand, is a thing_
What, therefore, incited laughter was the momentary
transformation of a person into a thing, if one considers the
image from this standpoint. Let us then pass from the exact
idea of a machine to the vaguer one of a thing in general.
We shall have a fresh series of laughable images which will
be obtained by taking a blurred impression, so to speak, of
the outlines of the former and will bring us to this new law:
we laugh every time a person gives us the impression of
being a thing [Nous rions toutes les fois qu 'une personne
nous donne I'impression d'une chose).1
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Two claims are being made in this passage: first, that the central
image of Bergson's book is the mechanical encrusted onto the
living; second, what makes us laugh is a person who gives
us the impression of a thing. Bringing together these two
claims, we laugh when a human being or another living being,
whose behaviour we imagine we can predict, begins to appear
somehow thingly or machine-like. Humour therefore consists
in the momentary transformation of the physical into the
machinic, when the mechanical encrusts itself onto the living
like plaque on the surface of a tooth. The comic figure, and
Bergson is thinking of characters like Don Quixote and Baron
Von Miinchhausen, is a person becoming a thing, becoming
machine-like, becoming what the French call machin, thinga-
majig. What fascinates Bergson is the comic quality of the
automaton, the world of the jack-in-the-box, the marionette,
the doll, the robot.
The two core concepts in Bergson's discussion of laughter
are rigidity (rrudeur) and repetition. The comic figure possesses,
or better, is possessed by un effect de raideur, a certain stiffness
or inflexibility which is emphasized through an absent-
minded, almost unconscious, mechanical repetitiveness. This
is obviously the case in mime and visual humour, but equally
in cartoons, where Tom endlessly repeats his pursuit of Jerry,
and the Coyote never catches his Road Runner. There is a
compulsion to repeat in the comic, a repetitiveness that is
also endemic to the machinic, whether one thinks of photo-
copiers, soda machines or air-conditioning units. At its
humorous edges, the human beginS to blur with the machine,
becoming an inhuman thing that stands over against the
human being. This is why the feeling that often accompanies
laughter is not simply pleasure, but rather uncanniness.
We often laugh because we are troubled by what we laugh at,
because it somehow frightens us. This is particularly the case
with gallows humour, as for example in the story that Groucho
Marx used to like to relate about a man who was condemned
to be hanged. The priest says to him, 'Have you any last words
before we spring the trap?' And the condemned man says, 'Yes,
I don't think this damn thing is safe'.
Bergson's book was published in 1900, at the dawn of that
quintessentially twentieth-century art form: cinema. Andre
Breton notes the early and enduring love affair between cinema
and humour, from the early comedies of Mack Sennett,
through to Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold lloyd, Laurel and
Hardy and the Marx Brothers.
Cinema was obliged to encounter humour almost straight
away because film not only - like poetry - represents the
successive situations of life, but also claims to take account
of their interconnection and enchainment and in order to
affect the emotions of the spectator it is obliged to employ
extreme solutions.
2
Now, in my view, Bergson's account of laughter really comes
alive when one thinks of silent cinema. Whether it is the
mechanical rigidity of Chaplin's body, the person-become-
thing of Keaton's face or the mute perversity of Harpo Marx,
humour is here produced by the different ways in which the
mechanical or thingly encrusts itself onto the liVing. In
Beckett's 1965 Film, a tragically haggard Buster Keaton achieves
this effect by staring impassively into the camera. In Chaplin's
finally too didactic anti-capitalist parable, Modern Times, the
litde protagonist literally becomes an automaton, submitting
himself absent-mindedly to the endless repetitiveness of the
industrial production process. Chaplin satirizes the industrial
machine by becoming a machine himself, in one memorable
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scene literally being ingested by the cogs of the industrial
leviathan.
A CABBAGE READING FLAUBERT - NOW THAT'S FUNNY
So, let us grant Bergson his thesis: we laugh when a person
gives us the impression of a thing, when the mechanical
encrusts itself onto the living. But if that is true, then is the
opposite thesis also not true? Namely, do we also not laugh
when a thing gives us the impression of a person? This is the
position argued for by Wyndham Lewis, artist, avant-gardist
and creator of Vorticism, who came up with such choice
phrases as 'Laughter is the brain-body's snort of exultation'. In
a fine brief essay from 192 7, 'The Meaning of the Wild Body' ,
Lewis writes against Bergson,
The root of the Comic is to be sought in the sensations
resulting from the observations of a thing behaving like a
person. But from that point of view all men are necessarily
comic: for they are all things, or physical bodies, behaving
as persons. It is only when you come to deny that they are
'persons', or that there is any 'mind' or 'person' there at all,
that the world of appearance is accepted as quite natural,
and not at all ridiculous. Then, with a denial of 'the person',
life becomes immediately both 'real' and very serious.
To bring vividly to our mind what we mean by 'absurd', let
us turn to the plant. and enquire how the plant could be
absurd. Suppose you came upon an orchid or a cabbage
reading Flauberfs Salammb6 or Plutarch's Moralia, you
would be very much surprised. But if you found a man or a
woman reading it, you would not be surprised.
3
So, if a man behaves like a cabbage, then that is funny, but if
a cabbage behaves like a man, then that is also funny. It is
incontestable. Person-become-thing and thing-become-person
are both funny and therefore both Bergson and Lewis would
appear justified in their theories of laughter.
But, beyond this Simple reversal of Bergson, there is a deeper
point to Lewis's argument. He continues,
Now in one sense you ought to be just as much surprised at
finding a man occupied in this way as if you had found an
orchid or a cabbage, or a tom-cat, to include the animal
world. There is the same physical anomaly. It is just as
absurd externally, that is what I mean. - The deepest root of
the Comic is to be sought in this anomaly.4
This thought adds an interesting twist to the matter. It is not
so much a person behaving like a thing or vice versa that is the
root of the comic, but rather - surprise, surprise - a person acting
like a person. That is, there is something essentially ridiculous
about a human being behaving like a human being; there is
something laughable about me behaving like a little professor
of philosophy and you behaving like earnest readers of a book
on humour. It is finally absurd, is it not? We might just as well
be cabbages.
HOW HUMOUR BEGINS IN PHILOSOPHY
We have now arrived at a fresh formulation of the problem:
what is essentially laughable is a person acting like a person.
Lewis goes on to give a further vivid example drawn from the
London Underground,
The other day in the underground. as the train was moving
out of the station, I and those a r o ~ n d me saw a fat but
active man run along, and deftly project himself between the
sliding doors. which he pushed to behind him. Then he
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stood leaning against them, as the carriage was full. There
was nothing especially funny about his face or general
appearance. Yet his running, neat and deliberate, but
clumsy embarkation, combined with the coolness of his eye,
had a ludicrous effect, to which several of us responded. His
eye I decided was the key to the absurdity of the effect. It
was its detachment that was responsible for this.5
In this case, what is ludicrous is simply a person, a fat but fit
person, acting just like a person, and executing a difficult
manoeuvre with some aplomb. This is funny because of a
certain detachment, a disinterested coolness that the man has with
respect to both the action he carries out and the fit but fat body
that carries out the action. That is to say, everything becomes
laughably absurd when I begin to detach myself from my
body, when I imagine myself, my ego, my soul, or whatever,
in distinction from its corporeal housing. Thinking back to
the last chapter, humour takes root in the unbridgeable gap
between the physical and the metaphysical, between body and
soul, between 'being' and 'having'.
This is how humour begins in philosophy, whether it is
Descartes's thought experiment in the Meditations, the Cartesian
meditations of Husserl, or Thomas Nagel pondering what it
is like to be a bat. Reflect for a moment on what Descartes asks
of us in his thought experiment in the Second Meditation,
... If I look out of the window and see men crossing the
square, as I just happen to have done, I normally say that I
see the men themselves, just as I say that I see the wax. Yet
do I see any more than hats and coats which could conceal
automatons? I judge that they are men. And so something
which I thought I was seeing with my eyes is in fact grasped
solely by the faculty of judgement which is in my mind.
6
For Descartes, the judgement that what I am now perceiving
are in fact thinking beings like myself, and not automatons,
is not something inferred from the evidence of the senses,
but rather something that has to be deduced rationally. This
is why the philosophical quest for certainty cannot be reduced
to a naIve empiricism. For Descartes, philosophy requires a
certain detachment of the rational soul from the sensible body,
a separation of the metaphysical from the physical. But this
philosophical operation is achieved by a momentary trans-
formation of a person into a thing - an automaton - where
the living becomes encrusted with the mechanical. In short,
it is a comic effect.
In this way, we come back to another of Bergson's central
ideas when he writes that what takes place in the comic is
'the body taking precedence over the soul' (,Ie corps prenant Ie
pas sur l'ame'). He writes,
Why do we laugh at an orator who sneezes at the most
moving part of his discourse? Where lies the comic element
in this sentence, taken from a funeral speech and quoted by
a German philosopher, 'He was virtuous and plump'. It lies
in the fact that our attention is suddenly recalled from the
soul to the body.?
Or again,
Napoleon, who was a psychologist when he wished to be so,
had noticed that the transition from tragedy to comedy is
effected simply by sitting down.s
Philosophy begins with the adoption of a contemplative
attitude that permits a certain detachment of the soul from the
body. In Descartes, there is a separation of the dubitable world
of fleeting appearances from an indubitable point of thought
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that is both the engine of sceptical doubt and the point at
which doubt comes to an end. What cannot be doubted is the
fact that there is a thinking thing that doubts. Now, it is in
this contemplative detachment of the soul from the body that
humour takes root as the body taking precedence over the soul.
It is only when the soul is detached from the body that the
body can take precedence over the soul. What is funny, finally,
is the fact of having a body. But to find this funny is to adopt
a philosophical perspective, it is to view the world and myself
diSinterestedly. Jokes are the expression of an abstract relation to
the world. In hearing a joke, like Wyndham Lewis's man on
the London Underground, I suddenly and coolly detach myself
from my immediate experience and it is from this contem-
plative standpOint that the bathetic rationality of humour
performs its magic. Descartes famously and perhaps rightly
said that one could only do metaphysics for a few hours a
year. The great virtue of humour is that it is philosophizing
in action, a bright silver thread in the great duvet of existence.
And one can easily engage in it for an hour or two every day.
/
Two heads of parrots and two heads of men in relation to the parrot
Source: Cnac-Mnam/Dist RMN. Charles Le Brun
Foreigners are Funny - the Ethicity and
Ethnicity of Humour
Which one do you think is humorous?
a If we laugh at a third person
b If you laugh at yourself
c If you can get someone else to laugh at themselves.
Five
Max Frisch
Jokes are like small anthropological essays. If one of the tasks
of the anthropologist is to revise and relativize the categories
of Western culture by bumping them up against cultures
hitherto adjudged exotic, then we might say with Henk
Driessen that,
Anthropology shares with humour the basic strategy of
defamiliarization: common sense is disrupted, the
unexpected is evoked, familiar subjects are situated in
unfamiliar, even shocking contexts in order to make the
audience or readership conscious of their own cultural
assumptions.
1
The lesson that Driessen draws from this is that anthropologists
are akin to comedians, tricksters, clowns or jesters. The lesson
that we can draw from Driessen is that humour is a form of
critical social anthropology, defamiliarizing the familiar,
demythologizing the exotic and inverting the world of com-
mon sense. Humour views the world awry, bringing us back
to the everyday by estranging us from it. This is what I
meant above when I claimed that humour prOvides an oblique
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phenomenology of ordinary life. It is a practice that gives us
an alien perspective on our practices. It lets us view the world
as if we had just landed from another planet. The comedian
is the anthropologist of our humdrum everyday lives.
Any study of humour, again like anthropology, requires
fieldwork and detailed contextualization. Finally, it is only as
good as its examples. And what makes humour both so
fascinating and tricky to write about is the way in which the
examples continually exceed the theoretical analysis one is able
to give of them - they say more in saying less. For Driessen,
the lesson to be drawn from anthropology is the humility of
a certain cultural relativism, as a strategy aimed at combating
the intolerance and racism of Western ethnocentrism. Now,
is the same true of humour? Your sense of humour may not be
the same as mine - let us hope it is not for both of our sakes
- but does the study of humour lead us to embrace cultural
relativism?
THE UNIVERSAL AND THE PARTICULAR
With this question, arguably the most intractable dilemma of
humour can be broached: the universal versus the particular.
Most studies of humour, jokes and the comic begin by claim-
ing that humour is universal. Apparently there have never been
cultures without laughter, although the varieties and intensities
of humour vary dramatically. Mary Douglas writes,
We know that some tribes are said to be dour and
unlaughing. Others laugh easily. Pygmies lie on the ground
and kick their legs in the air, panting and shaking in
paroxysms of laughter.2
However, to say that humour is universal is, of course, to say
almost nothing, or very little. All cultures laugh, just as all
cultures have a language and most of them seem to have some
sort of religiOUS practice usually involving a belief in a hidden
metaphysical reality and an afterlife. So what? The fact that
all cultures laugh might be a formal universal truth, of the
same order as admitting that all human beings eat, sleep,
breathe and defecate, but it tells us nothing at the level of a
concrete context, and that is where matters begin to get difficult
and interesting.
Humour is local and a sense of humour is usually highly
context-specific. Anyone who has tried to render what they
believe to be a hugely funny joke into a foreign language only
to be met by polite incomprehension will have realized that
humour is terribly difficult to translate, perhaps impossible.
Although various forms of non-verbal humour can travel
across linguistic frontiers, witness the great success enjoyed by
. the Commedia dell'arte throughout Europe in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries and the enduring popularity of various
forms of mime and silent comedy, such as Chaplin, Monsieur
Hulot and Mr Bean, verbal humour is notoriously recalcitrant
to translation. The speed and brevity of wit can become tire-
some and prolix in another tongue, and a joke explained is a
joke killed. In 1921, Paul Valery noted, 'Humour is un-
translatable. If this was not the case, then the French would not
use the word'.3 But if Valery is right and the French use
humour because it is untranslatable, then might it not be the
very untranslatability of humour that somehow compels us?
Might not its attraction reside in the fact that it cannot be
explained to others, and that humorous savoir faire always
contains a certain je ne sais quoi?
Humour is a form of culwral inSider-knowledge, and
might, indeed, be said to function like a linguistic defence
mechanism. Its ostensive untranslatability endows native
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speakers with a palpable sense of their cultural distinctiveness
or even superiority. In this sense, having a common sense of
humour is like sharing a secret code. Indeed, is this not the
experience of meeting a compatriot in an otherwise foreign
environment, on holiday or at a conference, where the rapidity
of one's intimacy is in proportion to both a common sense
of humour and a common sense of humour's exclusivity? We
wear our cultural distinctiveness like an insulation layer against
the surrounding alien environment. It warms us when all else
is cold and unfamiliar.
ETHOS AND ETHNOS
If, as I have claimed, humour can be said to return us to
physicality and animality, then it also returns us to locality,
to a specific and circumscribed ethos. It takes us back to the
place we are from, whether that is the concreteness of a
neighbourhood or the abstraction of a nation state. The word
ethos must here be understood in its ancient Greek sense, as
both custom and place, but also as disposition and character.
A sense of humour is often what connects us most strongly
to a specific place and leads us to predicate characteristics
of that place, assigning certain dispositions and customs to
its inhabitants. The sweet melancholy of exile is often rooted
in a nostalgia for a lost sense of humour.
There is a further link to be made here between ethos and
ethnos, in the sense of a people, tribe, social group or, in the
modern world, nation. In relation to humour, this is often
vaguely expressed in two ways: first that 'foreigners' do
not have a sense of humour; and, second, that they are funny.
Such are the powerful basic ingredients of ethnic humour.
Recall that George Orwell famously said that the British
Empire was based on two fundamental beliefs: 'nothing ever
changes', and 'foreigners are funny'.4 In ethnic humour, the
ethos of a place is expressed by laughing at people who are not
like us, and usually believed to be either exceSSively stupid
or peculiarly canny. In England, the Irish are traditionally
described as stupid and the Scots as canny; in Canada, the
Newfies and the Nova Scotians assume these roles; in Finland,
the Karelians are deemed stupid and the Laihians clever; in
India, the Sikhs and the Gujaratis occupy these places. Either
way, the belief is that 'they' are inferior to 'us' or at least
somehow disadvantaged because 'they' are not like 'us' . Such is
the menacing fupside of a belief in the untranslatability and
exclUSivity of humour.
5
The facts of ethnic humour are all too well known: the
French laugh at the Belgiums, the Belgiums laugh at the
Dutch, and the Dutch laugh right back. The Danes laugh at
. the Swedes, the Swedes laugh at the Finns, and the Finns laugh
right back. The Scots laugh at the English, and the English
laugh at the Irish, and the Irish laugh right back. The
Germans laugh at the Ostfrieslanders and everyone else laughs
rather nervously at the Germans. In relation to humour, the
Germans are obviously a special case and much could be
said about anti-German jokes, whose history stretches back
at least 200 years; a case that was obviously not helped over-
much by the events of the last century. German humour is no
laughing matter. Ted Cohen relates a splendidly objectionable
joke,
The thing about German food is that no matter how much
., f 6
you eat, an hour later you are hungry or power.
This qualifies as what Coheri. <;:alls a 'meta-joke', where the
condition for the joke is the fact that you already know the joke
about Chinese food invariably leaving one hungry soon after
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eating. Therefore, this is not just a joke, but a joke about a joke,
a sheer play upon form.
It is indeed interesting to note no lesser a personage than
George Eliot vvriting in 1 856 in a fascinating essay on the great
German wit, Heinrich Heine,
... German humour generally shows no sense of measure,
no instinctive tact; it is either floundering and clumsy as the
antics of a leviathan, or laborious and interminable as a
Lapland day, in which one loses all hope that the stars and
quiet will ever come.
Warming to her theme, she continues,
A German comedy is like a German sentence: you see no
reason in its structure why it should ever come to an end,
and you accept the conclusion as an arrangement of
Providence rather than that of the author.7
We should note that Heine got his own back in typical style
by describing the English language as the 'hiss of egOism'
CZischlaute des Egoismus'). Now, such humour is undoubt-
edly funny. But it is neither innocent, nor to be strongly
recommended. The curious feature of the German case is that
the alleged absence of a sense of humour has been thoroughly
internalized by German culture and one often hears one's
German friends bemOaning their lack of a sense of humour.
In my view, the intimate connection between the ethnicity
and 'ethicity' of humour must be recognized and not Simply
Sidestepped. Ethnic humour is very much the Hobbesian
laughter of superiority or sudden glory at our eminence and
the other's stupidity. It is a curious fact that much humour,
particularly when one thinks of Europe, is powerfully con-
nected to perceived, but curiously outdated, national styles and
national differences. There is something deeply anachronistic
about much humour, and it refers nostalgically to a past whose
place in the present is almost mythical, certainly fantastical. For
good or ill, old Europe still has a robust fantasy life.
THERE WAS A FRENCHMAN, AN ENGLISHMAN AND AN
IRISHMAN .. .
Although I have spent many happy hours thumbing its pages,
it is always an open question how much etymological authority
one should invest in the Oxford English Dictionary. If one
consults the entry on 'humour', the OED states that the first
recorded usage of the word to indicate something amusing
or jocular occurs in 1682. This is obviously not to say that there
was no humour prior to that date, but rather that the asso-
ciation of the word 'humour' with the comic and the jocular
is an innovation that belongs to a specific time and place: the
English language in the late seventeenth century. Prior to that
date, humour Signified a mental dispOSition or temperament,
as in Ben Jonson's 'Every man in his humour', from 1598.
The earlier meaning derived from the ancient Greek medical
doctrine of the four humours or fluids that made up and
regulated the body: blood, phlegm, bile and black bile (melan-
eolia). It is this link between humour and melancholy that
Breton suggests in his notion of humour noir.
Thus, the association of humour with the comic and jocular
is specifically modern, and arises in the period of the rise of
the modern nation state, in particular the astonishing rise
of Britain as a trading, colonizing and warring nation after
the establishment of constitutional monarchy in the Glorious
Revolution of 1688. This dating will be confirmed in the next
chapter when we turn to Shaftesbury's hugely influential
treatise on humour from 1 709. The modernity of humour is
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something also apparent in French accounts of the origin of
the concept. Although the English word is originally a French
borrowing, from the Anglo-Norman humour and the Old
French humor, it is curious to note that French dictionaries
claim that the modern sense of humour is an English
borrowing. The Dictionnaire de I'Academie is quite adamant
on this point. 'Humour' is a
Word borrowed from English. A form of irony, at once
pleasant and serious, sentimental and satirical, that
appears to belong particularly to the English spirit il'esprit
anglaisl.
8
With the dissenting voice of Voltaire, who thought that the
English had stolen the notion of humour from the comedies
of Corneille, French authors in the eighteenth century and
as late as Victor Hugo in 1862 refer to 'that English thing they
call humour'.9
One fmds the same view in Diderot's and D' Alembert's
Encyc!opedie, in a fascinating short article that may have been
written by Diderot himself, although the attribution is not
certain. 'Diderot' writes,
HUMOUR: The English use this word to designate an
original, uncommon and singular pleasantry. Amongst the
authors of that nation, no one possesses humour, or this
original pleasantry, to a higher degree than Swift. By the
force which he is able to give to his pleasantries, Swift
brings about effects amongst his compatriots that one
would never expect from the most serious and well-argued
works, ridiculum acri, etc. Thus it 'IS, in advising the English
to eat little Irish children with their cauliflowers, Swift was
able to hold back the English government which was
otherwise ready to remove the last means of sustenance
and commerce from the Irish people. This pamphlet has the
title, 'A Modest Proposal·.
lD
We should note the exemplary place of Swift in this French
history as the 'plus haut point' of English humour. This is
something continued in Breton, who begins his anthology
of humour noir with Swift's 'Modest proposal'. Breton claims
Swift as 'the true initiator' of humour noir, and as the inventor
of 'ferocious and funereal pleasantry' CIa plaisanterie feroce
et funebre') .11 Of course, the question of ethnicity returns
once again here, for it is curious, indeed paradoxical, to define
humour as something essential to Tesprit anglais', and then
to give Swift as the highest example of English humour;
the Dean was not exactly English. As Beckett replied when
he was asked by an American journalist whether he was
English: 'au contraire'. The same reply might also apply to
Swift, Sterne, Wilde, Joyce and many other Irish contraries
to Englishness. But if Irishness is the contrary of Englishness,
then it is important to point that it is an internal contradiction.
Humour is a battlefield in the relation between what Richard
Kearney rightly calls those national Siamese twins, England and
Ireland, locked together in a suffocatingly close, often deathly
embrace. 12
HAVING THE COURAGE OF OUR PAROCHIALISM
So, humour is what returns us to our locale, to a specific ethos
which is often identified with a particular people possessing
a shared set of customs and characteristics. A sense of humour
is often what is felt to be best shared with people who are from
the same place as us, and it is that aspect of social life which
is perhaps the most difficult to explain to people from
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somewhere else. That is to say, humour puts one back in place
in a way that is powerfully particular and recalcitrantly relative.
This point is important because we should not, in my view,
shy away from the relativistic nature of humour. When it comes
to what makes us laugh, 'we must' , as Frank Cioffi writes, 'have
the courage of our parochialism'. 13 As I have claimed, humour
puts us back in place, whether the latter is our neighbourhood,
region or nation. Now it can do this triumphantly, and this is
the basic feature of ethnic humour. However, it need not put
us back in place in this manner. It might equally put one back
in one's place with the anxiety, difficulty and, indeed, shame
of where one is from, a little like trying to explain the impotent
rage of English football hooligans to foreign friends. Perhaps
one laughs at jokes one would rather not laugh at. Humour
can prOvide information about oneself that one would rather
not have.
This phenomenon is probably most sharply revealed in
the gap between what one found funny in the past and what
one now finds funny. Episodes of Monty Python that had me
innocently rolling on the floor in pre-pubescent mirth in the
early 1970s, and which we -like so many others -laboriously
tried to rehearse word-for-word during lunch breaks at school,
now seem both curiously outdated, not that funny, and
crammed full of rather worrying colonial and sexist assump-
tions. Equally, as an eager cosmopolitan, I would rather not
be reminded of national differences and national styles, yet our
sense of humour can often unconSCiously pull us up short in
front of ourselves, shOWing how prejudices that one would
rather not hold can continue to have a grip on one's sense of
who one is.
In this sense, one might say that the very relativity of
humour can function as an (un)timely reminder of who
one is, and the nature of what Heidegger would call one's
Geworfenheit, or thrownness. If humour returns us to our locale,
then my point is that it can do this in an extremely
uncomfortable way, precisely as thrown into something I did
not and would not choose. If humour tells you something
about who you are, then it might be a reminder that you
are perhaps not the person you would like to be. As such, the
very relativity of humour might be said to contain an indirect
appeal that this place stands in need of change, that history
is, indeed, in Joyce's words, a nightmare from which we are
all trying to awake.
COMIC REPRESSION
A similar point can also be made in Freudian terms. In The
Interpretation of Dreams, Freud makes a very perceptive remark
about the relation between the comic and repression,
Evidence, finally, of the increase in activity which becomes
necessary when these primary modes of functioning are
inhibited is to be found in the fact that we produce a comic
effect, that is, a surplus of energy which has to be
discharged in laughter, if we allow these modes of thinking
to force their way through into consciousness.'4
The claim here is that I produce a surplus of energy in laughter
to cope with my inhibition when repressed unconscious
material threatens to force its way through into consciousness.
For example, my tight-lipped refusal to laugh at an anti-Semitic
joke might well be a symptom of my repressed anti-Semitism.
As Freud claims, jokes have a relation to the unconscious; they
articulate and reveal a certain economy of psychical expendi-
ture. In this sense, ethnic jokes can be interpreted as symptoms
of societal repression, and they can function as a return of the
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repressed. As such, jokes can be read in terms of what or
simply who a particular society is subordinating, scapegoating
or denigrating. Grasping the nature of societal repression can
itself be liberating, but only negatively. As Trevor Griffiths
writes, 'A joke that feeds on ignorance starves its audience'. IS
Two heads of boars and two heads of men in relation to the boar
Source: Cnac-Mnam/Dist RMN. Charles Le Brun
The Joke's on All of Us - Humour as Sensus
Communis
Tout n'est pas poisson, mais il y a des poissons partout.
[All is not fish, but there are fish all over]
Six
Leibniz, Letter to Arnauld, September 1687
Despite the obdurate relativity of humour, let me pose the
seemingly odd question: do jokes raise validity claims? That is,
are there good reasons for gags, reasons which I would expect
to be binding on others? Is there such a thing as comic
raticinality?The question sounds peculiar as jokes would appear
to presuppose none of the conditions for validity formulated
by a philosopher like JUrgen Habermas: grammatical well-
formedness, truth, rightness, adequacy of standards of value
and sincerity. 1 Jokes can be insincere, have highly inadequate
standards of value, be empirically wrong, manifestly untrue,
and grammatically ill-formed: 'What do Attila the Hun and
Winnie the Pooh have in common? They have the same middle
name'. Jokes are notoriously recalcitrant to the standards of
rationally motivated agreement that Habermas would want to
claim for speech acts. For whatever reason, I can always refuse
a priori to find something funny.
However, the thesis tharJ would like to pursue is that
humour is a form of sensus communis, common sense. That is,
jokes are the expression of sociality, and possess an implicit
reasonableness. I will give the grounds for this claim presently,
but the essential point here is that humour is shared. Every
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comedian knows that a joke that does not get a laugh is not a
joke - end of story. of course, if the gag does not get a laugh,
then the comic can compensate by adding the rejoinder: 'well, .
please yourselves', or 'why don't you all join hands and try
and make contact with the living', or 'this audience doesn't
need a comic, it needs an embalmer' . But that Simply confirms
negatively the point that humour is a shared or intersubjective
practice that requires the assent of others. Of course, one
can always opt out of this sensus communis for whatever reason.
One can, like Queen Victoria, refuse to be amused. But the
surprising thing about jokes is that they always presume an
intersubjective appeal, they have social reach. In Alfred Schutz's
terms, jokes, like fantasies and dreams, are acts of abstraction
or distancing from ordinary life that reveal the shared
structures of a common life-world.
2
SHAFTESBURY'S REASONABLE RAILLERY
Sensus communis is a Roman concept for which, strangely,
there is no natural equivalent in ancient Greek. It would appear
that the somewhat artificial Greek term koinonoemosune was
the COinage of Marcus Aurelius. Sensus communis is employed
by authors like Horace and Juvenal and is more felicitously
rendered as 'sociableness' than 'common sense', which is a
term whose too frequent (ab)use invites misunderstanding.
For someone like Cicero, sensus communis is linked to the notion
of urbanitas or urbane wit. The term is retrieved in the seven-
teenth century by Giambattista Vico, but the linking of sensus
communis to humour is the invention of Anthony, Earl of
Shaftesbury, himself completely immersed in Roman culture.
3
His 1709 treatise, Sensus communis. An Essay on the Freedom of
Wit and Humour, appears just twenty-seven years after the first
occurrence of the word 'humour' to denote something jocular.
In an extended epistle to an unnamed friend, Shaftesbury
seeks to defend 'true raillery' against the 'defensive raillery'
of previous ages. Such raillery can be justified as it makes
conversations agreeable but also, more importantly, because
it encourages the use of reason. In response to the accusation
that humour is the irrational befuddlement of reason,
Shaftesbury writes,
To this I answer, that according to the notion I have of
reason, neither the written treatises of the learned, nor the
set discourses of the eloquent, are able of themselves to
teach the use of it. ·Tis the habit alone of reasoning which
can make a reasoner. And men can never be better invited
to the habit than when they find pleasure in it. A freedom of
raillery, a liberty in decent language to question everything,
and an allowance of unravelling or refuting any argument,
without offence to the arguer, are the only terms which can
render such speculative conversations in any way
agreeable."
Thus, raillery and ridicule can be defended insofar as they
enable instruction in reason by making its use pleasurable. One
is more likely to use reason if its use gives pleasure. Therefore,
liberty is precisely a freedom in wit and humour. The measure
of liberty to which reason appeals, for Shaftesbury, is sensus
communis, sociableness. He writes, ' 'Tis the height of sociable-
ness to be friendly and communicative'.
5
Shaftesbury's implied antagonist is Hobbes, and the treatise
contains a most succinct refutation of Hobbes's conception
of the state of nature. In a very patrician putdown, Shaftesbury
writes, ' 'Tis not fit we should krfow that by nature we are all
wolves' .6To Hobbes's suspicion oflaughter as 'that passion that
hath no name', we can oppose Shaftesbury's notion of humour
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as the very height of reasonableness, an opposition that is
obviously linked to their contrasting political philosophies.
Shaftesbury goes so far as to fmd Hobbes's suspicion of all
forms of popular government a distrust of liberty itself In
response to Hobbes's advice to the sovereign that he should
extirpate the teaching of Greek and Roman literature, he quips,
'Is not this in truth somewhat GothiC?'7
If liberty loves humour, then slavery finds expression in
buffoonery. Shaftesbury writes, 'The greater the weight is, the
bitterer will be the satire. The higher the slavery, the more
exquisite the buffoonery'.
8
Buffonic comedy is a function of,
and a reaction to, repression. This explains why, on Shaftesbury's
reading, the permitted inversions of the dominant theological
and political order in Carnival produce such seemingly dis-
orderly and transgressive humour. But rather than plaCing in
question the dominant order, such acts of comic subversion
simply reinstate it by offering transitory comic relief After
Carnival comes Lent, and one cannot exist without the other.
Such an argument against the alleged subversive potential
of carnivalesque, buffonic comedy might also be extended to
explain the quite vicious comedy of the court, exemplified in
the figure of the fool, as he who alone can speak the truth to
power. With regard to the historical provenance of the concept
of humour, it is Significant that the tradition of court jesters
does not survive the seventeenth century in England, the last
recorded fool being Henry Killigrew appointed to William III
in 1694.
9
More tentatively, a similar point could be made about the
often violent humour that existed under totalitarian regimes,
a fact which is not incidental, I believe, to the circumstances
of composition and indirect intention of Bakhtin's Rabelais and
his World. Although the latter's ostensive subject matter is the
late medieval period in France, the book was written in 1941,
just a few years after the height of the Stalinist purges, of which
Bakhtin was a long-suffering victim. Bakhtin's defence of what
he calls' grotesque realism' , his praise of 'comic heteroglossia' ,
of unoffiCial culture, of the unruliness of the body and the
identification of the latter with the 'collective ancestral ground
of the people', is clearly an implied critique of the official
culture and hierarchy of Stalinism and its aesthetics of socialist
realism. 10
DISENCHANTMENT OF FOLLY OR DEMOCRATIZATION
OF WIT?
We here approach an interesting scansion in the history of
the comic, between a religiOUS or courtly tradition of buffoon-
ery and tomfoolery, a tradition that is sustained by the satirical
ribaldry that appears (or at least appears to us) to undermine
it, and a more secular, democratic use of wit and humour
as that which can encourage the use of reason and gUide the
sociability of sensus communis. The way in which the history
of the comic is often presented is in terms of a decline in
toleration for the ludic, subversive folly of the Christian Middle
Ages. One finds, for example, Peter Berger writing, 'Modernity
did away with much of the enchantment that medieval man
still lived with. The counter-world of folly began to recede
.. .'. II In this sense, modern European history can be presented
as a dour, Protestant taming of the transgreSSive comedy of a
Catholic world. The transition from a medieval-Renaissance
world-view to that of modernity is defined in terms of the
gradual disappearance of the ludic, playful element in culture.
The problem I have with'this historical thesis is that it
sounds rather like good, old-fashioned European cultural
pessimism d la Oswald Spengler dressed up in a jester's cap and
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bells. We disenchanted moderns are sorely tempted by what
appears as comic transgression in the pre-modern period and
then sink into a wistful nostalgia for a lost world of Christian
folly. But perhaps it is a world well lost. Whatever the truth of
the matter, humour is a distinctively modern notion and is
linked to the rise of the democratic public sphere in places like
Britain in the eighteenth century. However great its powers of
disenchantment, one can also approach modernity in terms of
a democratization of wit.
But I do not wish to exculpate Shaftesbury. It must not be
forgotten that the appeal to sensus communis entails certain
restrictions on the free use of wit and humour. It has to accord
with taste, 'There is a great difference between seeking how
to raise a laugh from everything and what justly may be
laughed at'. 12 Also, Shaftesbury's conception of the freedom of
wit is not particularly democratic, but is rather clubbish and
gentlemanly. He writes,
For you are to remember my friend, that I am writing to you
in defence only of the liberty of the club, and of that sort of
freedom which is taken amongst gentlemen ... '3
Finally, and most egregiously, Shaftesbury's defence of humour
is served with a large helping of British chauvinism. After
noting that 'the greatest of buffoons are the Italians' because
"tis the only manner in which the poor cramped wretches
can discharge a free thought', he goes on to praise the British
government for its use of common sense to guide politics,
As for us Britons, thank heaven, we have a better sense of
government delivered to us from our ancestors. We have
the notion of a public, and a constitution; how a legislative
and an executive is modelled!' .. J Our increasing knowledge
shows us everyday, more and more, what common sense is
in politics; and this must of necessity lead us to understand
a like sense in morals, which is the foundation.'4
One wonders what Swift might have made of such wisdom.
INTERSUBJECTIVE ASSENT
The precise extent of the influence of Shaftesbury's theory of
wit, humour and sensus communis on the aesthetic theory of Kant
is an intriguing matter of intellectual history. IS In the German-
speaking milieu, Shaftesbury was avidly read by Lessing and
Moses Mendelssohn and it is rather tempting to imagine that
in Kant's development of the notion of sensus communis in The
Critique of Judgement one hears at least an echo of Shaftesbury's
theory of humour. Sadly, despite Kant's fascinating discussion
oflaughter, he con1ines humour to the domain of the agreeable
rather than the beautiful, whose analysis is the proper business
of aesthetic judgement. 16
Yet, Kant's basic inSight, stripped of all the fascinatingly
baroque complexity of The Critique of Judgement, is that there
is something about the form of aesthetic judgement that
requires intersubjective assent or agreement. For Kant, if some-
thing merely pleases, then I must not call it beautiful; it is
simply charming or agreeable and 'no one cares about that'. 17
However, when I say that this thing is beautiful, then I require
and indeed demand the agreement of others. Kant tells a
powerful story which gives us the analytic conditions for such
a propenSity to judgemenL:universality, disinterestedness and
what he calls 'purposiveness without purpose'. But the basic
point here is that when I express my judgement of taste about
an artwork, film or novel, then I require the agreement of
others, I crave assent. In my view, this is best revealed in those
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moments when one leaves a cinema with a friend. One moves
silently in the throng with the subtle anxiety of trying to
guess what your friend thought of the film: 'so, what did you
think?', 'wasn't it brilliant?', or 'wasn't that the biggest turkey
the world has ever seen?'. I think matters are analogous with
humour. If you do not laugh at my joke, then something has
gone wrong either with my joke or with my telling of it. Either
way, it is a mistake.
JOKES AS EVERYDAY ANAMNESIS
If that is so, that is, if humour is a form of sensus communis that
requires intersubjective assent of some sort, then how might
we characterize and assess the validity claim of a joke? Now,
I do not want to tell a Habermasian or even Kantian story at
this point because that would take us in the direction of a
universalism that would lose sight of the phenomenon under
consideration. I would rather make a more Wittgensteinian
point and speak about jokes as clarificatory remarks, that make
situations perspicuous, that provide us with some sort of
synopsis or overview of a particular state of affairs. IS In this
sense, jokes are further descriptions of phenomena that show
them in a new light. They are acts of , everyday anamnesis', that
remind us what we already know in a new way. Humour lights
up what Schutz calls the 'stock of knowledge' that we all share.
As such, if we understand jokes as clarificatory remarks,
then they are not Simply occasions for solipsistic rumination,
rather they bring us back to a social world that is common
and shared. This is what Cioffi means when he speaks of' an
experiential sense of thereness for everyone'. 19 Jokes have a sense
of thereness; they illuminate a social world that is held in
common with others. If we are to clarify this thereness, then it
must be in terms of the 'we' of a specific community, with a
common language and shared cultural assumptions and life-
world practices. In this sense, jokes are reminders of who 'we'
are, who 'we' have been, and of who 'we' might come to be.
This is what was meant in the last chapter by haVing the
courage of our parochialism. Jokes can do this in at least two
ways, by either reinforcing our sense of cultural distinctiveness
and superiority, as in much ethnic humour, or by plaCing those
shared practices in question, showing them in a new light,
by taking the comedy of recognition and turning the whole
thing on its head. For a comedian like Eddy Izzard, a Simple
trip to the launderette turns into a surreal phantasmagoria,
with clothes taking on personalities and Eddy's socks arriving
half an hour late, complaining about being stuck in traffic and
demanding to be let into the washing machine.
ANAESTHESIA OF THE HEART
The genius of jokes is that they light up the common features
of our world, not by offering theoretical considerations, or
by writing the two admirably fat volumes of Habermas's
The Theory of Communicative Action, but in a more practical way.
They are forms of practical abstraction, socially embedded
philosophizing. Jokes light up specific practices, such as going
to the launderette, in a practically abstract manner. Laughter
gives us a distance on everyday life, and there is a certain
coldness at its core. I think this is what Bergson means - and
it is a deep remark - when he speaks of the comic as demand-
ing 'something like a momentary anaesthesia of the heart'. 20
Jokes are forms of abstractipn that place in abeyance our usual
modes of reaction, whether veridical or moral: if someone
falls on a banana skin, then we do not rush to help, we sit back
and laugh; if a horse talks, then we do not express disbelief,
but delight. That is, humour lets us take up a disinterested,
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theoretical attitude towards the world, but it does this in an
eminently practical and interesting way.
The comedian sees the world under what some philo-
sophers call an epoche, a certain bracketing or suspension of
belief. Of course, this can be the epoche of delusion, as in
the comedy of Don Quixote, where the simple denizens of the
Spanish countryside become noble knights and damsels
in distress. The comedian behaves like a visitor from another
planet, vainly trying to disappear into practices that we take for
granted, and failing calamitously in the process - one thinks
of Monsieur Hulot. But we watch the comic from a this-worldly
perspective, like Sancho Panza, enjoying the delusory epoche
from a certain distance, where we can suspend reality, and yet
still engage in reality testing. The comedian is psychotic,
whereas his audience are simply healthy neurotics.
But if there is a coldness at the core of the comic, then this
can also be disturbing, as in the case of humour noir. Consider
the Coen Brothers' 1996 film, Fargo, where multiple murder
is treated with a troubling numbness that is accentuated through
the complete inarticulacy of any of the film's protagonists to
provide a motivation or justification for their actions. There
is a complete disjunction of action and affect here, a sheer
anaesthetization of death. Yet, such lack of sentimentality
does not leave us cold, but paradoxically has the effect of
emphasizing the sheer horror of the events being depicted.
THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF PHENOMENOLOGY
If jokes are best thought of as clarificatory remarks whose
validity is resolved in an appeal to sensus communis, then what
is required is not some causal or quasi-scientific theory that
attempts to explain jokes in genetic, evolutionary or physio-
logical terms. In my view, this is where Freud goes wrong in
the 1905 Jokebook, where he seeks to explain jokes causally in
terms of his hydraulic model of the psyche. Cioffi puts the
point colourfully by asking us to enter into a thought
experiment,
Imagine a world in which, like ours, people laughed at jokes,
but unlike ours did not know what they were laughing at
until they discovered the unconscious energic processes
hypothesised by Freud - only after peering through the
psychoanalytoscope were they able to pronounce - 'Just as
we thought: a classic case of condensation with slight
modification', You would then have a picture of the world
Freud intermittently beguiled himself [and us) into believing
he was living in and which prompts Wittgenstein's attempts
to wake us by reminding us of its unreality - 'a powerful
mythology', We can't escape the conclusion that Freud's
theoretical pronouncements are only redescriptions of the
phenomena they purport to explain, What makes them 'good
representations of the facts', as Wittgenstein puts it, are
Freud's perceptiveness and expressive powers,21
Happily, as I shall argue presently, Freud's later remarks on
humour are a distinct improvement on his early position and
testify to his great perceptiveness and expressive powers.
In my view, what is reqUired in the face of humour are
further descriptions on the role of jokes as further descriptions,
remarks of the kind that Wittgenstein made about Freud
on jokes, 'All we can say is that if it is presented to you, you
say "Yes, that's what happened" '.22 What we require is a phe-
nomenology of the phenomenology of the world that jokes
prOvide. Such a phenomenology of phenomenology might
have the virtue of allOwing us to separate the occasions on
which we require causal scientific explanations from those
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occasions when we do not, that is, when the situation demands
a more humane clarification. Such is the ambition of this book.
Yet, that still begs the following question: if humour is
defined by the limits of the 'we' to whom the joke is con-
cerned, if a sense of humour is relative to a shared but specific
life-world, then is all humour reactionary and conservative?
Most of it is, and maybe humour will always be dominated
by laughing at others, at other ethnoi with other ethoi. As I said
above, such humour has to be recognized, even if it is not to
be recommended. Nonetheless, I would like to propose a
counter-thesis, what I will describe as my sense of humour. I
want to defend a two-fold claim: first, that the tiny explosions
of humour that we call jokes return us to a common, familiar
domain of shared life-world practices, the background
meanings implicit in a culture. This is what is meant by
humour as a form of sensus communis, where jokes can be seen
to raise intersubjective validity claims of the kind described
above. However, second, I want to claim that humour also
indicates, or maybe just adumbrates, how those practices
might be transformed or perfected, how things might be
otherwise. That is, humour might be said to project another
possible sensus communis, namely a dissensus communis distinct from
the dominant common sense. In laughing at a joke I am also
consenting to a certain ideal image of the world. In this sense,
as I argued in my Introduction, laughter has a certain messianic
power. Let me illustrate this obliquely with a joke,
In the old days, somewhere in Eastern Europe. a traveller
arrived in a shtetl in the middle of winter. There. outside the
synagogue, an old man sat on a bench, shivering in the cold.
What are you doing here?· asked the traveller.
lm waiting for the coming of the Messiah.·
·That is indeed a very important job·. said the traveller.
·1 suppose that the community pays you a good salary?·
·No, not at all·, said the old man. They don·t pay me
anything. They just let me sit on this bench. Once in a while
someone comes out and gives me a little food.·
·That must be very hard for you·, said the traveller. ·But
even if they don·t pay you anything, surely they must honour
you for undertaking this important task?·
·No, not at all·, said the old man. ·They all think that I·m
crazy.
·1 don·t understand this·, said the traveller. ·They don·t
pay you. They don·t respect you. You sit here in the cold,
shivering, hungry. What kind of job is this?·
The old man replied: ·lrs steady work:23
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monkey
Source: Cnac-Mnam/Dist RMN. Charles Le Brun
Why the Super-Ego is Your Amigo - My Sense
of Humour and Freud's
Seven
Perhaps I know best why man alone laughs: he alone suffers so
deeply that he had to invent laughter. The unhappiest and most
melancholy animal is, as is fitting, the most cheerful.
Nietzsche
In his seventy-fifth year, looking back nearly a third of a
century to the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900,
Freud wrote, 'Insight such as this falls to one's lot but once
in a lifetime'.1 Unfortunately for his readers, Freud could not
leave that insight alone throughout his lifetime. He kept
fretfully going back to his magnwn opus, fiddling with it anxiously.
revising, expanding and adding sections, multiplying foot-
notes. This is what gives the book its rather flabby feel. which
makes it, in my experience, a difficult though rewarding text
to teach. One of the curious things about the 1 90S Jokes and Their
Relation to the Unconscious, is that Freud never really went back to
it, or indeed expressed that much interest in its main topic in
the years after its publication. Oddly, given that topic, the
Jokebook is arguably the most systematic of Freud's works, with
a neat and clear tripartite division into 'analytic', 'synthetic'
and 'theoretic' parts. Contrary to popular prejudice, it is also
full of wonderful, if occasionally objectionable, jokes: 'what
is it that men do standing up, women do sitting down and
dogs do on three legs?' (I presL!1Ile you know the answer.) So,
it was after a gap of some twenty-two years that Freud sat
down for five days in August 1 92 7 to pen a paper on humour,
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simply called 'Der Humor'.2 Now, as even professional anti-
Freudians acknowledge, quite a bit happened to Freud's views
during the intervening twenty-odd years. Thus, much of the
curiosity of the 1 92 7 paper stems from how the phenomenon
of the comic looks from the perspective of Freud's later theory
of mind, namely what is called the second topography of ego,
super-ego and id. So, how does it look?
FINDING ONESELF RIDICULOUS
With the telegraphic conciseness of his late style, Freud shows
how the phenomenon of humour is the contribution made
to the comic by the super-ego. Recall that the thesis of the
Jokebook is that jokes are the contribution of the unconscious
to the comic. What this means is that in humour, the super-
ego observes the ego from an inflated position, which makes
the ego itselflook tiny and trivial. The core inSight of the paper
is that in humour I find myself ridiculous and I acknowledge
this in laughter or simply in a smile. Humour is essentially
self-mocking ridicule. The importance of this claim for
my purposes is that Freud's sense of humour provides me
with the normative criterion for my ovm sense of humour:
namely, the distinction between laughing at oneself and laugh-
ing at others. As we saw in the discussion of ethnic humour,
laughing at others has to be recognized, but is not to be
recommended.
As always when he is at his best, Freud is detained and
perplexed by an empirical item, in this case a joke, a case of
what Andre Breton would call at the end of the 1930s, directly
inspired by the 1 927 paper, I'humour noir. In a real sense, all
Freudian humour - indeed, all humour - is replete with the
unhappy black bile, the melan-cholia. Freud speaks of a criminal
who, on the morning of his execution, is being led out to the
gallows to be hanged, and who remarks, looking up at the sky,
'Na, die Woche fangt gut an', 'Well, the week's beginning
nicely' .
3
Freud asks himself: why is this funny? How is this
funny? In the language of the second topography, the humour
here is generated by the super-ego observing the ego, which
produces un humour noir that is not depressing but rather lib-
erating and elevating. Freud's precise words are befreiend, erhebend.
He concludes the little essay on humour with the follOwing
words, 'Look! Here is the world, which seems so dangerous!
It is nothing but a game for children, just worth making a jest
about'.4
So, humour consists in laughing at oneself, in fmding
oneself ridiculous, and such humour is not depreSSing, but
on the contrary gives us a sense of emanCipation, consolation
and childlike elevation. The childlike aspects of humour are
important and serve to bring out an interesting contrast
between Freud's sense of humour and his early theory of jokes.
He writes,
Humour possesses a dignity which is wholly lacking, for
instance, in jokes, for jokes either serve simply to obtain a
yield of pleasure or place the yield of pleasure that has been
obtained in the service of aggression.
5
Freud is here unwittingly inheriting the Hobbesian tradition
of the superiority theory of laughter discussed above. For
Freud, Oedipalist that he was, the core of this superiority
theory of laughter consists in the fact that in laughing at
another's misfortune, I treat them as a child and myself as an
adult. .
Now, in adopting a humorous attitude towards myself it is
precisely the other way around: I treat myself as a child from
an adult perspective; I look at my childlike, diminutive ego
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from the standpoint of the big, grown-up super-ego. And
it is for this reason that Freud says that humour possesses a
dignity or worth, eineWiirde, that is lacking in jokes. That is,
in jokes I laugh at others, find them ridiculous and myself
superior. From a Freudian point of view, such laughter has to
be analysed because it reveals all sorts of unresolved psy-
chological conflict which ultimately - surprise, surprise - has
a sexual aetiology. Thus, my excessively hearty laughter in the
bar with the boys at a series of aggressively homophobic gags
would be read by Freud symptomatically as the expression of
a repressed desire to sleep with some or maybe all of those
boys. Such laughter has to be analysed because it tells us much
about the nature of unconscious aggression, but Freud is clear
that it is not to be recommended. Therefore, humour for Freud
- and in my view he is right in this - is ethically superior to
the laughter of superiority expressed in jokes: laughter at
oneself is better than laughter at others. This normative priority
of humour over jokes can also be linked, as we will see
presently, to the priority of smiling over laughter.
SUBJECT AS ABJECT OBJECT
So, how does humour fit into the landscape of the second
topography and how, as I think it does, might humour be said
to change that landscape? Let us conduct a brief survey of
the terrain. In my view, the key inSight that inaugurates the
second topography is the splitting of the ego initially outlined
in Freud's 1914 essay, 'On narcissism: an introduction'. But,
for reasons that will soon become obvious, let me explain this
briefly with reference to Freud's discussion of melancholia
from the follOwing year. About five pages into 'Mourning and
melancholia' , Freud speculates on the origin of conscience. He
writes of the depreSSive that,
We see how in him one part of the ego sets itself over
against the other. judges it critically, and. as it were, takes it
as its object. Our suspicion that the critical agency which is
here split off from the ego might also show its
independence in other circumstances will be confirmed by
every further observation. We shall really find grounds for
distinguishing this agency from the rest of the ego. What we
are here becoming acquainted with is the agency commonly
called 'conscience'; we shall count it, along with the
censorship of consciousness and reality-testing, among the
major institutions of the ego and we shall come upon
evidence that it can become diseased on its own account.
6
Freud here resolves a perplexity sketched earlier in the essay:
namely, that if mourning is the response to the death of the
beloved - what he somewhat cruelly calls 'object-loss' - then
to what is melancholia a response, given that no one has died,
that is, seemingly there was no object to lose? This perplexity
is resolved by the fact that in melancholy the 'ego itself
becomes an object'. What this means is that there is a splitting
in the ego between the ego and a critical agency, the Uber-Ich,
the 'over-I" or 'super-ego' that stands over against the lch,
sadistically denigrating it. This is what Freud calls' conscience',
das Goossen, the etymological semantics of which resonate in
the Middle English notion of 'In wit' , recalled by Joyce, alluding
to Langland, as the 'Agenbite of Inwit', the again-biting or
guilty call of conscience. Thus the ego does not only become
an object, it becomes what we might call an abject object, and it
is with this inSight that the third agency of the psyche, the
super-ego, is born. ,
The subject becomes an abject object, and when the
melancholic talks about himself it is as though he were talking
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about some loathsome thing. This is why melancholics talk so
obsessively about themselves; in a sense, they are talking about
somebody else. If they experience themselves as worthless,
then they do this in the noisiest and most wearisome way.
One is reminded of Woody Allen's endless monologues, where
he complains about himself in the most voluble manner, a
technique of self-objectification and splitting of the ego
brought to dramatic perfection in Play it Again Sam, where the
super-ego who lacerates and consoles the abject Allen ego is
literally objectified in the person of Humphrey Bogart.
MELANCHOLY PHILOSOPHERS
Now, whatever the reality of the accusations that the
melancholic levels against himself - and an essential feature of
Woody Allen's comedy is their obvious unreality - Freud
concludes that there is no point contradicting him. We must
accept his description as the right one for his psychological
situation. Furthermore, Freud goes on in an interesting move,
the melancholic might after all be justified in these accusations;
namely, that he has achieved a higher degree of self-lmowledge
than the rest of us. Freud writes,
When in his heightened self-criticism he describes himself
as petty, egoistic, dishonest, lacking in independence, one
whose sole aim has been to hide the weaknesses of his own
nature, it may be, so far as we know, that he has come
pretty near to understanding himself; we only wonder why a
man has to be ill before he can be accessible to a truth of
this kind'?
In short, the melancholic has deeper self-lmowledge than
other people, which raises the fascinating question as to why
one should have to be sick to possess such inSight. As Aristotle
realized some millennia ago, the melancholic is a philosopher
and the philosopher is a melancholic. One beginS to compile
a list of philosopher-melancholics with the names of
Montaigne and Pascal scribbled at the top, but which would
also include many others, perhaps even some of this book's
readers. Freud illustrates the pathology of the philosopher-
melancholic with the example of Hamlet, whose abjection
is mirrored in the ghostly object of his father. We might also
think of Dostoevsky's underground man as the paradigm case
of melancholic self-insight. Freud wrote his fascinating. study
of Dostoevsky in the same year as his paper on humour, in
192 7, where the super-ego and the parricidal identification
with the father figures prominently. 8
As Wittgenstein often reminds us, philosophy is indeed a
kind of sickness. But perhaps the sickest thought is the belief
that there is a cure for this malady through some spurious
return to health, whether by Simply leaving one's college and
taking a walk into town, or by renouncing philosophy
altogether and wandering back into the thickets of common
sense. The melancholic philosophical ego is constituted in
relation to what Freud calls 'an unknown loss', a narcissistic
wound that imperceptibly rubs under one's clothes, irritating
and agitating the ego. Because of this wound, the philosopher-
melancholic - and one thinks of the late Nietzsche of Ecce
Homo with chapters entitled 'Why I am so clever', 'Why I am
a destiny' - experiences himself in a radical non-self-
coincidence, as an abject object. This is why a sense of humour
is essential in philosophy.
MANIC INTOXICATION
Melancholy shares many traits with normal mourning, apart
from one, namely the loss of self-regard and the accompanying
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feeling of worthlessness. This is diagnosed by Freud as a
regression from what he calls 'object libido' to 'narcissistic
libido', that is to say, from a relation to a beloved to a relation
to self. It is this regression that splits the ego and produces
conscience or the super-ego. The originality of the phenom-
enon of melancholy is that once investment or' cathexis' in the
object has been withdrawn, then the poles of subject and
object are interior to the ego, or rather they are poles of a
splitting in the ego where the latter itself becomes the object
that is hated and treated sadistically. At this pOint, my self-
insight and self-criticism can turn into the much nastier
phenomena of self-hatred, and self-punishment.
In the 1915 essay, the escape from the self-hatred of
melancholia lies in its counter-concept, mania. Freud writes,
'The most remarkable characteristic of melancholia ... is its
tendency to change around into mania'. 9 Here we have a
classic example of what Freud describes in his essay on the
drives - which is the first in the series of papers of which
'Mourning and melancholia' is the last - as an instinctual
vicissitude, where something reverses into its opposite, the way
love can fup over into hate, sadism into masochism, voyeurism
into exhibitionism.
lo
As such, mania is the same as melan-
cholia insofar as they are opposed manifestations of the same
complex, the only difference being that in melancholy the ego
succumbs to the complex, whereas in mania it pushes it aside.
Freud insists that manic states such as joy, exaltation and
triumph depend on the same psychical energy as melancholia.
Freud's 'economic' speculation is that the discharge of energy
which is suddenly available and free in mania and experienced
as exaltation and joy, is the same energy that was bound and
inhibited in melancholia. The point here is that melancholia
and mania are two ends of the same piece of string, and the
relation between them is powerfully ambivalent. Melancholia
can alternate with mania, sometimes within a single eVening.
Interestingly, this is Freud's explanation of alcoholic intoxi-
cation, where the manic elation of drunkenness is followed by
the melancholy self-laceration of the hangover - a claim that
I am sure that some of you have tested empirically.
HUMOUR AS ANTI-DEPRESSANT
After having now surveyed the second topography a little, let
me go back to the paper on humour in order to see how that
landscape might be reshaped a little. In 192 7, looking over
his shoulder to the arguments of the 1 915 essay, Freud writes
of 'The alternation (die Abwechslung) between melancholia and
mania, between a cruel suppression of the ego by the super-
ego and a liberation of the ego after that pressure .. .'. And it
is here that the originality of the paper on humour can be seen,
for Freud's remarks on humour constitute an unexpected
development of the internal logiC of narcissism which finds
a positive place for the super-ego. The narcissistic splitting of
the ego does not only produce the alternating pathologies
of melancholia and mania, with their endless to and fro, but
also produces humour - dark, sardOnic, wicked humour: 'well,
the week's beginning nicely'. In addition to the self-laceration
of depression and the self-forgetfulness of elation - the
morning after and the night before, as it were - there is a third
way, namely humour. Humour has the same formal structure
as depression, but it is an anti-depressant that works by the ego
finding itself ridiculous. This can be illustrated with a favourite
joke of Groucho Marx, which he relates in his autobiography,
I·m sure most of you have heard the story of the man who
tells an analyst he has lost the will to live. The doctor
advises the melancholy figure to go to the circus that night
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and spend the evening laughing at Grock, the world's
funniest clown. 'After you have seen Grock. I am sure you
will be much happier.' The patient rises to his feet and looks
sadly at the doctor. As he starts to leave the doctor says, 'By
the way, what is your name?' The man turns and regards
the analyst with sorrowful eyes.
'1 am Grock.'"
The subject looks at itself like an abject object and instead of
weeping bitter tears, it laughs at itself and finds consolation
therein. Humour is an anti-depressant that does not work by
deadening the ego in some sort of Prozac-induced daze, but
is rather a relation of self-knowledge. Humour is often dark,
but always lucid. It is a profoundly cognitive relation to oneself
and the world.
I would argue that humour recalls us to the modesty and
limitedness of the human condition, a limitedness that calls
not for tragic-heroic affirmation but comic acknowledgement,
not Promethean authenticity but a laughable inauthenticity. 12
Maybe, we have to conclude with Jack Nicholson in the 1997
movie of the same name, this is as good as it gets. And that
realization is not an occasion for moroseness but mirth. The
anti-depressant of humour works by finding an alternative,
positive function for the super-ego, and it is this thought that
I would like to explore.
SUPER-EGO I AND II
Some versions of psychoanalysis, and most versions of the
ethics of psychoanalysis, have a problem with the super-ego.
This is not surprising as it is the super-ego that generates the
hostility towards the ego that crystallizes into the symptom.
It is the position of the lacerating super-ego that the analyst
has to occupy if the analysiS is going to proceed with any
success. Thus, the patient has to substitute the destructive
relation towards the super-ego with a positive transference
towards the analyst in order to break down the symptom. In
the penultimate paragraph of the paper on humour, Freud
acknowledges that 'In other connections we knew the super-
ego as a severe master'. However - and this is what is so
interesting about the 1927 paper - what is evinced or glimpsed
in humour is a non-hostile super-ego, a super-ego that has
undergone what we might call 'maturation', a maturity that
comes from learning to laugh at oneself, from finding oneself
ridiculous. We might say that in humour the childlike super-
ego that experiences parental prohibition and Oedipal guilt
is replaced with a more grown up super-ego, let us call it
'super-ego II'. Now, this super-ego is your amigo. Freud writes
in the final paragraph of the 1 92 7 paper,
If it is really the super-ego which, in humour, speaks such
kindly words of comfort to the intimidated ego, this will
teach us that we still have a great deal to learn about the
nature of the super-ego.'3
True enough, Freud and his commentators have said many
inconsistent things about the super-ego. My point, however,
is Simple: in humour, we see the profile of 'super-ego II', a
super-ego which does not lacerate the ego, but speaks to it
words of consolation. This is a positive super-ego that liberates
and elevates by allOwing the ego to find itself ridiculous.
If 'super-ego l' is the prohibiting parent, scolding the child,
then 'super-ego II' is the comforting parent. Or better still,
'super-ego II' is the child that has become the parent: wiser
and wittier, if slightly wizened. '
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IDEAL SICKNESS
Yet, if that is so, then is 'super-ego II' not playing the role
normally given to what Freud calls 'the ego ideal'? No, it is not.
And I think we need to distinguish the super-ego from the ego
ideal, a distinction that was not always respected by Freud.
After initially distinguishing the ego ideal from the critical
agency of conscience in the 1914 essay on narcissism, he came
to identify the ego ideal with what was baptized the super-ego
from 1923 onwards in The Ego and the Id. So, how should the
distinction be made? I think that Annie Reich gets it about right
in saying that 'The ego ideal represents what one wishes to
be, the super-ego what one ought to be' .14That is, the ego ideal
is the phantasy of a wish that I would like to see fulfilled. By
contrast, the super-ego is a more normative agency which tells
me what I should be, which is something which might most
often simply conflict with the ego ideal. For example, I might
still wish to play soccer for Liverpool FC, but I know that I
really should carry out my duties as a philosophy professor.
The ego ideal is the heir to what Freud calls 'primary narcis-
sism', that is, the infantile illusion of omnipotence and the
blissful feelings bound up with it. On a psychoanalytic view,
the function of perversion is to bridge the gap between the
ego and the ego ideal and, as it were, to restore the God-like
majesty of the baby. The ego ideal is centred on the infantile
belief that I am superman, I am a destiny, or am just somehow
rather special. Such is what Janine Chasseguet-Srnirgel calls 'the
malady of the ideal', a sickness with which we are all more
or less afflicted.
By contrast, the super-ego is not the heir to primary
narcissism, but to the Oedipus complex, and the parental or
symbolic prohibition to which the resolution of the complex
gives rise. It can be a very severe master. My claim is that, on
the one hand, humour makes the super-ego a less severe
master, permitting a maturation of the super-ego function that
can have extremely salutary effects. On the other hand, I think
that 'super-ego II' is what takes the place of the ego ideal, and
all the fantasies of primary narcissism: perversion, ecstasy,
superman affirmation, fusion with God or your essential
self, and a legion of other chimeras. Finally, perhaps it is the
super-ego that saves the human being from tragic hybris, from
the Promethean fantasy of believing oneself omnipotent, and
it does this through humour. For, I am Grock, and you are
too. Chasseguet-Srnirgel writes,
To accept the super-ego is to place oneself within a
tradition. to become a link in a chain, to resign oneself also
to being a human being. To be a superman is to refuse all
that en bloc, that is, to refuse the human condition.'5
LAUGHTER I AND II
Our self-understanding can be transformed, then, if we learn
to laugh. But there is laughter and laughter. On the one hand,
there is the laughter of what Nietzsche calls 'eternal return',
the golden laughter of tragic affirmation, that so influenced
Georges Bataille and his epigones.
16
This is the heroic laughter
that rails in the face of the firing squad - 'Go ahead, shoot
me, I don't care'. This is the laughter that I always suspect of
emanating from the mountain tops, from the cool summits
of lofty isolation. This is precisely a manic laughter in Freud's
sense: solitary, juvenile, p,erverse, verging on sobbing. This is
the ego bloated and triumphant in empty solitude and infantile
dreams of omnipotence. As Beckett quips in his Proust, ' "Live
dangerously", that victorious hiccup in vacuo, as the national
anthem of the true ego exiled in habit'. 17 'Live dangerously',
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what does that mean? At best, you might end up like Austin
- Danger is my middle name - Powers.
On the other hand, there is a weaker Freudian laughter, that
is also, as my epigraph shows, present in Nietzsche. Such
laughter insists that life is not something to be affirmed
ecstatically, but acknowledged comically. This is the sardonic
and more sarcastic comedy of someone like Sterne, Swift or
Beckett, which arises out of a palpable sense of inability,
impotence and inauthenticity. For me at least - although
there is no accounting for taste - it is this second laughter
that is more joyful (not to mention being a lot funnier), and
also more tragiC. As Beckett's Malone remarks, paralysed in
his death-bed, 'If I had the use of my body I would throw
it out of the window. But perhaps it is the knowledge of my
impotence that emboldens me to that thought: This is quin-
tessentially oxymoronic Beckett: the condition of possibility
for the hypothesis 'if ... then .. : is an impossibility. Beckett's
sentences proceed by falling apart in what he calls his 'syntax
of weakness'. As I suggested above, this is a comic syntax:
Groucho with his hand on Chico's pulse, 'either this man is
dead or my watch has stopped'.
Let me give you two examples of a Freudian sense of
humour with a pair of anecdotes: one concerns the French
Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, the other concerns the
Hungarian philosopher and aesthetician, Gyorgy Lukacs. As
many of you will know, Lukacs was not a great admirer of the
work of Franz Kafka, whom he declared to be an 'idealist' and
a bad example of decadent aesthetic modernism. Now, Lukacs
was Minister of Culture in the Hungarian government in 1956,
at the moment when the Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest.
Lukacs was arrested in the middle of the night and thrown into
a military lorry along with other government officials. The
lorry then disappeared off into the obscurity of the countrySide
for an appointment with an unknown but probably unsavoury
fate. So the story goes, Lukacs turned to one of the other
ministers and said in German, 'Tja, Kafka war doch ein Realist'
('Kafka was a realist after all'). The essential feature of this
joke is that in this situation, which is extremely bleak, Lukacs
ironizes himself The humour consists in the fact that
Lukacs finds himself ridiculous because reality has conspired
to bring about a situation which directly contradicts his
aesthetic judgement, something which he admits Willingly. It
is similar in the second story, even if the situation is somewhat
more quotidian. A French colleague of mine, Alain David, was
taking tea with Levinas at the latter's apartment on the Rue
Michel-Ange in Paris. After having fInished their fIrst cup
of tea, Alain David asked, 'Monsieur, est-ce que vous en voulez
une autre?', and Levinas answered, 'Non merci, je suis mono-
the-iste'. Once again, the essential feature of the joke is that
Levinas was indeed a rather observant monotheist. Thus,
the humour is here directed by Levinas against himself, he
finds himself ridiculous. Both these anecdotes remind me of
the great Tommy Cooper gag, 'So I got home, and the phone
was ringing. I picked it up, and said "Who's speaking please?"
And a voice said "You are'''.
SMILING - THE MIND'S MIME
Such anecdotes, it is true, make us laugh out loud. But when
they are recalled or ruminated upon they also cause us to smile
ruefully, even wistfully. Iris this smile of knOwing self-mockery
and self-ridicule that interests me and that I would like to
discuss in closing. George Meredith writes of. 'that slim feasting
smile, shaped like a long-bow, was once a big round satyr's
laugh'. Yet, it is this finely tempered smile that is, for him, the
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'sunlight of the mind, mental richness rather than nOisy
enormity'.18 In an aphorism entitled 'Laughter and smiling',
Nietzsche makes an analogous pOint,
The more joyful and certain the mind becomes. the more we
learn to forget loud laughter and put in its place a continual
spirited smiling. a sign of its astonishment at the countless
hidden comforts of a good existenceY
In many languages, smiling is a diminutive of laughter. In
Latin, one distinguishes ridere from subridere, laughter from sub-
or under-laughter. The same is true in French and Italian: rire
and sourire, ridere and sorridere. In German, one has the distinction
between das Lachen and das Lucheln, or 'little laughter' . This is also
present in Swedish in the distinction between skratta and
smaskratta, and elsewhere. In English, being the bastard bunch
that we are, 'laughter' comes from the shared old Germanic
root, whilst 'smile' comes from the Danish smile or smila, which
also means 'small laugh' .
Smiling differs from laughter because it lacks the latter's
explosiveness. It is silent and subdued. The smile speaks, but
not out loud. Its eloquence is reticent. The noisy physicality
of laughter is substituted by a more gentle play of the facial
features. The simple creasing of the lines around the eyes and
mouth in smiling at once deepens, softens and opens the face.
Smiling is comic relief that throws the face into relief,
signifying a break in our usual flow of inhibitions. A smile,
it is true, can mark the beginning or end of a laugh, but it
can also take its place. Physical existence is framed by the smile
of a new born baby and that which follows our death-throes.
Although he does not actually mention smiling, Freud notes
that 'It is true that humorous pleasure never reaches the
intensity of the pleasure in the comic or in jokes, that it never
fmds vent in hearty laughter'. 20 So, the yield of pleasure in
humour is quite small. It is certainly not the buffonic back-
slapping Rabelaisian guffaw of the carnivalesque, but rather the
modesty of the chuckle or the humble smirk. Yet, for me, it
is the smile that is powerfully emblematic of the human, the
quiet acknowledgement of one's limitedness.
In a wonderful essay, Plessner calls smiling the mind's
mime, die Mimik des Geistes.
21
What he means by this is that
smiling, like thinking, assumes a certain distance from one's
immediate surroundings and even from one's body, as we saw
above. There is restraint and discretion in the smile. It is an
expression that takes up a certain distance from expression _
a diminutive expression. As such, I would wager, a smile is
the mark of the eccentricity of the human situation: between
beasts and angels, between being and having, between the
physical and the metaphysical. We are thoroughly material
beings that are unable to be that materiality. Such is the curse
of reflection, but such also is the source of our dignity.
Humour is the daily bread of that dignity.
THE RISUS PURUS
I shall leave the final words to Beckett, whose early hero
Belacqua counted all the smiles in Dante's Commedia. Now, there
are many significant smiles in Beckett.
22
For example, in Watt,
our hero is described in terms which echo my discussion
of peditological humour,
Watt's smile was further peculiar in this. that it seldom
came singly. but was followed after a short time by another.
less pronounced it is true. In thi? it resembled the fart. And
it even sometimes happened that a third. very weak and
fleeting. was found necessary. before the face could be at
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rest again. But this was rare. And it will be a long time now
before Watt smiles again, unless something very
unexpected turns up, to upset him.23
Again, in Molloy where Moran is hallucinatingYoudi's words to
Gaber,
Gaber, Gaber, he said, life is a thing of beauty, Gaber, and a
joy for ever. He brought his face nearer mine. A joy for ever,
he said, a thing of beauty, Moran, and a joy for ever. He
smiled. I closed my eyes. Smiles are all very nice in their
own way, very heartening, but at a reasonable distance.
I said, Do you think he meant human life?24
One also thinks of the broad smile, 'toothless for preference' ,
that cuts across the listener's face at the end of the 1976
dramatic piece 'That Time'.2s But perhaps the most intriguing
smile does not belong to one of Beckett's 'gallery of mori-
bunds', but to Beckett himself It is taken from a non-fictional
text that was written for Radio Eireann (although there is no
record of it ever having been broadcast) in June 1946. Beckett
reflects upon his experiences working in an Irish Red Cross
hospital in St-L6, Normandy, after the devastation of the D-Day
landings. After an intense Allied bombardment, St-L6 changed
hands between the Germans and the Americans for six weeks
and was referred to by the locals as 'the capital of the ruins'.
Towards the end of the account, Beckett writes,
What was important was not our having penicillin when they
had none, nor the unregarding munificence of the French
Ministry of Reconstruction [as it was then called!' but the
occasional glimpse obtained, by us in them and, who knows,
by them in us [for they are an imaginative people!. of that
smile at the human conditions as little to be extinguished by
bombs as to be broadened by the elixirs of Burroughs and
Welcome, - the smile deriding, among other things, the
having and the not having, the giving and the taking,
sickness and health.
26
For me, it is this smile - deriding the having and the not
having, the pleasure and the pain, the sublimity and suffering
of the human situation - that is the essence of humour. This
is the risus purus, the highest laugh, the laugh that laughs at the
laugh, that laughs at that which is unhappy, the mirthless laugh
of the epigraph to this book. Yet, this smile does not bring
unhappiness, but rather elevation and liberation, the lucidity
of consolation. This is why, melancholy animals that we are,
human beings are also the most cheerful. We smile and find
ourselves ridiculous. Our wretchedness is our greatness.
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Notes
ONE INTRODUCTION
The Philosophy of Laughter and Humour, ed. John Morreall (State University
of New York Press, Albany, 1987).
2 Henri Bergson, Laughter (The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore,
1980), p.65.
3 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, ed. G. H. Von Wright (Blackwell,
Oxford, 1980), p.83.
4 Mary Douglas, 'Do dogs laugh?' and 'Jokes' from Implicit Meanings. Essays
in Anthropology (Routledge, London, 1975).
5 Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (Penguin, London, 1983),
pp.232-3.
6 Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgement, trans. J. c. Meredith (Oxford
University Press, Oxford, 1952), pp. I 96-203.
7 Philip Larkin, High Windows (Faber, London, 1974), p. I I.
8 Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, eds. M.
andJ. New (Penguin, London, 1997), p.58.
9 Helmuth Plessner, 'Das Lkheln', in Mit anderen Augen. Aspekte einer
philosophischen Anthropologie (Reclam, Stuttgart, 1982), p.185.
10 Jacques Le Goff, 'Laughter in the Middle Ages', in Jan Bremmer and
Herman Roodenburg (eds) , A Cultural History of Humour (Polity,
Cambridge, 1997), p.45.
I I Trevor Griffiths, Comedians (Faber, London, 1976), p.20.
12 Andre Breton, Anthologie de'I:humour noir (Jean-Jacques Pauvert, Paris,
1966).
13 Douglas, Implicit Meanings, op.dt. p:96.
14 I have benefited from correspondence ' with Samantha Amfeld on this
pOint. I also learnt a great deal from conversations at Witten-Herdecke
University in Germany with Dirk Baecker and Frank Dievernich.
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IS Jonathan Swift, Selected Poems, ed. C. H. Sisson (Carcanet, Manchester,
1977), pp.85-6.
16 Cited in The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century, ed. M. Price (Oxford
University Press, Oxford, 1973), p.236.
17 M.A. Screech, Laughter at the Foot of the Cross (Penguin, London, 1997).
18 'Concerning the unpredictable', in Forewords and Afterwords (Faber, London,
1973), p.472. My thanks to Peter Howarth for alerting me to this
passage.
19 Peter L. Berger, Redeeming Laughter. The Comic Dimension of Human Experience
(De Gruyter, Berlin and New York, 1997), p.210.
20 Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (Verso, London, 1974), p.247.
21 From various Marx Brothers' scripts, Peter Chelsom's wonderful 1994
film Funny Bones, and Samuel Beckett's Endgame (Faber, London, 1958).
22 The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, op.cit. p.58.
TWO IS HUMOUR HUMAN?
Chapter X, p.29.
2 MoUoy, from The Beckett Trilogy (Picador, London, 1979), p.93.
3 See Screech, Laughter at the Foot of the Cross (Penguin, London, 1997).
Thanks to Peter Howarth for his correspondence on this question.
4 Implicit Meanings, op.cit. pp.83-9.
(/) 5 See 'Autobiographische Einfiihrung' and 'Der Mensch als Lebewesen'
2
from Mit anderen Augen. Aspekte einer philosophische Anthropologie (Reclam, 0
z
Stuttgart, 1982).
..;:t
6 lowe this formulation to Sue Wiseman.
7 Christopher Smart, Selected Poems, ed. K. Williamson and M. Walsh
(Penguin, London, 1990), pp.105-8.
8 Jonathan Swift, The Complete Poems, ed. P. Rogers (Yale University Press,
New Haven and London, 1983), p.514.
9 Cited in Berger, Redeeming Laughter, p.55.
10 Petronius, Satyricon, ed. and trans. R. Bracht Branham (Everyman,
London, 1996), p.66.
II Will Self, Great Apes (Bloomsbury, London, 1997), p.15.
12 In Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys (Bloomsbury, London, 1998),
pp.23-42.
13 Culture and Value, op.cit. p.78.
14 See the Hrst of the television programmes that Deleuze recorded for the
15
16
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
II
12
13
Franco-German channel Arte in the last years of his life: 'A comme
animal', in L'Abecedaire de Gilles Deleuze (Video Editions Montparnasse, Paris,
1997).
Thomas Bernhard, Stiicke 2 (Suhrkamp, Frankfurt a.M., 1988),
pp.273-4.
Cited in Raymond Geuss's hugely entertaining Parrots, Poets, Philosophers
and Good Advice (Hearing Eye, London, 1999), p.8.
THREE LAUGHING AT YOUR BODY - POST-COLONAL
THEORY
See Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture (Beacon
Press, Boston, 1955). And see Jacques Le Goff, 'Laughter in the Middle
Ages', in A Cultural History of Humour, op.cit. pp.40-53.
Redeeming Laughter, op.cit. p.46.
The mm is Carry on Cleo from 1962, and recall Caesar's apostrophe,
'Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me'. For Williams's final words,
see The Kenneth Williams Diaries, ed. Russell Davies (HarperCollins, London,
1993), p.801.
Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Helene Iswolsky (Indiana
University Press, BlOOmington, 1984), see Chapter 6.
Will Self, Cock and Bull (Bloomsbury, London, 1992), p.54.
Gulliver's Travels (Penguin, London, 1967), p.130.
The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. F. N. Robinson (Oxford University Press,
Oxford, 1957), p.54 .
lowe this felicitous expression to Gregg Horowitz, who replied to an
earlier version of my ideas on humour at Vanderbilt University in March
1998.
Rabelais, Gargantua, trans. T. Urquhart and P. Motteux (Bodley Head,
London, 1927), Vol.!, p.51.
Swift, The Complete Poems, op.cit. p.466.
Beckett, MoUoy, Malone Dies, The Unnameable (Picador, London, 1979), p.30.
MoUoy, Malone Dies, The op.cit. p.179.
On these points, see Aaron Gurevich, 'Bahktin and his theory of
carnival', in A Cultural History of Humour, pp.54-60. Also, see Steven
Connor's excellent, 'Art, criticism and laughter: Terry Eagleton on
aesthetics', unpublished typescript. Connor shows how preoccupied
Eagleton's work has been with the question oflaughter and decisively
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argues that this is based on a curious overestimation of the work of
Bakhtin, where, for Eagleton, laughter is always identified with the force
of the body. Thus, the Bakhtinian heroization of corporeality and
materiality is continued in Eagleton's aesthetic theory.
14 High Windows, p.19.
15 Cited in James Knowlson, Damned to Fame. The Life of Samuel Beckett
(Bloomsbury, London, 1996), p.170.
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
2
3
4
5
FOUR THE LAUGHING MACHINE - A NOTE ON BERGSON
AND WYNDHAM LEWIS
Henri Bergson, Laughter, op.cit. p.97.
Breton, Anthologie de J'humour noir, op.cit. p.14.
In Wyndham Lewis, The Complete Wild Body (Black Sparrow Press, Santa
Barbara, 1982), pp.158-9.
Ibid, p.159.
Ibid, p.159.
Descartes, Meditationes de prima philosophia (Vrin, Paris, 1978), pp.31-2.
Bergson, Laughter, op.cit. p. 9 3.
Ibid, p.94.
FIVE FOREIGNERS ARE FUNNY - THE ETHICITY AND
ETHNICITY OF HUMOUR
'Humour, laughter and the field: reflections from anthropology', A
Cultural History of Humour, p.227.
ImpliCit Meanings, op.cit. p.84.
Cited in Le Grand Robert de la Langue Franfaise, 10th Edition, Paris, 1985,
Vol. 5, p.288. This text by Valery is also briefl.y discussed in the Preface
to Breton's Anthologie de J'humour noir, op.cit. p.11.
'Boys' Weeklies' from Inside the Whale and Other Essays (Penguin, London,
1957), p.187.
On ethnic humour, the definitive study is Christie Davies's Ethnic Humor
Around the World (lndiana University Press, BlOOmington, 1990), which
is a rich, compendious and extremely helpful work. Davies prOvides a
thorough taxonomy of ethnic humour, persuaSively identifying
surpriSingly common patterns amongst ethnic jokes from all across the
world that can be divided into jokes about the stupid and canny.
Therefore, despite the undoubted relativity of the butt of jokes in
different contexts, their form remains remarkably similar. Davies
outlines the same argument in 'Stupidity and rationality: jokes from
the iron cage', Humour in Society (Macmillan, Basingstoke, 1988),
pp.1-32, where he views jokes about stupidity not as ethnic jokes
viciously directed towards hated others, but as a reaction to the
excessive rationalization of society. As such, ethnic jokes can be forms
of protest. Personally, I have my doubts.
6 Ted Cohen, Jokes. Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters (University of
Chicago Press, Chicago, 1999), p.21.
7 George Eliot, 'German wit: Heinrich Heine', in Selected Essays, Poems and
Other Writings, ed. A.S. Byatt and N. Warren (Penguin, Harmondsworth,
1990), p.73.
8 Huitieme Edition, Hachette, Paris, 1935, p.29.
9 Bremmer and Roodenburg, A Cultural History of Humour, pp.1-2.
10 Encyclopedie, Nouvelle impression en facsimile de la premiere edition de 1751-80
(Fromann Verlag, Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, 1967), Vol. VIII, p.353.
11 Breton, Anthologie de J'humour noir, pp.19-21.
12 See Richard Kearney, On Stories (Routledge, London, 2002).
13 Cioffi, Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer (Cambridge University Press,
Cambridge, 1998), p.18.
14 Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, trans. J. Strachey (Penguin, London,
1976), p.766.
15 Comedians, op.cit. p.23.
SIX THE JOKE'S ON ALL OF US - HUMOUR AS SENSUS
COMMUNIS
Jfugen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol. 1 (Polity,
Cambridge, 1984), pp.18-23 and 38-42.
2 Alfred Schutz, The Structures of the Life-World (Northwestern University
Press, Evanston, 1963), pp.21-35.
3 On this history of the (dea of sensus communis, see Gadamer, Truth and Method
(Sheed and Ward, London, 1975), pp.19-25.
4 In Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Tinaes, Vol. 1-2 (Bobbs-Merrill,
New York, 1964), p.49.
5 Ibid, p.62.
6 Ibid, p . 6 3 ~
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7 Ibid, p.61.
8 Ibid, p.51.
9 On this point, see Derek Brewer, 'Prose jest-books mainly in the
sixteenth to eighteenth centuries in England', in Bremmer and
Roodenburg, A Cultural History of Humour, op.cit. pp.1 04-6.
lOOn this pOint, see Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist, Mikhail Bakhtin
(Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1984), pp.295-320.
II Berger, Redeeming Laughter, op.cit. p.215.
12 Shaftesbury, op.cit. p.85.
13 Ibid, p.53.
14 Ibid, p.73.
IS On this topic, see Jean-Paul Larthomas, De Shaftesbury d Kant (Didier
Erudition, Paris, 1985); and Fabienne Brugere, Le gout. Art, passions et societe
(Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 2000), which has a useful
chapter on Shaftesbury (pp.31-6 1).
16 Kant, The Critique of Judgement, trans. J. c. Meredith (Oxford University
Press, Oxford, 1952), p.203.
17 Ibid, p.52.
18 I am indebted to Frank Cioffi on this point. See his Wittgenstein on Freud
and Frazer (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1998).
19 Ibid, pp.6-7.
20 Bergson, Laughter, op.cit. p.64.
21 Cioffi, Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer, op.cit. p.277.
22 Cited in Cioffi, op.cit. p.266.
23 Cited in Peter Berger, Redeeming Laughter, op.cit. p.xvii.
SEVEN WHY THE SUPER-EGO IS YOUR AMIGO - MY

'Preface to the third revised English edition', The Interpretation of Dreams
(Penguin, London, 1976), p.56.
2 In Freud, Standard Edition Vol. XXI (Hogarth Press, London, 1961),
pp.161-6; all page references are to this edition. The essay is also
included in the Penguin Freud Library, Vol. 14, Art and Literature
(Penguin, London, 1985), pp.426-33. I have been unable to find much
secondary literature on this essay. There is a good introduction by Peter
Gay to the German edition of Der Witz und seine Beziehung rum Unbewussten
(Fischer, Frankfurt a.M., 1992), which concludes with a discussion of
the 1927 paper. There is a collection of French papers, L'Humour dans
l'oeuvre de Freud (Editions Two Cities, Paris, 1989). To be frank, with the
exception of Daniel Rose's 'L'humour selon Ie triple point de vue', these
papers are sadly not much use and rather too fond of jargon and cliquish
self-reference. Gilles Deleuze makes good use of Freud's essay in his
presentation of Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs, where he advances the
intriguing claim that the masochistic relation to law and prohibition
is essentially humorous (see Deleuze and Sacher-Masoch, Masochism
(Zone Books, New York, 1991), pp.87-8 and 124-6).
3 Ibid, p.161.
4 Ibid, p.166.
5 Ibid, p.163.
6 'Mourning and melancholia' in Penguin Freud Vol. II, On Metapsychology
(Penguin, London, 1984), p.256.
7 Ibid, p.255.
8 'Dostoevsky and parricide', in Freud, On Art and Literature, op.cit.
pp.437-60.
9 'Mourning and melancholia', op.cit. p.262.
10 'Instincts and their vicissitudes', in On Metapsychology, op.cit.
pp.113-38.
II Cited in Stefan Kanfer, Groucho. The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx
(Penguin, London, 2000), p.432.
12 I borrow the concept of acknowledgement from Stanley Cavell.
Although it is all over his work, see his 'Knowing and acknowledging'
from Must We Mean What We Say? (Cambridge University Press,
Cambridge, 1976), pp.238-66. One fmds an analogous run of
argument, linking remorseful mourning to the comic as part of a
critique of heroism, in Rowan Williams, Lost Icons. Reflections on Cultural
Bereavement (T&T Clark, Edinburgh, 2000), pp.129-38.
13 Op. cit. p.166.
14 Cited in Janine Chasseguet-Srnirgel's excellent book, The Ego Ideal, trans.
P. Barrows (Free Association, London, 1985), p.170. I owe this
reference to Joel Whitebook.
IS Ibid, p.18 7.
16 For an example of an approach to laughter inspired by Bataille, see
Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, 'The laughter of being' , in Bataille: A Critical Reader
(Blackwell, Oxford, 1998), pp.146-66.
17 Beckett, Proust and Three Dialogues (Calder, London, 1949), pp.8-9.
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18 George Meredith, An Essay on Comedy (The Johns Hopkins University
Press, Baltimore, 1980), pp.47-8.
19 From Human all too Human, cited in Stefan Dietzsch (ed.), Luzifer lacht.
Philosophische Betrachtungen von Nietzsche bis Tabori (Reclam, Leipzig, 1993),
p.25.
20 Freud, 'Humour', op.cit. p.166.
21 'DasLache1n', in MitanderenAugen (Reclam, Stuttgart, 1982), pp.183-97.
22 I would like to thank Theo Bertram for his invaluable research on smiles
in Beckett and for sending me his paper 'Beckett's mere smiles'.
23 Watt, op.cit. p.25
24 Molloy, op.cit. pp.151-2.
25 In Samuel Beckett. The Complete Dramatic Works (Faber, London, 1986), p.395.
26 Beckett, 'The capital of the ruins', in As the Story was Told: Uncollected and Late
Prose (Calder, London, 1990), pp.17-28.
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Thanks
Many audiences in all sorts of places have suffered me talking
about humour over the last few years, and I hereby promise
not to do so anymore. Enough is enough. Having had the good
fortune to speak publicly about humour, I must confess that
a lot of the research for this book was done by my auditors,
who gave, sent or emailed many precious references that the
reader will find scattered throughout this book. Worse still,
many of my third-year undergraduate and graduate students
at Essex, Paris and elsewhere have been forced to suffer my
awful jokes, and it is a token of their humanity that they fed
me better lines than I fed them, which are also scattered here
and there.
As for specific thanks, I must repay a number of outstanding
debts: to Cecilia Sj6holm, for bearing my jokes with patience
and discussing all the arguments in this book with me; to Elliot
Jurist for strict Freudian comic therapy particularly at the
beginning of this project; to Joel Whitebook, Bernard Flynn,
Gregg Horowitz, Judith Walz and Max Pensky for their sharp
feedback on a version of Chapter 6, which was presented in
December 2000 to Philosophical Association in
New York; to Tony Bruce at Routledge for his constant support
with this book and with the series Qf which it forms part; to
my partner-in-crime, Richard Kearney; to Roger Moss, who
will find some of his ideas reflected back to him in Chapter
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2; to Frank Cioffi, who will find something familiar in Chapter
6. I would also like to thank people who have given me various
texts and references at different times, sometimes without
realizing it: David Hannigan, Erica Fudge, Theo Bertram,
Shohini Chauduri, Jonathan Dollimore, Moira Gatens, Peter
Howarth, Keith Ansell-Pearson, Greg Fried, Eiharis Mascha,
Laura Salisbury, Chris Ellis, Bob Vallier, Sue Wiseman and Alain
David. Thanks finally to Laura Hopkins for providing a
conclusion of sorts: 'Pas de lieu Rhone que nous'.
Although it very well might not, indeed should not,
and hopefully does not appear so, this book is the flipside
of an earlier book of mine, called Very Little ... Almost Nothing
(Routledge, 1997). Although the latter is all about death and
appears rather sombre, this book might appear less sombre.
But appearances can be deceptive.
The publisher would like to thank the Reunion des Musees
Nationaux and the Chalcographie du Louvre for permission to
reprint the illustrations in this book from: De la Physionomie
Humaine et Animale: Dessin de Charles Le Brun graves pour la Chalcographie
du musee Napoleon en 1806, Paris: Editions de la Reunion des
Musees Nationaux, 2000.
abjection 96-8, 102
abstraction 87-8
Adorno, Theodor 19, 36
Aesop 29, 31
alienation 43
Allen, Woody 98
anaesthesia 87-8
anamnesis 86-7
Anaxagoras 25
Animal Farm 3 1
27-31, 34-8, 41-3
anthropology 2,5, 17,27-8,
65-6
anti -depressants 1 0 1-2
anti-Semitism 75
Aristotle 2, 25, 98-9
assent 85-6
Auden, W. H. 16-17
Bakhtin, Mikhail 44, 51, 82
Batailles, Georges 1 05
bathos 6-7,37,47
Baudelaire, Charles 9
Beckett, Bill 52
Beckett, Samuel 25, 32-3;
ethnicity 57, 73;
theory 47-50, 52; super-ego
105-6,109-11
Index
being 42-5, 109
Berger, Peter 17, 31-2, 42, 83
Bergson, Henri 2, 4, 25; laughing
machine 55-9, 61; sensus
communis 87
Bernhard, Thomas 36-7
bestiality 29-31
Bible 26-7, 42
Blazing SadclJes 48
body 7-9, 41-52, 60
Bogart, Humphrey 98
L
::l
Breton, Andre 9-1 0, 3 1; ethnicity
0
E
7 1, 73; laughing machine 57;
::l
I
super-ego 94
c
0
Britain 68-9, 71-3, 84-5
t--
Brooks, Mel 48
N
buffoonery 82, 83
Cana, wedding at 26
82
cartoons 14, 31, 55-6
cathexis 100
Catholicism 83
Chaplin, Charlie 57-8, 67
,Chasseguet-Smirgel, Janine 104-5
Chaucer, Geoffrey 29, 46
chauvinism 84-5
Chelsom, Peter 50
Christianity 9, I 6-18, 83-4 eccentricity 27-9, 36, 41, 43
Haberrnas, Jiirgen 79, 86-7 examples 10-12, 19; good/bad
Cicero I, 28, 80 Ego and the rd, The 103
Ham 27 14-16; humanity 31-2;
Cioffi, Frank 74, 86, 89 Eliot, George 70 Hamlet 99 laughing machine 57;
Cleese, John 44 Encyclopedie 72 Hardy, Oliver 57 phenomenology 3-6, 66,
cock and bull stories 7, 21-2, 29 epoche 88 having 42-5, 109 89-91; sensus communis 79-91;
Coen Brothers 88
Erasmus 9, 16 Hazlitt, William 25
super-ego 93,95,101-2,106;
Cohen, Ted 69
ethics 102 Hebrew 41-2
unconscious 93-111
Comedians 9-10
ethnicity 3, 12, 65-76, 94 Heidegger, Martin 75
Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious
commedia dell' arte 5 I, 67
ethnocentrism 66 Heine, Heinrich 70
55, 93
conscience 96-7
ethnos 68-73
history 2
Jonson, Ben 71
Cooper, Tommy 107
ethology 28
Hobbes, Thomas 2, 6, 12; Joyce, James 73,75,97
Comeille, Pierre 72
ethos 68-73
ethnicity 70; sensus communis
Jubilate Agno 30
Critique of Judgement, The 85
Europe 15, 67, 70-1
81-2; super-ego 95
Juvenal 31-4, 80
culture 28-9,51,65-8,83,87
explosions 8-9, 16,90
homophobia 96
Kafka, Franz 31,35,106-7
D-Day 110
Falstaff, Sir John 5 I
Horace 31-4,80
Kant, Immanuel 3, 5-6, 36-8,48,
Dadaism 37
Far Side, The 3 I
Hugo, Victor 72
85-6
D'Alembert, Jean Le Rond 72
Fargo 88
Huizinga, Johan 41
Kearney, Richard 73
Dante 109
feminism II
Hulot, Monsieur 44, 88
Keaton, Buster 57
David, lain 107
film 43, 48, 50; sensus communis
humans 27-9
Kierkegaard, S0ren 3, 17
Deleuze, Gilles 35
85-6; silent 57, 67
I'humournoir 10, 71, 73, 88, 94-5
Killigrew, Henry 82
depression 50-2,101-2
Flaubert, Gustave 58
Hungary 106-7
Kundera, Milan 5
fools 82 Husser!, Edmund 60
x
Descartes, Rene 8-9, 21, 42, 60-2
x
OJ
France 67,69,72-3,83 Hutcheson, Francis 3
Langland, William 97
OJ
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detachment 60-2
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Freud, Sigmund 2-3, 9, 49; hydraulic model 89
language issues 87, 108
c::
co
de territorialization 35
ethnicity 75; laughing machine
Larkin, Philip 6, 51
0-
N
N
Dictionnaire de I'Acadfmie Franfaise 72
55; sensus communis 88-9; super-
Immanuel Kant 37-8
Larson, Gary 3 I
Diderot, Denis 72
ego 93-111
incongruity theory 2, 3
laughter 7-9, 14, 16-18; body
digreSSions 20-2
fun 12-14
Interpretation of Dreams, The 75, 93
41-52; humanity 25; humans
disenchantment 83-5
Funny Bones 50
intersubjective assent 85-6
27-9; language issues 108;
disgust 31-4
intoxication 101
dissensus communis 18-20, 90
Galen 25
Ireland 72-3
machines 55-62; mirthless
Don Quixote 56, 88
Germany 69-70, 85
irony 2,72
49-50, 52; self-understanding
Dostoevsky, Fyodor 99
Gnosticism 44
105-7
Izzard, Eddie 87
Douglas, Mary 5, 10,27,66
grammar 79
Laurel, Stan 57
Driessen, Henk 65
Great Apes 31, 32-3
Jesus Christ 25-6
Le Goff, Jacques 9
dualism 42
Griffiths, Trevor 9-10,76
Jokebook 89, 93, 94
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm von 37
Gulliver's Travels 15, 30-1, 36,
jokes 1-7; anamnesis 86-7; Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim 85
Ecce Homo 99 45
dignity 96; ethnicity 69;
Levinas, Emmanuel 106, 107
Lewis, Wyndham 58-9, 62 Morreali, J. 2-3 Protestantism 83 Sennett, Mack 57
liberation 9-10,76 mourning 99-100 Proust 105 sensus communis 18-20, 79-91
Life of Brian, The 26 Miinchhausen, Baron Von 56 Prozac 102 sexism 12, 74
literary history 2
Nagel, Thomas 60
psychoanalysis 102-4 sexuality 96
Uoyd, Harold 57 Pythagoras 25 Shaftesbury, Anthony, Earl of 18,
locality 68
narcissism 96, 99-1 0 1, 1 04-5
80-4
London Underground 59-60, 62
Nero, Emperor 32 Quintillian 2
shaggy dog stories 7, 29
Lorenz, Konrad 27
Nicholson, Jack 102
Rabelais, Franl=ois 9, 25, 46, 109 situation change 9-11
Lowell, James Russell 3
Nietzsche, Friedrich 52, 99,
Rabelais and his World 82-3 situationism 11
Lukacs, Gyorgy 106-7
105-6, 108
racism 6, 12, 66 slavery 82
Noah 26-7
Radio Eireann 11 0 Smart, Christopher 30
machines 55-62 Nun's Priest's Tale, The 29
Man and His Dog, A 27
raillery 81
smiling 5,27-8, 107-9, 111
Man Meets Dog 27
object-loss 97 reactionary humour 11-1 2 social contract 5
management consultants 12-14
Oedipus 95, 103-4 Red Cross 110 SOciology 2
mania 99-101,105
On the Parts of Animals 25 Reich, Annie 104 Socrates 25
Mann, Thomas 27
Ora tore, De 1 relativity 74-5, 79 solipSism 86
Marcus Aurelius 80
Orwell, George 31-2, 68-9 relief theory 2-3 souls 45-50
Marx Brothers 19, 57, 101-2, 106
Oxford English Dictionary 71 Renaissance 9, 83 Spencer, Herbert 3
maturation 103, 105 parochialism 73-5, 87
repression 3,12,75-6,82,96 Spengler, Oswald 83
ridicule 1 1-1 2, 72; sensus communis Stalinism 83
Meditations 60
parody 5
81; super-ego 94-9,103,107, Statius 38
melancholia 68,71,94,96-101 particular 66-8
111 Sterne, Laurence 16, 20-2, 73,
x Mendelssohn, Moses 85 Pascal, Blaise 99
106
x
ClJ rire, Le 4, 55 ClJ
"0
Meredith, George 107-8 Pnssions of the Soul, The 8
"0
C
risus purus 49, 109-11 stoicism 49
c
messianism 16-18,26,90-1 peditology 47-50, 109
a rites 5, 10 structured fun 12-14
M
meta-jokes 69-70 perversion 104-5
M
Roman de Renard, Le 29 subversion 82
Metamorphosis 3 1 Petronius 32
super-ego 93-111
metaphysics 43-5, 50-2, 60, 62, phenomenology 3-6, 20, 65-6, Samsa, Gregor 32
superiority theory 2-3, 70, 95-6
67, 109 88-91 satire 31,35-6,72,83
surrealism 1 0, 35
Middle Ages 9, 83 physics 43-5,50-1,60, 109 Satyricon 32
Swift, Jonathan 14-16, 31, 35-6;
Miller's Tale, The 46 Plato 2-3 scapegoating 1 2, 76
ethnicity 72-3; post-colonal
Milton, John 6 Plessner, Helmuth 8-9,28-9, 109 scatology 45-7
theory 45, 47; sensus communis
miracles 26 Plutarch 58 Scheler, Max 42
mirthless laughter 49-50, 52 Pope, Alexander 15, 31 Schopenhauer, Arthur 3
85; super-ego 106
Modem Times 57 Porphyry 25 Schutz, Alfred 80, 86 . theology 2, 25-6, 82
Molloy 47-9, 110 post-colonal theory 41-52 Screech. M. A. 16, 26 theories of humour 2-3, 18,
Momaigne, Michel E. de 99 Powers, Austin 106 Self, Will 31-3, 44-5 88-9, 95
Monty Python 26, 74 Praise of Folly 16 senescence 5 1
Theory of Communicative Action, The 87
x
ClJ
"'0
c:
N
C"l
thereness 86-7
thrownness 12, 75
Times Literary Supplement, The 47-8
timing 6-7
tomfoolery 83
totalitarianism 82
transference 1 03
Tristram Shandy 7, 20-2, 50
unconscious 3, 55, 93-111
United States 13
universalism 86
urbanity 3 1-4
Valery, Paul 67
vices 15
Vico, Giambattista 80
Victoria, Queen 80
Virgin Mary 25-6
Voltaire 72
Vorticism 58
Waters, Eddie 9-10, 11
Watt 109-10
Wilde, Oscar 73
William III, King 82
Williams, Kenneth 43, 52
Wittgenstein, Ludwig 4, 18,35,
86, 89, 99
Wodehouse, P. G. 11
World ofJeeves, The 1 1

SIMON CRITCHLEY

On
Humour

London and New York

First published 2002 by Routledge 11 New Fetter Lane. London EC4P 4EE Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 29 West 35th Street. New York. NY 10001

Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group

© 2002 Simon Critchley
Typeset in Joanna and DIN by Keystroke. Jacaranda Lodge. Wolverhampton Printed and bound in Great Britain by TJ International Ltd. Padstow. Cornwall All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic. mechanical. or other means. now known or hereafter invented. including photocopying and recording. or in any information storage or retrieval system. without permission in writing from the publishers.

The bitter, the hollow and - haw! haw! - the mirthless. The bitter true l Well, which is the mirthless laugh is the laugh laughs at that well. But not good, it is the ethical laugh. The dianoetic laugh, down the laughs -at that -which is not true, it of laughs, hollow laugh snout haw! so. It isthe laugh is the intellectual the risus purus, theNot good! Not at the laugh, the beholding, the laugh. laugh laughing saluting of the highest joke, in a word the laugh that laughs - silence please - at that which is unhappy.
Samuel Beckett, Watt

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A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

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0-415-25121-4 [pbkl

Urbanity and Disgust Outlandish Animals Kant's Parrot 27 29 31 34 36 Laughing at Your Body . Bad and Gulliver Laughter's Messianic Power Sensus and Dissensus Communis Tristram Shandy.Introduction One 1 Three Theories of Humour The Phenomenology of a Joke Comic Timing Laughter as an Explosion Expressed With the Body Changing the Situation Reactionary Humour Structured Fun Jokes: Good. or Back to the Things Themselves Is Humour Human? 2 3 6 7 9 11 12 14 16 18 20 25 Two Eccentric Humans A Small Bestiary Horace and Juvenal.Post-Colonal Theory Three Being and Having Physics and Metaphysics Our Souls. Arseholes Peditology The Black Sun at the Centre of the Comic Universe 41 42 43 45 47 50 .

My Sense of Humour and Freud's Seven 93 Finding Oneself Ridiculous Subject as Abject Object Melancholy Philosophers 94 96 98 .Now That's Funny How Humour Begins in Philosophy Foreigners are Funny .a Note on Bergson and Wyndham Lewis Four 55 58 59 A Cabbage Reading Flaubert .the Ethicity and Ethnicity of Humour Five Manic Intoxication Humour as Anti-Depressant Super-Ego I and II Ideal Sickness Laughter I and II Smiling . an Englishman and an Irishman .Humour as 73 75 Notes Bibliography Thanks Index 113 121 125 127 Sensus Communis 2 c 2 c u 0 "- Six 79 ":.The Laughing Machine .the Mind's Mime The Risus Purus 99 101 102 104 105 107 109 65 66 68 71 The Universal and the Particular Ethos and Ethnos There was a Frenchman... Having the Courage of our Parochialism Cornic Repression The Joke's on All of Us . Shaftesbury's Reasonable Raillery Disenchantment of Folly or Democratization of Wit? Intersubjective Assent Jokes as Everyday Anamnesis Anaesthesia of the Heart The Phenomenology of Phenomenology 80 83 85 86 87 88 IJl C 2 c 0 u "~ Why the Super-Ego is Your Amigo .

'The most common kind of joke is that in which we expect one thing and another is said. On second thoughts. Examples are legion. a similar tension between expectation and actuality might itself be claimed in the relation between the various objects of humour and any theoretical explanation thereof. Charles Le Brun Jokes tear holes in our usual predictions about the empirical world. hamsters and bears. between expectation and actuality. and not by the things themselves Ipragmata]. Of course. to farting professors and incontinent ballerinas. Humour defeats our expectations by producing a novel actuality. The comic world is not simply' die verkehrte Welt'. from boy bishops reciting learned sermons.. its social practices turned inside out. and common sense rationality left in tatters. to straight linguistic inversion: 'I could wait for you until the cows come home. One already finds Cicero writing in De Oratore. the inverted or upSide-down world of philosophy.Introduction One Human beings are troubled with the opinions Idogmata] they have of things. the difference being that a theory of humour is not o E ~ I. to talking dogs. I'd rather wait for the cows until you come home'. ~ I o I: . but rather the world with its causal chains broken. as cited by Laurence Sterne Three heads of an eagle and three heads of men in relation to the eagle Source: Cnac-Mnam/Dist RMN. of course.. Epictetus. this is hardly news. here our own disappOinted expectation makes us laugh' . We might say that humour is produced by a disjunction between the way things are and the way they are represented in the joke. by changing the situation in which we find ourselves.

A joke explained is a joke misunderstood. Hobbes. When it comes to what amuses us. joking is a specific and meaningful practice that the . 2 The relief theory emerges in the nineteenth century in the work of Herbert Spencer. but more in the areas of history. it is a surprisingly vast field. theology and history of religion. represented by Plato. As James Russell Lowell writes in 1870. Quintillian and. in our selves. but the theory is best known in the version given in Freud's 1905 book Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. not so much in philosophy. Humour is produced by the experience of a felt incongruity between what we know or expect to be the case. 3 The incongruity theory can be traced to Francis Hutcheson's Reflections Upon Laughter from 1750. Laughter is that 'passion. and we shall have recourse to it in the discussion of ethnic humour. persons who might not otherwise feel themselves to be experts in metapsychology or French spiritualism somehow feel confident in dismissing Freud's theory of jokes or Bergson's account of laughter because they are either not funny or simply miss the point. It is the superiority theory that dominates the philosophical tradition until the eighteenth century. Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard. what might make one laugh . I have been filling much of my time lately reading books on humour and laughter. o :. and much of the empirical research is extremely pleasurable. Such a claim to implicit or tacit knowledge is interesting in itself. 1 In the first theory. As a glance at my bibliography will reveal. SOCiology and anthropology. 'Humour in its first analysiS is a perception of the incongruous'. For example. '- E ~ a ~ I o N c THREE THEORIES OF HUMOUR In an effort to approach this nicely impossible object.albeit as dramatic irony is the audacity or arrogance of the attempt to write a philosophy of humour. the fact remains that humour is a nicely impossible object for a philosopher. we are all authorities. the more there is to see. we laugh from feelings of superiority over other people. ways in Kant. jest or blague: 'Did you see me at Princess Diana's funeral? I was the one who started the Mexican wave'.humorous. u ::::I "C L- c o C THEPHENOMENOLOGYOFAJOKE Can we describe what takes place in a joke? How might we give what philosophers call the 'phenomenology' of a joke? First. The further one looks. at the dawn of the modern era. literary history. for reasons that I will endeavour to spell out in a later chapter. We know what we find funny. There are many explanations of laughter and humour. but distinct. by Comparison with the Infirrnityes of others. where laughter is explained as a release of pent-up nervous energy.. But herein lies its irresistible attraction. where the energy that is relieved and discharged in laughter provides pleasure because it allegedly economizes upon energy that would ordinarily be used to contain or repress psychic activity. which would be forbidden to the virtuous guardians of Plato's imagined philosophical city. the relief theory and the incongruity theory. However. but is elaborated in related. as we shall see presently. I would like to begin by exploring this idea of humour as incongruity. Although I will discuss the other theories below. In this case. and what actually takes place in the joke. which hath no name'. that John Morreall does well to distill into three theories: the superiority theory. gag. from'suddaine Glory arising from suddaine Conception of some Eminency or with our owne formerly'. experts in the field. Aristotle.

1 recognize that a joke is being told and 1 assent to having my attention caught in this way. They mock. we must put it back into its natural environment.the bishop gets stuck in a lift. a sudden evaporation of expectation to nothing (' ein Affekt aus der plotzlichen Verwandlung einer gespannten Erwartung in nichts'). there has to be a congruence between joke structure and social structure . but some people.to tell a joke in a foreign language. the funeral loses its meaning and laughter is born'. 1 spread margarine on the communion wafer .. First. ::J '- E ::J :r: o [ .. as Milan Kundera remarks. Joking is a game that players only play successfully when they both understand and follow the rules. What happens here i&. There has to be a sort of tadt consensus or implicit shared understanding as to what constitutes joking 'for us'.audience and the joke-teller recognize as such. the tension disappears and c u ~ o ::l "C . 'Someone's hat falls on the coffin in a freshly dug grave. then the tacit sodal contract of humour has been broken. It must have a social signification. 1 put it in my pocket. and the little bubble of tension pops. Irs as though there were a custom amongst certain people for one person to throw another a ball which he is supposed to catch and throw back. such as a funeral. in listening to a joke. 5 Suppose that someone starts to tell you a joke: 'I never left the house as a child. then laughter will probably not result. This is bad form or Simply bad manners. 4 A rite is here understood as a symbolic act that derives its meaning from a cluster of sodally legitimated symbols. which is a social one. which is society. parody or deride the ritual practices of a given society.6 In hearing the punch-line.no sodal congruity. 2 o c So. as Kant puts it in a brilliant short discussion of laughter from The Critique of Judgement. Assenting to having my attention caught is very important and if someone interrupts the joke-teller or Simply walks away in the middle of the joke. What is it like for people not to have the same sense of humour? They do not react properly to each other. which can be the experience of trying . When the punch-line kicks in. my mother bought me a hat so that 1 could look out of the window'. instead of throwing it back. There is a tadt sodal contract at work here.and failing .jokes are anti-rites. 1 Laughter must answer to certain requirements of life in common. Wittgenstein puts the point perspicuously. in order for the incongruity of the joke to be seen as such. a certain tension is created in the listener and 1 follow along willingly with the story that is being recounted. the forms of which the practice of joke-telling is going to play with.. 1 am presupposing a sodal world that is shared. Instead of throwing the ball back.. and above all we must determine the utility of its function. When this implicit congruence or tadt contract is missing. That is. But insofar as the joke plays with the symbolic forms of sodety . put it in their pocket. 1 experience an affect that can be described as pleasure. Bergson explains what he calls 'the leading idea in all our investigations' in Le rire: To understand laughter. namely some agreement about the social world in which we find ourselves as the implidt background to the joke. 3 I I This is also what Mary Douglas has in mind in her groundbreaking anthropological work on the subject when she compares jokes with rites. no comic incongruity. My family were so poor that my mother couldn't afford to buy us clothes'. In thus assenting and going along with the joke. and 1 laugh or just smile: 'When 1 was ten. o c . as to which linguistic or visual routines are recognized as joking.

7 The admittedly rather dry humour here is found in a combination of two features: conceptual and rhetorical. we undergo a peculiar and quite deliberate distention of time. where we experience with renewed intensity both the slow passing of time and its sheer evanescence. and we find that anticipation rather pleasurable. and add Three goes of gin. . And let a ten-ounce tonic void In fOaming gulps until it smothers Everything else up to the edge. jokes It is important to recall that the succession of tension by relief in humour is an essentially bodily affair. consisting of .there is the rhetorical effect generated by the sudden bathos of the final line in comparison to the cumulative and almost Miltonic overkill of what precedes it. It snaps with the punchline. the soul of reading. a lemon slice. from a chuckle. which is a sudden acceleration of time. This is a technique brought to its digressive nadir in the 'shaggy dog' or 'cock and bull' story. where the digressive stretching of the joke suddenly contracts into a heightened experience of the instant. That is. I lift the lot in silent pledge: He devoted his life to others. In this sense.they are the life. timing is everything. c: Mention of the suddenness of the bathetic shift that produces humour brings attention to the peculiar temporal dimension of jokes. the joke invites a corporeal response. We know that the elastic will snap. LAUGHTER AS AN EXPLOSION EXPRESSED WITH THE BODY ~ u c: "D :J o . we undergo a particular experience of duration through repetition and digression. Digressions. it is important to emphasize the necessary suddenness of the conceptual and rhetorical shift. Picking up on Hobbes's word. such as Tristram Shandy. we just do not know when. witness Philip Larkin (that celebrated anti-radst!) in a characteristic flourish..take them out of this book for instance. . When I drop four cubes of ice Chimingly in a glass.. 8 L ::::l E ::::l o I o c: In being told a joke. As any comedian will readily admit. Viewed temporally. Rather than the tiresome and indeed radst examples of jokes that Kant recounts.we experience comic relief.you might as well take the book along with them.. Both brevity and speed are the soul of wit. and a mastery of comic forms involves a careful control of pauses. there is the conceptual disjunction between the wanton hedonism involved in preparing the gin and tonic. COMIC TIMING involve a shared knowledge of two temporal dimensions: duration and the instant. where the practice of joking often involves cumulative repetition and wonderfully needless drcumlocution. of knowing exactly when to detonate the little dynamite of the joke. are the sun-shine . involving Indians and bottles of beer. What I mean is that when we give ourselves up to being told a joke. Laughter is a muscular phenomenon. On the one hand. of time literally being stretched out like an elastic band. We laugh. But also . through a giggle to a guffaw. incontestably. humorous pleasure would seem to be produced by the disjunction between duration and the instant.more importantly . and the avowed altruism of the final line. hesitations and silences.

which proceeds from the right orifice in the heart by the arterial vein. in the work of Rabelais and Erasmus. and used by a whole tradition extending to Charles Baudelaire. which have a certain connection with them. and in particular my use of Freud's conception of humour. CHANGING THE SITUATION o E ! => => explosive voice that we call laughter. the philosopher-comedian from Trevor Griffiths's brilliant 1976piece Comedians. inflating the lungs suddenly and repeatedly. before I can make good on this claim. if you engage in it a little too enthusiastically. Andre Breton and Plessner. a revealing distinction which will be important for my sense of humour in the conclusion to this book (when all is said and done. I 0 It is this link to the body that was the reason for the Christian condemnation of laughter in the early Middle Ages. let me turn to the character of Eddie Waters'.spasmodic contraction and relaxation of the facial muscles with corresponding movements in the diaphragm. We will have to wait until my final chapter. a transient corporeal affect induced by the raising and extinguishing of tension. I rather want to claim that what goes on in humour is a form of liberation or elevation that expresses something essential to what Plessner calls 'the humanity of the human'. of as little social consequence as masturbation. c:: . laughter invites comparison with similar convulsive phenomena like orgasm and weeping. "C . Kant speaks of 'die Schwingung der Organen'.9 In laughing violently. set in motion all the muscles of the diaphragm from the chest to the neck. it is the smile that interests me most). But is that an end to the matter? Hopefully not. The associated contractions of the larynx and epiglottis interrupt the pattern of breathing and emit sound. As a bodily phenomenon. where it forms an inarticulate and explosive utterance. Laughter consists in the fact that the blood. the" historical associations between laughter and the body cannot be overemphaSized. although slightly more acceptable to perform in public. before the explosion of laughter in the early Renaissance. and the lungs in expanding equally with the air as it rushes out. I lose self-control in a way that is akin to the moments of radical corporeal exposure that follow an orgasm or when crying turns into an uncontrollable sobbing. But. For I want to claim that humour is not just comic relief. 'The oscillation of the organs'. laughter is an explosion expressed with the body. Descartes puts the point much more exotically and powerfully in Article 124 of The Passions of the Soul. laughter is distinguished by what Helmuth Plessner calls 'A loss of self-control as the break between the person and their body' ('Verlust der Selbstbeherrschung als Bruch zwischen der Person und ihrem Korper'). When I laugh vigorously. And what ~ u o c:: . like the latter. its careful codification in the later Middle Ages. Indeed. Of course. as Jacques Le Goff reminds us.. And it is just this action of the face with this inarticulate and '- Picking up on a word employed by Descartes. I literally experience an oscillation or vibration of the organs. He dares to see what his listeners shy away from. A real comedian . causes the air which they contain to be constrained and to pass out from them with an impetus by the windpipe.::. In a lovely formulation. fear to express.. which is why it can hurt when you laugh.that's a daring man. by which means they cause motion in the facial muscles. I o c:: 00 It is just this interruption of breath that distinguishes laughter from smiling. as a provisional outline of the thought I am after.

the ordinary made extraordinary and the real rendered surreal. Most humour. 'Una risata vi seppelliri' . humour can change the situation in which we fmd ourselves. and just the sort of thing that should be mocked and ridiculed. about what hurts or terrifies them. about what's hard. but simply toys with existing social hierarchies in a charming but quite benign fashion. where the 'you' refers to those in power. and can even have a critical function with respect to society. in particular the unsentimental subversions of what he baptized 'l'humour noir'. at best. jokes are a play upon form. and it has an important place in any taxonomy of humour. in particular the comedy of recognition .and most humour is comedy of recognition . it has to change the '- o E ~ :c ~ o o c I' A true joke. The incongruities of humour both speak out of a massive congruence between joke structure and social structure. says the unsayable. any joke pretty well. I introduced the adjective 'true' into our discussion of humour. G. it is important to recognize that not all humour is of this type. a comedian's joke. following Eddie Waters. 12 This idea of a change of situation can be caught in Mary Douglas's claim that. about what they want. 'Don't be silly. ::J "C L. and speak against those structures by shOwing that they have no necessity. a comedian's joke. we realize that what appeared to be fixed and oppressive is in fact the emperor's new clothes. Simply serve to reinforce social consensus. above all. By producing a consciousness of contingency.he sees is a sort of truth about people. and we laugh in a physiological squeal of transient delight. By laughing at power. but it presupposes a great deal. has to do more than release tension. As the Italian Situationist street slogan has it. about their situation." to the desire. 'A joke is a play upon form that affords an opportunity for realiSing that an accepted pattern has no neceSSity' . 'True' humour changes the situation. Hence the great importance that humour has played in social movements that have set out to criticize the established order. Such humour does not seek to change the situation. A joke releases the tension. a surrealization of the real which is why someone like the great surrealist Andre Breton was so interested in humour. 'It depends how thinly you slice them'. You will have noticed a couple of paragraphs back that.simply seeks to reinforce consensus and in no way seeks to criticize the established order or change the situation in which we find ourselves. More o :. everybody has a temperature'.13 Thus. and most of the best jokes are fairly reactionary or. Wodehouse's The World of ]eeves. This is the comic as sheer pleaSing diversion.::.. 'We have to see if you have a temperature'. where what is played with are the accepted practices of a given society. and perhaps indicates to us how it might be changed. tells us something about who we are and the sort of place we live in. This sounds very nice.. it will be a laugh that buries you. c u o C . as in' p. REACTIONARY HUMOUR But before we get carried away. it has liberate the will and situation. some of which will be picked up in later chapters. 'I don't know'. we expose its contingency. A number of items cry out for recognition here. But a true joke. such as radical feminist humour: 'How many men does it take to tile a bathroom?'. like an infant playing peek-a-boo: nurse to uncooperative patient. Humour brings about a change of situation. uncooperative patient to nurse. The anti-rite of the joke shows the sheer contingency or arbitrariness of the social rites in which we engage. suddenly and explosively lets us see the familiar defamiliarized.

one almost felt moved to tears. Also. I found a huddle of employees standing outside. must be analysed. frankly.the very soundtrack to happiness. as it were. about fifty people from the same company were engaged in collective hopscotch. which includes innovations like 'inside out day'. the Dutch also laugh at the Belgians. What I mean by the latter is that in its 'untruth' . staying at a huge hotel. The reactionary quality of much humour. After breakfast. which rather speaks for itself Despite the backslapping bonhomie that such fun must inspire. anonymous.who endeavour to show how it can produce greater cohesion amongst the workforce and thereby increase efficiency and productivity. Thus.'- E I => o => o N c egregiously. the French laugh at the Belgians. that as much as management consultants might try and formalize fun o :. as in sexist humour. I think this incident is interesting 'for it reveals a vitally subversive feature of humour in the workplace. "E . u "CI c :::s o . I was recently in Atlanta. a company called 'Humour Solutions International' . it is difficult not to feel a little cynical about these endeavours. Such comic scapegoating corresponds to what Hobbes means in suggesting that laughter is a feeling of sudden glory where I find another person ridiculous and laugh at their expense. and so on and so forth. This is beautifully caught in the slogan: 'laughter loves company and companies love laughter' . the Swedes laugh at the Finns.. he concluded. Some management consultants refer to such activity as 'structured fun'. the Greeks laugh at the Pontians. But looking at the sweating. the Canadians laugh at the Newfies. In one of the vast. which I will attempt in Chapter 4. they were not really offered a choice. the Germans laugh at the Ostfrieslanders. we would really rather not be.imagine. Namely. if you will. frisbee and kickball. slightly desperate faces of these mostly overweight grown-ups. or 'silly hat day'. and it is tempting to see it as one further sign of the ways in which employees' private lives are being increasingly regulated by the interests of their employers. STRUCTURED FUN Humour is being employed as a management tool by consultants . reactionary humour tells us important truths about who we are. windowless suites that pepper every large hotel in the USA. much humour seeks to confirm the status quo either by denigrating a certain sector of society. in particular ethnic humour.. In other words. humour can reveal us to be persons that. the British laugh at the Irish. carpeted. and the question that one wants to pose to the idea of 'structured fun' is: who is structuring the fun and for what end? Such enforced fun is a form of compulsory happiness. resolutely smoking in the Georgian January drizzle and we exchanged a few words. Such humour is not laughter at power. the Americans laugh at the Poles. the Russians laugh at the Ukrainians. and had occasion to observe some structured fun from my breakfast table one morning. I pondered. I was enormously reassured that they felt just as cynical about the whole business as I did. Jokes can therefore be read as symptoms of societal repression and their study might be said to amount to a return of the repressed. It was quite a sight and much yelping and clapping was to be heard .. but the powerful laughing at the powerless. where I claim that such humour lets us reflect upon the anxious nature of our thrownness in the world. the Czechs laugh at the Slovaks. where all employees are asked to wear their clothes inside out. or by laughing at the alleged stupidity of a social outsider. but one of them said that they did not want to appear to be a bad sport or a party pooper at work and that was why they went along with it.

. as I do.. but must be properly leavened and smeared vvith tasty examples. true humour does not wound a specific victim and always contains self-mockery. His satire points at no defect. it is VOllS autres I". Yet malice never was his aim. Where thousands equally were meant. would not be sheer malice or jibing. but the intent of the satire is therapeutic. But. to bring human beings back from what they have become to what they might be. Swift is offering a teaching of virtue that permits Gulliver and the rest of us to be reconciled to life amongst the vicious Yahoos. And seemed determined not to starve it. such fun is always capable of being ridiculed by informal. where the comic punch-line and the economic bottom line might be seen to blend. I would insist. Who call it humour when they jibe: He spar'd a hump or crooked nose. from the studied savaging of modem mathematics. Perhaps I may allow the Dean Had too much satire in his vein. 14 JOKES: GOOD. such a claim must not be reduced to moral crispbread. Anyone who has worked in a factory or office knows how the most scurrilous and usually obscene stories. By way of preparation for this thought. I '~ 0 E ~ :c 0 c '<t To talk. songs and cartoons about the management are the very bread and butter of survival.. He lashed the vice but spared the name. The object of laughter is the subject who laughs. unofficial relations amongst employees. 'I tell you after all that I do not hate mankind. a devastating critique of the follies and vices of the modem European world.'1st the management. 'But what all mortals may correct' . Because no age could more deserve it. Whose owners set not up for beaux. it is true. In my view. Humour might well be a management tool but it is also a tool agai. this is what Svvift means when he complains to Alexander Pope in correspondence from 1725. an exquisitely bleak apologia pro sua vita. l!"l . 'no individual could resent. The studied reversals of perspective and fantastical geographical displacements of Swift's Gulliver's Travels offer. which can be seen in Gulliver's voyages from the littleness ofLilliput to the bigness of Brobdingnag. Also. c :.That is.:. science and government in Laputa and the Academy of Lagado./Where thousands equally were meant' . C "t:I c 'E .1S The critical task of humour. I vvill try and do this below when I make the distinction between laughing at oneself and laughing at others. For he abhorred that senseless tribe. Satire is often a question of scale.. through to the final descent into misanthropy caused by life vvith the fully rational animals of the land of the Houyhnhnms. u . such lashing of vices does not point at a fundamental defect. true humour can be said to have a therapeutic as well as a critical function. of the familiar becoming infinitely small or grotesquely huge. BAD AND GULLIVER I 'I' But what all mortals may correct. However.for the benefit of the company. namely a distinction between 'good' and 'bad' jokes. True genuine dullness moved his pity. by backchat and salacious gossip. but the lashing of vices which are general and not personal.. Unless it offered to be vvitty.::. then. No individual could resent. of true humour must presuppose some sort of normative claim. we might cite a few of the closing lines from 'Verses on the Death of Dr Svvifi'. In my view.

then I have no objection to the religious interpretation of humour. and which makes his Praise of Folly a powerful work of both comedy and confession. E I => o c As well as being something of a revenge of the eighteenth century against the present. in the latter as unique persons. particularly when one thinks of Pope. A. those who try to live by Work alone. The world of Laughter is much more closely related to the world of Prayer than either is to the everyday secular world Iflaughter lets us see the folly of the world in order to imagine a better world in its place. Humour is· not nuomenal but phenomenal. tyrants who would enslave Nature to their immediate desires . it is only here that we can make a difference. the transition from the ethical to the religious point of view. the redemptive power of humour is not. By showing us the folly of the world. but returns us to it ineluctably by shOwing that there is no alternative. humour does not redeem us from this world.. My quibble is rather the follOwing: that the religious worldview invites us to look away from this world towards another in which. LAUGHTER'S MESSIANIC POWER II !. Auden is therefore quite right when he says that. on the other I hand. power and success. However. !. only diverse and interdependent . of Work. It is this folly of the cross that Erasmus understood so well. how things might be otherwise. in my view. Christianity offers us a topsy-turvy world that inverts our worldly values.. Screech's Laughter at the Foot of the Cross confirms the place of laughter in the Bible and in the self-understanding of Christianity through the ages. The briefest glance at M. o u c . imperfect as it is and we are. 16 For.:. W H. shipwreck on the isle of Sirens.lIn the world of Work. where humour is the last stage of existential awareness before faith. The consolations of humour come from acknowledging that this is the only world and. not numinous but simply luminous. :::I "C c . for both are worlds in which we are all equal. in this book I want to defend a two-fold claim: (i) that the tiny explosions of humour that we call jokes return us to a common.. not theological but anthropological. we are not and cannot be equal. Swift and Sterne.an attempt which can only end in utter catastrophe. after all. and indicates how that situation might be changed. and are angry for being disappointed'. and (ii) indicate how those practices might be transformed or perfected. Where the world admires money. without Laughter or Prayer turn into insane lovers of power. Therefore.who hate them because you would have them reasonable animals. I am a Yahoo and you are too. 19 Humour lets us view the folly of the world by affording us the glimpse of another world. So. by offering what Berger calls 'a signal of transcendence'. o :.. does this mean that true humour has to be religious? The argumentation linking humour to religion is impeccable enough and much great comic writing is Christian. 17 From the standpoint of the worldly-wise. Humour both reveals the situation. in the first as individual members of our species. in Peter Berger's words. 18 => o I. as it is in Kierkegaard. familiar world of shared practices. That is to say. the background meanings implicit in a culture. laughter has a certain redemptive or messianic power. True jokes would therefore be like shared prayers.. the Christian indifference to these values turns the secular world upside down. . . and to change the situation in which we find ourselves. Christ appears to be a kind of madman. 'the limitations of the human condition are miraculously overcome'.

I'll take five and ten atWoolworth'. such as listening to a formal academic paper. in Adorno's words. the laughter can really hurt. there wasn't any ink in it anyway'. 'And if I close it. it does this not through the clumsiness of a theoretical description. But. will that make it warm outside?'. 'Gentlemen. practically and discreetly. 'I can't write'. send him back to his father and brothers who are waiting for him with open arms at the penitentiary. Chicolini here may talk like an idiot. Laughter suddenly breaks out in a bus queue. watching a party political broadcast in a pub. 'That's OK. He really is an idiot. crucially. SENSUS AND DISSENSUS COMMUNIS '- o E ~ ~ I o c: Laughter is contagious . then it does this by momentarily pulling us out of common sense. If humour recalls us to sensus communis. shOwing it. as it does in great Christian humour like Erasmus. 'Mine was always that' . (Pause) 'And'. It makes explicit the enormous commonality that is implicit in our social life. One might say that the simple telling of a joke recalls us to what is shared in our everyday practices. In such cases. anger and kindness'. and I am sure (or hope) that we all know them. 'Not yet'.think of the intersubjectivity of giggling. 'Do you believe in the life to come?'. but more quietly. or when someone farts in a lift. a refusal of everyday speech that lights up the everyday. particularly when it concerns something obscene in a context where one should be serious. It is practically enacted theory. contortions and explosions. I suggest that we give him ten years at Leavenworth. prodUcing laughter with its unexpected verbal inversions. I implore you. I think this is why Wittgenstein once said that he could imagine a book of philosophy that would be written entirely in the form of jokes.. 20 Some sundry examples: 'What'll I say?'.humour does not save us from that folly by turning our attention elsewhere. where jokes function as moments of dissensus communis. 'Do you want to use a pen?'. 'Have you lived in Blackpool all your life?'. humour reveals the depth of what we share.: ::J "C c: u o . envy. and look like an idiot. but don't let that fool you. 'They'll believe you when you start talking' . humour is a paradoxical form of speech and action that defeats our expectations. The extraordinary thing about humour is that it returns us to common sense.21 2 3 4 5 6 7 o . c: . So. but calls on us to face the folly of the world and change the situation in which we find ourselves. it's cold outside'. At its most powerful. humour familiarizes us with a common world through its miniature strategies of defamiliarization. this is what Shaftesbury had in mind in the early eighteenth century when he spoke of humour as a form of sensus communis. 'Suppose they don't believe me?'. As we will see in more detail in Chapter 5. 'I tell you what I'll do. Humour is an exemplary practice because it is a universal human activity that invites us to become philosophical spectators upon our lives. 'Tell them you're not here'. malice. 'Which of the follOwing is the odd one out? Greed. 'Do me a favour and close the window. or eleven years at Twelveworth'. say in those insanely punning dialogues between Chico and Groucho Marx. 'as it will one day appear in the messianic light'.. by distancing us from it.

Although it is hardly a Cartesian discourse on the method. We might think of this as a comic phenomenology which is animated by a concern for the things themselves. And sweet Uncle Toby only sees things hobby-horsically through his obsession with the science of fortification and the attempt to reconstruct the precise dimensions of the Siege of Namur where he received the terrible. 1 . and the web of the cerebellum . than with the things themselves. Yet. which is progreSSive. the things which show themselves when we get rid of our troubling opinions. And I almost forgot to add that Tristram is inadvertently circumcised by a window sash..TRISTRAM SHANDY. in a digression: and that I fly off from what I am about. and on.is irreparably crushed follOwing a head-first birth. Uncle Toby exchanges his heroic campaigns with Corporal Trim on the bowling green for his amours with the Widow Wadman. and one of the best of its kind. we progressively approach the things themselves. the merit of which has all along.not for want of penetration in him . 'Endless is the quest for truth'..but because 'tis an excellence seldom looked for. yet I constantly take care to order affairs so. What Sterne calls 'the Shandian system' is entirely made up of digreSSions. OR BACK TO THE THINGS THEMSELVES d '- ::::l E ::::l o I o N C o To put it in a rather baroque formulation. his nose is crushed follOwing a forceps delivery. the story of 'a COCK and a BULL . As Sterne remarks. I fear. For in this long digression which I was accidentally led into. on noses.. on the best technique for birth in order to protect the delicate web of the cerebellum.dogmatic perspective inevitably goes awry: Walter Shandy's son is given the wrong name. been overlooked by my reader. The meaning of this claim will hopefully emerge as we proceed. the various pragmata that make up the stuff of what we call the ordinary life. That is to say. which itself provides the motto to Volumes 1 and 2 of Sterne's Tristram Shandy: 'Human beings are troubled with the opinions (dogmata) they have of things. and not by the things themselves (pragmata). that my main business does not stand still in my absence (. and so on. the digreSSions on the character and opinions of Mr Walter Shandy show him unable to view the world except through what Sterne calls his hypotheses: on names. where do all these digreSSions lead? What cosmic truth does the Shandian system reveal to us? Perhaps this: that through the meandering circumlocutions of Tristram Shandy. but ever-obscure. .seat of all wisdom . and on. I ever heard'. Tristram instead ofTrismegistus. Of course. Sterne writes of his procedure in the book. humour changes the situation in which we find ourselves. but let me begin to illustrate it by recalling my epigraph from Epictetus. Humourless dogmatism is replaced by humorous pragmatism.' How is one to understand this epigraph in relation to Sterne's book? Tristram Shandy can evidently be viewed as an extended exploration of the fact that human beings are more troubled with dogmata. blow to his groin. or lights up the everyday by providing an' oblique phenomenology of ordinary life'. or their hobby horses. which end in disenchantment when the good Corporal explains to Toby that Mrs Wadman's interest in the wound upon his groin is not Simply born from compassion.. as far and as often as any writer in Great Britain. or expected indeed. the infinitely digreSSive movement of Sterne's prose actually contains a contrary motion within it. the world viewed from a hobby-horsical. For example. as in all my digressions (one only exceptedl there is a master-stroke of digressive skill.

the life and the soul of reading. and it is progressive too. digreSSions are the sunshine.. That is to say. ~ I o N N c . through the eyes of a Walter or a To by Shandy.22 This is why. it also progresses by a contrary motion. o E ~ L. . 'take them out of this book for instance. which were thought to be at variance with each other. .progressive and digreSSive .and at the same time. one is brought closer to the things themselves. and reconciled. In a word. to recall my earlier citation from Sterne. it is this combination of these two contrary motions .. my work is digressive. In my view. to the finally laughable enigma of ordinary life.By this contrivance the machinery of my work is of a species by itself. two contrary motions are introduced into it. through the endless displacement of seeing the world through another's hobby horse.that is at the heart of humour.and you might as well take the book along with them'. Inasmuch as the book digresses.

aid.w. neither did the Virgin Mary. so far as we kno. from time to time. he writes. and Socrates laughed rarely. because the philosopher. It takes us to find that funny. I said loudly. So I have noticed. he said. A brief silence ensued [. I s. then the question of whether Jesus laughed assumes rather obvious theological pertinence to the doctrine of incarnation. I too said haha. 'no animal laughs save Man'.. In On the Parts of the Animals. if laughter is proper to the human being. Christ never laughed either. Now. Can you Two heads of a camel and three heads of men in relation to the camel Source: Cnac-Mnam/Dist RMN. debates the point with one Father Ambrose. through Rabelais to Hazlitt and Bergson. It is peculiar to man. he said. Charles Le Brun wonder? I said. Moran. Aristotle. Like Job haha. He looked at me. he said. What? he said. Why? Well.. Wittgenstein Humour is human. or at least makes us somewhat suspicious. What a joy it is to laugh. says so. then the human being who does not laugh invites the charge of inhumanity. Just like human beings. 8e mused. It takes us to find that funny. I This quotation echoes down the centuries from Galen and Porphyry. 1 Animals never laugh. he said.Is Humour Human? Two Animals come when their names are called. Is it not? I said. Apparently Pythagoras and Anaxagoras never laughed. he said. I said. If laughter is essentially human. 2 '- o E => :r: c => o Ln N . One of Beckett's more monstrous anti-heroes.

slightly opened jaws of man's best friend look 'like a human smile' and can give 'a stronger impression of laughing'. led many medieval scholars to trawl the Evangelists for evidence of levity.. Screech shows in impressive detail. It might indeed appear curious that Jesus' ministry beginS with an encouragement to imbibe. However. the water is miraculously turned into wine and the party can continue. Noah was. But in her 1971 paper. A presumably rather hung-over Noah was none too pleased with Ham and lay an awful curse of servitude on him and all of his Canaanite progeny. of course.. Noah's son.. where Brian's mother insists. Now.. 'Woman. and animals are full of surprises. to my mind. E :c => o c As M. or getting frisky in another way. my time has not yet come'. Mary Douglas sets out to trouble the assumption that we can divide human from animal along the faultline of laughter. She says to him. who orders her son to do something about the problem. This is an odd moment. Hence the Old and New Testament stories are connected both by theme . as there is no evidence heretofore that Mary was aware that her Son could perform such impressive party tricks. However. E ::::I L. 4 She cites Konrad Lorenz's Man Meets Dog and Thomas Mann's A Man and His Dog to show how the panting. I think. At which pOint. C til :J: ::::I E ::::I o :J: . However. this first miracle was seen analogically as a New Testament response and recompense for the Old Testament tale of the drunkenness of Noah (Genesis 9: 20-29). the evidence is anecdotal and. This is in itself interesting. We are not going to be able to decide the issue here. from his full messianic height. grant that ('. The interpretation of the dog's laughter seems rather anthropomorphic and evidence of a crude learnt response on the dog's part. to the perfervid imagination of medieval Christendom. bearing a family resemblance to a scene from Monty Python's The Life of Brian. 'Do Dogs Laugh?'. he's just a very naughty boy'. was Ham's sin that of laughter? The Bible does not say. 'and he drank of the wine. not particularly convincing. presumably knowing that he can. the theological importance of showing Christ's humanity. One need only observe the behaviour of chimpanzees and dogs to see that animals certainly play. A.Cana. particularly when Lorenz admits that the same facial expression of the dog that denotes 'laugh~er' also indicates the beginning of erotic excitement. ECCENTRIC HUMANS Any philosophical and theological assurance that laughter is unique to the human being becomes somewhat unsure when one turns to the anthropological literature. the marriage at Cana (John 2: 1-11).!!! . Ham. like the good Jewish mother who knows what is best for her-Son-the-Messiah. the marriage at Cana might nonetheless be seen as evidence of humorous humanity on Christ's part. we can. So whilst we cannot say with any certainty whether dogs laugh or not. 'He's not the Messiah. the first human being to cultivate the vine and sample its fruits. 3 Some support for the case can be found in the first of Christ's recorded miracles. Discovering that the wine has run out. 'They have no more wine'. Although the joke is on Jesus to some extent insofar as he is made to look slightly foolish by his mother. and was drunken'. looked on his inebriated father 'uncovered within his tent' and told his two brothers who walked in backwards and covered his nakedness with a garment. to which Jesus replies somewhat coldly. but the question is: do they laugh? They certainly do not seem to laugh at my jokes. and therefore his sense of humour. Mary turns to the servants and says 'Do whatever he tells you'.and location .=> o L.wine . the distraught host somehow alerts Mary. and they do get frisky.

The working out of the consequences of the eccentric position of the human is the main task of a philosophical anthropology. and troubling the hiatus of which Plessner speaks. This means that the animal Simply lives and experiences (lebt und erlebt). As Plessner puts it. There has been no society thus far discovered that did not have humour. Animals litter the history of literature. s Plessner's thesis is pretty convincing. g:.!!! the animal or the elevation of the animal to the human. which reveal~e human to be not so much a category I '1\". laughter confirms the eccentric (exzentrisch) position of the human being in the world of nature. not even when they seem to know that they are going to die? In a word. culture. it is centred. he or she experiences those experiences (erlebt sein Erleben).:. is . the reflective activity of human beings achieves a break with nature. Or.even the cleverest of them . Furthermore. marks the limit of the human. i Thus. the human being not only lives and experiences. are all animals incapable of reflection? I simply do not know. Examples of bestiality in literature are legion. the human being has a reflective attitude towards its experiences and towards itself This is why humans are eccentric. Plessner goes further and claims that the human is this break. The fact that we label certain comic genres in animalistic terms. 1would suggest. In living outside themselves. what makes us laugh is the reduction of the human to . this gap between the physical and the psychical. humour explores what it means to be human by moving back and forth across the frontier that separates humanity from animality. through to Chaucer's Chaunticleer in The Nun's Priest's Tale and Le Roman de Renard.always fail to take up an eccentric position with regard to their life. namely that animals are incapable of reflection. I do not know how Plessner can know what he seems so sure of. in particular parrots. § by itself as a negotiation between categorie~ We might even ~ define the human as a dynamic process produced by a series E 6 of identifications and misidentifications with animality. Plessner's thesis is that the life of animals is zentrisch. and indeed of civilization as Cicero's Latin word for humour. ! / ::J '- E ::J o I o N ~ co humour is an anthropological constant.. which is why laughter has such an absolutely central role in Plessner's work. then the transformation of the social meaning of this physiological act is one testament to the distance of human culture from animal life. from Aesop's fables. like 'Cock and Bull' or 'shaggy dog' stories is perhaps revealing. because they live beyond the limits set for them by nature by taking up a distance from their immediate experience. thereby making it unstable. By contrast. humour is a key element in the distinction of the human from the animal. dogs. then it also. curiously. it is a consequence of culture. A more bizarre example of the identification with animality. this hiatus. and if a lion could talk then we could not understand him. is universal and common to all cultures. A SMALL BESTIARY If humour is human. laughter originated ~ in the animal function of the aggressive baring of teeth. Indeed. bodily gaiety or with a laconic smile. That is. urbanitas. but is it true to say that animals always exist in sheer immediacy? Do they . If. Thus. as ethologists report. cats and bears. is preCisely the exploration of the break between nature and I!~ . Humour "'. better. because of the unhappy mental state of the author and the fact that it was penned in Mr Potter's mad house in Bethnal Green. Let us just say that I have my doubts about Plessner's certitude. whether it is expressed as convulsive.

or the Mouse-Folk'. For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness. o M i )" For Go~ has blest him in the variety of his movements. 7 Smart was sadly less than smart when he wrote these lines. and misses. The hunter fires. where the humour is generated by the sudden and incongruous humanity of the animal. Smart begins thus. such as 'Investigations of a Dog' and 'Josephine the Singer. for page after rambling page. For he can tread to all the measures upon the music. black misanthropy of Juvenalian satire. he is an excellent clamberer. For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way. For by stroking him I have found out electricity. The bear breaks his rifle in two. HORACE AND JUVENAL. This tradition continues on to a book like Will Self's Great Apes. which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies of both man and beast. A wonderful example of this is given by Peter Berger. where the power of Gulliver's identification with the rational animals or Houyhnhnms is proportionate to his misanthropic The two effects produced by such humour here might be considered in terms of the distinction between the benign mockery or urbanitas of Horatian satire. My favourite lines are the following. On the one hand we find the comic urbanity of the animal.Christopher Smart's Jubilate Agno written sometime between 1758 and 1763. and so forth. For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance. The hunter is . sodomizes the hunter. and the brooding. URBANITY AND DISGUST :f \. v For tho he cannot fly. Swift explores a similar paradox in 'The Beast's Confession to the Priest' by way of a critique of Aesop's 'libelling of the four-foot race'. then walks away. but their electrical warmth expresses something approaching humanity towards Jeoffry the cat. For he can creep. this is the distinction between the satires of Pope and Swift and the accompanying genres of mock-heroic and travesty: the epic elevation of the insignificant and the deflationary belittling of the sublime. 8 This comic inversion of the human and the animal continues in the twentieth century in Orwell's Animal Farm and Kafka's Metamorphosis. And so on. but he might also have included many of Kafka's ever-strange short stories. In the eighteenth century. a text that Breton quite properly places in his Anthologie de !'humour noir. of course. here he owns. that now and then Beasts may degenerate into men. I: a For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadrupede. For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire. A bear is charging this hunter in the woods. For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry. For. The exploration of the hiatus between the human and the animal is obviously at the heart of Book IV of Gulliver's Travels. not to mention a whole tradition of satirical cartooning whose contemporary expression would be Gary Larson's The Far Side. f- disgust at his all-too-human Yahoo-ness. For he can swim for life.

Here Lies C.furious. Loyal.attempting to impress her by waving and kicking things about in a display of mock potency. His epitaph." L On the other hand. o E :::J :::J I o N I: C') When the animal becomes human. Again the bear charges and. ·OK. the Juvenalian reduction of the human to the animal does not so much produce mirth as a comic disgust with the spedes. some with their heads. great flats descending. come clean now. composed himself in what Beckett would call pigsty Latin. Then awakening one morning. again the hunter misses. And left his heirs thirty million.she thought . their suit as obvious as a schlong slammed down on the zinc counter. complete with mechanical effects. The next day he is back in the woods. the effect is pleasingly benign and we laugh out loud. He gets himself an AK-47 assault rifle. again the hunter misses. their Status. the Emperor Nero . is it?' But when the human becomes animal. The men were like apes . a pullulating mass of silverfish on his draining board shape themselves into . hang nails. garishly depicting their Taste. believe it or not. In his oddly eighteenth-century novel. One sultry summer. if irs the last thing he does. Other men's propositioning was a Bayreuth production. the history of satire is replete with Juvenalian echoes.appears like a great. goes back into the woods. he resolves to destroy them with the use of sundry toxic products. others propositioned her with chutzpah. some with their hair.himself some sort of twisted reflection of Petronius's employer. it seems to me that he combines both Horatian and Juvenalian effects in a wonderfully macabre short story called 'Flytopia'. Great Apes. their Intellect. This isn·t really about hunting. Will Self writes. Pompeius Trimalchio He could have had any job in Rome But didn't. AND HE NEVER ONCE LISTENED TO A PHILOSOPHER. where the slave Trimalchio . He started with a nickel in his pocket. which laughs at that which is unhappy. in the somnolent Suffolk village of Inwardleigh. shining pig. a seductive play of the minor parts. The hunter is now beside himself. This is something which Petronius employs to great effect in 'Trimalchio's Feast' from the Satyricon. gently puts his paws around the hunter and says. the effect is disgusting and if we laugh at all then it is what Beckett calls 'the mirthless laugh'. 10 Whether we think of Yahoos shitting from trees. our hero Jonathan is trying to complete the index to a tome on ecclesiastical architecture. brave and true. This isn't really about hunting. Gregor Samsa wriggling on his back. rub corns. The bear breaks the assault rifle. is ip·9 Sarah sat at the bar of the Sealink Club being propositioned by men. an invitation to touch cuticles. He is going to get that bear. again he is sodomized. Some men·s propositioning was so slight as to be peripheral. after insect-haunted nightmares. Irritated by the insects which plague his cottage and break his concentration. some with their mouths. Some men propositioned her with their eyes. Some men propositioned her with nuance. reads. Again the bear charges. Staying with the example of Will Self. exquisite subtlety. or Orwell's further twisting of the animal-human coupling by presenting the tyrant Napoleon finally upright on two legs. 'OK come clean now. with a new rifle.

the words, 'WELCOME TO FLYTOPIA'. He then enters into a bizarre contract with the insects: they cease bothering him and keep the house clean and he lets them live and even feeds them. The Horatian humour consists in the sometimes protracted dialogues on the draining board with the silverfish, with Jonathan pedantically correcting their spelling. But the effect becomes more Juvenalian when we are treated to the image of Jonathan's person being cleaned by his newfound insect friends, 'He found their assistance in his toilet not simply helpful, but peculiarly sensual'. Finally, after haVing agreed to give over a spare bedroom to his insects, for breeding and feeding purposes, he happily sacrifices his girlfriend, unhappily called Joy, in response to their request for 'MORE MEAT',
Jonathan listened to her feet going up the stairs. He listened to the door of the spare bedroom open, he heard
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All of which confirms the human being's eccentric position in the world of nature. Consider the following remark from Wittgenstein,
Two people are laughing together, say at a joke. One of them has used certain somewhat unusual words and now they both break out into a sort of bleating. This might appear

very extraordinary to a visitor coming from quite a

different environment. Whereas we find it quite reasonable. (I recently witnessed this scene on a bus and was able to think myself into the position of the someone to whom this would be unfamiliar. From that point of view, it struck me as quite irrational, like the responses from an outlandish

animal.]'3

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the oppressive giant fluttering hum, as she was engulfed, then he rose and went out to pay the cabY

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OUTLANDISH ANIMALS

Humour is human. But what makes us laugh is the inversion of the animal-human coupling, whether it is Horatian urbanity or Juvenalian disgust. If being human means being humorous, then being humorous often seems to mean becoming an animal. But, paradoxically, what becoming an animal confirms is the fact that humans are incapable of beComing animals. For, the sad truth is that in humour humans show themselves to be useless animals; hopeless, incompetent, outlandish animals, shitting from trees and grunting like great apes. There is something charming about an animal become human, but when the human becomes animal, then the effect is disgusting.

There is something rather surreal about visualizing Wittgenstein on a double-decker bus thinking that thought whilst watching two people imitating sheep, but that is not the point. Satire works in precisely the way he describes. Namely, we are asked to look at ourselves as if we were visitors from an alien environment, to examine terrestrial existence from a Martian point of view. When we do this, then we begin to look like outlandish animals, and reasonableness crumbles into irrationality. This can be linked to an idea dear to the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, what he calls' deterritorialization' , and which he interestingly chooses to translate into English as 'outlandishness' .14 The critical task of the writer is to write from the place of the animal, to look at human affairs with a dog's or beetle's eye, as in Kafka's stories. Satire transforms us into outlandish animals, and the natural history of humanity is the vast research archive of the writer. By criss-crossing the frontier between the human and the animal, writers like Swift or Kafka produce a kind of shock

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effect that shakes us up and effects a critical change of perspective. Satire stands resolutely against the self-images of the age. Adorno famously writes that the only thing that is true in psychoanalysis is the exaggerations. But this would seem to be even more true of satire. In Book IV of Gulliver's Travels, Swift was not persuaded of the existence of talking horses. Rather, his critical point is that there is nothing to prevent this possibility once we begin to conceive of ourselves as rational animals. The truth of satire is obviously not to be assessed in terms of literal verifiability, but rather to warn us against a danger implicit in our self-conception. To have an effect, the warning signals have to be deafening.
KANT'S PARROT

wonderful 1978 play Immanuel Kant. Kant is sailing to America, the country that was always for him 'eine Perversitat', to receive an honorary doctorate from Columbia UniverSity and to have an operation for his glaucoma. Of course, absolutely none of this is true. Kant travels in the company of Frau Kant, his servant Ernst Ludwig, and his parrot Friedrich. Being Kant's parrot, Friedrich has awesome philosophical ability. Indeed, Kant says that the great Leibniz declined to give a lecture in KOnigsberg because he knew that Friedrich the parrot would be present. The whole piece has a wonderfully Dadaist, almost dreamlike, quality which is crowned by the mini-dialogues between Kant and his parrot, where the animal bathetically mirrors the great philosopher's words. Let me give a flavour of the German alongside my translation,
Kant:
Ich bin von Anfang an nur mit Friedrich gereist heimlich naturgemal"J durch ganz Deutschland Kant ist aus Konigsberg nicht hinausgekommen wird gesagt aber wo Kant ist ist Konigsberg Konigsberg ist wo Kant ist

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In this chapter, we have been pursuing an interesting paradox. On the one hand, humour is what picks us out as human, it is what is proper to the human being, situated as we are between beasts and angels. Humour confirms the human being's eccentric pOSition in nature, as improper within it, as reflectively alienated from the physical realm of the body and external nature. Yet, on the other hand, what takes place in humour, particularly in satire, is the constant overstepping of the limit between the human and the animal, demonstrating their uneasy neighbourhood. But, bringing together both sides of this paradox, we might say that the studied incongruities of humour show the eccentric pOSition of the human in nature by recalling the benign humanity of the animal and the disturbing animality of the human. The human being is amphibious, like a boat drawn up on the shore, half in the water, half out of it. We are a paradox. Mention of water brings to mind a final maritime example of humour, humans and animals in Thomas Bernhard's

[Kant:
From the beginning I only travelled with Friedrich clandestinely natu ra lly through all of Germany It is said that Kant never left Konigsberg but where Kant is is Konigsberg Konigsberg is where Kant is

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[zu Friedrich]
Wo ist Konigsberg?

[to Friedrich]
Where is Konigsberg?

Friedrich:
Wo Kant ist

Friedrich:
Where Kant is

Kant:

Kant:

Und wo ist Kant?

And where is Kant?

Friedrich:
Kant ist wo Konigsberg ist. 15

Friedrich:
Kant is where Konigsberg is.]

Much could be said about parrots. They are surely the most unnerving of animals because of their uncanny ability to imitate that which is meant to pick us out as a species: language. Comic echo of the human, holding up a ridiculing mirror to our faces, the parrot is the most critical beast of all the field. The first century Neapolitan poet Statius writes, PARROT, Prince among birds, delightful slave, you speak just like a person, and make more sense than most, repeating to us what we say to yoU. 16

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Rather. Homo sapiens is therefore not so much homo ludens as lohan Huizinga famously argued. but I do not have myself) Two heads of a cat and four heads of men in relation to the cat Source: Cnac-Mnam/Dist RMN. as in anxiety. we are homo ridens. In this sense. and the fact that. all-tao-human. laughing beings. and 'the being gifted with laughter'. and begin to reflect on what I had previously taken for granted. we might want to describe our sapience and our humanity as powerfully exemplified in the attainment of a humorous attitude. homo risibilis. When I laugh or just smile. which suggests both 'the risible or ridiculous being'. In this sense. the world is made strange and unfamiliar to the touch.Post-Colonal Theory Three Ich bin. humour might be said to be one of the conditions for taking up a critical position with respect to what passes for everyday life. in Genesis 17. Humour effects a breakage in the bond connecting the human being to its unreflective. In Hebrew. everyday existence. or indeed. I Humour is hUIn?!l. prodUCing a change in our situation which is both liberating and elevating. but also captivating. aber ich habe mich nicht [I am. where humanity would be identified with the capacity to play. Charles Le Brun The incongruities of humour light up the eccentricity of the human situation with regard to ourselves and nature.Laughing at Your Body . God himself chooses this name . In humour. I see myself as the outlandish animal that I am. showing all too clearly the capture of the human being in the nets of nature. the name 'Isaac' or 'Isha-ak' means 'the one who will laugh' .

most disturbingly in anorexia. what's the bloody point?'3 Funny. Peter Berger recalls Max Scheler's distinction between being and having. I would wager. In his very useful study oflaughter. the best of the classic British Carry On films. The claim here is that the eccentric position of the human being in nature is confirmed by the fact that not only are we our bodies.. but it is not something I actually possess? It is this situation that is suggested by my epigraph: I most certainly am. (pause. But more generally. BEING AND HAVING ::J <- o o E ::J ::r: c I would now like to focus these thoughts in relation to the body. the moment that reflection begins. that the animal is its body. I saw . then can I ever overcome that distance? If. I simply do not know whether this is true (if a lion could speak then we could not understand him. for me. externalize the discomfort and insulate myself in thought. where being becomes having and subject becomes object. Indeed.the physical and metaphysical aspects of being human.for the son of ninety-nine-year-old Abram and the ninetyyear-old Sarai shows that He too is not without a sense of humour. vidi. As reward for their faith in Him. I conked out'. Let me try and explain how it works in relation to humour.. where the pretended tragical sublimity of the human collapses into a comic ridiculousness which is perhaps even more tragiC. are defined by this continual failure to coincide with themselves? Does not our identity preCisely consist in a lack of self-identity. as eccentric animals. he expires) . eh? . That is. We might pause to recall that when Williams took his own life in 1988. m ~ o o . and also underlines my alienation from the world and nature. Vene. which is the butt of so much humour. God adds syllables to the elderly couple's names. we also have our bodies. a foreign land. I become a stranger to myself. Humour functions by explOiting the gap between being a body and having a body. where one might say that in pain we all try and turn ourselves into Cartesian mind/body dualists. What makes us laugh. something which occurs most obviously when we lie anxiously prone in the dentist's chair. vici says the great Kenneth Williams playing the dying Caesar in what is. Abram incredulously falls down laughing. between -let us say .. is the return of the physical into the metaphysical. becoming AbrAHam and SarAH . but yet I do not have myself PHYSICS AND METAPHYSICS "C >.. > tV This is perhaps a disturbing. 'I came. there are a whole range of experiences. his final words were 'Oh. where the body that I am becomes the body that I have. and assume some sort of critical pOSition with respect to itself This is most obviously the case in the experience of illness. which confirms both the possibility of taking up a critical pOSition. I attempt to take a distance from my body. but when a parrot does speak then we assume that he does not understand himself But who knows?).. classically enough. indeed .a quest. In pain. the body-subject becomes an object for me. on hearing that a child will be born to him.an onomatopoeic 'Ha-Ha'. the human being can subjectively distance itself from its body. then can I simply return home to unreflective familiarity? Might one not conjecture that human beings. perhaps a consoling thought. in the fact that identity is always a question for us . 2 Let us assume. Yet.. the curious thing about such experiences is that if! can distance myself from my body.that we might vigorously pursue.

Carol stood in front of the full-length mirror that formed the cupboard door. too-short trousers. then Will Self is someone who delights in o E this gap. the strange fact that we have a body. It is a little like Gulliver's trip to the giants of Brobdingnag. better. as belonging to another sex. in Swift's case. 6 "C C >- m . finally realizes what has slowly been taking shape between her legs for the past few weeks. or even five centimetres long. where the fact of our materiality comes as some-thing of a surprise.. and trilby. the heroine in Cock. all of which " merely emphasize his strangeness with regard to the world in which he finds himself If humour takes place in the gap between being a body '=: and having a body. albeit customized. ARSEHOLES its incongruity: peeking out from her hair-bedraggled lips. exacerbated with its short.. pimples and freckles. like John Cleese. or. After a slow process of realization.c ::::I . t· ill-fitting raincoat. 5 This is pure having. A pinky-brown roll of flesh could be pulled back from its tip to reveal a little mushroom. where all the awful imperfections of the flesh are revealed by being too microscopically detailed. where the distinction between the metaphysical and the physical is explored in the ) .Yet. where he describes in horrible detail the breast of a female giant. a man who grows a vagina behind his knee is seduced by his male doctor. The way such humour works is through a play of distance and proximity. it is as if we temporarily inhabited a Gnostic universe. regarding least three. where the reader has their nose rubbed in the physical object being described.4 If we laugh with the body. One thinks of the way in which certain comics. so awkwardly inhabit their I bodies. In humour. His 1992 book. Will Self wonderfully elicits a sort of sensual disgust. that nothing could appear more nauseous. a penis. there seems to be an unspoken contract between misanthropy (and. and the hue both of that and the dug so varified with spots. It stood prominent six foot and could not be less than sixteen in circumference. Carol decided. Even more powerfully. What interests me here is the way in which the protagonists experience this somewhat unexpected transformation.J In humour. a woman grows a penis and rapes her useless. in the centre of which was a dry eye. The nipple was about half the bigness of my head. is made up of two stories: =: :c in Cock. OUR SOULS. The .. exc o alcoholic husband. which is indeed Carol's own. but in a manner that is remote and resolutely unsentimental. Cock and Bull. Carol. is experienced as radically alien. ::::I C I II C\ C\ III ~ . a disgust produced by an exceSSively acute description of the sensuous. what Bakhtin rather euphemistically calls 'the material-bodilylower-stratum'. In Bull. It was at The comedy of the body is most obviously and crudely exemplified in scatological humour. She sat down on the edge of the bed and the fingers of both her hands toyed with it. It was. This is why the administration of humour is delegated to the MiniStry of Silly Walks. if humour is the return of the physical into the metaphysical. then its physicality is essentially that of the body. one thinks of Monsieur Hulot's visible disconnection with his body. then what we often laugh at is the body. physical particles of the comic universe are the body parts. The body is comically distanced in being so closely described and the self wilfully and eccentrically tries to pullout of its orbit. misogyny) and sensuality.. devoid of the pouch that perhaps ought to accompany it. The body.

I wrapped myself in swathes of newspaper. And in winter. where we are asked to look at the world with the 'nether eye' that is the focus for the completely anal wit of Chaucer's The Miller's Tale.. This Nicholas anon let flee a fart. 10 The joke here is not on Celia. 7 This is the research field that I want to baptize 'post-colonal theory' . 'Two college sophs of Cambridge growth/Both special wits. the undisputed heavyweight champion of scatological wit is Rabelais.. Chameleon in spite of himself. The bathetic final couplet comes at the end of an agonizingly prolix series of circumlocutions where Peter tries to ascertain from Cassinus what it is about Celia. but on Cassinus and Peter. Filthard Cackard Stinkard May you burn with St Anthony's fire If all Your foul Arseholes Are not well wiped ere you retire.'look. We find Gargantua injuriously freeassociating in the following manner. wonder how I lost my wits. :::J :::J E o I II en c ~ J: :c en .gap between our souls and arseholes. the humour here is gratuitously direct.. What makes us laugh is the return of the most physical of facts into the spiritual seclusion of the two beautiful souls . and . Celia shits. The author being Dean Swift. this isn't really about hunting is it?' Another splendidly tasteless example of scatological wit is Swift's 'Cassinus and Peter: A Tragical Elegy'. viewed from a certain angle. under my greatcoat. for if the body is what returns in humour then surely the fart is both the auditory and olfactory announcement of the body's imminent return. 9 Connecting this with what I said above about animality. animal jokes are a sort of code for the body and its rather wayward desires . animal physicality. the body returns in laughter in the form of an eruptive.I III o C And whilst we are trying to look at things with 'the nether eye'. PEDITOLOGY L. where the eponymous hero engages the topiC of theimpermeablility of The Times Literary Supplement. My favourite example of what might be called pedito-logical wit comes from Beckett's Molloy. which concludes with the unforgettable couplet. And Nicholas amydde the ers he smoote.the return of being into having. that ails him so. And he was redy with his iren hoot. there you have Molloy. In this sense.8 Of course.. Shittard Squittard Crackard Turduous Thy bung Has flung Some dung On us. Celia.. and lovers both'. That with the strook he was almost yblent. As greet as it had been a thonder-dent. Nor. we should consider the lowly fart. his love. Oh! Celia.

One day I counted them. 12 The thought that I would like briefly to follow here is humour as a syntax of weakness. makes us laugh. After all. Neither is live. 'Damn it. dividing the 3 15 farts in something like a travesty of the technique of the division of the theme in a medieval sermon. gas escapes from my fundament on the least pretext. Mathematics meanders into meaninglessness or at least into the paralysed stoicism described in Murphy. Extraordinary how mathematics help you to know yourself. We realize "C >- lEI ~ o . I can't help it.farting . I hardly fart at all. in April. It is a wonderful example of what Freud means by humour being an economy in the expenditure of affect.. Four farts every fifteen minutes. as a comic syntax. the laugh laughing at the laugh." ::J '- :c ::J E a o r::: What is so humorous here is not the simple admission of farting .and the mathematical method for treating it. I laugh at the phrase. Damn it.. calling it into question. I have tried. It is laughter that opens us up and causes our defences to drop momentarily. The genius of Beckett's humour is that he makes us laugh and then calls us into question through that laughter.I IU at . Invent. This would seem to be compounded by the final phrase of the passage. This is a syntax that can be found throughout Beckett's work in a whole series of wonderfully self-undoing. but then Molloy adds the clause. The Times Literary Supplement was admirably adapted to this purpose. At this point. Even farts made no impression on it. of a never failing toughness and impermeability. let me go back to the quotation from Molloy. 'Extraordinary how mathematics help you to know yourself'. that is not the end of the story. irs not excessive.did not shed them until the earth awoke. The tension we feel in reading or listening to this passage is produced by the sheer incongruity between the item under discussion . the effect of making the laughter stick in our throats.but the way in which Molloy concocts a mathematical analysis of his flatulence. a mere bubble. for there then follows a typically Beckettian flourish that can be described in terms of what Beckett calls 'the syntax of weakness'. I have tried'. the.which is not that funny in itself. I hardly fart at all'. Regardless of how much mathematics might be said to contribute to self-knowledge. despite the unforgettably direct farting scene in Mel Brooks' 1974 film Blazing Saddles . self-weakening phrases: 'Live and invent. it is clear that in the case at hand. I hardly fart at all'.. and acknowledging that perhaps the whole joke was Simply a waste of time. for good. the risus purus of the epigraph to this book. 'I should never have mentioned it'.. irs hard not to mention it now and then. This is the highest laugh. I think this has . o r::: >- IU C'I :c C'I ~ . it has contributed exactly nothing at all. however great my distaste. 'Damn it. No matter. I should never have mentioned it. Three hundred and fifteen farts in nineteen hours. to go up in a cloud of rather odious smoke. It is not the word. the whole scene seems to evaporate into nothing as Kant would put it. Molloy concludes by denying his original statement. Irs unbelievable. or an average of over sixteen farts an hour. It's nothing. However. We are led from one end of the joke to the other with a feeling of increasing absurdity whose conclusion produces a straightforward logical contradiction: having begun by admitting to gas escaping his fundament on the least pretext. Not even one fart every five minutes. The realization that our willing suspension of disbelief has Simply resulted in an elaborate piece of nonsense. To see how this might work. but it is preCisely that moment of weakness that Beckett's humour rebounds upon the subject. mirthless laugh.

estranged. comic figures like Panurge and Gargantua. This is why the experience of the body in pain is so oddly analogous to the pleasures of laughter ..which is why it can hurt when you laugh. you break up: the bits that were you Start speeding away from each other for ever With no one to see. because so much medieval and early renaissance humour was a terribly learned and clerical affair. We cannot go back to the position where we are our bodies. that irreSistibly attracts me.in an instant that the object of laughter is the subject who laughs. one of the legendary Parker Brothers says in his first words in 12 years. it is this moment when the laughter dies away. the black sun of depression at the \ centre of the comic universe. The critical distance with regard to the world and nature that opens up in the incongruities of humour is testified to in the alienation we experience with regard to our bodies. coughing. Furthermore. as is revealed in the numerous. half out of it. what an oddity the human being is in the universe. Such is the curse of reflection. In this sense. C'I C > n. In Peter Chelsom's wonderful 1994 film Funny Bones. nausea. true: We had it before. whose identification of a culture oflaughter (Lachenkultur) with 'the immortal collective popular body'. ::I III ~ C'I -' . In humour we orbit eccentrically around a black sun.eczema. convulsive vomiting. but the moon's dark side draws the tides'. when the laughter dies away. Next time you can't pretend There'll be anything else. After the wave of laughter has hit us with its saline spray. but rather some outbreak of the inhuman or the more-thanhuman.that is always the dark heart of humour.a Tristram-tristesse . And there is no wave without the undertow. 13 In my view. because we continually stumble over the fact that we have them. tics. It's only oblivion. We cannot Simultaneously be what we have.. 14 "C >- III ::I o o . then this hole cannot be plugged or bunged up. as I suggested. the body that is the object and subject of humour is an abject body . or Harlequin and Scaramouche from the commedia dell'arte. rashes. importantly I think. half in the water. Inter alia. this is my worry about Mikhail Bakhtin. is both historically questionable. the return of the physical into the metaphysical. we have our bodies in a way that can unsettle the way they are. which was what I meant with the amphibious image of the human being as a rowing boat. If humour is. some reminder of a relation to the body that is not available to us. or even Sir John Falstaff. I think Larkin is once again closer to the truth in his comically cruel description of senescence in 'The Old Fools' . but can also lead to a romanticization and heroization of the body. then this does not mean that we can return to the phYSical. weakening. And was all the time merging with a unique endeavour To bring to bloom the millio'n~petalled flower Of being here. acne. At death. alien. between our souls and arseholes. As the example from Beckett indicates. THE BLACK SUN AT THE CENTRE OF THE COMIC UNIVERSE . an undertow of doubt threatens to drag us under the water's surface. failing. Ultimately. multiple conversion hysteria to which we are prone . but then it was going to end. i a E ::J :c c 0 Cl Lrl ::J '- Let me go back to the body. If the bodily dimension of the comic takes place in the gap between being and having. do not represent human possibilities. with a sadness . we sense. then it is important to point out that the human being remains an ineluctably metaphysical entity. 'Nobody's pain is like ours. if humour is the return of the physical into the metaphysical. To put this in other words. etc.

followed by 'What a morning'. Sam's deeply mourned father. an existential bleakness. This is why the highest laughter.There is a metaphysical unease at the heart of humour that turns on the sheer difficulty of making our being coincide with our having of that being. We are eccentric creatures doomed to experience ourselves with what Nietzsche calls a 'pathos of distance' that is both the mark of our nobility and the fact of our solitude.. eh? L. indeed. sticks in our throats. ::J E ::J o I o c: N LrJ . or. a little like when we recall Kenneth Williams' desperate final words. the mirthless laughter. whose final words to his son were 'Fight. fight. a basic ineradicable human loneliness. when we think of the final words of Bill Beckett. IS Funny.. fight'.

to our central image: something mechanical encrusted on something living [du mecanique plaque sur du vivant).1 Three heads of an owl and three heads of men in relation to the owl Source: Cnac-Mnam/Dist RMN_ Charles Le Brun .:-. I '- E o ~ ~ o C LrJ LrJ .1 Alongside Freud's 1905 Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. Let us then pass from the exact idea of a machine to the vaguer one of a thing in general. is a thing_ What..---.-.~ J We shall have a fresh series of laughable images which will be obtained by taking a blurred impression..:. so to speak. only the human being is comical) Plessner I' . -. Let us then return.a Note on Bergson and Wyndham Lewis Four Eigentlich komisch ist nur der Mensch [Really... of the outlines of the former and will bring us to this new law: we laugh every time a person gives us the impression of being a thing [Nous rions toutes les fois qu 'une personne nous donne I'impression d'une chose).. if one considers the image from this standpoint. incited laughter was the momentary transformation of a person into a thing. ~ .'.. Bergson's principal thesis is the following. Here. A mechanical arrangement.The Laughing Machine . the living being under discussion was a human being. therefore. a person. Henri Bergson's Le rire from 1900 is the theory oflaughter that exerted the greatest influence in the twentieth century..--. for the last time.. on the other hand.

through to Chaplin. because it somehow frightens us. in one memorable . from the early comedies of Mack Sennett. the marionette.. This is why the feeling that often accompanies laughter is not simply pleasure. 'Yes.L. Andre Breton notes the early and enduring love affair between cinema and humour. Cinema was obliged to encounter humour almost straight away because film not only . Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers. almost unconscious. becoming an inhuman thing that stands over against the human being. as for example in the story that Groucho Marx used to like to relate about a man who was condemned to be hanged. The comic figure. This is obviously the case in mime and visual humour. the litde protagonist literally becomes an automaton. 'Have you any last words before we spring the trap?' And the condemned man says. Bergson's account of laughter really comes alive when one thinks of silent cinema. There is a compulsion to repeat in the comic. Whether it is the mechanical rigidity of Chaplin's body. Harold lloyd. o E :::J :r: c :::J o Two claims are being made in this passage: first. the human beginS to blur with the machine. but equally in cartoons. submitting himself absent-mindedly to the endless repetitiveness of the industrial production process.like poetry . is possessed by un effect de raideur. we laugh when a human being or another living being. is a person becoming a thing. mechanical repetitiveness. that the central image of Bergson's book is the mechanical encrusted onto the living. whether one thinks of photocopiers. second. but rather uncanniness. Humour therefore consists in the momentary transformation of the physical into the machinic. The comic figure possesses. At its humorous edges. Modern Times. humour is here produced by the different ways in which the mechanical or thingly encrusts itself onto the liVing. The priest says to him. The two core concepts in Bergson's discussion of laughter are rigidity (rrudeur) and repetition. soda machines or air-conditioning units. thingamajig. a tragically haggard Buster Keaton achieves this effect by staring impassively into the camera. In Beckett's 1965 Film. In Chaplin's finally too didactic anti-capitalist parable.. What fascinates Bergson is the comic quality of the automaton. a repetitiveness that is also endemic to the machinic. a certain stiffness or inflexibility which is emphasized through an absentminded. Chaplin satirizes the industrial machine by becoming a machine himself. becoming what the French call machin. becoming machine-like. I don't think this damn thing is safe'. at the dawn of that quintessentially twentieth-century art form: cinema. begins to appear somehow thingly or machine-like.represents the successive situations of life. what makes us laugh is a person who gives us the impression of a thing. the person-becomething of Keaton's face or the mute perversity of Harpo Marx. Bergson's book was published in 1900. We often laugh because we are troubled by what we laugh at. or better. when the mechanical encrusts itself onto the living like plaque on the surface of a tooth. whose behaviour we imagine we can predict. but also claims to take account of their interconnection and enchainment and in order to affect the emotions of the spectator it is obliged to employ extreme solutions. the doll. This is particularly the case with gallows humour. in my view. 2 Now. Bringing together these two claims. and Bergson is thinking of characters like Don Quixote and Baron Von Miinchhausen. the world of the jack-in-the-box. and the Coyote never catches his Road Runner. Buster Keaton. where Tom endlessly repeats his pursuit of Jerry. the robot.

if a man behaves like a cabbage.. or that there is any 'mind' or 'person' there at all. The other day in the underground. or physical bodies. beyond this Simple reversal of Bergson. but rather . But if that is true. then that is also funny. then is the opposite thesis also not true? Namely.surprise. 'The Meaning of the Wild Body' . Lewis writes against Bergson. do we also not laugh when a thing gives us the impression of a person? This is the position argued for by Wyndham Lewis. that the world of appearance is accepted as quite natural. But if you found a man or a woman reading it. .. 3 So.4 thing behaving like a person. you would This thought adds an interesting twist to the matter. you would be very much surprised. then that is funny. It is only when you come to deny that they are o ~ 'persons'. Then. artist. There is the same physical anomaly. let us turn to the plant. but if a cabbage behaves like a man. It is just as absurd externally. is it not? We might just as well be cabbages. there is a deeper point to Lewis's argument.. It is not so much a person behaving like a thing or vice versa that is the root of the comic. The root of the Comic is to be sought in the sensations resulting from the observations of a '::::l incontestable. A CABBAGE READING FLAUBERT . surprise . In a fine brief essay from 192 7.(") We have now arrived at a fresh formulation of the problem: what is essentially laughable is a person acting like a person. He continues. Now in one sense you ought to be just as much surprised at finding a man occupied in this way as if you had found an orchid or a cabbage. and deftly project himself between the sliding doors. there is something laughable about me behaving like a little professor of philosophy and you behaving like earnest readers of a book on humour. let us grant Bergson his thesis: we laugh when a person gives us the impression of a thing. avant-gardist and creator of Vorticism. when the mechanical encrusts itself onto the living. Lewis goes on to give a further vivid example drawn from the London Underground.scene literally being ingested by the cogs of the industrial leviathan. as the train was moving out of the station. behaving I persons. there is something essentially ridiculous about a human being behaving like a human being. But from that point of view all men are necessarily E ::::l o comic: for they are all as things. who came up with such choice phrases as 'Laughter is the brain-body's snort of exultation'. which he pushed to behind him. HOW HUMOUR BEGINS IN PHILOSOPHY ell :c u ~ ~ ~ ItI en :c en . to include the animal world. Then he not be surprised. I and those aro~nd me saw a fat but active man run along. that is what I mean. and not at all ridiculous.I ell J:: ::::J ItI I- <Xl L. Suppose you came upon an orchid or a cabbage reading Flauberfs Salammb6 or Plutarch's Moralia. That is. But.The deepest root of the Comic is to be sought in this anomaly. It is . To bring vividly to our mind what we mean by 'absurd'. Person-become-thing and thing-become-person are both funny and therefore both Bergson and Lewis would appear justified in their theories of laughter. and enquire how the plant could be absurd. It is finally absurd.a person acting like a person. with a denial of 'the person'.NOW THAT'S FUNNY So. life becomes immediately both 'real' and very serious. or a tom-cat.

what is ludicrous is simply a person..an automaton . Thinking back to the last chapter. the Cartesian meditations of Husserl. the judgement that what I am now perceiving are in fact thinking beings like myself. Napoleon. my ego. between 'being' and 'having'. neat and deliberate. In this way. and not automatons.s automatons? I judge that they are men.where the living becomes encrusted with the mechanical. taken from a funeral speech and quoted by a German philosopher. In short. acting just like a person. as the carriage was full. a disinterested coolness that the man has with respect to both the action he carries out and the fit but fat body that carries out the action. between body and soul. In Descartes. and executing a difficult manoeuvre with some aplomb. a fat but fit '- ::::l E ::::l o I o C person.stood leaning against them. we come back to another of Bergson's central ideas when he writes that what takes place in the comic is 'the body taking precedence over the soul' (. philosophy requires a certain detachment of the rational soul from the sensible body. but clumsy embarkation. This is funny because of a certain detachment.. It lies in the fact that our attention is suddenly recalled from the soul to the body. as I just happen to have done. is not something inferred from the evidence of the senses. That is to say. my soul. There was nothing especially funny about his face or general appearance. . For Descartes. 'He was virtuous and plump'. It was its detachment that was responsible for this. Yet his running.c CII Or again. who was a psychologist when he wished to be so. Reflect for a moment on what Descartes asks of us in his thought experiment in the Second Meditation. just as I say that I see the wax. But this philosophical operation is achieved by a momentary transformation of a person into a thing . 6 Philosophy begins with the adoption of a contemplative attitude that permits a certain detachment of the soul from the body. it is a comic effect. whether it is Descartes's thought experiment in the Meditations. a separation of the metaphysical from the physical. I normally say that I see the men themselves. combined with the coolness of his eye. had noticed that the transition from tragedy to comedy is effected simply by sitting down.J I- . but rather something that has to be deduced rationally.Ie corps prenant Ie pas sur l'ame'). humour takes root in the unbridgeable gap between the physical and the metaphysical. His eye I decided was the key to the absurdity of the effect.c tg c . when I imagine myself..c :::J tg ~ CI CI .5 In this case. He writes.? c u CII . Yet do I see any more than hats and coats which could conceal For Descartes. This is why the philosophical quest for certainty cannot be reduced to a naIve empiricism. in distinction from its corporeal housing. If I look out of the window and see men crossing the square. or Thomas Nagel pondering what it is like to be a bat. to which several of us responded. or whatever. everything becomes laughably absurd when I begin to detach myself from my body. And so something which I thought I was seeing with my eyes is in fact grasped solely by the faculty of judgement which is in my mind. there is a separation of the dubitable world of fleeting appearances from an indubitable point of thought . had a ludicrous effect. This is how humour begins in philosophy. Why do we laugh at an orator who sneezes at the most moving part of his discourse? Where lies the comic element in this sentence.

is the fact of having a body. c N -0 .." I '- E :r: 0 0 => => that is both the engine of sceptical doubt and the point at which doubt comes to an end. I suddenly and coolly detach myself from my immediate experience and it is from this contemplative standpOint that the bathetic rationality of humour performs its magic. finally. Jokes are the expression of an abstract relation to the world. And one can easily engage in it for an hour or two every day. What cannot be doubted is the fact that there is a thinking thing that doubts. In hearing a joke. It is only when the soul is detached from the body that the body can take precedence over the soul. What is funny. But to find this funny is to adopt a philosophical perspective. it is in this contemplative detachment of the soul from the body that humour takes root as the body taking precedence over the soul. The great virtue of humour is that it is philosophizing in action. it is to view the world and myself diSinterestedly. like Wyndham Lewis's man on the London Underground. Now. Descartes famously and perhaps rightly said that one could only do metaphysics for a few hours a year. a bright silver thread in the great duvet of existence.

'- Anthropology shares with humour the basic strategy of defamiliarization: common sense is disrupted. clowns or jesters. If one of the tasks of the anthropologist is to revise and relativize the categories of Western culture by bumping them up against cultures hitherto adjudged exotic. demythologizing the exotic and inverting the world of common sense. the unexpected is evoked. familiar subjects are situated in unfamiliar. 1 I :::J o E :::J o c / Two heads of parrots and two heads of men in relation to the parrot Source: Cnac-Mnam/Dist RMN. Humour views the world awry. The lesson that we can draw from Driessen is that humour is a form of critical social anthropology. tricksters. Max Frisch Jokes are like small anthropological essays. then we might say with Henk Driessen that. Charles Le Brun The lesson that Driessen draws from this is that anthropologists are akin to comedians. defamiliarizing the familiar.the Ethicity and Ethnicity of Humour Five Which one do you think is humorous? a If we laugh at a third person b If you laugh at yourself c If you can get someone else to laugh at themselves.Foreigners are Funny . even shocking contexts in order to make the audience or readership conscious of their own cultural assumptions. bringing us back to the everyday by estranging us from it. This is what I meant above when I claimed that humour prOvides an oblique .

Gj C . and that is where matters begin to get difficult and interesting... ::J ::r: ::J E o THE UNIVERSAL AND THE PARTICULAR o c: With this question. as a strategy aimed at combating the intolerance and racism of Western ethnocentrism. If this was not the case. sleep. to say almost nothing. the lesson to be drawn from anthropology is the humility of a certain cultural relativism. and might. . The speed and brevity of wit can become tiresome and prolix in another tongue. Its ostensive untranslatability endows native :> c c u:: . We know that some tribes are said to be dour and unlaughing.. is the same true of humour? Your sense of humour may not be the same as mine . it is only as good as its examples. Finally. jokes and the comic begin by claiming that humour is universal. and that humorous savoir faire always contains a certain je ne sais quoi? Humour is a form of culwral inSider-knowledge. or very little. Most studies of humour.. Others laugh easily. verbal humour is notoriously recalcitrant to translation. requires fieldwork and detailed contextualization. of the same order as admitting that all human beings eat. And what makes humour both so fascinating and tricky to write about is the way in which the examples continually exceed the theoretical analysis one is able to give of them .let us hope it is not for both of our sakes . and a joke explained is a joke killed. Anyone who has tried to render what they believe to be a hugely funny joke into a foreign language only to be met by polite incomprehension will have realized that humour is terribly difficult to translate. again like anthropology. Pygmies lie on the ground and kick their legs in the air. the Commedia dell'arte throughout Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the enduring popularity of various forms of mime and silent comedy. witness the great success enjoyed by . It lets us view the world as if we had just landed from another planet. Now. although the varieties and intensities of humour vary dramatically.phenomenology of ordinary life. Humour is local and a sense of humour is usually highly context-specific. then the French would not use the word'. For Driessen.3 But if Valery is right and the French use humour because it is untranslatable. arguably the most intractable dilemma of humour can be broached: the universal versus the particular. Paul Valery noted. perhaps impossible. be said to function like a linguistic defence mechanism. . Mary Douglas writes. then might it not be the very untranslatability of humour that somehow compels us? Might not its attraction reside in the fact that it cannot be explained to others. Monsieur Hulot and Mr Bean.but does the study of humour lead us to embrace cultural relativism? <. just as all cultures have a language and most of them seem to have some sort of religiOUS practice usually involving a belief in a hidden metaphysical reality and an afterlife. panting and shaking in paroxysms of laughter. C (I. breathe and defecate.2 However. 'Humour is untranslatable. Apparently there have never been cultures without laughter. So what? The fact that all cultures laugh might be a formal universal truth. such as Chaplin. II: UI CIJ CI LL . The comedian is the anthropologist of our humdrum everyday lives.they say more in saying less. indeed. It is a practice that gives us an alien perspective on our practices. of course. All cultures laugh. Any study of humour. but it tells us nothing at the level of a concrete context. Although various forms of non-verbal humour can travel across linguistic frontiers. to say that humour is universal is. In 1921.

and. nation. Recall that George Orwell famously said that the British Empire was based on two fundamental beliefs: 'nothing ever changes'. and the English laugh at the Irish.. second. where the condition for the joke is the fact that you already know the joke about Chinese food invariably leaving one hungry soon after . The sweet melancholy of exile is often rooted in a nostalgia for a lost sense of humour. a case that was obviously not helped overmuch by the events of the last century. In relation to humour. It takes us back to the place we are from. The Germans laugh at the Ostfrieslanders and everyone else laughs rather nervously at the Germans. the Swedes laugh at the Finns. where the rapidity of one's intimacy is in proportion to both a common sense of humour and a common sense of humour's exclusivity? We wear our cultural distinctiveness like an insulation layer against the surrounding alien environment. The word ethos must here be understood in its ancient Greek sense. The Danes laugh at . Such is the menacing fupside of a belief in the untranslatability and exclUSivity of humour. Either way. the Newfies and the Nova Scotians assume these roles. this is often vaguely expressed in two ways: first that 'foreigners' do not have a sense of humour. > c: c: ~ II. the Irish are traditionally described as stupid and the Scots as canny..4 In ethnic humour.. A sense of humour is often what connects us most strongly to a specific place and leads us to predicate characteristics of that place. It warms us when all else is cold and unfamiliar. In relation to humour. and the Dutch laugh right back. Indeed. <. In England. 5 The facts of ethnic humour are all too well known: the French laugh at the Belgiums. f 6 you eat. and the Irish laugh right back. humour can be said to return us to physicality and animality."' .speakers with a palpable sense of their cultural distinctiveness or even superiority. in the modern world. in the sense of a people. III 'Qj . . but also as disposition and character. as both custom and place. that they are funny. assigning certain dispositions and customs to its inhabitants. and 'foreigners are funny'. and usually believed to be either exceSSively stupid or peculiarly canny. social group or. Ted Cohen relates a splendidly objectionable joke. the Belgiums laugh at the Dutch. UI III D' c: o II. whose history stretches back at least 200 years. In this sense. the belief is that 'they' are inferior to 'us' or at least somehow disadvantaged because 'they' are not like 'us' . the Germans are obviously a special case and much could be said about anti-German jokes. the ethos of a place is expressed by laughing at people who are not like us. whether that is the concreteness of a neighbourhood or the abstraction of a nation state.:alls a 'meta-joke'. is this not the experience of meeting a compatriot in an otherwise foreign environment. in Finland. in India. on holiday or at a conference. to a specific and circumscribed ethos. and the Finns laugh right back. This qualifies as what Coheri. the Karelians are deemed stupid and the Laihians clever. the Swedes. tribe. in Canada. The thing about German food is that no matter how much . ETHOS AND ETHNOS :J '- o E :J I o c: 00 -0 If. then it also returns us to locality. having a common sense of humour is like sharing a secret code. The Scots laugh at the English. an hour later you are hungry or power. as I have claimed. There is a further link to be made here between ethos and ethnos. Such are the powerful basic ingredients of ethnic humour. German humour is no laughing matter. the Sikhs and the Gujaratis occupy these places.

For good or ill. Warming to her theme. and arises in the period of the rise of the modern nation state. This dating will be confirmed in the next chapter when we turn to Shaftesbury's hugely influential treatise on humour from 1709.. certainly fantastical. . nor to be strongly recommended... the association of humour with the comic and jocular is specifically modern. It is indeed interesting to note no lesser a personage than George Eliot vvriting in 1856 in a fascinating essay on the great German wit. she continues. Therefore. national styles and Although I have spent many happy hours thumbing its pages. THERE WAS A FRENCHMAN. or laborious and interminable as a Lapland day. The earlier meaning derived from the ancient Greek medical doctrine of the four humours or fluids that made up and regulated the body: blood. such humour is undoubtedly funny. no instinctive tact.7 L. but curiously outdated. particularly when one thinks of Europe. in particular the astonishing rise of Britain as a trading. German humour generally shows no sense of measure. this is not just a joke. but a joke about a joke. and it refers nostalgically to a past whose place in the present is almost mythical. phlegm. It is a curious fact that much humour. This is obviously not to say that there was no humour prior to that date. AN ENGLISHMAN AND AN IRISHMAN . humour Signified a mental dispOSition or temperament. Thus. a sheer play upon form. Now. If one consults the entry on 'humour'. colonizing and warring nation after the establishment of constitutional monarchy in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. national differences. Ethnic humour is very much the Hobbesian laughter of superiority or sudden glory at our eminence and the other's stupidity. Heinrich Heine. but rather that the association of the word 'humour' with the comic and the jocular is an innovation that belongs to a specific time and place: the English language in the late seventeenth century. and you accept the conclusion as an arrangement of Providence rather than that of the author. The modernity of humour is . But it is neither innocent. . Prior to that date..eating. the OED states that the first recorded usage of the word to indicate something amusing or jocular occurs in 1682.. A German comedy is like a German sentence: you see no reason in its structure why it should ever come to an end. in which one loses all hope that the stars and quiet will ever come. as in Ben Jonson's 'Every man in his humour'. from 1598. it is either floundering and clumsy as the antics of a leviathan. The curious feature of the German case is that the alleged absence of a sense of humour has been thoroughly internalized by German culture and one often hears one's German friends bemOaning their lack of a sense of humour. the intimate connection between the ethnicity and 'ethicity' of humour must be recognized and not Simply Sidestepped. There is something deeply anachronistic about much humour. bile and black bile (melaneolia). In my view. ~ o I E ~ o r::: We should note that Heine got his own back in typical style by describing the English language as the 'hiss of egOism' CZischlaute des Egoismus'). old Europe still has a robust fantasy life. it is always an open question how much etymological authority one should invest in the Oxford English Dictionary. is powerfully connected to perceived. It is this link between humour and melancholy that Breton suggests in his notion of humour noir.

A form of irony. Swift brings about effects amongst his compatriots that one would never expect from the most serious and well-argued works. the question of ethnicity returns once again here. at once pleasant and serious. Joyce and many other Irish contraries to Englishness.something also apparent in French accounts of the origin of the concept. although the attribution is not certain. uncommon and singular pleasantry. often deathly embrace. As Beckett replied when he was asked by an American journalist whether he was English: 'au contraire'. indeed paradoxical. :::J E :::J :r: o o I: With the dissenting voice of Voltaire. A sense of humour is often what is felt to be best shared with people who are from the same place as us. Swift was able to hold back the English government which was So. Sterne. Humour is a battlefield in the relation between what Richard Kearney rightly calls those national Siamese twins. This pamphlet has the title. to a specific ethos which is often identified with a particular people possessing a shared set of customs and characteristics. and it is that aspect of social life which is perhaps the most difficult to explain to people from . the Dean was not exactly English.9 One fmds the same view in Diderot's and D' Alembert's Encyc!opedie. Although the English word is originally a French borrowing. Wilde. no one possesses humour. who thought that the English had stolen the notion of humour from the comedies of Corneille. The same reply might also apply to Swift. for it is curious. 8 L. etc. But if Irishness is the contrary of Englishness. We should note the exemplary place of Swift in this French history as the 'plus haut point' of English humour. Amongst the authors of that nation. LL I: C\ o L- in advising the English to eat little Irish children with their cauliflowers. 'Humour' is a Word borrowed from English.. to define humour as something essential to Tesprit anglais'. it is curious to note that French dictionaries claim that the modern sense of humour is an English borrowing. then it is important to point that it is an internal contradiction.. 'A Modest Proposal·. locked together in a suffocatingly close. who begins his anthology of humour noir with Swift's 'Modest proposal'. French authors in the eighteenth century and as late as Victor Hugo in 1862 refer to 'that English thing they call humour'. This is something continued in Breton. and then to give Swift as the highest example of English humour. humour is what returns us to our locale.11 Of course. or this original pleasantry. Thus it 'IS. 'Diderot' writes. from the Anglo-Norman humour and the Old French humor. lD anglaisl. sentimental and satirical. Breton claims Swift as 'the true initiator' of humour noir. to a higher degree than Swift.. HUMOUR: The English use this word to designate an original. that appears to belong particularly to the English spirit il'esprit otherwise ready to remove the last means of sustenance and commerce from the Irish people. ridiculum acri. and as the inventor of 'ferocious and funereal pleasantry' CIa plaisanterie feroce et funebre') . 12 HAVING THE COURAGE OF OUR PAROCHIALISM LL L- I: I: ::l >- ev ev III UI L- . By the force which he is able to give to his pleasantries. England and Ireland. in a fascinating short article that may have been written by Diderot himself. The Dictionnaire de I'Academie Fran~aise is quite adamant on this point.

Equally. Humour can prOvide information about oneself that one would rather not have. then my point is that it can do this in an extremely uncomfortable way. or thrownness. CI.'- E ~ o ~ I o c somewhere else. finally. region or nation. II. This point is important because we should not.I C 'iii Lo C'I II. Perhaps one laughs at jokes one would rather not laugh at. then it might be a reminder that you are perhaps not the person you would like to be. That is to say. When it comes to what makes us laugh. It might equally put one back in one's place with the anxiety. If humour tells you something about who you are. the very relativity of humour might be said to contain an indirect appeal that this place stands in need of change. of the increase in activity which becomes necessary when these primary modes of functioning are inhibited is to be found in the fact that we produce a comic effect. In this sense. 'we must' . and crammed full of rather worrying colonial and sexist assumptions. as an eager cosmopolitan. and this is the basic feature of ethnic humour. Evidence. to force their way through into consciousness. Episodes of Monty Python that had me innocently rolling on the floor in pre-pubescent mirth in the early 1970s. in my view. COMIC REPRESSION A similar point can also be made in Freudian terms. as Frank Cioffi writes. This phenomenon is probably most sharply revealed in the gap between what one found funny in the past and what one now finds funny. I would rather not be reminded of national differences and national styles. indeed.:. However. shOWing how prejudices that one would rather not hold can continue to have a grip on one's sense of who one is. humour puts one back in place in a way that is powerfully particular and recalcitrantly relative. one might say that the very relativity of humour can function as an (un)timely reminder of who one is. if we allow these modes of thinking . it need not put us back in place in this manner. ethnic jokes can be interpreted as symptoms of societal repression. they articulate and reveal a certain economy of psychical expenditure. and which we -like so many others -laboriously tried to rehearse word-for-word during lunch breaks at school. and they can function as a return of the . As Freud claims. shame of where one is from. my tight-lipped refusal to laugh at an anti-Semitic joke might well be a symptom of my repressed anti-Semitism. jokes have a relation to the unconscious. For example. indeed. 'have the courage of our parochialism'. not that funny. that is.I ttl III L- >c c L- CI. If humour returns us to our locale. yet our sense of humour can often unconSCiously pull us up short in front of ourselves. a little like trying to explain the impotent rage of English football hooligans to foreign friends. that history is. In The Interpretation of Dreams. Now it can do this triumphantly. shy away from the relativistic nature of humour. whether the latter is our neighbourhood. humour puts us back in place. a nightmare from which we are all trying to awake. 13 As I have claimed. precisely as thrown into something I did not and would not choose. As such. a surplus of energy which has to be discharged in laughter. now seem both curiously outdated.'4 The claim here is that I produce a surplus of energy in laughter to cope with my inhibition when repressed unconscious material threatens to force its way through into consciousness. difficulty and. Freud makes a very perceptive remark about the relation between the comic and repression. In this sense. in Joyce's words. and the nature of what Heidegger would call one's Geworfenheit.

Grasping the nature of societal repression can itself be liberating. As such. IS '::> E ::> I o o r:: . jokes can be read in terms of what or simply who a particular society is subordinating.repressed. scapegoating or denigrating. As Trevor Griffiths writes. 'A joke that feeds on ignorance starves its audience'. but only negatively.

be empirically wrong. [All is not fish. adequacy of standards of value and sincerity. reasons which I would expect to be binding on others? Is there such a thing as comic raticinality?The question sounds peculiar as jokes would appear to presuppose none of the conditions for validity formulated by a philosopher like JUrgen Habermas: grammatical wellformedness. Jokes are notoriously recalcitrant to the standards of rationally motivated agreement that Habermas would want to claim for speech acts. jokes are the expression of sociality. That is. and grammatically ill-formed: 'What do Attila the Hun and Winnie the Pooh have in common? They have the same middle name'. September 1687 Two heads of boars and two heads of men in relation to the boar Source: Cnac-Mnam/Dist RMN.Humour as Sensus Communis Six Tout n'est pas poisson. manifestly untrue. and possess an implicit reasonableness. rightness. have highly inadequate standards of value. Every ~ '- :r: o c ~ o E . For whatever reason. but the essential point here is that humour is shared.The Joke's on All of Us . mais il y a des poissons partout. 1 Jokes can be insincere. However. I will give the grounds for this claim presently. but there are fish all over] Leibniz. Charles Le Brun Despite the obdurate relativity of humour. common sense. I can always refuse a priori to find something funny. let me pose the seemingly odd question: do jokes raise validity claims? That is. the thesis tharJ would like to pursue is that humour is a form of sensus communis. truth. Letter to Arnauld. are there good reasons for gags.

o UI c "CII Thus. we can oppose Shaftesbury's notion of humour o . if the gag does not get a laugh. One is more likely to use reason if its use gives pleasure." « o => => L. neither the written treatises of the learned. like fantasies and dreams. In a very patrician putdown. I~ ~ CII . To this I answer. strangely. For someone like Cicero. but the linking of sensus communis to humour is the invention of Anthony. ' 'Tis the height of sociableness to be friendly and communicative'. It would appear that the somewhat artificial Greek term koinonoemosune was the COinage of Marcus Aurelius. Shaftesbury seeks to defend 'true raillery' against the 'defensive raillery' of previous ages. Of course. 3 His 1709 treatise. or 'why don't you all join hands and try and make contact with the living'. In Alfred Schutz's terms. He writes. they have social reach. 5 Shaftesbury's implied antagonist is Hobbes. is sensus communis. Shaftesbury writes. nor the set discourses of the eloquent. without offence to the arguer.. a liberty in decent language to question everything. and an allowance of unravelling or refuting any argument. that according to the notion I have of reason.comedian knows that a joke that does not get a laugh is not a joke . are able of themselves to teach the use of it. because it encourages the use of reason. or 'this audience doesn't need a comic. o c Cl 00 Sensus communis is a Roman concept for which. In response to the accusation that humour is the irrational befuddlement of reason. and the treatise contains a most succinct refutation of Hobbes's conception of the state of nature. like Queen Victoria. there is no natural equivalent in ancient Greek. himself completely immersed in Roman culture. ' 'Tis not fit we should krfow that by nature we are all wolves' .. Such raillery can be justified as it makes conversations agreeable but also. refuse to be amused. Therefore. of course. please yourselves'. it needs an embalmer' . then the comic can compensate by adding the rejoinder: 'well. ·Tis the habit alone of reasoning which can make a reasoner. 2 SHAFTESBURY'S REASONABLE RAILLERY o E I In an extended epistle to an unnamed friend. But that Simply confirms negatively the point that humour is a shared or intersubjective practice that requires the assent of others. Earl of Shaftesbury. sociableness. A freedom of raillery. appears just twenty-seven years after the first occurrence of the word 'humour' to denote something jocular. more importantly. raillery and ridicule can be defended insofar as they enable instruction in reason by making its use pleasurable. The measure of liberty to which reason appeals. . jokes. for Shaftesbury.6To Hobbes's suspicion oflaughter as 'that passion that hath no name'.end of story. sensus communis is linked to the notion of urbanitas or urbane wit. The term is retrieved in the seventeenth century by Giambattista Vico. Sensus communis is employed by authors like Horace and Juvenal and is more felicitously rendered as 'sociableness' than 'common sense'. are the only terms which can render such speculative conversations in any way agreeable. An Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour. are acts of abstraction or distancing from ordinary life that reveal the shared structures of a common life-world.. And men can never be better invited to the habit than when they find pleasure in it. which is a term whose too frequent (ab)use invites misunderstanding. Sensus communis. Shaftesbury writes. One can. one can always opt out of this sensus communis for whatever reason. But the surprising thing about jokes is that they always presume an intersubjective appeal. liberty is precisely a freedom in wit and humour.

playful element in culture. such acts of comic subversion simply reinstate it by offering transitory comic relief After Carnival comes Lent. Protestant taming of the transgreSSive comedy of a Catholic world. the book was written in 1941. 'Modernity did away with much of the enchantment that medieval man still lived with. The way in which the history of the comic is often presented is in terms of a decline in toleration for the ludic. c ~ <I c C C . The transition from a medieval-Renaissance world-view to that of modernity is defined in terms of the gradual disappearance of the ludic. he quips.. II In this sense. Such an argument against the alleged subversive potential of carnivalesque. the bitterer will be the satire. This explains why. of the unruliness of the body and the identification of the latter with the 'collective ancestral ground of the people'.. then slavery finds expression in buffoonery. for example. 8 Buffonic comedy is a function of. Shaftesbury goes so far as to fmd Hobbes's suspicion of all forms of popular government a distrust of liberty itself In response to Hobbes's advice to the sovereign that he should extirpate the teaching of Greek and Roman literature.. . as he who alone can speak the truth to power. the permitted inversions of the dominant theological and political order in Carnival produce such seemingly disorderly and transgressive humour. an opposition that is obviously linked to their contrasting political philosophies. 'Is not this in truth somewhat GothiC?'7 If liberty loves humour. With regard to the historical provenance of the concept of humour. a fact which is not incidental. on Shaftesbury's reading. One finds. it is Significant that the tradition of court jesters does not survive the seventeenth century in England.c: CIl . Although the latter's ostensive subject matter is the late medieval period in France.. Bakhtin's defence of what he calls' grotesque realism' . 'The greater the weight is.'- o E :::> :::> I o N r::: CXl as the very height of reasonableness. buffonic comedy might also be extended to explain the quite vicious comedy of the court. The higher the slavery.'. III "CIl . The problem I have with'this historical thesis is that it sounds rather like good. modern European history can be presented as a dour. 9 More tentatively. just a few years after the height of the Stalinist purges. a tradition that is sustained by the satirical ribaldry that appears (or at least appears to us) to undermine it.. repression. The counter-world of folly began to recede . his praise of 'comic heteroglossia' . to the circumstances of composition and indirect intention of Bakhtin's Rabelais and his World. and a more secular. But rather than plaCing in question the dominant order. democratic use of wit and humour as that which can encourage the use of reason and gUide the sociability of sensus communis.10: I- . is clearly an implied critique of the official culture and hierarchy of Stalinism and its aesthetics of socialist realism. 10 DISENCHANTMENT OF FOLLY OR DEMOCRATIZATION OF WIT? We here approach an interesting scansion in the history of the comic. a similar point could be made about the often violent humour that existed under totalitarian regimes. exemplified in the figure of the fool. subversive folly of the Christian Middle Ages. of unoffiCial culture... the last recorded fool being Henry Killigrew appointed to William III in 1694. of which Bakhtin was a long-suffering victim. the more exquisite the buffoonery'. Peter Berger writing. Shaftesbury writes. and a reaction to. old-fashioned European cultural pessimism d la Oswald Spengler dressed up in a jester's cap and . and one cannot exist without the other. between a religiOUS or courtly tradition of buffoonery and tomfoolery. I believe..

For Kant. humour is a distinctively modern notion and is linked to the rise of the democratic public sphere in places like Britain in the eighteenth century. After noting that 'the greatest of buffoons are the Italians' because "tis the only manner in which the poor cramped wretches can discharge a free thought'. which is the foundation. Shaftesbury was avidly read by Lessing and Moses Mendelssohn and it is rather tempting to imagine that in Kant's development of the notion of sensus communis in The Critique of Judgement one hears at least an echo of Shaftesbury's theory of humour. what common sense is in politics. a E ~ shows us everyday. In my view. As for us Britons. ~ For you are to remember my friend.. Kant tells a powerful story which gives us the analytic conditions for such a propenSity to judgemenL:universality. when I say that this thing is beautiful. We have the notion of a public. We disenchanted moderns are sorely tempted by what appears as comic transgression in the pre-modern period and then sink into a wistful nostalgia for a lost world of Christian folly. Kant's basic inSight.bells. J Our increasing knowledge The precise extent of the influence of Shaftesbury's theory of wit. he goes on to praise the British government for its use of common sense to guide politics.. disinterestedness and what he calls 'purposiveness without purpose'.'4 One wonders what Swift might have made of such wisdom. Shaftesbury's conception of the freedom of wit is not particularly democratic.. But the basic point here is that when I express my judgement of taste about an artwork. '3 I o c Finally. that I am writing to you in defence only of the liberty of the club. I- . and of that sort of freedom which is taken amongst gentlemen . and most egregiously. 'There is a great difference between seeking how to raise a laugh from everything and what justly may be laughed at'. 12 Also. Shaftesbury's defence of humour is served with a large helping of British chauvinism. is that there is something about the form of aesthetic judgement that requires intersubjective assent or agreement. It must not be forgotten that the appeal to sensus communis entails certain restrictions on the free use of wit and humour.. stripped of all the fascinatingly baroque complexity of The Critique of Judgement. more and more. 16 Yet. then I require the agreement of others. thank heaven. then I require and indeed demand the agreement of others. and a constitution. it is simply charming or agreeable and 'no one cares about that'. this is best revealed in those o <i c o \/I '<II o -. despite Kant's fascinating discussion oflaughter.lII: <II . we have a better sense of government delivered to us from our ancestors. film or novel. It has to accord with taste. and this must of necessity lead us to understand a like sense in morals. humour and sensus communis on the aesthetic theory of Kant is an intriguing matter of intellectual history. However great its powers of disenchantment.c en OJ . Sadly. But I do not wish to exculpate Shaftesbury. But perhaps it is a world well lost. INTERSUBJECTIVE ASSENT L.. Whatever the truth of the matter. he con1ines humour to the domain of the agreeable rather than the beautiful. if something merely pleases. IS In the Germanspeaking milieu.. how a legislative and an executive is modelled!' . I crave assent. whose analysis is the proper business of aesthetic judgement. but is rather clubbish and gentlemanly. He writes. 17 However. one can also approach modernity in terms of a democratization of wit. then I must not call it beautiful.

They are forms of practical abstraction.c: III . if a horse talks. For a comedian like Eddy Izzard. it is a mistake. they illuminate a social world that is held in common with others. then it must be in terms of the 'we' of a specific community. what did you think?'. if we understand jokes as clarificatory remarks. en . 'wasn't it brilliant?'. a Simple trip to the launderette turns into a surreal phantasmagoria. rather they bring us back to a social world that is common and shared. by taking the comedy of recognition and turning the whole thing on its head.when he speaks of the comic as demanding 'something like a momentary anaesthesia of the heart'. socially embedded philosophizing. <i o ~ I: o . JOKES AS EVERYDAY ANAMNESIS '::::> o I E ::::> o I: If that is so. and of who 'we' might come to be. In this sense. Jokes can do this in at least two ways. I think this is what Bergson means . such as going to the launderette. humour lets us take up a disinterested. If we are to clarify this thereness. who 'we' have been. Either way. Jokes light up specific practices. whether veridical or moral: if someone falls on a banana skin. that remind us what we already know in a new way. I do not want to tell a Habermasian or even Kantian story at this point because that would take us in the direction of a universalism that would lose sight of the phenomenon under consideration. This is what Cioffi means when he speaks of' an experiential sense of thereness for everyone'. that is. ANAESTHESIA OF THE HEART The genius of jokes is that they light up the common features of our world. jokes are further descriptions of phenomena that show them in a new light.:: o . not by offering theoretical considerations. but in a more practical way. 20 Jokes are forms of abstractipn that place in abeyance our usual modes of reaction. This is what was meant in the last chapter by haVing the courage of our parochialism.. One moves silently in the throng with the subtle anxiety of trying to guess what your friend thought of the film: 'so. If you do not laugh at my joke. if humour is a form of sensus communis that requires intersubjective assent of some sort. IS In this sense. then how might we characterize and assess the validity claim of a joke? Now.moments when one leaves a cinema with a friend. 19 Jokes have a sense of thereness. They are acts of . I would rather make a more Wittgensteinian point and speak about jokes as clarificatory remarks. As such. Laughter gives us a distance on everyday life. That is.:. with a common language and shared cultural assumptions and lifeworld practices. then we do not rush to help. or by writing the two admirably fat volumes of Habermas's The Theory of Communicative Action.and it is a deep remark . but delight. with clothes taking on personalities and Eddy's socks arriving half an hour late. then they are not Simply occasions for solipsistic rumination. I- Q.. I think matters are analogous with humour. in a practically abstract manner. then something has gone wrong either with my joke or with my telling of it. jokes are reminders of who 'we' are. or 'wasn't that the biggest turkey the world has ever seen?'.everyday anamnesis'. as in much ethnic humour. that provide us with some sort of synopsis or overview of a particular state of affairs. complaining about being stuck in traffic and demanding to be let into the washing machine. Humour lights up what Schutz calls the 'stock of knowledge' that we all share. then we do not express disbelief. by either reinforcing our sense of cultural distinctiveness and superiority. or by plaCing those shared practices in question. that make situations perspicuous. showing them in a new light. and there is a certain coldness at its core. we sit back and laugh.

There is a complete disjunction of action and affect here. as in the case of humour noir. this can be the epoche of delusion. Freud's later remarks on humour are a distinct improvement on his early position and testify to his great perceptiveness and expressive powers.22 What we require is a phenomenology of the phenomenology of the world that jokes prOvide. But we watch the comic from a this-worldly perspective. You would then have a picture of the world Freud intermittently beguiled himself [and us) into believing he was living in and which prompts Wittgenstein's attempts to wake us by reminding us of its unreality . The comedian behaves like a visitor from another planet. We can't escape the conclusion that Freud's theoretical pronouncements are only redescriptions of the phenomena they purport to explain.21 THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF PHENOMENOLOGY If jokes are best thought of as clarificatory remarks whose validity is resolved in an appeal to sensus communis. what is reqUired in the face of humour are further descriptions on the role of jokes as further descriptions. are Freud's perceptiveness and expressive powers. The comedian is psychotic. a certain bracketing or suspension of belief. this is where Freud goes wrong in Happily. but unlike ours did not know what they were laughing at until they discovered the unconscious energic processes hypothesised by Freud . where we can suspend reality. vainly trying to disappear into practices that we take for granted. but it does this in an eminently practical and interesting way. you say "Yes. and failing calamitously in the process . Fargo. Of course. a sheer anaesthetization of death.'Just as we thought: a classic case of condensation with slight modification'. The comedian sees the world under what some philosophers call an epoche. Imagine a world in which. where multiple murder is treated with a troubling numbness that is accentuated through the complete inarticulacy of any of the film's protagonists to provide a motivation or justification for their actions. whereas his audience are simply healthy neurotics. as I shall argue presently. where he seeks to explain jokes causally in terms of his hydraulic model of the psyche. like ours. and yet still engage in reality testing. that's what happened" '. then what is required is not some causal or quasi-scientific theory that attempts to explain jokes in genetic. Consider the Coen Brothers' 1996 film. the 1905 Jokebook. as in the comedy of Don Quixote. as Wittgenstein puts it. evolutionary or physiological terms. Such a phenomenology of phenomenology might have the virtue of allOwing us to separate the occasions on which we require causal scientific explanations from those . Cioffi puts the point colourfully by asking us to enter into a thought experiment.L ::::l o E ::::l :r: c o co co theoretical attitude towards the world. like Sancho Panza. remarks of the kind that Wittgenstein made about Freud on jokes.only after peering through the psychoanalytoscope were they able to pronounce . In my view. But if there is a coldness at the core of the comic. but paradoxically has the effect of emphasizing the sheer horror of the events being depicted. people laughed at jokes. then this can also be disturbing.'a powerful mythology'. In my view. 'All we can say is that if it is presented to you. What makes them 'good representations of the facts'. where the simple denizens of the Spanish countryside become noble knights and damsels in distress. enjoying the delusory epoche from a certain distance. Yet.one thinks of Monsieur Hulot. such lack of sentimentality does not leave us cold.

Such is the ambition of this book. such humour has to be recognized. second. lm waiting for the coming of the Messiah. Yet. a traveller arrived in a shtetl in the middle of winter. They don·t respect you.III 0 "'"I c I!I . if a sense of humour is relative to a shared but specific life-world. What kind of job is this?· The old man replied: ·lrs steady work:23 -i < III :::. ·But even if they don·t pay you anything. what I will describe as my sense of humour. humour might be said to project another possible sensus communis. I want to defend a two-fold claim: first. There. said the traveller.:: (II (II r I II" 'II' " . that is. That is. that still begs the following question: if humour is defined by the limits of the 'we' to whom the joke is concerned.· ·That is indeed a very important job·. This is what is meant by humour as a form of sensus communis. said the traveller. Illi! 1 1 11 '1 i!11 Iii. I would like to propose a counter-thesis. when the situation demands a more humane clarification. I want to claim that humour also indicates. ·1 don·t understand this·. surely they must honour you for undertaking this important task?· ·No. said the old man.· ·That must be very hard for you·. where jokes can be seen to raise intersubjective validity claims of the kind described above. even if it is not to be recommended. As I said above. Let me illustrate this obliquely with a joke. Once in a while someone comes out and gives me a little food.. how those practices might be transformed or perfected. as I argued in my Introduction. how things might be otherwise. hungry. namely a dissensus communis distinct from the dominant common sense. They don·t pay me anything.:.) 0 0 . In laughing at a joke I am also consenting to a certain ideal image of the world. then is all humour reactionary and conservative? Most of it is. ·They don·t pay you. familiar domain of shared life-world practices. or maybe just adumbrates.: II. " I II' . ·1 suppose that the community pays you a good salary?· ·No. not at all·. shivering in the cold. shivering. somewhere in Eastern Europe.1 I'I. not at all·. said the old man. However. the background meanings implicit in a culture. and maybe humour will always be dominated by laughing at others. Nonetheless.'- o E ::::l ::::l I o c occasions when we do not.r::: t0- 1. outside the synagogue. laughter has a certain messianic power. that the tiny explosions of humour that we call jokes return us to a common. said the traveller. You sit here in the cold. What are you doing here?· asked the traveller. an old man sat on a bench. In this sense. ·They all think that I·m crazy. They just let me sit on this bench. In the old days. at other ethnoi with other ethoi.

) So. Freud could not leave that insight alone throughout his lifetime. the Jokebook is arguably the most systematic of Freud's works. Oddly. or indeed expressed that much interest in its main topic in the years after its publication.1 Unfortunately for his readers.Why the Super-Ego is Your Amigo . which makes it. given that topic. women do sitting down and dogs do on three legs?' (I presL!1Ile you know the answer. Contrary to popular prejudice. He kept fretfully going back to his magnwn opus. 'Insight such as this falls to one's lot but once in a lifetime'. This is what gives the book its rather flabby feel. Nietzsche Two heads of monkeys and four heads of men in relation to the monkey Source: Cnac-Mnam/Dist RMN. 'synthetic' and 'theoretic' parts. . revising. One of the curious things about the 190S Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. fiddling with it anxiously. Charles Le Brun In his seventy-fifth year. it is also full of wonderful. in my experience. Freud wrote. looking back nearly a third of a century to the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900.My Sense of Humour and Freud's Seven Perhaps I know best why man alone laughs: he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter. it was after a gap of some twenty-two years that Freud sat down for five days in August 192 7 to pen a paper on humour. as is fitting. the most cheerful. multiplying footnotes. expanding and adding sections. The unhappiest and most melancholy animal is. a difficult though rewarding text to teach. with a neat and clear tripartite division into 'analytic'. if occasionally objectionable. is that Freud never really went back to it. jokes: 'what is it that men do standing up.

2 Now. humour consists in laughing at oneself. and such humour is not depreSSing. all humour . I look at my childlike. all Freudian humour . a case of what Andre Breton would call at the end of the 1930s. the core of this superiority theory of laughter consists in the fact that in laughing at another's misfortune. So. erhebend. just worth making a jest about'.simply called 'Der Humor'.3 Freud asks himself: why is this funny? How is this funny? In the language of the second topography. Humour possesses a dignity which is wholly lacking. which makes the ego itselflook tiny and trivial. is being led out to the gallows to be hanged. for instance. directly inspired by the 1927 paper. I treat them as a child and myself as an adult. 'Well. In a real sense. for jokes either serve simply to obtain a yield of pleasure or place the yield of pleasure that has been obtained in the service of aggression. Thus. on the morning of his execution. but on the contrary gives us a sense of emanCipation. 'Look! Here is the world. The core inSight of the paper is that in humour I find myself ridiculous and I acknowledge this in laughter or simply in a smile. but is not to be recommended. in adopting a humorous attitude towards myself it is precisely the other way around: I treat myself as a child from an adult perspective. Now. As always when he is at his best. Humour is essentially self-mocking ridicule. the distinction between laughing at oneself and laughing at others. He concludes the little essay on humour with the follOwing words. die Woche fangt gut an'. consolation and childlike elevation. For Freud. in fmding oneself ridiculous. looking up at the sky.!!! o I >W C"l o L- Co II) ~ eu :::I ~ ~ eu >- Freud is here unwittingly inheriting the Hobbesian tradition of the superiority theory of laughter discussed above. laughing at others has to be recognized. 'Na. the melan-cholia. 5 o 'E « L- C"l :::I . and who remarks. I'humour noir. The childlike aspects of humour are important and serve to bring out an interesting contrast between Freud's sense of humour and his early theory of jokes. diminutive ego .indeed. much of the curiosity of the 192 7 paper stems from how the phenomenon of the comic looks from the perspective of Freud's later theory of mind. Recall that the thesis of the Jokebook is that jokes are the contribution of the unconscious to the comic. Freud is detained and perplexed by an empirical item. . As we saw in the discussion of ethnic humour. Freud's precise words are befreiend. The importance of this claim for my purposes is that Freud's sense of humour provides me with the normative criterion for my ovm sense of humour: namely. quite a bit happened to Freud's views during the intervening twenty-odd years.4 So. the humour here is generated by the super-ego observing the ego. which seems so dangerous! It is nothing but a game for children. Freud speaks of a criminal who. in jokes. super-ego and id. namely what is called the second topography of ego. the week's beginning nicely' . in this case a joke. What this means is that in humour. which produces un humour noir that is not depressing but rather liberating and elevating. the superego observes the ego from an inflated position. Freud shows how the phenomenon of humour is the contribution made to the comic by the super-ego. how does it look? FINDING ONESELF RIDICULOUS L ::J E :r: ::J o o ~ With the telegraphic conciseness of his late style. He writes. Oedipalist that he was. as even professional antiFreudians acknowledge.is replete with the unhappy black bile.

it becomes what we might call an abject object. He writes of the depreSSive that. alluding to Langland. About five pages into 'Mourning and melancholia' ..- E ~ :c o ~ from the standpoint of the big. This is what Freud calls' conscience'. seemingly there was no object to lose? This perplexity is resolved by the fact that in melancholy the 'ego itself becomes an object'. The subject becomes an abject object. CII o C\ III CII ::::J c.has a sexual aetiology. das Goossen.surprise. eineWiirde. among the major institutions of the ego and we shall come upon evidence that it can become diseased on its own account. but Freud is clear that it is not to be recommended. the again-biting or guilty call of conscience. might humour be said to change that landscape? Let us conduct a brief survey of the terrain. we shall count it. how does humour fit into the landscape of the second topography and how. the key inSight that inaugurates the second topography is the splitting of the ego initially outlined in Freud's 1914 essay. to the priority of smiling over laughter. surprise . grown-up super-ego. along with the censorship of consciousness and reality-testing. What this means is that there is a splitting in the ego between the ego and a critical agency. 'On narcissism: an introduction'. . as the 'Agenbite of Inwit'. my excessively hearty laughter in the bar with the boys at a series of aggressively homophobic gags would be read by Freud symptomatically as the expression of a repressed desire to sleep with some or maybe all of those boys.what he somewhat cruelly calls 'object-loss' . given that no one has died. Therefore. Thus the ego does not only become an object. Freud speculates on the origin of conscience. that is lacking in jokes. as I think it does. ::::J .L. sadistically denigrating it. SUBJECT AS ABJECT OBJECT We see how in him one part of the ego sets itself over against the other. In my view. that if mourning is the response to the death of the beloved . that is. as it were. Our suspicion that the critical agency which is here split off from the ego might also show its independence in other circumstances will be confirmed by every further observation. let me explain this briefly with reference to Freud's discussion of melancholia from the follOwing year.and in my view he is right in this . recalled by Joyce. .!!! W I 'E . What we are here becoming acquainted with is the agency commonly called 'conscience'. and. for reasons that will soon become obvious.is ethically superior to the laughter of superiority expressed in jokes: laughter at oneself is better than laughter at others. takes it as its object. such laughter has to be analysed because it reveals all sorts of unresolved psychological conflict which ultimately . as we will see presently. . judges it critically. in jokes I laugh at others. From a Freudian point of view. the super-ego. And it is for this reason that Freud says that humour possesses a dignity or worth. find them ridiculous and myself superior. humour for Freud . This normative priority of humour over jokes can also be linked. is born. Thus. But. Such laughter has to be analysed because it tells us much about the nature of unconscious aggression. the 'over-I" or 'super-ego' that stands over against the lch.then to what is melancholia a response. That is. We shall really find grounds for distinguishing this agency from the rest of the ego. the etymological semantics of which resonate in the Middle English notion of 'Inwit' . 6 o C\ < Freud here resolves a perplexity sketched earlier in the essay: namely. the Uber-Ich.. and when the melancholic talks about himself it is as though he were talking ~ . and it is with this inSight that the third agency of the psyche. ~ o c >- 3: So.

lacking in independence. apart from one. a technique of self-objectification and splitting of the ego brought to dramatic perfection in Play it Again Sam. the philosophermelancholic .. a narcissistic wound that imperceptibly rubs under one's clothes. irritating and agitating the ego. whose abjection is mirrored in the ghostly object of his father. G. they are talking about somebody else. which raises the fascinating question as to why one should have to be sick to possess such inSight. ~ VI . the melancholic might after all be justified in these accusations. perhaps even some of this book's readers. ~ o E ~ I o c Now.. As Aristotle Melancholy shares many traits with normal mourning. Freud illustrates the pathology of the philosophermelancholic with the example of Hamlet.. MELANCHOLY PHILOSOPHERS L.experiences himself in a radical non-selfcoincidence. whatever the reality of the accusations that the melancholic levels against himself . we only wonder why a man has to be ill before he can be accessible to a truth of this kind'? realized some millennia ago. We must accept his description as the right one for his psychological situation. namely. one whose sole aim has been to hide the weaknesses of his own nature. egoistic. that he has come pretty near to understanding himself.!!! o W I C'I > o ~ C'I G. or by renouncing philosophy altogether and wandering back into the thickets of common sense. in 192 7. where the super-ego and the parricidal identification with the father figures prominently.. philosophy is indeed a kind of sickness. The melancholic philosophical ego is constituted in relation to what Freud calls 'an unknown loss'. We might also think of Dostoevsky's underground man as the paradigm case of melancholic self-insight. Freud wrote his fascinating.. Because of this wound.I 3: In short.. then they do this in the noisiest and most wearisome way. C.Freud concludes that there is no point contradicting him. Freud writes. If they experience themselves as worthless.r::. dishonest. 8 As Wittgenstein often reminds us. that he has achieved a higher degree of self-lmowledge than the rest of us.. This is why a sense of humour is essential in philosophy. But perhaps the sickest thought is the belief that there is a cure for this malady through some spurious return to health. namely the loss of self-regard and the accompanying .I . Furthermore. MANIC INTOXICATION o 'E « . . One is reminded ofWoody Allen's endless monologues. whether by Simply leaving one's college and taking a walk into town. as an abject object.. where he complains about himself in the most voluble manner. but which would also include many others. Freud goes on in an interesting move. where the super-ego who lacerates and consoles the abject Allen ego is literally objectified in the person of Humphrey Bogart. the melancholic has deeper self-lmowledge than other people. so far as we know.and an essential feature of Woody Allen's comedy is their obvious unreality . One beginS to compile a list of philosopher-melancholics with the names of Montaigne and Pascal scribbled at the top.r::. the melancholic is a philosopher and the philosopher is a melancholic. This is why melancholics talk so obsessively about themselves. When in his heightened self-criticism he describes himself as petty. in a sense. it may be.about some loathsome thing.and one thinks of the late Nietzsche of Ecce Homo with chapters entitled 'Why I am so clever'. 'Why I am a destiny' . >. study of Dostoevsky in the same year as his paper on humour.

exaltation and triumph depend on the same psychical energy as melancholia.. wicked humour: 'well. mania.. lo As such.dark. between a cruel suppression of the ego by the superego and a liberation of the ego after that pressure . The originality of the phenomenon of melancholy is that once investment or' cathexis' in the object has been withdrawn. then the poles of subject and object are interior to the ego. Freud's 'economic' speculation is that the discharge of energy which is suddenly available and free in mania and experienced as exaltation and joy. The point here is that melancholia and mania are two ends of the same piece of string. my selfinsight and self-criticism can turn into the much nastier phenomena of self-hatred. In addition to the self-laceration of depression and the self-forgetfulness of elation . namely humour. or rather they are poles of a splitting in the ego where the latter itself becomes the object that is hated and treated sadistically. c. the only difference being that in melancholy the ego succumbs to the complex. where the manic elation of drunkenness is followed by the melancholy self-laceration of the hangover . is its tendency to change around into mania'. voyeurism into exhibitionism. And it is here that the originality of the paper on humour can be seen. Freud writes of 'The alternation (die Abwechslung) between melancholia and mania. 9 Here we have a classic example of what Freud describes in his essay on the drives .a claim that I am sure that some of you have tested empirically.c:: ~ CII >- o .. the week's beginning nicely'.::J '- E ::J o J: o o o C feeling of worthlessness. .. and self-punishment.the morning after and the night before. but also produces humour . for Freud's remarks on humour constitute an unexpected development of the internal logiC of narcissism which finds a positive place for the super-ego. with their endless to and fro.c:: . the way love can fup over into hate. This is diagnosed by Freud as a regression from what he calls 'object libido' to 'narcissistic libido'. whereas in mania it pushes it aside. The narcissistic splitting of the ego does not only produce the alternating pathologies of melancholia and mania. sadism into masochism.'. sometimes within a single eVening. The doctor advises the melancholy figure to go to the circus that night ·E <t L.. In 192 7.. this is Freud's explanation of alcoholic intoxication. Interestingly. o en . the escape from the self-hatred of melancholia lies in its counter-concept..!!! > o ~ w I o en L. It is this regression that splits the ego and produces conscience or the super-ego. sardOnic.as an instinctual vicissitude. let me go back to the paper on humour in order to see how that landscape might be reshaped a little. Freud writes. At this pOint.which is the first in the series of papers of which 'Mourning and melancholia' is the last . as it were . which he relates in his autobiography. but it is an anti-depressant that works by the ego finding itself ridiculous. 'The most remarkable characteristic of melancholia . and the relation between them is powerfully ambivalent. Melancholia can alternate with mania. This can be illustrated with a favourite joke of Groucho Marx. where something reverses into its opposite. is the same energy that was bound and inhibited in melancholia. Freud insists that manic states such as joy. from a relation to a beloved to a relation to self. mania is the same as melancholia insofar as they are opposed manifestations of the same complex. HUMOUR AS ANTI-DEPRESSANT After having now surveyed the second topography a little. that is to say. ~ CII II) .there is a third way. looking over his shoulder to the arguments of the 1915 essay.. I·m sure most of you have heard the story of the man who tells an analyst he has lost the will to live. In the 1915 essay. Humour has the same formal structure as depression.

However . and most versions of the ethics of psychoanalysis. this is as good as it gets. Now. not Promethean authenticity but a laughable inauthenticity. ' :: C") > . is Simple: in humour. positive function for the super-ego.what is evinced or glimpsed in humour is a non-hostile super-ego. a maturity that comes from learning to laugh at oneself. Humour is an anti-depressant that does not work by deadening the ego in some sort of Prozac-induced daze. then 'super-ego II' is the comforting parent. we have to conclude with Jack Nicholson in the 1997 movie of the same name. My point. but is rather a relation of self-knowledge.and spend the evening laughing at Grock. scolding the child. I am sure you will be much happier.' The patient rises to his feet and looks sadly at the doctor. what is your name?' The man turns and regards the analyst with sorrowful eyes. it laughs at itself and finds consolation therein. we see the profile of 'super-ego II'.r::- GI III <=> . It is a profoundly cognitive relation to oneself and the world. if slightly wizened.. a limitedness that calls not for tragic-heroic affirmation but comic acknowledgement. Freud and his commentators have said many inconsistent things about the super-ego. As he starts to leave the doctor says.. We might say that in humour the childlike superego that experiences parental prohibition and Oedipal guilt is replaced with a more grown up super-ego.. have a problem with the super-ego.. this super-ego is your amigo.r:: Some versions of psychoanalysis. 12 Maybe. let us call it 'super-ego II'. Or better still. the patient has to substitute the destructive relation towards the super-ego with a positive transference towards the analyst in order to break down the symptom. I would argue that humour recalls us to the modesty and limitedness of the human condition. Freud acknowledges that 'In other connections we knew the superego as a severe master'. .. And that realization is not an occasion for moroseness but mirth.!!! o en . Freud writes in the final paragraph of the 192 7 paper. speaks such kindly words of comfort to the intimidated ego. Thus. This is not surprising as it is the super-ego that generates the hostility towards the ego that crystallizes into the symptom.'3 <C 'E o en . but speaks to it words of consolation. a super-ego which does not lacerate the ego. Humour is often dark. 'By the way. this will teach us that we still have a great deal to learn about the nature of the super-ego. from finding oneself ridiculous. a super-ego that has undergone what we might call 'maturation'. If it is really the super-ego which. 'super-ego II' is the child that has become the parent: wiser and wittier. ~ ~ w I GI ~ . a. and it is this thought that I would like to explore. '1 am Grock. 'After you have seen Grock. In the penultimate paragraph of the paper on humour.and this is what is so interesting about the 1927 paper . SUPER-EGO I AND II success. This is a positive super-ego that liberates and elevates by allOwing the ego to find itself ridiculous. It is the position of the lacerating super-ego that the analyst has to occupy if the analysiS is going to proceed with any True enough. If 'super-ego l' is the prohibiting parent. however.'" '- o E ~ ~ I o N c <=> The subject looks at itself like an abject object and instead of weeping bitter tears. but always lucid.. The anti-depressant of humour works by finding an alternative. the world's funniest clown. in humour.

juvenile. and all the fantasies of primary narcissism: perversion. that so influenced Georges Bataille and his epigones. To accept the super-ego is to place oneself within a tradition. For. which is something which might most often simply conflict with the ego ideal. if that is so. Finally. but to the Oedipus complex. that victorious hiccup in vacuo. from the Promethean fantasy of believing oneself omnipotent. the super-ego what one ought to be' .'Go ahead. as it were. he came to identify the ego ideal with what was baptized the super-ego from 1923 onwards in The Ego and the Id. For example. On a psychoanalytic view. the super-ego is not the heir to primary narcissism. p. the golden laughter of tragic affirmation. This is the ego bloated and triumphant in empty solitude and infantile dreams of omnipotence. and you are too. from the cool summits of lofty isolation. perhaps it is the super-ego that saves the human being from tragic hybris. On the other hand. a sickness with which we are all more or less afflicted. The ego ideal is the heir to what Freud calls 'primary narcissism'. Such is what Janine Chasseguet-Srnirgel calls 'the malady of the ideal'. By contrast. superman affirmation. My claim is that. So. and it does this through humour. to resign oneself also to being a human being. it is not. or am just somehow rather special. to restore the God-like majesty of the baby.r::: >. It can be a very severe master. the function of perversion is to bridge the gap between the ego and the ego ideal and.. fusion with God or your essential self. By contrast. how should the distinction be made? I think that Annie Reich gets it about right in saying that 'The ego ideal represents what one wishes to be. Chasseguet-Srnirgel writes. to refuse the human condition. then. And I think we need to distinguish the super-ego from the ego ideal. to become a link in a chain.14That is.!!! c CI w . the ego ideal is the phantasy of a wish that I would like to see fulfilled. there is the laughter of what Nietzsche calls 'eternal return'. but I know that I really should carry out my duties as a philosophy professor. . After initially distinguishing the ego ideal from the critical agency of conscience in the 1914 essay on narcissism. 17 'Live dangerously'.IDEAL SICKNESS '- ::::l o E ::::l I o r::: Yet.'5 'E « . ' "Live dangerously". then is 'super-ego II' not playing the role normally given to what Freud calls 'the ego ideal'? No. I might still wish to play soccer for Liverpool FC.. To be a superman is to refuse all that en bloc.r::: - 3: L!"J o . and a legion of other chimeras. . a distinction that was not always respected by Freud. Our self-understanding can be transformed. . I am Grock. the infantile illusion of omnipotence and the blissful feelings bound up with it. I don't care'. On the one hand. The ego ideal is centred on the infantile belief that I am superman. shoot me.. ecstasy. on the one hand. This is precisely a manic laughter in Freud's sense: solitary.. > ::J C CI c . as the national anthem of the true ego exiled in habit'. that is. As Beckett quips in his Proust. that is. I am a destiny. But there is laughter and laughter. permitting a maturation of the super-ego function that can have extremely salutary effects. 16 This is the heroic laughter that rails in the face of the firing squad . This is the laughter that I always suspect of emanating from the mountain tops. I think that 'super-ego II' is what takes the place of the ego ideal. and the parental or symbolic prohibition to which the resolution of the complex gives rise. <II <II LAUGHTER I AND II II) ::J a. the super-ego is a more normative agency which tells me what I should be. verging on sobbing. if we learn to laugh. humour makes the super-ego a less severe master.erverse.

this is a comic syntax: Groucho with his hand on Chico's pulse. Both these anecdotes remind me of the great Tommy Cooper gag.although there is no accounting for taste . Beckett's sentences proceed by falling apart in what he calls his 'syntax of weakness'. was once a big round satyr's laugh'. 'So I got home. 'Non merci. he finds himself ridiculous. for him. As many of you will know. It is similar in the second story. I picked it up. whom he declared to be an 'idealist' and a bad example of decadent aesthetic modernism. make us laugh out loud.Danger is my middle name . Lukacs was arrested in the middle of the night and thrown into a military lorry along with other government officials. As I suggested above. So the story goes. which arises out of a palpable sense of inability. The essential feature of this joke is that in this situation. and said "Who's speaking please?" And a voice said "You are'''. paralysed in his death-bed. Gyorgy Lukacs. est-ce que vous en voulez une autre?'. The lorry then disappeared off into the obscurity of the countrySide for an appointment with an unknown but probably unsavoury fate. and the phone was ringing. the humour is here directed by Levinas against himself. Such laughter insists that life is not something to be affirmed ecstatically. Let me give you two examples of a Freudian sense of humour with a pair of anecdotes: one concerns the French Jewish philosopher. 'either this man is dead or my watch has stopped'.. Now. it is this finely tempered smile that is. the . shaped like a long-bow. there is a weaker Freudian laughter. eu eu .. that is also. : is an impossibility. but acknowledged comically. 'If I had the use of my body I would throw it out of the window.!!! U. and also more tragiC. the essential feature of the joke is that Levinas was indeed a rather observant monotheist. SMILING . Lukacs turned to one of the other ministers and said in German. Lukacs ironizes himself The humour consists in the fact that Lukacs finds himself ridiculous because reality has conspired to bring about a situation which directly contradicts his aesthetic judgement. Thus. Lukacs was Minister of Culture in the Hungarian government in 1956. Yet.'- => o E :c => o c what does that mean? At best. as my epigraph shows. 'Monsieur.c- - 3: Such anecdotes. Lukacs was not a great admirer of the work of Franz Kafka. But when they are recalled or ruminated upon they also cause us to smile ruefully. Swift or Beckett. But perhaps it is the knowledge of my impotence that emboldens me to that thought: This is quintessentially oxymoronic Beckett: the condition of possibility for the hypothesis 'if .it is this second laughter that is more joyful (not to mention being a lot funnier). you might end up like Austin . something which he admits Willingly.Powers. After having fInished their fIrst cup of tea. present in Nietzsche. even wistfully. Emmanuel Levinas.c > . even if the situation is somewhat more quotidian. For me at least . Kafka war doch ein Realist' ('Kafka was a realist after all'). This is the sardonic and more sarcastic comedy of someone like Sterne. As Beckett's Malone remarks.THE MIND'S MIME ·e <t L- CI c . 'Tja. George Meredith writes of. Alain David asked. Iris this smile of knOwing self-mockery and self-ridicule that interests me and that I would like to discuss in closing. A French colleague of mine. impotence and inauthenticity.I I > ::J C CI c L- III ::J c. at the moment when the Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest. the other concerns the Hungarian philosopher and aesthetician. On the other hand.. Alain David. Once again. and Levinas answered.. je suis monothe-iste'. 'that slim feasting smile. it is true. then . was taking tea with Levinas at the latter's apartment on the Rue Michel-Ange in Paris. which is extremely bleak.

mental richness rather than nOisy enormity'. die Mimik des Geistes. Freud notes that 'It is true that humorous pleasure never reaches the intensity of the pleasure in the comic or in jokes. As such. that it seldom came singly. I would wager. There is restraint and discretion in the smile. softens and opens the face. Watt's smile was further peculiar in this. but rather the modesty of the chuckle or the humble smirk. the more we learn to forget loud laughter and put in its place a continual spirited smiling. very weak and fleeting. Nietzsche makes an analogous pOint. can mark the beginning or end of a laugh. The simple creasing of the lines around the eyes and mouth in smiling at once deepens. Smiling differs from laughter because it lacks the latter's explosiveness. Although he does not actually mention smiling. but such also is the source of our dignity. there are many significant smiles in Beckett. but not out loud. in Watt. 20 So. whose early hero Belacqua counted all the smiles in Dante's Commedia. which also means 'small laugh' . Physical existence is framed by the smile of a new born baby and that which follows our death-throes. it is true. 21 What he means by this is that smiling. but it can also take its place. In English. In thi? it resembled the fart. between the physical and the metaphysical. The more joyful and certain the mind becomes. one has the distinction between das Lachen and das Lucheln. like thinking. Yet.~ > I c C LL L c C II Ii: :E II 3: . before the face could be at . for me. assumes a certain distance from one's immediate surroundings and even from one's body. Smiling is comic relief that throws the face into relief. it is the smile that is powerfully emblematic of the human. between being and having. the yield of pleasure in humour is quite small. Plessner calls smiling the mind's mime.'sunlight of the mind. and elsewhere. a sign of its astonishment at the countless hidden comforts of a good existenceY In many languages. Now. our hero is described in terms which echo my discussion of peditological humour. It is silent and subdued. but was followed after a short time by another. In => o I L. being the bastard bunch that we are. The smile speaks. as we saw above. less pronounced it is true. laughter from subor under-laughter. smiling is a diminutive of laughter. that it never fmds vent in hearty laughter'. Its eloquence is reticent. a smile is the mark of the eccentricity of the human situation: between beasts and angels. It is an expression that takes up a certain distance from expression _ a diminutive expression. Such is the curse of reflection. The same is true in French and Italian: rire and sourire. A smile.J: > I shall leave the final words to Beckett. the quiet acknowledgement of one's limitedness.18 In an aphorism entitled 'Laughter and smiling'. This is also present in Swedish in the distinction between skratta and smaskratta. And it even sometimes happened that a third. Humour is the daily bread of that dignity. 'laughter' comes from the shared old Germanic root. was found necessary. E => o o r::: co Latin. whilst 'smile' comes from the Danish smile or smila. one distinguishes ridere from subridere. In German. or 'little laughter' . We are thoroughly material beings that are unable to be that materiality. In a wonderful essay. It is certainly not the buffonic backslapping Rabelaisian guffaw of the carnivalesque. 22 For example.. signifying a break in our usual flow of inhibitions. ridere and sorridere. THE RISUS PURUS < 'i C I . The noisy physicality of laughter is substituted by a more gentle play of the facial features.

But this was rare.that is the essence of humour. Gaber. that cuts across the listener's face at the end of the 1976 dramatic piece 'That Time'. melancholy animals that we are. life is a thing of beauty. He brought his face nearer mine.. I closed my eyes. Moran.deriding the having and the not having. Towards the end of the account. A joy for ever. 3: . After an intense Allied bombardment. among other things. very heartening. o . unless something very unexpected turns up. Gaber. by us in them and. He smiled.23 bombs as to be broadened by the elixirs of Burroughs and Welcome. human beings are also the most cheerful. the giving and the taking. G. but rather elevation and liberation. but at a reasonable distance. >- . ::J E ::J o I o I: <=> One also thinks of the broad smile. a thing of beauty. the sublimity and suffering of the human situation .rest again. This is the risus purus. the lucidity of consolation. and a joy for ever. 'toothless for preference' . What was important was not our having penicillin when they had none. 26 Again. Smiles are all very nice in their own way.J G.!!! W .s::. he said. by them in us [for they are an imaginative people!.the smile deriding. Our wretchedness is our greatness. who knows. in Molloy where Moran is hallucinatingYoudi's words to Gaber.j§ <t ~ .J ~ ::::J til a. nor the unregarding munificence of the French Ministry of Reconstruction [as it was then called!' but the occasional glimpse obtained. the mirthless laugh of the epigraph to this book.s::. it is this smile . Do you think he meant human life?24 L. Normandy. after the devastation of the D-Day landings. the laugh that laughs at the laugh. the pleasure and the pain. Yet. this smile does not bring unhappiness. he said. . I said. and a joy for ever. sickness and health. but to Beckett himself It is taken from a non-fictional text that was written for Radio Eireann (although there is no record of it ever having been broadcast) in June 1946. And it will be a long time now before Watt smiles again. Gaber.2s But perhaps the most intriguing smile does not belong to one of Beckett's 'gallery of moribunds'. to upset him. Beckett reflects upon his experiences working in an Irish Red Cross hospital in St-L6. Beckett writes. that laughs at that which is unhappy. the highest laugh. We smile and find ourselves ridiculous. ::::J ~ o I . This is why. St-L6 changed hands between the Germans and the Americans for six weeks and was referred to by the locals as 'the capital of the ruins'. of that smile at the human conditions as little to be extinguished by For me. the having and the not having. .

in Jan Bremmer and Herman Roodenburg (eds) . 4 Mary Douglas. John Morreall (State University of New York Press. p. G. 'Laughter in the Middle Ages'. p. London. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. New (Penguin. Culture and Value. 2 Henri Bergson. Meredith (Oxford 7 Philip Larkin. 1975).65. The Critique of Judgement. A Cultural History of Humour (Polity. 10 Jacques Le Goff.Notes ONE INTRODUCTION The Philosophy of Laughter and Humour. M. Stuttgart. 1982). 1983). Anthologie de'I:humour noir (Jean-Jacques Pauvert. 3 Ludwig Wittgenstein. 12 Andre Breton. London. 'Das Lkheln'. I I Trevor Griffiths.232-3.185. pp. 5 Kundera. I also learnt a great deal from conversations at Witten-Herdecke University in Germany with Dirk Baecker and Frank Dievernich. o E ~ :c ~ '- o &:: . 1980). Gentleman. 1997).83. 1966). Comedians (Faber. p:96.dt. London. I 96-203. ed. 13 Douglas. ed. 1987). H.45. Cambridge. p. Albany. 'Do dogs laugh?' and 'Jokes' from Implicit Meanings. 6 Immanuel Kant. Laughter (The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (Penguin. Oxford. andJ. pp. Aspekte einer philosophischen Anthropologie (Reclam. 1976). Implicit Meanings. 1980). op. 1974). p. Oxford. University Press. 8 Laurence Sterne.58. London. in Mit anderen Augen. Von Wright (Blackwell. Baltimore. 9 Helmuth Plessner. Essays in Anthropology (Routledge. Paris. J.20. I I. trans. 14 I have benefited from correspondence ' with Samantha Amfeld on this pOint. p. 1997). p. High Windows (Faber. c. 1952). London. eds.

85-6.23-42. Aspekte einer philosophische Anthropologie (Reclam. pp.!. London. P.236. OJ z 0 z "0 . and Samuel Beckett's Endgame (Faber. in A Cultural History of Humour.cit.210. infamy. p.247. 1982). Berger.273-4. 16 Cited in Raymond Geuss's hugely entertaining Parrots.M. BlOOmington. London. ed. 1997). criticism and laughter: Terry Eagleton on aesthetics'.130.105-8. op. (/) TWO IS HUMOUR HUMAN? Chapter X. p. Franco-German channel Arte in the last years of his life: 'A comme animal'. 18 'Concerning the unpredictable'.54-60. Sisson (Carcanet. 'Laughter in the Middle Ages'. K. p. p. from The Beckett Trilogy (Picador. 10 Swift. p. ed. 6 Gulliver's Travels (Penguin. My thanks to Peter Howarth for alerting me to this passage. ed. London. 1983). Malone Dies.83-9. 1979). 2 Redeeming Laughter. p. Thanks to Peter Howarth for his correspondence on this question. 'Art. in L'Abecedaire de Gilles Deleuze (Video Editions Montparnasse. 1996). they've all got it in for me'. p. pp. Tough Boys (Bloomsbury. p. 'Infamy.54. who replied to an earlier version of my ideas on humour at Vanderbilt University in March 1998. 20 Theodor Adorno. ed.66. Rabelais and His World. 4 Mikhail Bakhtin.54 . The Comic Dimension of Human Experience (De Gruyter. pp. Berlin and New York. p. 10 Petronius. Frankfurt a. Tough Toys for Tough.514. 1927). Vol. 1988). 13 On these points. Connor shows how preoccupied Eagleton's work has been with the question oflaughter and decisively pp. The Complete Poems.15. THREE LAUGHING AT YOUR BODY .472. 16 Cited in The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century. Stiicke 2 (Suhrkamp. trans. The Complete Poems. p. 2 MoUoy.cit. 1967).cit.cit. Williamson and M. London.46. Laughter at the Foot of the Cross (Penguin. M. 1997). pp.A. op.cit. London. R.78. in Forewords and Afterwords (Faber. Cock and Bull (Bloomsbury. ed. London. 17 M. Robinson (Oxford University Press. see Aaron Gurevich. London. p. 1974). 1955). London. Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture (Beacon Press. 13 Culture and Value.93. Selected Poems. Paris. 3 See Screech. 1984). The Unnameable (Picador. London. London. Boston. T.. 1958). op. see The Kenneth Williams Diaries.58. Poets. p. N. F. C. in A Cultural History of Humour. H. 1977).cit. 1979). Urquhart and P. p. MoUoy. Gargantua. 9 Cited in Berger. pp. Peter Chelsom's wonderful 1994 film Funny Bones. Satyricon. 'Bahktin and his theory of carnival'. Price (Oxford University Press. Manchester. Redeeming Laughter. pp. unpublished typescript. p. p. p.cit. op. 6 lowe this formulation to Sue Wiseman.POST-COLONAL THEORY See Johan Huizinga. Screech. op. Great Apes (Bloomsbury. 15 Thomas Bernhard. And see Jacques Le Goff. ed. 14 See the Hrst of the television programmes that Deleuze recorded for the . 1990). op. see Chapter 6. 9 Rabelais. 1957). 22 The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. Gentleman. Bracht Branham (Everyman.. 1993). p.801. Minima Moralia (Verso.:t II Beckett. Helene Iswolsky (Indiana University Press. 1998).30. and recall Caesar's apostrophe. 8 Jonathan Swift. 1997). 4 Implicit Meanings. Stuttgart.29. 1999). Redeeming Laughter. Also. ed. Oxford.IS Jonathan Swift. Oxford. London. trans. 8 lowe this felicitous expression to Gregg Horowitz. p. Rogers (Yale University Press. 1992). 7 The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. 21 From various Marx Brothers' scripts. The Unname~ble.466. op. Walsh (Penguin.51. 5 Will Self. London. (/) 2 5 See 'Autobiographische Einfiihrung' and 'Der Mensch als Lebewesen' from Mit anderen Augen. 7 Christopher Smart. London. 12 In Tough.55.. Laughter at the Foot of the Cross (Penguin. 1973).8. 1997). Philosophers and Good Advice (Hearing Eye.179. 3 The mm is Carry on Cleo from 1962. New Haven and London. II Will Self. London. London. Selected Poems. London. 12 MoUoy. Russell Davies (HarperCollins.40-53. For Williams's final words. Malone Dies. 1997). 1973). p. see Steven Connor's excellent. and trans. p. Motteux (Bodley Head. 19 Peter L. p. p.

1999). Paris. p. p. 1998). 10 Encyclopedie. 12 See Richard Kearney.62. 11 Breton.31-2. pp. Z 0 .29.227. 3 On this history of the (dea of sensus communis.cit. Humour in Society (Macmillan.21-35. p. Laughter. A Cultural History of Humour. Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters (University of Chicago Press. p. p.21.argues that this is based on a curious overestimation of the work of Bakhtin. FOUR THE LAUGHING MACHINE . The Complete Wild Body (Black Sparrow Press.159. Personally. pp. Anthologie de J'humour noir. pp. p.y discussed in the Preface to Breton's Anthologie de J'humour noir. 8 Huitieme Edition. The Structures of the Life-World (Northwestern University Press. Vol. Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer (Cambridge University Press. where he views jokes about stupidity not as ethnic jokes viciously directed towards hated others. VIII. 1984). pp. for Eagleton. Paris. 1985. Therefore. p. the definitive study is Christie Davies's Ethnic Humor Around the World (lndiana University Press. 'German wit: Heinrich Heine'.c. Davies outlines the same argument in 'Stupidity and rationality: jokes from the iron cage'.1-2.159. New York. A. SIX THE JOKE'S ON ALL OF US . Tinaes. despite the undoubted relativity of the butt of jokes in different contexts. Paris. p. 6 Ibid.11.73. The Interpretation of Dreams.1-32.158-9. 5 On ethnic humour.353. see Gadamer. Davies prOvides a thorough taxonomy of ethnic humour. 14 Freud. 1988). Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt. pp. . Harmondsworth. Nouvelle impression en facsimile de la premiere edition de 1751-80 (Fromann Verlag.cit. 5 Ibid. A Cultural History of Humour. op.18-23 and 38-42. 5. p. 2 ImpliCit Meanings.19-21.THE ETHICITY AND ETHNICITY OF HUMOUR 'Humour. 4 In Characteristics of Men. compendious and extremely helpful work.A NOTE ON BERGSON AND WYNDHAM LEWIS Henri Bergson. the Bakhtinian heroization of corporeality and materiality is continued in Eagleton's aesthetic theory. 14 High Windows. 10th Edition. ethnic jokes can be forms of protest.84. p. op.18. J.cit. Manners.63~ 1957). p. Warren (Penguin. 1975). Cambridge. U'l III FIVE FOREIGNERS ARE FUNNY .187. p.288. 7 George Eliot. their form remains remarkably similar.170.cit. 1 (Polity. London. 1967). This text by Valery is also briefl.. pp. Laughter. London. Byatt and N. 2 Breton. p. p. Meditationes de prima philosophia (Vrin.HUMOUR AS SENSUS COMMUNIS Jfugen Habermas. BlOOmington.766. 1978). op. 1935. Truth and Method (Sheed and Ward. Thus. 9 3.94. Anthologie de J'humour noir. 2002). London. which is a rich. 2 Alfred Schutz. pp. Chicago. pp. op. Basingstoke. 6 Ted Cohen. Vol. Opinions. 1963). Vol. op. p. p. but as a reaction to the excessive rationalization of society.19. As such. 1976). laughter is always identified with the force of the body. 1990). The Life of Samuel Beckett (Bloomsbury. 1990).. Jokes.23. 4 'Boys' Weeklies' from Inside the Whale and Other Essays (Penguin. I have my doubts. 15 Comedians. 3 Cited in Le Grand Robert de la Langue Franfaise. 15 Cited in James Knowlson. trans. where.cit. London. 6 Descartes.97. 1982). p. Evanston. ed.19-25. Cambridge. 13 Cioffi. On Stories (Routledge. p. in Selected Essays. 9 Bremmer and Roodenburg. laughter and the field: reflections from anthropology'. persuaSively identifying surpriSingly common patterns amongst ethnic jokes from all across the world that can be divided into jokes about the stupid and canny.S. Poems and Other Writings. Santa Barbara.49. 4 Ibid. The Theory of Communicative Action.cit. 1-2 (Bobbs-Merrill. 7 Bergson. p. op. 5 Ibid. p. Strachey (Penguin. Hachette. p. 8 Ibid. Vol. p. 1996). 3 In Wyndham Lewis.14. London. 1964). p. Damned to Fame.

8-9. Art and Literature (Penguin. The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx (Penguin. Edinburgh. see Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist.cit. 1985).31-6 1).129-38. op.1 04-6. p.cit. p. IS Ibid. P. 2 In Freud. 1992). 1998). p. op. p. 14 Cited in Janine Chasseguet-Srnirgel's excellent book. I have been unable to find much secondary literature on this essay. Proust and Three Dialogues (Calder.255. Groucho. Z o I. in Freud. passions et societe (Presses Universitaires de France. J. lOOn this pOint. pp.52. 7 Ibid.262. the 1927 paper. 9 'Mourning and melancholia'.215.277. pp. 8 Ibid. Lost Icons. in Rowan Williams. II. 'Mourning and melancholia' in Penguin Freud Vol. The Interpretation of Dreams (Penguin. Ibid.. 2000). p. Meredith (Oxford University Press. 'Prose jest-books mainly in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries in England'.xvii. IS On this topic. Vol. Mikhail Bakhtin (Harvard University Press. pp. London.203.cit. linking remorseful mourning to the comic as part of a critique of heroism. pp. p. op. London. op. Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer. Paris. Oxford. 18 I am indebted to Frank Cioffi on this point. 2000). I owe this reference to Joel Whitebook. London. Standard Edition Vol.238-66. Laughter.Z o I. p. On Art and Literature.cit.256.cit. p. 1949). XXI (Hogarth Press. 1989). 13 Ibid. p. London. See his Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer (Cambridge University Press. 17 Ibid. p. On Metapsychology (Penguin. Although it is all over his work. Frankfurt a. To be frank. 20 Bergson. see Jean-Paul Larthomas. Paris. London. p. pp. 12 I borrow the concept of acknowledgement from Stanley Cavell. Cambridge. pp. 1991). Paris. The Ego Ideal. 1984).161. trans.cit. 9 On this point. cit. p. p. see his 'Knowing and acknowledging' from Must We Mean What We Say? (Cambridge University Press. A Cultural History of Humour.53. p. The essay is also included in the Penguin Freud Library. op. which has a useful chapter on Shaftesbury (pp.113-38. SEVEN WHY THE SUPER-EGO IS YOUR AMIGO . c.cit. 'The laughter ofbeing' . 3 4 5 6 Ibid. 13 Op. There is a collection of French papers. De Shaftesbury d Kant (Didier Erudition. 16 For an example of an approach to laughter inspired by Bataille.cit. which concludes with a discussion of .426-33. op.MY SENSEOFHUMOURANDFREUD~ pp. 1952). 22 Cited in Cioffi. p.. 16 Kant. 1984).cit.437-60.166.61. 14 Ibid. 10 'Instincts and their vicissitudes'. see Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen.166. New York. 1976). London. 1998).73. p. One fmds an analogous run of argument. 1961). 17 Beckett. Art.64. and Fabienne Brugere.163. op.295-320. 12 Shaftesbury. II Berger. 21 Cioffi. p. in On Metapsychology. p.51. 14.cit. 1985). Reflections on Cultural Bereavement (T&T Clark. p. Cambridge. L'Humour dans l'oeuvre de Freud (Editions Two Cities. p. Redeeming Laughter. op. pp. p. Ibid. 2000). 8 'Dostoevsky and parricide'.6-7. Redeeming Laughter. p. where he advances the intriguing claim that the masochistic relation to law and prohibition is essentially humorous (see Deleuze and Sacher-Masoch. Masochism (Zone Books. op. all page references are to this edition.146-66.Il OJ 'Preface to the third revised English edition'.56. The Critique of Judgement. Cambridge.266. pp. 1976). pp. see Derek Brewer. these papers are sadly not much use and rather too fond of jargon and cliquish self-reference. Le gout. pp. Mass. op. 19 Ibid. Gilles Deleuze makes good use of Freud's essay in his presentation of Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs. Barrows (Free Association. in Bataille: A Critical Reader (Blackwell. pp.170. p.Il OJ 00 7 Ibid.85. London. trans. There is a good introduction by Peter Gay to the German edition of Der Witz und seine Beziehung rum Unbewussten (Fischer.432.161-6. 1985). 23 Cited in Peter Berger.18 7. in Bremmer and Roodenburg. Oxford.M. with the exception of Daniel Rose's 'L'humour selon Ie triple point de vue'.87-8 and 124-6). II Cited in Stefan Kanfer.

Bohrer. op. 1970). Mikkel. 23 Watt. Trinity College Cambridge.As the Story was Told: Uncollected and Late Prose (Calder. Le rire in CEuvres. Chasseguet-Smirgel. Barrows (Free Association. pp. p. Thomas.166. London.. London. p. Herman (eds). Stuttgart. F. London. London. Cavell. Redeeming Laughter. 22 I would like to thank Theo Bertram for his invaluable research on smiles in Beckett and for sending me his paper 'Beckett's mere smiles'.. A Psychoanalytic Essay on the Malady of the Ideal.. cited in Stefan Dietzsch (ed. . Fabienne.395.47-8. p. Stanley. Bibliography Adorno.18 George Meredith. 2000). Paris. 1979). Second Edition (Presses Universitaires de til L. Mikhail. 'Immanuel Kant'. 1997). Berger. The Complete Dramatic Works (Faber. Must We Mean What We Say? (Cambridge University Press... 1997). Breton.. The Unnameable (Picador. 'The capital of the ruins'.. Billtin. pp. Oxford. Anthologie de I'humour noir (Jean-Jacques Pauvert.M. 1981). 25 In Samuel Beckett. Bergson. Theodor. Paris. BlOOmington. Samuel. 1998). p.M.cit. 1966). in Stiicke 2 (Suhrkamp.17-28. Brugere. Samantha. 'Humour'. Malone Dies. Cambridge. Arnfeld. A Cultural History of Humour (Polity. Art. Frankfurt a. Peter.The Complete Dramatic Works (Faber. 'The laughter of being'. Bernhard. E o z N o C]) I o N c o . Frankfurt a. 1988).). . Berlin and New York. 20 Freud. Borch-Jacobsen. Bremmer. in Bataille: A Critical Reader ed. 1980). Cambridge. Watt (Calder.381-485.cit. London. The Comic Dimension of Human Experience (Walter De Gruyter. H. 1990). 21 'DasLache1n'. Baltimore. pp. London. Baltimore. 26 Beckett. London. in As the Story was Told: Uncollected and Late Prose (Calder. 1990). Paris. 'Organizing humour: the ethics of humour as a management tool'. trans. 1984). in MitanderenAugen (Reclam. Botting and S. op. Lecture. pp. Le gout. 1980). :::J :::J France. trans.Laughter (The Johns Hopkins University Press.. Wilson (Blackwell. December 2000. Karl Heinz. London. PI5tzlichkeit (Suhrkamp. 19 From Human all too Human. 1963). 1993). Rabelais and his World.183-97. Iswolsky (Indiana University Press. Leipzig.Passions et societe (Presses Universitaires de France. pp. Jan and Roodenburg. 1982). Luzifer lacht. The Ego Ideal.25 24 Molloy. Henri. Andre. Philosophische Betrachtungen von Nietzsche bis Tabori (Reclam. . Aesthetic Theory (Atblone.cit. op. 1986). . 1976). 1997). 1985). Janine. pp.146-66. Beckett. P.Molloy.151-2. An Essay on Comedy (The Johns Hopkins University Press.25.. 1986).

Leipzig. 1980). Taking Humour Seriously (Routledge. George. Tristram Engelhardt (Northwestern University Press. pp. I. Jokes (University of Chicago Press. . Essays in Anthropology (Routledge. Freud. The Philosophy ofLaughter and Humor (SUNY. John (ed.cit.. Cambridge. . Helmuth. Harrnondsworth. 1997). Gesammelte Schriften. Eliot. op. Oxford.). Mikhail Bakhtin (Harvard University Press. Ritter.'Humour' in Art and Literature (Penguin. Pensky. London. Cambridge. gender. C. Meditationes de prima philosophia (Vrin. trans. The Kenneth Williams Diaries (HarperCollins. New Haven.'Permission to joke: some implications of a well-known principle'.M.c '~ co CL o 01 . Frankfurt a. . Alfred. Joachim. London. The Complete Wild Body (Black Sparrow Press. Meredith (Oxford University Press. Paris.. 1952). Caire. Michael. Resistance and Control (Macmillan. in Mit anderen Augen. 'Das Lacheln'. London. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (Penguin. in Implicit Meanings. 1978). Efharis. London. Paul. London. Kundera.M.. Warren (Penguin.Lachen und Weinen. 1991). Max. Descartes. 2000). Jilrgen. 1976). . 200 I). Leopold. Larkin. . Morreall. Lecture at 'Aesthetics. Wyndham. The Interpretation of Dreams (Penguin. Philip. 'Art. in Semiotica 110-1112 (1996). 1985). Sigmund. Immanuel. Paris.. 1984).On Metapsychology (Penguin. p.reflections on method and morality in Adorno'.. New York. Der Humor (Fischer. nation'.) . 2000. The Structures of the Life-World. High Windows (Faber. Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer (Cambridge University Press. Luzifer lacht. 1987). 1984). 1998). 1980). 23-36. London. Chicago. 'Remembering narural history . Lewis. 1990). Gilles and von Sacher-Masoch. S. MA Dissertation in SOciology. 'Uber das Lachen'. Kanfer. 1984). Masochism (Zone Books. Basingstoke. Deleuze. Social Action and Human Nature (Cambridge University Press. Katerina and Holquist..92-118. 1999). March 1998. Baltimore.80!. Mary. Vol.. 1984). 'German wit: Heinrich Heine'. T. Hans. The Critique of Judgement. Philosophische Betrachtungen von Nietzsche bis Tabori (Reclam. Clark. 'Do dogs laugh?' and 'Jokes'. 1973). Geuss. . Christie. Jonathan. 1982). Ethnic Humour Around the World (Indiana University Press.Jacques Tatis Konstruktionen des Komischen'. Frank. criticism and laughter: Terry Eagleton on aesthetics'. R. Wyndham Lewis. London. Parrots. 1975). Koch. Vorschule der Asthetik (Meiner. University of Essex.. Poems and Other Writings ed. Powell. Poets. 1990).2 01 ::c M N OS . J. Painter and Writer (Yale University Press. Stefan. Humour in Society. 1993). Oxford. in Luzifer Lacht. 1982). The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx (Penguin. Philosophers and Good Advice (Hearing Eye. Schutz. London. Stefan (ed. in Selected Essays.Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum UnbewuBten. Truth and Method (Sheed and Ward. . Frankfurt a. 1999). 1994). trans.. Hans-Georg. Gilles with Parnet. Cambridge. Ted. Mass. Rene. Steven. Cohen. Hamburg. Geo. Ko}akowski. Leszek. 1983). pp. Santa Barbara. The Theory of Communicative Action. Aspekte einer philosophischen Anthropologie (Reclam. 1984). Milan. . Paul. Axel and Joas.427-33. University of Oxford. Honneth. A Comparative Analysis of the BritishlIrish and the GreeklPontian Case.c '- CL co . Jean. Edwards. Albany. Metaphysical Horror (Penguin.c CD N N Cioffi. 1992). 7 (Suhrkamp. Russell (ed. Jerry. Mascha.1988). A. Evanston. unpublished typescript (1997). Dietzsch. Gadamer. pp. London. Dollimore. Plessner. Mtinchen. Vol. 1974)... Ethnic Humour. 'Das Lautlose Lachen im Kafig des Bildes . Gertrud. Chris and Paton. London. >. George. 1993). in Die Filme von Jacques Tati (Raben. McCarthy (Polity. Palmer. 1975) . Deleuze.>. 1991). Douglas. An Essay on Comedy (The Johns Hopkins University Press. Kant.Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (Penguin. Davies. Connor. London. Sruttgart. 1990).. Sexual Dissidence (Oxford University Press. Byatt and N. 1976). Raymond. 2000). Zaner and H. L'Abecroaire de Gilles Deleuze (Video Editions Montparnasse.ge E. Cambridge. Bloomington. Davies. Habermas. (eds). Meredith.). London. London. c. Groucho. trans.

Will.Screech. Paris and elsewhere have been forced to suffer my awful jokes. Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes (Cambridge University Press. K. to Elliot Jurist for strict Freudian comic therapy particularly at the beginning of this project. Gregg Horowitz. an essay on the freedom of wit and humour'. Tough Boys (Bloomsbury. . Quentin. and I hereby promise not to do so anymore. 1990). Shaftesbury. to Tony Bruce at Routledge for his constant support with this book and with the series Qf which it forms part. Manners. Enough is enough. Paris. many of my third-year undergraduate and graduate students at Essex. . Gulliver's Travels (Penguin. sent or emailed many precious references that the reader will find scattered throughout this book. 1980). 1964). 1998). The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. 1977) . Shentoub. in Characteristics of Men. Vol. Having had the good fortune to speak publicly about humour. Bernard Flynn. H.. Ludwig.. Thanks Many audiences in all sorts of places have suffered me talking about humour over the last few years. Skinner. London. Walsh (Penguin. As for specific thanks. Snodgrass. who will find some of his ideas reflected back to him in Chapter L- ::::J E ::::J :r: o o N c L() . Manchester. 1996). Sisson (Carcamet. Swift. and it is a token of their humanity that they fed me better lines than I fed them. Richard Kearney. 1997). 1967).Great Apes (Bloomsbury. New (Penguin. Judith Walz and Max Pensky for their sharp feedback on a version of Chapter 6. Williamson and M. Gentleman ed. London. Wittgenstein. London. M... Mary Ellen.Tough. A. Times. 1992). to my partner-in-crime. which was presented in December 2000 to theAmer~can Philosophical Association in New York. Christopher. 1989). and J. London. I must repay a number of outstanding debts: to Cecilia Sj6holm. 1996). London. Worse still. Encyclopaedia of Satirical Literature (ABC-CLIO. Santa Barbara. Anthony. Culture and Value (Blackwell. Tough Toys for Tough. L'Humour dans ]'oeuvre de Freud (Edition Two Cities. A. 1997). Cambridge. Opinions. S. Laurence. M. for bearing my jokes with patience and discussing all the arguments in this book with me. Earl of. which are also scattered here and there. who gave. . Oxford. Selected Poems ed.. London. Smart. New York. C. Sterne. 1-2 (Bobbs-Merrill. I must confess that a lot of the research for this book was done by my auditors. Laughter at the Foot of the Cross (Penguin. Cock and Bull (Bloomsbury. Self. to Joel Whitebook. to Roger Moss. 'Sensus Communis. 1992). Jonathan.Selected Poems ed. London.

109-11 being 42-5. Laura Salisbury. super-ego 94 Britain 68-9.:. Charlie 57-8. 2000. 55-6 cathexis 100 Catholicism 83 Chaplin. sometimes without realizing it: David Hannigan. Mikhail 44. Keith Ansell-Pearson. 51. 52.27-8. 73. Charles 9 Beckett. 46 chauvinism 84-5 Chelsom. Thomas 36-7 bestiality 29-31 Bible 26-7. Thanks finally to Laura Hopkins for providing a conclusion of sorts: 'Pas de lieu Rhone que nous'.. Sue Wiseman and Alain David. Paris: Editions de la Reunion des Musees Nationaux. 42 Blazing SadclJes 48 body 7-9.2. this book is the flipside of an earlier book of mine. who will find something familiar in Chapter 6. 71-3. 65-6 anti -depressants 10 1-2 anti-Semitism 75 Aristotle 2. 82 Batailles.. I would also like to thank people who have given me various texts and references at different times. Theo Bertram. Woody 98 anaesthesia 87-8 anamnesis 86-7 Anaxagoras 25 Animal Farm 3 1 anirn~s25. Humphrey 98 Breton. Peter 50 L E ::l ::l 0 I 0 c N t-- . Andre 9-1 0. 4. 31-2.47 Baudelaire.37. The publisher would like to thank the Reunion des Musees Nationaux and the Chalcographie du Louvre for permission to reprint the illustrations in this book from: De la Physionomie Humaine et Animale: Dessin de Charles Le Brun graves pour la Chalcographie du musee Napoleon en 1806. Jonathan Dollimore. 41-3 anthropology 2. Although it very well might not. W. 36 Aesop 29. 83 Cana. sensus communis 87 Bernhard. laughing machine 55-9. super-ego 105-6. But appearances can be deceptive. 25. Shohini Chauduri. Although the latter is all about death and appears rather sombre. Mel 48 buffoonery 82. Almost Nothing (Routledge. 83 Bergson. Erica Fudge. 84-5 Brooks.Chasseguet-Smirgel. Theodor 19. post-colon~ theory 47-50. Greg Fried. Eiharis Mascha. H. til I- . and hopefully does not appear so.:. 41-52. Bob Vallier. called Very Little . Bill 52 Beckett. 32-3. this book might appear less sombre. 3 1. 60 Bogart. indeed should not. 16-17 Bakhtin. Georges 105 bathos 6-7. 42. wedding at 26 Carniv~ 82 cartoons 14. Peter 17. 109 Berger. Peter Howarth. laughing machine 57. 1997). ethnicity 7 1. Janine 104-5 Chaucer. Samuel 25. 102 abstraction 87-8 Adorno. 17. Moira Gatens. 31. Henri 2. 98-9 assent 85-6 Auden. 27-31. to Frank Cioffi. Chris Ellis. 31 alienation 43 Allen. Index . 34-8. ethnicity 57.c rn c abjection 96-8. 61. 25. 73.5. 67 .. Geoffrey 29.

51 Larson. sensus communis 85-6. Fyodor 99 Douglas. 88. 36-8. Denis 72 digreSSions 20-2 disenchantment 83-5 disgust 31-4 dissensus communis 18-20. Ben 71 Joyce. sensus communis 79-91. dignity 96. unconscious 93-111 Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious 55.69. 29 Coen Brothers 88 Cohen. 48. body 41-52. The 3 I Fargo 88 feminism II film 43. Rene 8-9. Victor 72 Huizinga. 70-1 explosions 8-9.66 Driessen. Gottfried Wilhelm von 37 Lessing. 6. 14.83. Ted 69 Comedians 9-10 commedia dell' arte 5 I. 94 ethnocentrism 66 ethnos 68-73 ethology 28 ethos 68-73 Europe 15. 94-5 Hungary 106-7 Husser!.72 Izzard. 9. 3 Interpretation of Dreams. language issues 108. Sigmund 2-3. examples 10-12. good/bad 14-16. laughing machine 55.87 D-Day 110 Dadaism 37 D'Alembert.Christianity 9. Jean Le Rond 72 Dante 109 David. sensus communis 88-9. 60-2 detachment 60-2 de territorialization 35 Dictionnaire de I'Acadfmie Franfaise 72 Diderot. lain 107 Deleuze. 66. mirthless 49-50. Emmanuel 106.35. 109 Hazlitt. The 103 Eliot. 86. William 25 Hebrew 41-2 Heidegger.65-8. anamnesis 86-7. 52. Monsieur 44. phenomenology 3-6. Trevor 9-10.101-2 Descartes. 36. 107 OJ "t:l x c:: co 0N . sensus communis 81-2. James 73. 16-18. Henry 82 Kundera.:: N OJ "t:l x Haberrnas. humanity 31-2. 71. Sir John 5 I Far Side. Gotthold Ephraim 85 Levinas. Henk 65 dualism 42 Ecce Homo 99 eccentricity 27-9. Stan 57 Le Goff. Philip 6. 93 intersubjective assent 85-6 intoxication 101 Ireland 72-3 irony 2. George 70 Encyclopedie 72 epoche 88 Erasmus 9. 16. humans 27-9.90 Falstaff. Gustave 58 fools 82 France 67. Jiirgen 79.97 Jubilate Agno 30 Juvenal 31-4. 86-7 Ham 27 Hamlet 99 Hardy. 88 Dostoevsky. Martin 75 Heine. super-ego 95 homophobia 96 Horace 31-4. 45 . Mary 5. 42. 83-4 Cicero I. Thomas 2. 85-6 Kearney. ethnicity 70.95. 65-76. ethnicity 69. Jacques 9 Leibniz. humanity 25. 73. 17 Killigrew. William 97 language issues 87. Gilles 35 depression 50-2. Immanuel 3. 89-91. Tommy 107 Comeille. Milan 5 Langland. 108 Larkin.48. 67 Flaubert. 50. John 44 cock and bull stories 7. 10. 93. 32-3 Griffiths.106. super-ego 93. 21-2. 67 conscience 96-7 Cooper. 43 Ego and the rd. Frank 74. machines 55-62. 41.83 Freud. Eddie 87 Jesus Christ 25-6 Jokebook 89.51. 21. Pierre 72 Critique of Judgement. 90 Don Quixote 56. ethnicity 75. silent 57.72-3. 5-6. Johan 41 Hulot. 36. Francis 3 hydraulic model 89 Immanuel Kant 37-8 incongruity theory 2. 89 Cleese.106-7 Kant. 85 Gnosticism 44 grammar 79 Great Apes 31. 16 ethics 102 ethnicity 3. 19. self-understanding 105-7 Laurel.80 Hugo. 12. laughing machine 57. Gary 3 I laughter 7-9. Buster 57 Kierkegaard. 80 Cioffi. Oliver 57 having 42-5. 80 Kafka. 28. Edmund 60 Hutcheson. 30-1.27.101-2.76 Gulliver's Travels 15. 12. superego 93-111 fun 12-14 Funny Bones 50 Galen 25 Germany 69-70. 93 Jonson.. I 6-18. Richard 73 Keaton. Heinrich 70 history 2 Hobbes.75. The 75. S0ren 3. 49. Franz 31. The 85 culture 28-9. 67. 94 jokes 1-7. 88 humans 27-9 I'humournoir 10.

110 Momaigne. 46. The 87 . 79 relief theory 2-3 Renaissance 9. The 29 object-loss 97 Oedipus 95. 109 Middle Ages 9. Herbert 3 Spengler. Gregor 32 satire 31. Franl=ois 9. 87 parody 5 particular 66-8 Pascal. 109 Plutarch 58 Pope. 66 Radio Eireann 11 0 raillery 81 reactionary humour 11-1 2 Red Cross 110 Reich. George 107-8 messianism 16-18. 65-6.26. Alexander 15.75-6. Gyorgy 106-7 machines 55-62 Man and His Dog. 12. 70. Arthur 3 Schutz. 104-5 Nero. super-ego 106 . 68-9 Oxford English Dictionary 71 parochialism 73-5. 44-5 senescence 5 1 67. 109-11 rites 5. 95 Theory of Communicative Action.82. 60. 20. 82 theories of humour 2-3. A. 79-91 sexism 12. 103-4 On the Parts of Animals 25 Ora tore. 10 Roman de Renard. J. James Russell 3 Lukacs. 99. 74 88-91 physics 43-5. Max 42 Schopenhauer. 99-1 0 1. 109 perversion 104-5 Petronius 32 phenomenology 3-6. Konrad 27 Lowell.103. 72. 109 Rabelais and his World 82-3 racism 6. John 6 miracles 26 mirthless laughter 49-50.107. Jonathan 14-16. Friedrich 52. Will 31-3. 18. Helmuth 8-9. 20-2. 111 social contract 5 SOciology 2 Socrates 25 solipSism 86 souls 45-50 Spencer.83 Satyricon 32 scapegoating 12. de 99 Monty Python 26. 25-6. Wyndham 58-9.105 Mann. a M 81. 57.94. 106 maturation 103. Le 29 Samsa. George 31-2. Le 4. 25. ethnicity 72-3. Christopher 30 smiling 5. 109 Plato 2-3 Plessner. 50-2.Lewis. ClJ "0 x c M 88-9. 35-6. 107-9. Oswald 83 Stalinism 83 Statius 38 Sterne. The 46 Milton. 2-3 mourning 99-100 Miinchhausen. 76 scatology 45-7 Scheler. Thomas 60 narcissism 96.60. 35 Swift. Jack 102 Nietzsche. 95-6 surrealism 10. Laurence 16. sensus communis 105-6. Austin 106 Praise of Folly 16 106 stoicism 49 structured fun 12-14 subversion 82 super-ego 93-111 superiority theory 2-3. 31.72.96 ridicule 1 1-1 2. 83 repression 3.96-101 ClJ "0 C Morreali. The 26 literary history 2 Uoyd. 55 risus purus 49. 108 Noah 26-7 Nun's Priest's Tale.71.90-1 meta-jokes 69-70 Metamorphosis 3 1 metaphysics 43-5. Thomas 27 Marcus Aurelius 80 Marx Brothers 19. A 27 Man Meets Dog 27 management consultants 12-14 mania 99-101. Earl of 18. 80-4 shaggy dog stories 7. 26 Self.27-8. Sennett. Annie 104 relativity 74-5. Baron Von 56 Nagel. The 8 peditology 47-50. 29 situation change 9-11 situationism 11 slavery 82 Smart. super-ego 94-9.50-1.28-9. 83 Miller's Tale. Blaise 99 Pnssions of the Soul. x Mendelssohn. 47. Anthony. 101-2. 62. 16. 111 rire. 73. De 1 Orwell. Emperor 32 Nicholson. Moses 85 Meredith. 105 Meditations 60 melancholia 68. 31 Porphyry 25 post-colonal theory 41-52 Powers. 62 Lorenz. M.76 Life of Brian. 86 Screech.35-6. Mack 57 sensus communis 18-20. Alfred 80. sensus communis 85. Harold 57 locality 68 London Underground 59-60. Protestantism 83 Proust 105 Prozac 102 psychoanalysis 102-4 Pythagoras 25 Quintillian 2 Rabelais. 74 sexuality 96 Shaftesbury. Michel E. post-colonal theory 45.12. 62 liberation 9-10. theology 2. 52 Modem Times 57 Molloy 47-9.

75 Times Literary Supplement. 20-2. 50 unconscious 3. The 47-8 timing 6-7 tomfoolery 83 totalitarianism 82 transference 103 Tristram Shandy 7. 55. Ludwig 4. 86. Eddie 9-10. Queen 80 Virgin Mary 25-6 Voltaire 72 Vorticism 58 Waters. 89. The 1 1 x ClJ "'0 c: N C"l . 11 World ofJeeves. Paul 67 vices 15 Vico. 18. Oscar 73 William III. Giambattista 80 Victoria. G. 99 Wodehouse.thereness 86-7 thrownness 12. 52 Wittgenstein. 11 Watt 109-10 Wilde.35. P. Kenneth 43. 93-111 United States 13 universalism 86 urbanity 3 1-4 Valery. King 82 Williams.

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