Chapter IV. How Can Humor Be Classified? TYPOLOGY
Humor is taxonomy free.
It has not been possible to agree how to divide the category of 'humo.''(Attardo 1994:3)
There is continued lack of any generally accepted taxonomy of humor. (P. O'Neill in Pratt 1993:61)
If a taxonomy of dimensions coluld be agreed upon, this might provide at least a staarting point to bring some much needed coherence to the field. (Rod Martin in Ruch 1998:58)
To become clear about humor, its good to know what kinds of humor there are.
The following are useful ways to classify metaphor and generate the types of metaphor discussed in this book. First of all the possible types of humor can be virtually infinite. Some researchers reduce humor to just one, or a few types, for example, incongruity, or release. (cf. Ruch 1998:109-142, 405 ff.) The types presented in the present book only roughly characterize a particular instance of humor. Also the types overlap such that one instance will be characterized by a number of the categories, e.g. a pun can also be connotation and and satire. It must be stressed that a classification is not a complete analysis. To analyze each instance is one needs a complete, critical, philosophical analysis. This is to include interdisciplinary considerations such as the literary, psychological, sociological, linguistic, and anthropological, approaches. Humor may be also be specifically seen as a "language-game, " and "form of life," which can be analyzed from these perspectives. This is Wittgenstein's ordinary language philosophy approach. (Normale Sprache Philosophie) In short, a full analysis of humor is needed in each case in addition to any classification. In this sense, humor is taxonomy free.
BEARD JOKES.AFTER STUDYING THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF HUMOR WE GAIN THE ABILITY TO DECIDE WHAT KIND OF HUMOR WE WANT TO DEVELOP.
A. Metaphor and Humor
Humor was analyzed as an emotion which is based on language-use. Humor is basically a verbal activity, especially because it is fundamentally what we mean by "thought." A further clarification of thought or language may be presented by an analysis of metaphor. The types of humor are found to be basically the same as the types of metaphor. Quintilian states, All forms of trope afford equal opportunity for jests. Both humor and metaphor are deviations, mistakes or combinations of unlike things. Humor will now be analyzed in terms of metaphor.
To understand how to produce humor would require a detailed analysis of all of the factors involved. But a detailed analysis of both metaphor and humor has been lacking. Only recently has metaphor been more carefully analyzed. A further analysis is given by clarification of meaning. Earlier, it was argued that meaning is nonmentalistic association. To more fully analyze humor would require a detailed analysis of the associations involved in each assessment. This has recently been done elsewhere by the author. F. Michael (1973) also suggests that metaphor is best analyzed in terms of associations. Monroe Beardsley (1958,1962) presents a theory of metaphor which he calls "The Metaphorical Twist." According to this "logical absurdity theory," the two terms of a metaphor yield absurdity if taken literally. Thus, there is a "twist" to connotative meaning in which the predicate gains a new meaning. That is, a second level of meaning must be found to make sense of a metaphor, because the original or usual meaning is found to be absurd. A metaphor is literally false. " Your eyes are the sky," is literally false, but on a second level of interpretation, as describing an aesthetic blue, it can be true. Metaphors are interesting, amusing, and humorous because at first they seem to be false or contradictory. We may laugh at the contradiction or deviation. But the meaning of the metaphor is saved because a new poetic association is created which makes sense of it. Metaphor is like a defeated expectation joke because out of an apparent falsity or contradiction some truth comes.
Humor, like metaphor, needs a literal level in order to deviate from it. With humor, the deviation often ends with the impossible, the unresolved contradiction, a complete block to reason and understanding. With metaphor, a new level of understanding is connoted. Each type of humor will reveal different variations of this. Insight humor and insight metaphor, for example, both make positive statements. One model for analyzing humor is to take Beardsley's "logical absurdity" theory of metaphor and apply it to a theory of humor. Humor, then, may be regarded as a logical absurdity or contradiction which does not make sense. Instead of being forced to look for another level of meaning one is merely forced to react with laughter and pleasurable bodily feelings. Those who do not wish to look for the second level meaning of metaphor often ridicule poetry and metaphor as being bizarre language. But metaphor itself can be humorous because at the first level the meaning is taken away and then surprisingly given back again at the second level. One type of contradiction creating humor is that of giving something and taking it back at the same time. Humor will be seen to involve such general assessments of contradiction or deviation as:
congruity in incongruity
and vice versa.
sense in nonsense.
nonsense in sense.
truth seeming to be false.
falsity seeming to be true.
wrong seeming to be right.
right seeming to be wrong.
juxtaposition of unlike things.
saying one thing and meaning
pretending and deceiving.
In short, humor is things gone wrong.
B. Classification of Humor
And who will ever determine logically the dividing line between the comic and the noncomic?
(Croce Aesthetic, In Cooper 1922:80)
THERE IS ONLY ONE KIND OF HUMOR TO CHOOSE FROM.
The types of humor are like breeds of dog-but in all of them there is still a dog.
Humor may be classified according to diverse purposes and in many ways. Classifications generally are not absolute or essential groupings. There is no objective or absolute scientific method. Each scientific method is determined for a purpose. Humor will be classified here similarly in a number of ways for a number of different purposes and reasons. The classifications often overlap. One joke may illustrate numerous types of humor at the same time. To adequately analyze a particular joke one needs to determine all of the types of humor it might be classified as. For example, "Everything is abnormal" may be classified as: all fallacy, contradiction humor, satire, insight humor, reduction to absurd, exaggeration humor, etc. The full context and setting of the joke should also be given. To attempt to classify humor is to attempt to classify one's entire spoken and written language experience, behavior all at once. We must then look for the most useful and elucidating classifications of human behavior and then apply these to humor. Freudian analysis was rejected as being mentalistic and unsound. Also, a critique of behaviorism was presented earlier. But Behaviorism could be made more adequate. The ordinary-language philosophy approach may be seen to be quite similar to it, especially in the attack on mentalism. What is left, then, is a contemporary critical philosophical psychology which benefits from the insights of the various disciplines. We chose the categories given here because they are well-known and well-established ones especially in philosophy and rhetoric.
As a first rough classification, we select various aspects of humor to deal with. We may discuss each type of humor in terms of the following: analysis of how it works; techniques involved; the various uses of the type of humor; what the humorist intends or what the humor is used for; reactions to the humor; and the negative or opposite emotion to the particular type of humor. (e.g. "Deviation from the usual" may be thought to be "weird," and so induce rejection and anger.) The classification given will sometimes refer to one or another of these. "Escape humor" refers to a use, "juxtaposition humor" to a technique, "contradiction humor" to analysis, and "paradox humor" to a reaction. Usually the type given stresses analysis. The table of contents contains a list of the various types of humor discussed here.
It may be noted that Cicero also classified humor in terms of the forms of rhetoric, metaphor and illogic as follows: absurd (farce), allegory, ambiguity, antithetical expressions, assumed simplicity, caricature, comparison (resemblance), contradiction (opposition), defeated expectation, deviation from spelling, equivocation, irony, metaphor, mimicry, narrative, fables, proverbs, mild ridicule, surprise, understatement, value deviation, words taken literally.
Because humor is an emotion it can be classified in the same way emotions are classified. Humor terms, then, would refer to: evaluations, bodily sensations, actions, and situations. Different types of humor would involve all, but stress only certain of these four factors. Some humor types and terms will be categorized accordingly:
a) assessment stress: wit, pun, ambiguity, contradiction, circularity humor, conceit, connotation, free association, satire, insight humor, informal logical fallacies, ignorance or naiveté humor, irony, nonsense, etc.
b) bodily feeling stress: unexpected honesty, hopelessness humor, repartee, laughter, giggle, tickle, pleasure, delight, perceptual humor, caricature, deviation from likes or desires, deviation from the familiar, escape or release humor, defeated expectation, etc. Some of these bodily states are merely reports or descriptions of sensations. For there to be humor, appraisal must be involved. If affected by laughing gas one may laugh and have elevated bodily feelings, but this is a physiological state, not humor. Similarly, a state of well-being is not humor.
c) action stress: slapstick, caprice, frolic, tease, chuckle, giggle, titter, smile, grin, playful, accident humor, behavioral humor, defense mechanism humor, hypocrisy humor, mimic, etc.
d) situation stress: farce, ludicrous, situation comedy, context deviation, deviation from the usual or practical, grammar deviation, cosmic irony, satire, etc.
Each type of humor may, then, be reduced to all of the specific statements, assessments and imagery involved; a description of the specific bodily feelings, actions, and situation. The theory provides for extensive adequacy and intensive concreteness.
Another method of classification is in terms of a theory of meaning. Each type of humor may be regarded as a language-game in accordance with ordinary-language philosophy. To use this approach is to give language and humor, epistemological primacy. It means that we learn how we think from examining each type of humor in its inextricable context, rather than imposing a vague or abstract mentalistic theory of meaning on humor.
In striving for adequacy we must include the uses to which we put humor. It is used in language-games such as "being sociable." The meaning of the joke is its use in a language-game of being sociable. "The meaning of humor is its use in the language-game," may mean: The humor includes the four aspects of an adequate analysis of emotions; the humor itself is being used for some purpose, such as: being sociable, releasing frustrations, persuading, etc.
One of the main insights of ordinary-language philosophy is to stress the reduction of each type of concept to its origin in a concrete situation in our everyday experience. This avoids obscure, overabstract definition. Ordinary-language also focuses on language. The slogan is that "the limits of our language are the limits of our world." Or, we see our world through linguistic models and language-games. And "thinking" was seen to be largely linguistic in a useful and instrumental sense. So also, humor is basically determined by language. Humor is fundamentally linguistic.
The ordinary-language approach also stresses doing rather than analyzing. Humor is a language-game we engage in, though we may not even understand how it works. The average person finds things humorous, but hardly knows how humor works. We show our humor in our everyday experience. In a sense, we can only describe experiences in terms of their contexts. Humor is a doing, not just an explaining.
Another way of classifying humor has already been presented in the section on "Metaphor and Humor." It was seen that the types of metaphor may serve also as the types of humor. One traditional classification of language is, then, rhetoric. It is appropriate to attempt to view humor from the perspective of rhetoric and its most central type, metaphor.
One may classify humor in terms of the traditional theory of humors, the four fluids involved: blood, phlegm, choler, and black bile. We may classify humor in this way, but as it seems to make no sense to do so, we will leave that theory as being historical.
Humor may also be divided into spontaneous humor versus: conscious, deliberate, intended humor. In order to control humor so as not to embarrass, and in order to direct oneself into creating the most desirable kind of humor, it is important to become more conscious about one's humor. With emotion, generally, the more clear, realistic, and intelligent we are about our appraisals, the more we may avoid anger and negative emotions and induce positive ones. This I call "rational emotion."
We can even use deliberate, rational assessments to purposely create capricious, childish, new, unnamed, positive experiences. That is, we can rationally create irrationality. To be rational is not to be dull or emotionless. It is to have more command of emotions than usual. Rational emotion can bring about a richer and more aesthetic emotional life than one would ordinarily lead. This also applies to what may now be coined as "rational humor." Rational humor is humor which we deliberately, and consciously induce, control and create. Rational humor is humor which does what we want it to do, instead of humor which controls us. The more we know about humor the more we will be able to create it. It is a powerful tool and perhaps the most human and desirable tool one could have. Imagine, for instance, a love without laughter, a friend who is always serious, a world without humor. Given a choice between not losing humor or not losing seriousness, which would you take? The reply might be, "I'll not take one or the other, but both."
C. Good and Bad Humor
One who jokes, confesses. (Italian proverb)
Good and bad are empty boxes waiting to be filled.
"Good" and "bad," it was pointed out, are vague, open-context terms. "If that be right which Warwick says is right, there is no wrong, but everything is right." (Shakespeare Henry VI, III) The question, "What makes humor good?" is itself an "abstraction fallacy joke." "Good" in "good humor" might refer to: knowledge of techniques; preference for one type of humor over another; being well-executed in terms of our knowledge of that type of humor; being widely responded to; containing many types of humor; being high-spirited; new and fresh deviation or mistake; appeal to current interests and beliefs; being subtle which makes the audience think; humor which requires reasoning on the part of the humorist; providing insight; providing emotional release; revealing a truth or criticism we could not otherwise reveal; exposing hypocrisy or dishonesty; finding a meaningful connection between two events which were thought to be entirely incongruous; being pleasantly surprised; being effortless; conscious and deliberate, rather than accidental; etc.
Return to the definition of humor as involving: assessment, bodily feeling, action, and situation. Then, "good humor" may at least refer to excellence in either of the four factors. We may say that a joke is good if it is clever, if the bodily sensation is especially pleasant, if the perception of the action is striking, or if the perception of the situation is especially humorous. Some prefer slapstick or situation humor. Others favor intellectual or philosophical humor. This observation makes the task of finding "good humor" more specific.
We need not confuse good assessment-humor with good feeling humor, thereby creating a category-mistake. Good assessment-humor would be determined by the cognitive evaluations one has. A joke could involve good assessment-humor but poor feeling-, action-, or situation humor. If a joke gives us a high degree of pleasurable feeling we can, with this criterion, say it is a good feeling joke. But it is a matter of emphasis. To create good feeling we sometimes need a healthy person rather than a tired one, but good humor seems to basically deal with assessment. And assessment was shown to deal with metaphor. To create good humor is to have a knowledge of techniques of metaphor or humor. There can, then, be progress and improvement in the area of humor.
Consider tools. If a doctor with no medicine or tools comes to treat a patient, help is limited as to what can be done without them. If a poet only knows one type of metaphor, e.g. "A is B" type, then there are also restrictions as to what can be done. One test of a good humorist is the number of different types of humor that he or she is able to use. Each instance of humor may be then compared with others of the same type in order to distinguish what factors to take as criteria of good or bad.
Another test of humor is whether it appeals to a large audience. Humor is, to a large extent, subjective because it is what each person perceives to be a deviation or mistake. There could be excellent humor which only one person appreciates. Or, a whole audience may laugh at what may be poor humor. Again, as with informal logical fallacies, majority opinion does not determine the case. On the other hand what we may mean by a "good" joke is often only that many people find it humorous. Sometimes what is meant by "bad" humor is merely that one does not appreciate that type of humor, although it may be excellent for that type.
"Are there objective criteria for humor?" is like the question "Are there objective criteria for art?" The question is dealt with in a curious way. Artists often tell us that "good" in art is strictly subjective with no one being able to lay down criteria. At the same time they regularly grade their students and distinguish good from bad art . Students are often left in Kafkaesque anxiety for they never know whether their work will be regarded as good or bad. Put concisely, the argument is: "There are no criteria for good and bad art, now we will judge whether your work is good or bad." "There are no criteria for good and bad art, and we have them." These are an instances of contradiction humor.
The arguments which apply to aesthetic emotion will also apply to humor because humor is an emotion. For example, controversy regarding the expression theory of art applies to the expression of humor as well. In addition, there can be aesthetic and unaesthetic humor. It is elsewhere argued that humanistic art and by analogy humanistic humor, involves the aesthetic which is no longer reduced to atomistic or quantitative perspectives, but becomes a part of our total purposive life experience. It expresses itself in gentleness and joie de vivre.
Similarly, the definition of art may be: "Art is that which cannot be defined." Is this also the case with humor? There are definite, even scientific criteria for both good art and good humor. This is the case in actual practice. We may judge the comedian on the ability to create different kinds of jokes, on the timing, on the response of the audience, although the audience might first have to be educated about certain types of humor. An examination could even be constructed to determine one's understanding and knowledge of the techniques of humor and a test given on the ability to create humor in response to a statement, captionless cartoon, or situation. The fly-in-soup jokes given earlier show an almost spontaneous ability to create different types of humor based on a knowledge of these types and of how humor works. Abilities to appreciate and produce humor differ. We may train people to improve their humor abilities as we train them in music, art, or any other subject. Humor courses may be given solid scientific and philosophical foundation and thereby encouraged. This book is an expansion of the seminar courses on humor which I have taught at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Tübingen University, Germany.
A game could be created consisting of captionless cartoons with the captions being filled in by the players. The players could be tested for a reasonably funny response. These are the sorts of tests given in art training or even courses on humor. If "good" is open-context, then "good" art and "good" humor refer to one's present likes, wants, beliefs, knowledge. An unintelligent person may not like a complex joke. A strong, religious believer may not like religious jokes. There are no absolute values, only subjective ones based on our present and changing knowledge, beliefs, likes and wants. So also, humor is a deviation from such subjective knowledge, likes, etc. Humor is a deviation from subjective values. Humor thus tells us what our values and beliefs are. What we laugh at tells us who we are. It tells us how people think. An Italian proverb is: "One who jokes, confesses
"Good" humor, then, would be determined by going beyond particular subjective values. A child may laugh at something commonplace because it deviates from his or her limited knowledge and experience. A patient may laugh at whatever relieves frustrations. Neither the child's humor, here, nor the patient's humor need generally to be considered to be especially good humor. But to the child, or patient, the humor may be superb.
A "bad joke" may mean that it does not measure up to the standards of other jokes of that type. It may be poorly executed, presented unclearly, etc. A joke may be thought "bad" if it is based on cruelty or on something which is not regarded as a genuine deviation or mistake. As will be seen, however, black humor may be good and profound. One type of British humor is often said to be "dry humor." It is based on a hardly observable, or small deviation-a slight gesture. It can, however, be especially effective. A joke may be good, but something the listener has heard too often. It may not be a fresh juxtaposition or deviation. The joke may be too obvious so as to lack the needed contrast or surprise. Humor is often better if the listener has to fill in an implication, e.g. "How do you capture a soldier? Wait for him to gat a drink, then slam the toilet seat down on his head." A joke may fail to properly assess the thinking of the audience and as a result be falsely thoughht bad. In this case, the militant-minded public may not appreciate the above humor. For them we can rather use: "Our bombs are democratic," or "We showed them in the Gulf war how to smoke a camel." For some, these examples will cause irritation and anger. These examples may be good, however, in being provocative.
We don't just tell jokes. We tell jokes to complex people. A bad joke may be told when it is based on a value deviation the listener does not share. In this case, it may be black humor or a practical joke to arouse the listener. The humor a person regards as being good depends partly on one's goals. A person who wishes to revolt against society might think the best type of humor is satire, deviation from tradition, deviation from the usual, escape humor, irony, mimicry, name-calling, nonsense, ridicule, and satire. An artist who prefers the visual to language, may prefer cartoons, caricature, behavioral humor, or perceptual and imagery humor such as that contained in pop art or new art.
Now, how can we find objective criteria for humor? One way is to take analogies. How can we find objective criteria for reason? By "reason" we refer basically to: avoiding contradiction; avoiding logical fallacies; basing our viewpoints on evidence and proof; concluding only after adequate, open, informed discussion and examination; not contradicting basic scientific and observational facts of reality. The criteria we have for reason and scientific evidence and proof give us paradigms for objectivity. Science is often described as consisting of events which are intersubjectively observable. Now, apply this model to humor. By humor we refer basically to the opposite of reason. We use false proofs, seek out contradiction, conclude before evidence is considered, etc. But these are specific criteria of humor, nevertheless. The criteria of deviation and mistake are found to produce humor in a scientific, lawlike way.
One reason why humor may be thought of as unscientific is that what a person finds humorous is often subjective. But given the same assessment and value system, two people may well be seen to laugh. The types of humor specify the techniques and principles involved just as certain germs determine the cause of a disease. Humor can be scientifically analyzed. Because it involves subjectivity does not mean that humor itself is subjective. Good humor is partly produced by clearly and accurately conforming to the principles involved in each type of humor. Good humor is also produced by conforming to the formula for producing an emotion. If there is too much condemnation, then the deviation becomes anger or hostility, rather than humor. Thus, humor may become mockery, ridicule, or obnoxious behavior.
In attempting to find objective criteria for good humor we may take the following analogy. We generally value reason over irrationality or psychological disturbance. So also, we may value rational humor over irrational humor, inspiring humor over mere pun or slapstick. The rational or insight type of humor may thus be thought of as being better than the other types. When the joke is told we not only have a pleasurable sensation, we have the pleasure of having learned something. New knowledge can permeate all of our thinking and activity. Elevating or rational humor may be thought to be total humor rather than a mere giggle. Holistic rational humor would be more pervasive and last longer. It can be a permanent pleasurable gain. Humor without insight is often temporary and over in the telling.
We are often disappointed with puns because usually no very interesting insight is gained, for example, "This workshop smells as bad as an ol' factory" (olfactory: organ of smell). Our response to this pun may be quite negative. On this view, humor may be thought to be good if it gives insight, elevation, inspiration, or new knowledge. The better the insight and the more the gain to understanding, the better the humor. Accident humor and defeated expectation, mainly offer surprise. Caricature, mimicry, perceptual humor, and behavioral humor, mainly give one a change in perception. Escape or release humor is a substitute for coping with and fully discussing problems. Ridicule is not properly humor at all. Puns and grammatical deviations are mainly limited to giving slight insight into sounds or language structure.
On the other hand, nearly every other type of humor is perhaps better suited to giving insight: allegorical humor, conceit, connotation, context deviation, contradiction, deviation from value and other deviations, satire, etc. All types of humor can, however, give insight. The conclusion is that the great majority of types of humor essentially can involve insight. A further analysis of good and bad humor will be suggested in the discussions of the particular types of humor throughout this book. One criterion of good humor may be seen to be humor which involves our control of meaning, associations, imagery and language. It is rational, ethical and humanistic. It effectively accomplishes our purposes and produces enjoyment and aesthetic experiences. It becomes holistic aesthetic humor. The same criteria may be used to assess good art or the aesthetic.
Regarding the criteria of good humor the following may be suggested:
1. We must first define "good."
2. We must be aware of the different types of humor.
3. We must deliberately and rationally choose the type of humor we use.
4. The more humanistic the humor the beneficent the humor can be.
5. The humor is technically acceptable.
6. The humor is one of the better examples for its type (e.g. satire)
7. The author is familiar with the different types of humor and so has made an informed choice.
8. The more positive the evaluation involved the more humor can be accepted.
9. The more insight it gives gives the more interesting and significant it can be.
10. The more we know about philosophy and critical thinking, the more insight humor can have.
11. The more loaded and provocative the humor, the better it can be used to induce patients, and
those captivated by dogma, to reframe their thinking.
12. The more one knows about informal logical fallacies, e.g. circularity, the better one can create humor based on them
13. The more one knows about metaphor and its types the better one can create humor based on them.
14. The more one knows about the nature of aesthetics and aesthetic emotion, the better one can create aesthetic emotion.
15. Humor can go beyond the narrow cultural categories of good and bad, such that the ethical categories no longer apply. Humor can be more moral than the usual cultural practices. This is especially true of satire and insight humor. (cf. Niezsche, Beyond Good and Evil.)
16. In sum, the more one knows about humor the better one can experience humor and create it in others.
Continue with METAHUMOR or Return to Table of Contents
1. Metaemotion. Humor is an emotion. Just as there are emotions about emotions, there is humor about emotions. The emotions may be those of oneself or another, e.g. fear of one's fear, or fear of another's fear.
Examples of emotion about emotion are:
x of y type:
fear of anger, anxiety, blame, boredom, contempt, desire, embarrassment, depression, eroticism, grief, hatred, jealousy, love, worrying.
anger about anxiety, blame, boredom, contempt, desire, embarrassment, depression, eroticism, fear grief, hatred, jealousy, love, worrying.
anxiety about anger, blame, boredom, contempt, desire, embarrassment, depression, eroticism, fear, grief, hatred, jealousy, love, worrying.
blame for x (x = emotion)
boredom of x. e.g. bored with grieving.
contempt for x. e.g. antipatriarchal feminist contempt for love.
embarrassment about x. e.g. about eroticism.
depression about x. e.g. depressed about love.
eroticism of x. e.g. the erotic of anger. (Fights ironically sometimes end in passionate love.)
fear of x. The classic example is: The only thing to fear is fear itself. We may fear love, friendship, eroticism, etc. To fear of having desires characterizes Schopenhauer's philosophy. Schopenhauer (1969:375) wrote, Every desire springs from a need, a want, a suffering, and that every satisfaction is therefore only a pain removed not a positive happiness brought." The joke is to think that to avoid having unfulfilled desires the way to do it is not have desires at all.
grief about x. Antipatriarchal feminists have grieved the loss of women's anger, and attempted to reinstate it as juustifiable. To grieve about the loss of anger would seem like a joke. We may grieve the loss of a love relationship. To grieve about the loss of depression would seem humorous and Kafkaesque.
hatred for x. To hate boredom is ironically to compound one's negativity.
jealousy about x. One may even be jealous about one's fear or boredom-afraid it will be taken away.
love for x. People often love to worry or be revengeful and angry and it seems to define their whole personality and life. Without anger or worry they would be lost. One may ironically love being sad or worried ("wallow in it"). We may enjoy assess-feeling sorry for ourselves. Masochism and martyrdom are built on such metaemotions. Negative emotions virtually always give pain to oneself, yet people ironically desire them.
worrying about x. Worry is virtually always based on irrational assessments and as it is futile and impractical is an example of uselessness humor.
x of x reflexive type:
(These reflexive metaemotions often generate humor because they seem contradictory, ironical, or absurd.)
anger about anger, anxiety of anxiety, blame of blame, boredom of boredom. contempt of contempt, desire for desire, embarrassment of embarrassment, depression of depression, eroticism of eroticism, grief of grief, hatred of hatred, jealousy of jealousy, love of love, worrying about worry. It is a tragicomic to think of someone worrying about worry itself.
fear of fear itself.
desire of desire is a metadesire. The assessment one has of desire itself produces an emotion. It is a stance toward desire itself, a metaemotion, a desire or emotion regarding desire. (We can have desire while eliminating desire by creating new metadesires. Pandora's Paradox of how we can let free troublesome desires and still have hope, is resolved. Hope is a newly created metadesire.) Theories of desire themselves produce new emotions of desire. Dewey and the Stoics create enlightened rational desire as well as "undesirable desire"; Buddhism creates a surreal, supernaturalistic, nondualistic emotion of "no-desire" or "awakening." Schopenhauer, on one level, creates desire-phobia and anxiety. In what he regards as the most important part of his work, he says we can achieve satisfaction (calmness, serenity, salvation) by the following:
l. realizing that we cause our own suffering by our desiring (in Kantian fashion).
2. realizing that our everyday desires cannot be fulfilled.
4. rejecting the self and selfishness for a oneness with other(s) (Monism). In sum, desire is overcome by reflection about desire; by metadesire.
The new desire becomes a Platonic Desire of eternal ideas removed and distanced from life. Through art, one supposedly transcends the individual into a world of nonindividual eternal desire; a higher, aesthetic desire in a changeless world. This quest for, and creation of, certainty is seen to be part of Schopenhauer's symptomatology. In another sense, desire becomes for him the recognition of unity of life and all living things. An egoistic pessimism passes by means of understanding into some kind of altruistic emotion of compassion.
2. Metahumor. A distinction must be made between humor about one's own humor/emotion, or humor about another's humor/emotion. I can, for example, be humorous about my own humor, or humorous about another's humor.
Emotion about humor
The assessment one has of humor itself produces an emotion. It is a stance toward humor itself, a metaemotion, an emotion regarding humor. Thus, theories of humor themselves produce new emotions about humor. We can like or dislike humor. We can fear, be angry about, be anxious about, blame, be bored by, be contemptful of, desire, be embarrassed by, be depressed by, be erotically aroused by, bereave over (cf. black humor), hate, be jealous of, love, or worry about humor. Enjoyment of humor and love of humor border on circularity. Hatred of humor, or of pleasure, border on contradiction. Hatred of black humor or politically incorrect humor or anyhing else is still hatred and so not justifiable. Hatred of hatred still promotes hatred.
Humor about emotion:
Humor about emotion can be based especiallly on the insight that negative emotions are due to ignorance or illogic. Thus, any negative emotion is a form of illogic and so can be, if accepted, a form of humor. This creates the humor of negative emotions. It is humorous, a tragicomedy, or unacceptable to have anger, jealousy, hatred, etc. On this view, angry people look silly. They are engaged in a form of ignorance. Being angry is like temporary insanity. It is always a tragicomedy to witness it. Thus, we can easily generate humor about: anger, anxiety, blame, boredom, contempt, embarrassment,, grief, hatred, jealousy, revenge, worrying. All negative emotions are especially vulnerable to and helpless before the powerful, critical tool of humor.
Humor may also be critical of positive emotions as well, to the extent that the are based on faulty thinking, e.g. false sentimentality, mechanical love, hypocritical claims of being caring. hypocritical bereavement, viewing war as being altruistic, etc. As metahumor we can have humor about anger, but not anger about humor. The latter is not metahumor, but a negative metaemotion. Black humor is humor about what we regard as horrible, and so is a metahumor
Humor about humor. x of x reflexive type:
A strict definition of metahumor might exclude emotions about humor or humor about emotions, but only include humor about humor. In reflexive humor humor itself is the subject or object of the joke. "We laugh at out own jokes" is a pun. It means we laugh at our jokes, and we laugh at the poorness of our jokes. One way we can appreciate a bad joke, is to laugh at the badness of the joke itself. Similarly some people go to bad comedies to laugh at how bad they are. This allows us to reject humor and save it at the same time. Metahumor allows us to go beyond commonplace humor to a new higher level of humor. "Jokes are best if humorous and accepted as being excellent." is an example of circularity humor.
The various types of humor may now be used to create humor about the other types. x of y type Examples:
blatant vice humor about stereotype humor
contradiction humor about deviation humor
ignorance humor about circularity humor
reduce analogy humor to absurdity
satire of puns
Reflexive x is x type
This is humor about humor. The section on analytic contradiction humor gives numerous examples of contradiction humor about humor. Examples:
accident humor about accident humor
ambiguity about ambiguity
caricature of caricature
circular humor about circular humor
exaggeration about exaggeration
irony about irony
parody of parody
pun about puns
rationalization of rationalization
satire of satire
We can also have humor while eliminating humor by creating new metahumor. Anti-humor is one example of this (see analysis under defeated expectation humor). We begin to tell a joke, but purposely make it fall flat by destroying the punch line. There is a humor about trying to get rid of all humor: "Humor is no Joke." "Humor is not funny." "Taking Humor Seriously." Dogmatic belief systems typically reject humor to protect themselves from any kind of criticism and disallow the enjoyment of humor as well.Return to Table of Contents
or continue toChapter V.