Chapter 8. Theories of Humor
Humor is a genuine mystery.(Robert Latta 1999:3)
Laughter is one of the unsolved problems of philosophy. (Monro 1963:13)
We are still without an adequate general theory of laughter (Morreall 1987:128)
Philosophical literature on humor is both minimal and entrenched in a logical space and language inadequate to the scope and complexities of the subject. (Rucki 1993)
Humor is a pervasive feature of human life...yet its nature is elusive. It has generated little theoretical interest. (LaFollett & Shanks 1993)
These quotations suggest that theories of humor are problematic. As stated in the Preface: There are special reasons why humor research has been inadequate. 1. Researchers have been captivated by a single model (paradigm or metaphor). They have seen it only from the perspective of one theory or discipline, e.g. a sociological or psychological analysis of humor, as being only based on, e.g. aggression, or an incongruity. Michael Gelven (2000) wrote, "The philosophers are ironically the most inept in their attempt to understand its [humor's] nature." 2. Researchers fail or are unable to define humor. (See Chapter 3 on definition.) Definition also requires an analysis of definition itself. This is virtually never done. Without first defining humor, experiments concerning humor are unscientific and statements about humor are empty. We cannot say what causes humor, what it does, or if humor is beneficial if we do not first clearly know what humor is. Thus, much of humor research is invalidated. 3. Once humor is defined we still have the problem that it is defined in terms which are vague, thereby committing the fallacy of abstractionism (essentialism or Platonism). For example, if humor is incongruity, we must concretely and by paradigm define incongruity. We see that "incongruity" means different things to different theorists. 4. If humor is an emotion, we must also have a valid and well-founded theory of emotion.
On humor research we find the following comments:
"Of all the phenomena which come under the investigation of empirical and philosophical psychology, humor is easily one of the least understood." (Morreall 1987:212)
"Neither incongruity ...nor other criteria that have been advanced to define humor are capable of doing so." (G. E. Ferro-Luzzi in Latta 1999:5)
"The subject matter is more in its early stages than at maturity." (Lefcourt 2001:165)
"There is still no standard of theoretical framework upon which researchers generally agree." (R. Martin in Ruch 1998:57)
"There is very little research on the sense of humor as a concept." (V. Raskin in Ruch 1998:95)
"One of the most striking and enduring traits of personality is the sense of humor. Yet despite its distinctiveness, the sense of humor remains a neglected area of research." (Levine & Rakusin 1959:183)
"All these factors...have resulted in a flawed, rather pathetic body of research on the psychology of humor." (Mary Crawford in Barreca 1992:25)
The following is a brief look at humor theory. The very word "theory" suggests something strange. Does one arise in the morning in hopes of creating theories? Is "theory" the sort of word which contains its own unacceptability? Perhaps this is because theories are usually abstract and obscure. And they are often mistaken. But one of the most common faults of theories is the assumption that any one theory is correct, and that the other theories are false. It is like asking for the absolute truth, the only single definition of a term, regardless of context, which will apply to the past, present, and future. It makes no sense to ask for the theory, which will uniquely explain all. Rather, theories are merely models, perspectives, or metaphors.
The fallacy of thinking that only one theory is true is the fallacy of taking our models or metaphors literally. It is "taking things literally humor." Thus, we need not think that one theory will explain all aspects of humor, or be the true theory. However, theorists have erroneously claimed just that-that their theory is the correct one. Berlyne (1954:806-807) wrote: "Most of the philosophical theorists erred in singling out one or two as the critical prerequisites for laughter, so that their theories fitted certain instances of humor very well, but accounted for other instances less convincingly."
Generally speaking, theories of humor are based on a writer's more general theories. A Freudian gives a Freudian view of humor, a gestaltist gives a Gestalt theory; a linguist gives a discourse analysis, structuralist, speech act or script theory, and so on. We each have our all-permeating metaphors with which we model "reality"-and which arise out of an attempt to understand "reality." Each theory and philosophy may be thought of as an expanded metaphor. The trick is not to become captivated by our metaphors-become caught in our own web.
We have approached an analysis of humor with the following models: a) Humor is an emotion and may be clarified by means of an assessment theory of emotion. Humor may be seen as an aesthetic emotion or form of beauty. The aesthetic as an emotion and the way in which art expresses emotions has been analyzed in the book, Emotion in Aesthetics (Shibles 1995b). Aesthetic humor may similarly be analyzed. Just as we may speak of humanistic art, we may speak of humanistic, aesthetic humor. b) Humor involves thought, action, feeling, and context. The knowledge and classification of thought and behavior, generally, may be used to clarify and classify humor. c) The assessments involved in humor are based on mistake, illogic, deviations, errors, etc. d) The types of metaphor humor and metaphor were seen to be a useful way of classifying the types of humor. Both humor and metaphor involve similar thought patterns. Both involve saved falsity and deviation. e) A theory of humor rests on a theory of language. We have already discussed these theories in detail and by example. Humor was seen to be usefully regarded as a subjective assessment that there is a mistake, but one which is not harmful or fear inducing. It may be pointed out that the fact that humor must not be taken as fearful, or harmful, has been suggested or hinted at by other theorists.
Darwin suggests that one must be in a happy frame of mind. Eastman (1972) says one must be in a playful mood. August Wilhelm von Schlegel (Stewart 1967:102-108) stated that humor involves a cheerful acceptance and adaptation, based on flexible intelligence. Oring (1992:3) speaks of "appropriate incongruity." The psychologist, M. Rothbart (1976/7) argued that humor is incongruity in a safe context. A number of writers saw that an event must be taken as nonthreatening, as one condition for producing humor. Also, theorists tend to present only a few categories and ignore the rest. Or a category would be presented solely from the perspective of a single metaphysics or philosophy. Some of the more extensive classifications of humor which have been given are as follows. The classifications they give will be related (in brackets) to those given in this book.
D. H. Monro (1963) gives one of the more adequate classifications. For him, humor is: 1) any breach of the usual order of events (deviation), 2) importing into one situation what belongs to another (context deviation, metaphor), 3) anything masquerading as something it is not (hypocrisy, pretense, trick, etc.), 4) word play, puns (ambiguity, grammatical deviation, etc.), 5) nonsense, 6) forbidden breach (value deviation, deviation from rule, etc.), 7) novelty, freshness, unexpectedness, escape (deviation from usual, defeated expectation, surprise, escape).
James Sully (1902) gave the following classifications: 1) novelty and oddity (deviation), 2) deformity (deviation, value deviation), 3) moral deformity and vice (value deviation), 4) breach of order or rule (deviation from rule), 5) small misfortune (practical joke, ridicule), 6) indecency (value deviation), 7) affections and pretenses (hypocrisy, pretense), 8) lack of knowledge or skill (ignorance humor, mistake), 9) incongruity, 10) absurd (nonsense), 11) nonsense, 12) verbal play, witticism (ambiguity, grammatical deviation, etc.), 13) merry mood (this may rather be regarded as a feeling or state of well-being, not as humor), 14) humor of being victor over the vanquished (this is superiority humor which is not treated here as humor, but as ridicule, practical joke, or escape humor). He presents no theory of his own.
Cicero (Stewart 1967:32ff.) spoke of jokes of language versus jokes of thought. The distinction between them would have to be clearly made out. At the beginning of this book epistemological primacy of language was argued for. Thought basically reduced to language-use. Morreall (1987:204-205) also expressed an emphasis on language: "Language is especially important for creating humor." Cicero in De Oratore (II, lviii-lxii) gives as types of jokes of thought: 1) deceiving expectation (defeated expectation), 2) satirize tempers of others (satire), 3) playing humorously on one's own tempers (self-deprecation humor), 4) compare a thing with something worse (sinking), 5) dissembling (hypocrisy, pretense, trick), 6) utter apparent absurdities (nonsense), 7) reprove folly (value deviation, blatant vice, satire, etc.), 8) surprise (defeated expectation), 9) deceit (trick, etc.), 10) verbal distortion (many categories, e.g. ambiguity, fallacy of accent).
As a brief overview, we may present the following theoretical and historical approaches to humor:
1) Claims that all humor is due to a single factor. This view was criticized earlier.
2) Humor as based on unconscious or subconscious activity. This is largely the Freudian approach. The unconscious is today a highly suspect and pseudopsychological notion. This view is therefore found indefensible in its usual forms.
3) Energy release. This also is usually Freudian and is another piece of unsupportable, pseudopsychology. Humor is described by Freud as "saved energy." Spencer & Lunacharsky (1993:50-51) and Tsur (1989:247) also have that view. "Energy" is a metaphysical term and is not an entity in itself. There is no "energy" as such. Titze & Eschenröder (2000:39ff) also argue that psychic energy is pseudoscientific. Dziemidok (1993:63) also criticizes the notion of excess mental energy. The word must, for intelligibility, be reduced to a concrete paradigm or operational definition. Any theory of energy release, whether Freudian or not, will run into this difficulty. For further analysis, see the account under "Escape or Release Humor." Theodor Lipps (1922) regards humor as superfluous energy release as joy caused by resolution of "mental congestion" due to deviation from wants and values. Spencer (1892) also thinks of humor as excess mental energy. The built up emotions are inappropriate so we laugh. (cf. ambivalence theory)
A distinction is here made between the following types of definition: (1) descriptive, (2) stipulative. (3) recommended; (4) value or persuasive; (5) metaphorical, e.g. the creative construction of new definitions; (6) circular definitions, e.g. "Humor is comedy," or "Humor is what is funny." (7) normative, or what the word is commonly thought to mean; (8) dictionary and encyclopedia definition; (9) over abstract or unintelligible definition; (10) essentialistic or absolute definition. (#6, 9, and 10 are rejected because they are fallacies.), 11) constructivist definitions-definitions which do not claim to realism, 12. operational definitions. (cf. Nobel prize winning physicist, P. Bridgemans, notion of "operational definition.")
In conformity with contextualist and ordinary-language views of language [e.g. John Dewey and Wittgenstein (1968)], essentialistic definitions are not to be had. To seek to give a literal definition is to commit the "metaphor-to-myth" fallacy. It is akin to saying, for example, that my religion is the only truth, thereby generating a pervasive fiction.
Definitions may be rather regarded as perspectival seeings-as. To define noncircularly is to relate different things. To define is to take a model or metaphor. "Humor is an emotion," or "The world is absurd," are metaphors. We will not, therefore, be able to conclude that the real definition of "humor" is such and such. Because absolutistic, it is not acceptable to say, "Humor is just aggression," "Humor is really catharsis," "Humor is essentially nonsense." Other types of definition are possible. When one type of definition is mistaken for another, equivocation or category-mistake results. It is, for example, a mistake to take a recommended definition as a descriptive definition.
B. Theories of Humor by Theory.
The psychologist, Eysenck (1947, 1942) mentions four approaches to the study of humor:
1) Cognitive Theory. This deals with the apprehension of mistakes, incongruity, etc. Our approach in this text is largely cognitive, but includes all of human experience. For Apte (1985) the cognitive is shaped by culture and humor is culturally appropriate incongruity. (262) Humor smooths social action.
2) Conative Theory. Here the stress is on motivation. Psychologists, in an attempt to reduce thought to behavior, tend to interpret emotions behaviorally, for example, "hate" as "going away," and love as "coming toward." This has often yielded a simplistic account. Here the conative approach is said to stress a satisfaction of a desire for superiority. It reduces to a superiority view. On my analysis, the superiority view falls under ridicule or defense mechanisms and does not qualify as a type of humor.
3) Affective Theory. Such theories stress emotional components. In our earlier discussion emotions were said to involve a) thought (cognitive), b) action (conative), c) feeling (affective), and d) situation. That is, all four are involved in an analysis of humor. Also, it was seen to be inadequate to treat affect as separate from the cognitive, because emotion is largely constituted by the cognitive (thought). Bergson believes that strong emotion and sympathy are incompatible with humor. Rather, detachment is needed. The ambivalence, contradiction, incongruity and other theories may all involve a comingling and struggle between opposing emotions, e.g. love-hate. Höffding (1930) holds that humor is a contrast of two ideas wherein the emotion of one destroys the other. The defective in contrast with the superior turns to its opposite.
4) Instinct Theory. Some of those holding such theories are Eastman (1936), McDougall (1923), Greig (1923), Koestler (1964), Darwin (1904), etc. But "instinct" explains little. To say we laugh at a contradiction joke out of instinct has little explanatory value. To say we laugh out of instinct is to say only that we laugh because we laugh. "Instinct" is a confusing and misleading term. It may mean any of the following: a) unlearned behavior, b) unalterable behavior, c) hereditary behavior, d) behavior not involving reason, e) behavior attempting to remove tension, f) unconscious behavior. These are discussed below.
a) Instinct as unlearned behavior. All this says is that we laugh because we were born that way. It is not an explanation. But what we laugh at and our ability to create humor is certainly learned, and differs from individual to individual. Even if humor were somehow instinctive, the important thing is that we can radically change and develop it. The most crucial thing to know about humor, as opposed to merely smiling, is not explained by saying that it is instinctive.
b) Instinct as unalterable behavior. On the contrary, humor is greatly alterable.
c) Instinct as hereditary behavior. We have not yet adequately traced humor, or language ability, through the genes. We have not the slightest idea of the genetic structure which brings about the pun. (If we had, there would certainly be those who would wish to destroy such genetic traits.) We do not see articles on "The Genetic Structure of Shaggy Dog Stories."
d) Instinct as behavior not involving reason. It has been clearly shown that humor does involve reason or cognition.
e) Instinct as behavior attempting to remove tension. This would reduce to the release and escape theory. A clarification of the mechanisms at work would need to be clarified. See "Escape or Release Humor."
f) Instinct as unconscious behavior. Same arguments apply as mentioned above under "unconscious theories."
5. Humor as Based on Emotion. These are often called "ambivalence" theories. Humor is said to be caused by a conflict of emotions. It is like taking Beardsley's, or Kant's, logical absurdity theory, and applying it to emotions. We might call it the "emotional absurdity theory." An emotion is supposedly confronted with a contradictory emotion thereby somehow resulting in humor. For example, joy plus hate leads to laughter. In the incongruity theory of humor we have two incompatible ideas. Here we supposedly have two incompatible emotions at once. With emotions, it is called "ambivalent" instead of "incompatible." It is supposedly an action toward and away (conation views) at the same time. Then it is just a matter of listing the contradictory emotions. Ambivalent emotions or conditions typically listed are: superior and inferior, mania and depression, playful chaos and seriousness, sympathy and animosity, drive and block of drive, playful and fearful, joy and hate.
Some writers who hold such theories are Menon (1931), Greig (1923), Freud (1960), and Koestler (1964). One of the major difficulties with such theories is that they rest on an inadequate account of emotion, or no theory of emotion is even discussed. Supposedly the combination of love and hate yield humor. What sense might be made of this? Perhaps, if each is regarded merely as a feeling it would make sense. But as a type of contradictory assessment it can serve as a basis of humor. It is the bad seeming to be good, or love being presented as hate. People often pretend to dislike someone to overcompensate for their actual attraction.
Koestler (1964) has a version of the ambivalence theory. It is, basically, that the emotions cannot keep up with a rapidly shifting intellect. Thought changes too quickly for emotions, thereby causing laughter. Emotion is supposedly deserted by thought. Emotion and reason seem to be personified here and treated atomistically. Koestler (1964:56) wrote: "Laughter is aggression (or apprehension) robbed of its logical raison d'être; the puffing away of emotion discarded by thought." (56) Humor is such that "the sudden bisociation of a mental event with two habitually incompatible matrices results in an abrupt transfer of the train of thought from one associative context to another. The emotive charge which the narrative carried cannot be so transferred owing to its greater inertia and persistence; discarded by reason, the tension finds its outlet in laughter." (Ibid. 59) To say that the emotions cannot keep up with the intellect is vague and even personification. Again, a clear view of thought and emotion is lacking. Koestler, unfortunately, compounds his problems by basing his theory also on energy release.
6. Humor as Based on Physiology. Against this view, Buytendijk (1950:127) wrote, "Behavior can never be reduced to physiological processes and explained as a result of the integration of reflexes." And B.F. Skinner (1953:161) wrote, "In spite of extensive research it has not been possible to show that each emotion is distinguished by a particular pattern of responses of glands and smooth muscles....and in any case, such responses are not said to be the emotion....As long as we conceive of the problem of emotion as one of inner states, we are not likely to advance a practical technology."
The medieval view of emotion was based on a balance of the four humors: black bile (melancholy), yellow bile (choleric), phlegm (phlegmatic) and blood (temper, lust). Each eccentricity was supposedly due to an excess, lack, or imbalance of these humors. Ben Johnson (1910/2001) wrote a satire on this view in Everyman in His Humor. We are reminded of the current attempt to explain humor by means of adrenaline release. The attempt to reduce humor and emotion to physiology is, however, a useful perspective. The physiological approach is always interesting, but as yet does little to explain or clarify humor. The relation between thought and physiology has yet to be made out, and there are seemingly some insurmountable difficulties. How can such different kinds of things as thoughts, be reduced to electrical impulses or cellular activity? Is humor electrical? Quite new principles seem to be required. A revolution in our thinking about the psychophysical seems inevitable.
Magda Arnold (1970) has done valuable work on investigating the physiological basis of the assessment theory of emotion. Hundreds of other investigators could also be cited. W. F. Fry (1957, 1975), in a series of books and articles, has worked especially on the physiological aspect of humor. Schachter (1962ab, 1964, 1971) and Berlyne (1954, 1960, 1971) have also worked in this area on the "activation" theory and their work will be discussed later.
The pathophysiology of laughing is explored by Stearns (1972). Some of the information he presents is as follows. Pseudo-bulbar palsy involves seemingly uncaused explosive laughter. The laughter seems inappropriate and the individual seems to be unable to stop laughing. The person may laugh inappropriately such as on receiving unpleasant news. It is stated that the explanation for this phenomenon is unknown. Also, in general, no laughing center in the brain was found. Laughing fits are sometimes a sign of thalamic disorder with cortical involvement. Wilson's disease (due to copper poisoning) and convulsive disorders involve involuntary laughter. Hysterical laughter is sometimes found after trauma, shock, prefrontal lobotomy, in Alzheimer's disease ("intellect deterioration"), Pick's disease, Kuru Syndrome (of New Guinea only). The Kuru syndrome affects sixty percent of the people there and involves a late symptom of excessive laughter. Some suspect virus as a cause. Writers sometimes erroneously report the Kuru syndrome as death caused by laughter. Regarding his search for physiological correlates R. Schwab wrote, "No organized electrical activity of the cerebral cortex, but only low voltage random activity of the delta wave type, can be detected in the awake newborn infant." (Stearns 1972:50) It is obvious that a bilateral, persistent EEG pattern is established between the second and fourth month of life (at the time when the first smiling and then laughing is observed). But again, humor need not involve laughter and laughter need not involve humor.
Pygmies when affected with pressure on the brain are said to fall down in paroxysmal laughter. There is a decrease in muscle tone leading to the fall. Vacant, compulsive laughter appears sometimes with dementia praecox. The hebephrenic has abnormal and constant laughter and smiles. One may mention also laughter due to drugs such as LSD, nitrous oxide, ethyl alcohol, liquor, etc. Between 1962 and 1964 it is reported that 1000 people in Tanganyika and Uganda (especially girls in Catholic convent schools) died in a group laughing epidemic. The report, it would seem, would need detailed checking.
7. Arousal Theories of Humor. In her summary of psychological approaches to humor, Mary Rothbart (1977) wrote, "The approach followed by most recent theories of laughter and humor is based on the concept of arousal." The following is an account and critique of Schachter's arousal-label theory: Stanley Schachter (1962ab, 1964, 1971) presents a view of emotions which combines a traditional physiological arousal theory with a cognitive-emotive theory. In an experiment, students were injected with adrenaline and asked to report their experiences. Seventy-one percent reported having certain physical sensations, the rest described "as if" emotions, for example, "I feel as if I were afraid." In the first case, then, there is physical arousal. But if Schachter is attempting to determine what an emotion is and what causes emotion, it is unsatisfactory to inject subjects with adrenaline and then claim that that is or causes emotion. The procedure is question-begging. It would be more adequate and significant to try to find out how emotions arise in the first place, rather than injecting adrenaline and assuming, or then advocating, a physiological arousal theory or activation theory of emotion.
In an article coauthored with Jerome Singer (1962b:398) Schachter says that emotions do seem to be partially equated with a physiological state: "Emotional states may be considered a function of a state of physiological arousal and of a cognition appropriate to this state of arousal." Schachter's assumption is that "a general pattern of sympathetic [nerve] discharge is characteristic of emotional states." However, the injection of adrenaline could not result in an adequate reproduction of the physical changes involved in all or any particular emotion. We may, however, assume that this was not their task, but that they were rather concerned with the relation between certain artificially induced states of physical arousal and cognition. With these limitations the theory is interesting.
It was found that what determines which emotion is experienced, is the cognition one has and the kind of linguistic labeling one does. There is supposedly a general state of arousal and the cognitive assessment, perception of the situation, and activity involved determine what specific emotion is felt. Subjects who were aware that the cause of their arousal was adrenaline reported no emotions. The conclusion is reached that "cognitive factors may be major determinants of emotional states." (139) Schachter represents the case as follows: "Given such a state of arousal it is suggested that one labels, interprets, and identifies this state in terms of the characteristics of the precipitating situation and one's apperceptive mass....it is the cognition that determines whether the state of physiological arousal will be labeled 'anger,' 'joy,' or whatever." (139)
On this view, a physiological state or visceral activity alone cannot induce an emotion. Cognition is also necessary. This is not, in one sense, unlike the James-Lange theory of emotion according to which emotion is the perception of our bodily state. James played down cognitive function and stressed physiological arousal. Schachter regards his own views as a modified James-Lange view. (Ibid. 160) On Schachter's view, a perception of a situation can cause a physiological arousal. What arousal it is, is determined by the way the situation is seen and assessed. Cognition does not cause, but only correlates with physiological arousal. Cognition only "steers" arousal. One of the difficulties with this view, as with the James Lange Theory, is that it is not seen that the "perception" of a situation is rather the cognition of a situation. Emotion and physiological states, then, follow cognition. R. Lazarus (1968:260) offers the following criticism: "This injection procedure limits the conclusions that can be drawn about emotion in the normal life situation...The individual perceives and appraises a situation relevant to his welfare, and this appraisal is a crucial antecedent to the emotional reaction...The activation follows, it does not [usually] precede, the cognition about the situation."
Nevertheless, Schachter offers the important insight that emotions are partly linguistically determined by means of labeling and assessment. Emotion, then, is partly a description of context and situation, and includes resulting feelings. Emotion does not merely name an internal physiological state. Schachter & Singer (1962b:398) state, "Given a state of physiological arousal for which an individual has no immediate explanation, he will label this state and describe his feelings in terms of the cognitions available to him."
This theory, although it does not adequately account for emotions in which cognition precedes feeling, may nevertheless account for cases such as fatigue, hangover, etc., in which feeling does in fact precede cognition. Such states may, however, be perceptions of sensations rather than emotions. Also, one reason why arousal may be thought to be needed is that often it is only in such a state that one can overcome taboo or guilt to permit sexual feelings. The mistaken view is sometimes held that lovers must be angry in order to love.
Walster & Walster (1978) use Schachter's theory to try to explain romantic love. Such love supposedly requires physiological arousal and requires that the arousal be labeled in a certain way. Romantic love is often based on frustration and obstacles, to make it work. The lovers are separated by distance, opposed by their families, etc. The love is not based on simple reinforcement. On their view, the negative frustrations produce the arousal needed, the positive assessment or label attached to the arousal determines it as being love. If the label "hate" were attached to the arousal one would experience hate. Objections to this view of love are the same as those against Schachter's view above. Walster & Walster offer the qualification, "Unfortunately, experimental evidence does not yet exist to support the contention that almost any form of high arousal, if properly labeled, will deepen passion." (Ibid. 85-99)
Berlyne (1954, 1960, 1971) applies the arousal theory specifically to the emotion of humor. Some factors raise arousal, others lower it. The factors which arouse are not merely adrenaline increase, but are assessments of various sorts, for example, novelty, surprise, incongruity, strangeness, complexity, ambiguity, puzzlement, apparent contradiction, relieved frustration, etc. He calls these "collative variables." These variables return the arousal theory to a stress on cognitive assessments as in the assessment theory of emotion. Incongruity is stressed (1967) but it is admitted that it could not be defined.
James Jones (1970:85) in his doctoral dissertation, "Cognitive Factors in the Appreciation of Humor," stresses cognition. He states: "Most traditional theories have assumed that the positive humor response (laughter, smiling, etc.) is indicative of positive affect, and have sought to explain what process produces this reinforcing state of affairs. The present paper, on the other hand, has attempted to fill in the intervening cognitive processes." The cognitive mediation involves such notions as distortion, incongruity, bisociation (Koestler), explanation, implications, attributions, and perception. There is reinforcement involved such as, superiority, relief, safety, freedom, cognitive mastery, etc. Jones' analysis could fit Beardsley's logical absurdity theory of metaphor, or Kant's theory of humor. It is basically an incongruity-resolution theory and so goes beyond an arousal theory.
8. The Configuration or Gestalt Theory. This view is held by such psychologists as Maier (1932), and P. Schiller (1938). According to this approach there is a sudden figure-ground shift, or a context deviation. The shift may be from embarrassment to relieved understanding. (cf. Bateson 1953) The previous unrelated part unexpectedly falls into place in a whole, almost like a crossword puzzle experience. Both the part and the whole become redefined. In philosophy, the shift may be referred to as "seeing-as." (Shibles 1974c:450-455) One basic model or metaphor of Gestalt thought is to base thinking on certain patterned, visual phenomena. It is an expansion of a metaphor. For Maier we must have emotional distance for humor. For Bateson getting the point of a joke requires an unexpected figure-background reversal.
9. Humor as Based on the Irrational. These theories are in adequate supply. Most of such theories are based on the fallacy of argument from ignorance. That is, whenever we do not know how something works, someone fills up the gap in knowledge with a mystical or unfounded entity such as instinct, energy, god, an invisible fluid, mental entity, the unconscious, or something irrational. Bergson's view is based on an irrational leap of intuition. He opposes the concrete and mechanical. On the other hand, he gave a somewhat rational explanation of humor in spite of it.
10. Circular Theories of Humor. (See earlier section, "Circular Definitions of Humor." Chapter 3.)
Many views of humor are based merely on circular statements. For example: Humor is based on the will to laugh. Humor is based on what is funny. We laugh at what is funny. Humor is based on the ludicrous. We laugh at the absurd. Marie Swabey (1961:26) gives the following circular definitions: a. "Often we use the term comic as referring simply to a quality of nature or art that provokes merriment or laughter." (26) b. "To be truly comical a state of affairs must be seen to be funny, droll, exciting some ludicrous reflection." (26) c. She quotes Meredith's statement, '"The test of true comedy is that it shall awaken thoughtful laughter.'" (27) On the other hand, Swabey gives a definition which could fit well with the theory of humor presented in this book, namely, that humor is an assessment of a mistake which is not taken seriously. She states: "The most adequate generic definition of the comic is: the presence of an incongruity, contradiction, or absurdity that is humanly relevant without being oppressively grave or momentous." (28) Kotthoff (1998) says that humor is the nonserious. (Humor wird als Nicht-Ernstes definiert.) Robert Solomon ("Racist Humor" 2001) defines humor, following De Sousa (1987), as "finding things funny." It is as circular to say that the humorous is the humorous. The section on analytic contradiction humor also gives numerous examples of contradiction humor about humor. Roger Scruton (1983) thinks humor is the enjoyment of the object for its own sake. This is also a platonistic, abstractionist fallacy. "Humor is cognitive experience in a "mirthful state of mind." (Apte 1985:14) Wells (1997:4): "Humor is what is funny." She, however, realizes this is circular. "'Humor' will be used...to cover anything funny"; "We call something 'humorous' if it is apt to amuse." (Mike Martin in Morreall 1987:173) "Humor is amusement." (Michael Clark, Michael Martin in Latta 1999:13) "The comical does not exist for someone lacking a sense of humour." Yuri Borev in Dziemidok 1993:27) Humor is an "elusive feeling of funniness." (Vogel (1989:1) Humor is when "two people enjoy a text together." (Vogel (1989:35) "Humor is a device used...to have fun with other people." (Vogel (1989:1)
11. Stimulus-Response or Learning Theories of Humor. Cause-effect, and stimulus-response are such vague terms that they are not of much help in presenting a theory. Behaviorists often seem to think something important is being asserted when they say, "behavior is learned" or is fully analyzable in terms of stimulus-response, reinforcement, extinction, reward, punishment, etc. Again, these terms are only vague assertions that everything happens in terms of cause and effect. And certainly in this they are right. But they are right only because they themselves impose this vague model on reality. If we want to see things in terms of cause and effect or stimulus-response, we can. It is only up to us. There is no cause and effect as such in nature. These terms are human interpretations. It is only that we see reality "that" way. We could also see reality differently, e.g. as noncausal, and this is exactly how one does see it when cause is reduced to mere correlation (cf. Shibles "Free Will." 1972a" 65-69)
The stress on learning shows that one can develop desirable patterns of behavior and extinguish undesirable ones. It is not a fatalism. Some behaviorists, such as John Watson (1930), believe that there are some emotions we are born with and that others are learned. Miller & Siegel (1972) believe that love is learned. This, then, allows us to acquire it, if we have not, and to improve it. On the other hand, by saying it is learned is not sufficient to explain what it is or how it is learned. To say it is learned by stimulus-response methods is again too theoretical and vague. Thus, stimulus is a partial description of an event. Thus, for each stimulus-response situation to be adequate a great number of stimuli and responses would have to be reported. Instead of S-R we would need Sl, S2, S3...- Rl, R2, R3,...
Too often the behaviorist presents a simplistic or overrestrictive account of behavior by failing to include many of the relevant factors. The most central area of inadequacy is that the behaviorist often fails to include language, self-talk, and assessment in their S-R model. They state, for example, that money is a stimulus making one respond in a certain way, e.g. to work hard. But what is left out of the account is that it is not the money itself which is the main stimulus, but rather the assessment of the money. Some people will never do certain things for money. But to find that out we must know of their assessments.
Also, assessments themselves serve as stimuli. One may condition oneself, as in the case of a critical philosopher. Humor for example, can be created, chosen and developed by people and they can selectively and deliberately respond with humor to serious people and situations. Our assessments serve to guide our behavior more than simple reactions to our environment. A behaviorism which, as in the case of humans, excludes language and assessment would be inadequate. And this is one of the main errors of assuming that animal studies are sufficient to give insight into human behavior. (cf. "personification humor.") Animals so not speak English (or any other human language). Thus, the experimental behaviorist's analyses are often found inadequate. On the other hand, if behaviorism were to include linguistic assessment and imagery, a more satisfactory analysis could be given. This, then, is not an attack on behaviorism so much as to support it by an attempt to make it more clear and adequate.
Instead of speaking of stimuli it would be more helpful to speak of linguistic descriptions. Behaviorists often think that they are just correlating one object with another. They are rather correlating one description with another, and the behaviorist is thinking by means of language. "Behavior," "observation," and "perception" are words in our language and, as such, have epistemological primacy as language. Perception and behavior are seen only through our language. Observation is not an acceptable primary criterion, because it presupposes language. Thinking is language-use plus some images. Then, to speak of stimuli or behavior is derivative from linguistic assessments of events. To speak of a stimulus it is not sufficient to just point to an object. There is a difference of assessment between being mauled and embraced, though the physical event looks the same. Too much concentration on rewards or objects rather than language assessments as stimuli, results in an inadequate and harmful analysis. Because of such assessments a stimulus is not a single physical event, but rather a complex event involving the individuals studied as well as the researcher.
In summary, firstly the basic words of the behaviorist are vague and result in simplistic analyses. Behaviorists fail to see that linguistic assessment is what is significant in analyzing humor behavior. They fail to see that their scientific method should begin not with observation and behavior, but with language (actually a most important kind of behavior). However, the behaviorist program could be modified so as to be useful. The first step is to reduce abstract terms to concrete language-games or specific examples. The use of quantification and statistics is often especially unacceptable as a way of clarifying or understanding human assessments. Wittgenstein (1968:232) stated it in this way, "In psychology there are experimental methods and conceptual confusion."
Secondly, their method must be made adequate by accounting for linguistic assessments as regards human behavior. The above objections were to their methods used and lack of adequacy. With these qualifications and modifications, behaviorism may become critical philosophy and the philosophy of science, and I know of no better method of problem solving in a concrete nonmetaphysical way.
12. Theories For or Against Humor. There are theories according to which one should never use either humor or metaphor. On these views, one should always be serious and speak only literally. There is also the exact opposite view.
A. Anti Humor.
WHAT WOULD THE WORLD BE LIKE IF THERE WERE NO HUMOR IN IT?
A few adherents of the view condemning humor are: Ecclesiastes XXI, 20: "A fool lifteth up his voice with laughter, but a wise man doth scarce smile a little." Shelly was anti-humor. Laughter does not seem to be a sin, but it leads to sin." (St. John Chrysostom ca. 345-407) "Laughing has always been considered by theologians as a crime." (Robert Ingersoll) Can one imagine Christ laughing? The internet site, anti-humor.com, is a group of christians who are "proudly fighting on God's side against humor." [Hyers (1969), however, has attempted to deal more positively with the place of humor in religion. See also Appendix on religious humor.] "Good taste and humor are a contradiction in terms." (Malcolm Muggeridge Time Sept. 24, 1953) Anti-Patriarchal (Radical) Feminists and Women's Studies teachers are said to lack humor. (cf. Shibles 1991a; Chapter 9 on feminist humor) "True wit or good sense never excited a laugh...A man of parts and fashion is therefore only seen to smile, but never heard to laugh"; "Nobody has ever heard me laugh." Humor is ill-manners, folly, irrational and silly. (Letter to His Son. Letter 144) (Lord Chesterfield) "The sense of the Ridiculous...has an intimate connection with the highest and noblest principles. In the education of youth, nothing requires more serious attention, than its proper regulation." (Stewart 1976:161)
Ludovici (1932) said that humor is a cause of decadence, Plato regarded it as evil perhaps partly because he regarded humor as being based on malice and envy (Philebus) (cf. Attardo 1994:19-20); Aristotle regarded it as a kind of abuse. (Nicomachean Ethics, Book iv, ch. 8) Chafe (1987) said that humor shows us our mistakes and disables us so that we cannot act. The psychologist, William McDougall (1922), said that happy people do not laugh because they do not need to. In general, those who are witty, playful, and humorous are often regarded, erroneously apparently, as immature or childish. This is largely because the authors take any deviation from the serious as wrong. But, as was argued, humor is useful in gaining insight, motivation, saying things which could not other wise be communicated, etc. Humor is pleasurable and serves humanity, as opposed to humanity serving seriousness.
B. Pro Humor. The following are some views which, on the other hand, appreciate the use of humor: "Humor [is] tied to greater intelligence." (Kenderdine 1931:22) "Humor goes together with emotional maturity." (Grotjahn 1957:81) "The man of greatest humor is he who has the most curious, observant and reflecting mind, who has a mind richly stored with experiences, whose mind is capable of alertness of movement, springing from point to point" (Menon 1931, in Monro 1963:225) "Those who would not say anything funny themselves, and who are annoyed at those who do, seem to be savage and austere." (Aristotle, Ethics)
13. Aristotle's Theories of Humor. Perhaps the best known of Aristotle's theories is contained in the following quotation: "Comedy is an imitation of men worse than the average; worse...[in the sense of] the ridiculous, which is a species of the ugly. The ridiculous may be defined as a mistake or deformity not productive of pain or harm to others." This view has been interpreted in a variety of ways, but on one interpretation it coheres with the assessment theory of humor presented in this book. By "Imitation" is partially meant that it is "created." He further agrees that ridicule, being open censure, is not humor. Humor is not abuse but only gives unpressured harmless innuendo. (Cooper 1922:225) The defect or ugliness must not be painful or destructive. We can now, with the assessment theory of emotion, make more sense than previously of Aristotle's theory.
Imitation is a form of pretense humor. Also, that the laughter is at those who have human faults is a type of value deviation, just as is the ugly. It deviates from our desires or from the ideal. To this view, Aristotle adds in the Tractatus Coislinianus (In Cooper 1922:225): "Comedy is an imitation of action that is ludicrous and imperfect...directly presented by persons acting, and not in the form of narrative; through pleasure and laughter effecting the purgation of the like emotions." This extends humor, or comedy, to anything which is imperfect. It is acted out in the case of comedy. And this results in catharsis or release from tension. This brings his view in line with the now rejected release, or escape views of humor. But if we laugh at others for faults in others, which we fear or will not readily admit in ourselves, then this can lead to superiority views of humor.
We need not here further speculate on all the possible meanings of "imitation, purgation, ugly," etc. This has been extensively done by numerous scholars. However, it is important to point out that Aristotle's theory of humor includes much more than these few statements about comedy. Humor is said to be due to self-deprecation, vanity, excessive flattery, vice, a catharsis, unintentional contradiction, reversals, exaggeration, irony, etc. Accounts given of Aristotle's view of humor usually, if not always, leave out the following. In the Tractatus Coislinianus, Aristotle says that humor comes from a) diction (rhetoric), and b) from things done. The sources of laughter are:
a) Humor from Diction (rhetoric, "embellishments of language"): 1. Ambiguities (e.g. homonyms). Greek uses the same word for both "God" and "wealth." (Cooper 1922:229) 2. Synonyms (cf. circularity humor). 3. Garrulity (excessive repetition, bombast, triviality, nonsense, childishness, pompousness, overindulgence, etc.) 4. Paronyms (adding to or taking away from a word. Use a word where it does not belong. Neologism). 5. Diminutives, e.g. "Dear little Socrates" (Swiss and Bavarian are noted for their excessive use of diminutives). 6. Perversion of intention or meaning. 7. Distortion of grammar or syntax.
b) Humor from Things, Persons or Actions: It is correctly noted that this classification of humor is somewhat arbitrary because things, people and actions cannot be separated from language. (Cooper 1922:239) 1. Assimilation of what is better to what is worse or the reverse (sinking, value deviation, e.g. people are assimilated to birds or frogs). 2. Deception, lie. 3. The impossible, irrational, unintelligible, violation of laws of cause and effect. 4. Irrelevance and the inconsequential. The possible comes to nothing. 5. Unexpectedness or surprise. This is regarded as the main source of laughter. It is spoken of also as the "marvelous." Surprise alone, however, would be insufficient to cause humor. (cf. Dziemidok 1993:63) 6. Debase character. The character is only acceptably and harmlessly debased, not so much as to constitute abuse or ridicule. For example, the character may be shown to have positive qualities and habits as well. 7. Clownish pantomime. 8. Disjointed story without proper sequence.
Aristotelians took one or another aspect of these views to stress. It is said that Aristotelians in the Renaissance added surprise to baseness. As was seen, Aristotle already discussed surprise. In 1550, V. Maggi wrote, "In all ridiculous things ugliness [I would say deviation] or baseness are necessarily joined with wonder. The comic is deformed or illogical." Aristotle's model or metaphor of humor was expanded in many ways. It was taken literally as well. Many thought of humor as a mental deformity.
Caesar (Stewart 1967:32ff.) extended Aristotle in asserting that the laughable is due to presenting the ugly in a way that is not ugly. Quintilian (Stewart 1967:33ff.) asserted that laughter is always associated with something low or humble. We have seen, however, that many types of humor present neither the ugly, nor the low or humble. Hegel (Stewart 1967:109ff.) speaks of humor as the breakdown of beauty and the spiritual, to yield the ugly or trivial.
14. Freudian Theory of Humor. Freud's (1960) work on humor is, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. In the first place, as discussed earlier, the intelligibility and status of the so called "unconscious" is today in question. It is regarded by those more familiar with the critical literature as a mentalistic and pseudopsychological notion. Freud, himself, said about it that the unconscious is something which we really do not know, but which we are obliged by compelling inferences to supply. But the "unconscious" or even the "mind" is not an assumption we must make. Wittgenstein (1966:25) wrote: "The picture of people having subconscious thoughts has a charm. The idea of an underworld, a secret cellar. Something hidden, uncanny. cf. Keller's two children putting a live fly in the head of a doll, burying the doll and then running away. (Why do we do this sort of thing? This is the sort of thing we do do.) A lot of things one is ready to believe because they are uncanny."
Freud (1960) presents a release type theory. It is also a type of "energy release" theory which was criticized earlier. Such "energy" is a mystical notion. Freud's view, put concisely, is that humor is pain changed to pleasure. Supposedly, in childhood we have few blocks or restrictions to direct expression of pleasure. We develop painful blocks which must be overcome to achieve such pleasure. A return to childhood pleasure is required. Freud (1960:170) wrote, "The infantile is the source of the unconscious and the unconscious thought-processes are none other than those...produced in early childhood."
When conquered, the "energy" for overcoming the block or repression is supposedly "saved," and released in the form of laughter. For Freud, "Laughter arises when the sum total of psychic energy, formerly used for the occupation of certain psychic channels, has become unutilizable, so that it can experience absolute discharge." (Cooper 1922:77) Put differently, humor involves slipping around and deceiving the "superego." It is a bitter pill sugarcoated. Perhaps it is similar to the pleasure derived from cessation of great exertion. Freud takes this tidy paradigm or metaphorical model of "economy of psychic energy" and applies it as follows: The pleasure of "wit" is the economy of energy expenditure in inhibition. The pleasure of "humor" is the economy of energy expenditure in feeling. The pleasure of the "comic" is the economy of energy expenditure in thought.
In comedy, we supposedly observe the superfluous energy of others and we save it as empathetic observers. We save the clown's excessive expense of energy. Sinking and defeated expectation are given as several other sources of energy release. The purpose of harmless jokes is to produce pleasure. But otherwise, two purposes given are: a) to relieve aggressiveness, as defense (the hostile joke), and b) to expose, as with the obscene joke. It is thought that the enjoyment (release) of aggressive humor decreases aggressive tendencies. Since Freud, psychologists have shown that any kind of humor decreases aggression. (e.g. Grotjahn 1970) The above is a description of "tendency wit." This is wit which gratifies sexual, aggressive, and other repressed "tendencies." It is like taboo, or value deviation humor. Other than "tendency wit" there is "harmless wit," or humor for its own sake, such as pleasure in nonsense. As with traditional rhetoric, he divides wit into: a) thought wit and b) word wit. Cicero had made the same distinction. Freud gives the following techniques of wit:
a) condensation. Examples are Millionarr [German, Millionär plus Narr (fool)]; alcoholidays; familionär (familiär plus Millionär). (Ibid. 19) Two words are brought together in a concise way. They supposedly tend to show what one really wants to say, instead of merely what is socially acceptable to say. It is a form of blatant honesty. This tendency to combine one's actual, though unacceptable thoughts, works like dream work. In dream work there are fantastic combinations revealing, yet tending to hide or symbolize one's real fears and desires. Condensation is often regarded as the principle of metaphor. Metaphor is frequently thought of as "condensed" simile. For Freud, condensation may be more like a "Freudian slip." Thus far, Freud's view seems to be that humor is an expression of frustration or a laugh of well-being or relief. But these types of laughter seem to have little to do with humor.
b) word division. Example, "homme roux (red) et sot (fool)" are derived from "Rousseau," c) pun, d) ambiguity, e) nonsense which makes sense, f) faulty thinking, g) automatic errors of thought (cf. stereotype), h) say reverse of what we mean (cf. irony), i) omission, j) representation through trifles (cf. sinking), k) comparison (cf. simile), l) etc.
Menon's (1931) ambivalence theory is an expansion of Freud's model. He maintains that laughter is a release of surplus energy such as after a fight. It is a conflict of two impulses and an attitude change thereby releasing energy. Greig, a neo-Freudian, (1923) also presents an ambivalence theory. He states that if love behavior is interrupted, energy is brought against the interruption which, if weakened or suddenly removed, escapes as laughter. He extends Freud's extravagant metaphors. He says that smiling is rudimentary sucking; that man chasing a hat is funny because a hat is an erotic symbol. He sees the hump of Punch, in Punch and Judy, as a sexual symbol. As typically Freudian, he sees erotic symbols in almost anything.
These conceits, or farfetched metaphors may, however, be translated into more concrete observations about humor. We may leave aside the notions of energy, unconscious, id, ego, and superego as entities. But humor may be interpreted as a change in ambivalence or from expectation, a sudden shift of understanding, or the shift involved in a practical joke. An outdated and historical Freudianism may be translated, in some ways, into some of the types of humor and mechanisms presented in this book. This includes the defense mechanisms. There is some truth and sense even in these most extravagant metaphors. The problem arises if the Freudian theory is taken too literally. (cf. Attardo 1994:187-189) When Greig (1923) speaks of love behavior, we may relate this to the notion of acceptance which is a necessary aspect of humor. Thomas Carlyle and Thackeray both (in Douglas 1915:980, 979) said that the sense of humor is love. In all such metaphors there may be some degree of insight.
Ziv (1988:129-130) sees Israeli humor as being aggressive and basically a defense mechanism. He has an incongruity-relief theory. (1984:96) He gives the following schema of the functions of humor: 1. aggressive function (superiority), socially acceptable anger/aggression; 2. social function: communication, acceptance, interaction; 3. sexual: allows one to express repressed desires for sex; 4. defense mechanism: against what is negative (black humor), use of self-deprecation humor; 5. intellectual function: escapism, creativity, problem solving.
15. Linguistic Theories of Humor.
Hardly anything in linguistics is important. If the same thing
happens in marine toxicology, we eat poisoned fish. (Pullum 1991:137)
Linguistics, like symbolic logic, has not been able to adequately analyze either poetry, metaphor or humor. In Graeme Ritchie's web article, "Describing Verbally Expressed Humour," he supports the linguistic approach, but concludes that the linguistic and computational general theory approach "is still vague speculation." Some recent articles on the pragmatics of humor are to be found in the bibliography. The following reviews by the author exemplify some of the issues in the linguistic approach to humor.
A. Review of Salvatore Attardo, Linguistic Theories of Humor. (1994) [(Shibles 1996a)
The book, Linguistic Theories of Humor (Attardo 1994) is actually a survey of various linguistic theories of humor up to 1993. Its strength lies in the scope of its coverage of linguistic theories, as it includes many publications available only in foreign languages. It is also important for its extensive bibliography relevant to linguistic approaches of humor. Although it is not an interdisciplinary or in-depth analysis, some critical discussion is presented. The text is centered around the "Semantic Script Theory of Humor" (SSTH) which has already been presented in various works by Raskin, especially in Semantic Mechanisms of Humor (1985). Raskin presented a linguistic incongruity theory of verbal humor which stresses the switching of context rather than the sentence. He makes the claim to be able "to account for the meaning of every sentence in every context." (1985:67) It is also a mentalistic theory in which he speaks of "mental mechanisms." (p. 49) Humor is said to occur if the following obtains: 1. The text is compatible, fully or in part, with two different scripts and 2. The two scripts with which the text is compatible are opposite in a special sense. (1985:99) Attardo clarifies and unifies the various changing versions of Raskin's script theory, and presents the views of some of its critics.
For the above reasons alone, to read the book is as Attardo might say, a "necessary and sufficient condition" for anyone wishing to have a general survey of humor from the perspective of linguistics. The book is highly recommended in this regard. The author has to this extent clearly enhanced our access to a variety of linguistic literature on humor. Although a great task was performed in bringing together the work of many linguistic views of humor, most of them are of dubious value as the author himself shows.
It is important also to mention what the book is not and what it does not do. The following analysis is from the perspective of 1) the methods and conceptual clarifications in the philosophy of science, 2) the analysis, adequacy and usefulness of the approaches of the various linguists themselves, 3) techniques of humor which may be used as powerful tools of criticism, 4) an adequate, holistic and interdisciplinary analysis of humor. Theories of humor are often presented without humor even though they consist, as Wittgenstein would say, of "disguised jokes." It will be shown here that much of what is said in the book by and about the linguistic approach does not conform to careful scientific analysis and so can be easily "reduced to absurdity," and is also subject to many of the other forms of critical insight humor and satire.
This latter task will be performed by showing as well as telling of the techniques involved in humor. In the critique, the following working definition of humor will be assumed: Humor is produced by the thought that there is a mistake or deviation, but one which is not perceived as being bad or harmful. This then typically produces laughter and/or good bodily feelings which together constitute the emotion, humor. And the types of humor may be extensively analyzed and classified as types of metaphor, including the various types of rhetoric, informal logical fallacies and defense mechanisms. The typology of humor therefore includes, for example: reduction to absurdity, circularity, satire, taking metaphors literally, irony, metaphor, ambiguity (puns), connotation; analytic and synthetic contradiction; incongruity, escape, superiority (defense mechanism), rationalization; deviation from: desires, familiar, ideal, grammar, pronunciation, style, expectation; insight, abstractness (essentialism) fallacy, substitution, synecdoche, value deviation, etc. These techniques of humor will then be used to analyze the theories of humor which are presented in Attardo's book. It may be noted that Cicero in De Oratore II (lxi 250-285) 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.
The purpose of the analysis is to provide a positive critique toward putting the text on a more scientific footing as well as to attempt to show some of the power of analysis which critical insight humor can have. In this regard, Quintilian stated, "All forms of argument afford equal opportunity for jests." (Institutio Oratoria VI.iii.65) The humor used here is in no way intended to undermine Attardo's work, but on the contrary to engage the reader in the work, in human dialogue and offer criticisms of the various issues so diligently offered up to us by the various authors mentioned. Ridicule is here regarded as a dysfunctional negative emotion, so that is clearly not intended. Perhaps one of the most notorious examples of a linguist who used humor to critique linguistics is Pullum (1991) in The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax, and Other Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language. But ridicule and insult seem not to be excluded from his account.
1. Deviation from Proper Language Humor. The definition given above of humor as the thought that there is a mistake but one which is not harmful may be illustrated by noting some of the typographical mistakes in Attardo's book: "indetail"* (1), "occurr"* (75), first word in a sentence begins with a lower case (110), sentence ends with ",." (131), "problemsconfronting"* (194), "registe"* for "register" (238), "is" in place of "in" (314). The author or publisher may not find these mistakes to be humorous (or numerous), but to the reader it may be, as long as one does not regard them as being bad. And they are okay. A few mistakes of this sort are inevitable and need in no way detract from the value of the work itself. It is amusing to see a sentence end with ",." for a change.
2. Meaningless Meaning. a) "Meaning" is used throughout the text often curiously disguised in linguistic jargon such as "semantic script" (semantic = meaning); sème, sémeme, lexeme, bundles of semes, classeme, isotopy. These are just words for units of meaning (64, 65, 74, 81). Greimas states that jokes are "isotopic variations" merely means "variations in meaning." (81) Yet it is ironical that nowhere do we find "meaning" defined, because Wittgenstein in Philosophical Investigations (PI 1968) and others have argued that there are no meanings as such, and that they are pseudopsychological notions. It is a form of blatant vice humor to use "meaning" or its synonyms now as if they make sense. For example, do words have meanings, like a person has a suitcase? Can we put meaning in a word like we put water in a glass-pour it in? The picture of meaning given in the book in this sense becomes humorous.
3. Humor Produced by Mistakes Regarding Ethical Terms. Because humor is an emotion involving value terms, one needs to have a clear analysis and definition of value terms before one can give a clear analysis of humor. None is given. In Shibles (1978, 1994-95) it is argued that, in fact, ethical terms are in themselves meaningless terms and operate like the function x in algebra or like a blank check. There is, then, no such thing as humor which is good in itself or bad in itself. We have first to give an intelligible substitution for these open-context terms. Furthermore, humor has to be acceptable and a positive value or it becomes anger, ridicule, sarcasm and nor humor. It is therefore curious to find Haiman holding that humor and sarcasm are much alike (236). It is as amusing to argue that love is really hate, or truth is really falsity. (I realize that Nietzsche said "Truth is falsity," but that was done deliberately as an example of oxymoron insight humor.)
Reduction to absurdity humor is indicated by the following assertions:
a) "For Raskin there is no difference between punning and non-punning humor." (217)
b) For Raskin: "All jokes are essentially the same since they are all based on oppositions between scripts." (220)
c) "Raskin (1985) takes the argument further by claiming that not only does linguistics not account for the differences between good and bad jokes, but that it cannot in principle do so." (Also blatant vice humor.) And without an analysis of ethical terms, we cannot know if linguistics can or cannot deal with it.
4. Metaphor-to-Myth Fallacy Humor. This is also called the fallacy of taking one's metaphor literally, or as being the only model. Blatant vice humor often accompanies it. The book is entitled Linguistic Theories of Humor, but, in fact, it has another agenda-that of showing that the Semantic Script Theory of Humor (SSTH) is the best linguistic theory of humor. The book could have had this title. It means that other theories are evaluated from this special perspective. Examples follow:
a) "SSTH is the first (and only) formal, full-fledged application of a coherent theory of semantics to humor." (207) Compare to this a statement such as "The Bible is the only truth." SSTH certainly has some insights to offer, and it also has many shortcomings as well: undefined terms, mentalism, inadequate analysis of ethical terms, is admittedly not a full-fledged system but merely one linguistics model, etc. Attardo himself brought the theory into question.
b) Exaggeration (incl. absolutism) humor. Examples: 1) "SSTH is clearly to be preferred." It is the "benchmark for humor research." (332) 2) "Linguistic humor can be understood exhaustively only by a general linguistic account of humor." In a review article, Attardo (1994a:292) had put it even more clearly: "We know we are good, but we need to show it to others."
c) Expansion of metaphor humor, category-mistake and reductionism. "Script" is reduced by Raskin to physical science terms like "node." (246) He reduces script language to a geometrical model of circles within circles and then speaks of scripts in terms of the "distance between circles" and the "topology" relation between scripts. (248, 249) Language and humor become reduced to geometry. It is stated, "The script for GOOD and the script for BAD is 1 unit," and that there are "long-distance links between scripts." (248) This is also reduction to absurdity, depersonalization and category-mistake humor.
d) Captivation by a model. It is stated that SSHT is a formal abstract theory with a set of primitives and rules (like a mathematical system)-a rigid, fixed model. It is ironic that one would still use this absolutistic model when, for example, Wittgenstein rejected early formalistic work on symbolic logic (in his Tractatus) in favor of an ordinary-language approach (Philosophical Investigations). (cf. John Dewey and pragmatists critique of formal theories.)
e) Captivation by a single paradigm: incongruity. (Though it is pointed out that Raskin who has an incongruity theory, would rather be classified in terms of script theory.) (49) The typology of humor, all of the various kinds of behavior, is reduced to a single one: incongruity. In one sense, the term is not really clarified or detailed. About this Susan Vogel (1989:19) states, "The overlapping of scripts or the incongruous clash...is not sufficient to explain funniness." In another sense, detailed scripts are given and analyzed. If the types of humor were instead reduced to the kinds of metaphor, all of the traditional and useful types and devices of rhetoric would be available for classification in terms of the way language is actually used. The view of "strange making" (from Russian Formalism) as metaphor, metonymy, decontextualization, parallels, and deformation are, however, mentioned in passing under the discussion of Italian semiotic theories. (177) The view presented that metaphor involves compatible interpretations (189) is false in one sense at least. Metaphor is often rather thought to be "logically absurd." It is often a combining of unlike things which may never be compatible, especially for tension metaphors or oxymora, and for humor which is based on these types.
5. Circular Insight Humor. The following are examples of unintended humor produced by presenting statements which seem to say something, but are actually in a fundamental way circular. (Admittedly they may have some noncircular meanings as well.) Humor may be produced by the surprise of finding out that nothing is really being said. Eco points out that "comic" and "humor" are used as separate terms, but are in fact synonyms. (5) Examples:
a) "Getting the point" of a joke is referred to as "disjunction" (= final solution) (86), "the disambiguation process" which operates in a "linear fashion" on a "chronological axis" (94), "paralogical logic" (148), "local logic" (148), "paleologic" (148), "paretelic logic" (148), "disjunctor" (95), "indicateur" (95), "script switch trigger." (Raskin) (95)
b) "Linguistic humor can be understood exhaustively only by a general linguistic account of humor." (334, my underlines)
c) "'What is the essence of a red ball?' 'Ballness.'" (242) (This is Platonism and abstractionism fallacy humor.)
d) "A register is identifiable insofar as it opposes itself to another kind of register." (238) Compare: "The leprechaun is identifiable insofar as it opposes itself to another kind of leprechaun."
e) "Competence" basically means "having the ability to do something." Thus, to say that we are able to create humor because we have the competence to do so," is circular. It does not have explanatory value. But Chomsky and Raskin (1, 13, 196) use "competence" as if it were a causal explanation. Besides its circularity, it involves humor based on the genetic fallacy, false cause, argument from ignorance, irrelevance, fallacy of mentalism, and being simplistic.
Among linguists, "competence" is a controversial term, so it is amusing to read Attardo's statement: "The reader may safely skip this introductory chapter altogether, provided he/she is willing to take this writer's word on a working definition of humor as 'competence.'" (p. 1) (Blatant vice humor) In any case, satisfactory evidence to support the notion of "competence" was not provided in the chapter.
Competence is incompetent. It is defined as "something speakers know how to do, without knowing how and what they know." (p. 1) This definition also applies to negligence and insanity. This is equivocation (ambiguity) humor regarding "know," and is also, in one sense, untrue. Speakers do not have the competence to create many or even most of the types of humor, e.g. circularity humor, oxymora, metaphor humor, etc., nor are they usually skilled at the types they do use.
Attardo is quite right in not identifying humor with laughter. Thus, "Humor is when you laugh" is not a circular statement. On the other hand, he does define humor in terms of the even more controversial and circular concept, "competence."
f) The joke process is defined as follows: "The text begins by setting a context, which will be the background of the joke An element (disjunctor) then occurs in the text which can cause a passage from the sense reconstructed thus far in the joke to a second opposite sense. This element occurs at the end of the text, a position which is the location of the rheme of the last sentence of the text." (107)
In one sense, this says little more than that the joke has a beginning, middle and end. That is, to tell a joke, one must begin at the beginning, proceed to the middle and finish at the end. That is all there is to it. That it is said to involve sense opposition is not circular, but then it is not necessarily true either.
g) "Either an object passes a test or it fails." (242) (This is also an either-or fallacy.) Presumably, this is unlike Alice in Wonderland where "Everybody has won, and all must have prizes."
6. Fallacious Definitions of Humor.
a) In discussing Script-based theories, one of the most amusing definitions is: "A script is an organized chunk of information about something." (198) Seeming to say something this statement says practically nothing and, in addition, uses the humorous colloquial style of the value term "chunk" in a formal context. It seems like a child's request to the Library of Congress: "Please send me anything about anything."
Although it should be obvious that humor is produced by more than oppositions and incongruity, gradually the "necessary and sufficient essentialistic" definition of these terms has been expanded to include more and more concepts such as actual-nonactual, normal-abnormal, etc. (204 ff.) "Opposition" is not a scientific term unless further clarified. There is typically a limited perspective and reductionism with binary operations. This was Nietzsche's point about "Truth is falsity."
b) Essentialist fallacy. (Dogmatism and abstractionism.) "Platonism" refers to the view that words just have abstract essentialistic meanings in themselves, that there are really such things out there (reification) as Number in itself, Truth in itself, Meaning in itself, Ideas in themselves, Mind in itself, and even Word in itself. Most philosophers, but especially John Dewey and Wittgenstein, have at least theoretically (but curiously often not in practice) rejected such essentialism as being unacceptable and unscientific. One form essentialism takes is the quest for absolute certainty, for literal definitions which have absolute necessary and sufficient conditions. On the ordinary language view, to the contrary, to define is to take a model or metaphor (perspective, hypothesis, paradigm, prototype, diagram, etc.) Accordingly, it is unacceptable to say as Escarpet does, that humor is indefinable. (30) There are no essential, fixed definitions. So it is amusing to find Attardo actually claiming to be an essentialist and to require necessary and sufficient conditions for definitions and humor. It is especially curious because he even cites Wittgenstein's opposition to such essentialism, but does not seem to see that it applies to his own position. (243):
1) Essence means necessary and sufficient conditions. (2, 49, 242)
2) "The theory must promote the necessary and sufficient conditions that a text must meet for the text to be funny." (198)
3) Having trouble defining "polythetic contexts," as anyone would, he speaks of such humorous possibilities as "motherese" (241), but reduces it to absurdity by noting that we do not also speak of "Uncle-ese." (241)
4) "At least one common feature exists in all object members of a class." (244) Compare this with a sentence like: "Glue and people are members of the same class because they are things, or because they contain water."
5) Essentialism reduced to absurdity: "It is pointed out [on the basis of research] that penguins are regarded as the worst examples of birds." That is, Attardo is not sure if we can therefore really consider penguins as birds because he is in search of absolute essentialistic classes-Birdness in itself.
6) "Humor is caused by incongruity due to register." But the meaning of "register" is found to be so vague and controversial as to be empty. "Register" seems to merely mean "context." Attardo himself says that "register" is an elusive concept. (236) Some linguists, then, first raise the dust and then claim they cannot see. The statement may only mean "incongruity in a context." What would incongruity without a context be? An especially amusing definition by Halliday is quoted: "A register is a cluster of associated features having a greater than random tendency to co-occur; and like a dialect, it can be identified at any delicacy of focus." Who said linguistics do not have poetic flares? For a scientist the last phrase, "delicacy of focus," would be especially curious (cf. metaphor humor).
Comparable to that of the word "being," the range of different meanings of "register" is vast: domain, province, role, social situation, activity, formality, language of instructions, recipes, subject matter, technical language, range of appropriateness, journalese, sports registry, language of one's social role, etc. (237-238) Thus, Attardo calls the definition of "register" "fuzzy" (241) thereby creating value deviation humor, the "fuzzy register."
7) Abstractionism humor. Such simple notions as "topic" or "a common thread of discourse" becomes for the linguist, for example: The repetition of semes which do not have to be lexematized on the surface and the hearer will use for his/her knowledge of the world and all available implicatures and presuppositions from the text to determine isotopy! (81, 86)
8) In a discussion of Greimas' structuralist approach to humor, "isotopy" is defined as: linear, narrative, function, disjunction, and semantic interpretation of the text. (60 ff.) Then it is stated, "Almost immediately after the publication of Sémantique structurale, Greimas and his associates began presenting different definitions of the notion of isotopy." (76) (Deviation from ideal, defeated expectation, hopeless, irony, mistake, reversal, self-deprecation humor)
The definition of "isotopy" got more and more vague until it meant merely an "interaction of linguistic elements," which exemplifies reduction to absurdity humor. Eco calls "isotopy" an "umbrella term." (86)
9) Morin is said to introduce "narrative function" without defining it. (85)
7. A War: Phonology vs. Phonetics? As perhaps most linguists are phonemicists or phonologists, if not something else, they would be very happy to keep it a deep secret that there is actually a bloody semi-intellectual battle going on between phonemicists/phonologsts and the following: some non-phonemicists, phoneticians, foreign language teachers and ESL teachers. In the book, phonetics and phonology are presented as if there were no controversy and no problem at all with the concept of the phoneme. It is sweep it under the rug. The phoneme is typically defined mentalistically as "a minimal meaningful bundle of sound features." But it is no more clear than the notion of meaning itself-another controversial term in linguistics. We need an acceptable definition of both "meaning" and "phoneme," and basically none is given here. Phonemes are classes of sounds not symbols for specific sounds as are the IPA phonetic symbols. Phonemes are rather ideal, theoretical, abstractions. The humorous result is that phonemes cannot even be pronounced. Phonemics concerns itself with universal, abstract laws and principles, whereas phonetics is about the actual sounds themselves. It is ironic that to learn the pronunciation of a language one should not look at a book on phonemics or phonology of a language. We would have to find one on the phonetics of the language-although one will find very few. Thus, for example, the statement that a homophone is two phonemes with the same pronunciation (11) is incorrect. Phonemes cannot be pronounced. As the typical linguist is probably by this time giving a negative evaluation of these statements which seem to attack his/her very life work, thereby not being amused, perhaps a few quotes, not mentioned by Attardo, are in order (they may then be immediately dismissed upon reading): a) Foley (1977:3) states, "Transformational phonetics [phonemics] is vitiated by philosophical errors The philosophy of science is fundamentally erroneous." b) "The phoneme theory seems to us to have nothing interesting to offer. Indeed it has done a lot more harm than good." (Kelly & Local 1989:6) They claim that phonemics disparages phonetics. (Ibid. p. 1) c) "Phonemes do not actually exist: They are theoretical constructs." (Standwell 1991:139) d) "Phonology is useless as a tool for language pedagogy." (Hammerly 1991:173; cf. Shibles "The Phonetics vs. Phonemics Controversy," and Phonetics of the World's Languages: A Reference Guide, forthcoming)
The lack of concern for phonetics often shown by linguists is exemplified by the incorrect phonetics given (by Pepicello & Green) in the book: "a wafer" is given as[´Àweyf´r] (131), whereas the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) phonetics would be [ei.wei.f®]. "Twenty-three" Attardo gives as [twentiTri] (151), instead of [twEn.ti.T®i ]. In a review article of Sobkowiak's book on metaphonology, Attardo (1994a:297) is quite correct in stating that IPA symbols were not but should have been used. The use of schwa here is also questionable. (cf. Shibles "The Phantom Schwa: A Pseudo Symbol" 1994d.)
As a result of the linguist's concern for universals and abstraction, few examples of either phonetics or humor are given (excepting, of course, quantitative statistical analyses). In a book of 426 pages only about 118 examples of humor are given. When jokes are given, they are not original and some seem to be less humorous than the text itself. For example, Q. "How many surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb?" A. "Fish." (272) It is used to illustrate nonsense, but surrealism is, after all, not nonsense, but at best a genuine and profound metaphorical insight-giving perspective not to be demeaned. I would therefore have preferred a reply such as "As many as wished to climb in?"
Attardo points out that Greimas gives examples, but that the latter claims no validity for them! (blatant vice and contradiction humor)
8. Adequacy or Holism vs. "Trivial Details." Attardo wrote, "Redfern and Nash are very pleasant reading Unfortunately, they lack a theoretical approach and their generalizations are weak, noncommittal, and often miss the significant issues and pursue trivial details." (192, my underlines) An interesting comment, "Interesting, but trivial." I am reminded of the similar statement, "Interesting, but not very informative." I hope no one says this about Attardo's book. But this does raise an interesting question about adequacy.
Attardo's own view is a limited perspective, and not interdisciplinary or holistic as he sometimes suggests that it is. He admits however: "The linguistic and semiotic program are reductionistic and essentialistic." (Also blatant vice and take metaphor literally humor.) Something so relevant and significant as emotion, which also constitutes to a large extent what is meant by style (cf. 231), is not defined or accounted for by the authors presented. Linguists have not been able to account for emotion or metaphor. Do they even exist? (Ambiguity of referent humor) The author notes that linguists have largely confined their research to (deal only with) puns or incongruity, a phonemic or similar analysis, or a current fashionable theory which is limited in scope. Suprasegmentals are usually ignored. The only poetry allowed is the prose of the linguist which is, thought to be literal.
On the other hand, some linguists are beginning to break out of the emotionless quantitative mathematics-like model of language toward a more holistic account by their increased consideration of larger contexts (Ch. 10), pragmatics, conversational implicatures; script theory which is concerned with structures larger than that of the sentence; etc. (180)
Clearly, just to state that "Any humorous text will contain an element of incongruity and an element of resolution" (144) will not generate an adequate typology of humor. But Attardo does mention some who present more holistic positions such as that of Lakoff. He might have also included the book by Lakoff & Turner (1989) with its holistic title, More Than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor. The subtitle, of course, makes it sound respectably scientific.
Also, Dorfles is mentioned in passing as one who speaks of the "strange-making" function of language (176). This would apply to humor, by the way, as well as to metaphor. Attardo might have also cited Dorfles' work on metaphor, e.g. L' estetica del mito da Vico a Wittgenstein (1967), according to which metaphor is partially cognitive and emotive constituting our life and world. Humor would not be merely "strange-making" for Dorfles. Until linguists and the rest of us can deal more holistically with language and humor, it will remain strange.
In summary, yet uncertain if this is or is not a punch line or "script switch," Attardo's Linguistic Theories of Humor is not only a welcome contribution to linguistic humor research, but in the ways mentioned, amusing as well. And another book by him is on the way. It will be entitled, "A General Theory of Humor."
B. Review of Neal Norrick, Conversational Joking. (1993)(Shibles 1996b)
Neal Norrick, a professor of English linguistics, who counts as his interests pragmatics and semantics, has previously written on intertextuality, frame theory and "bisociation," presumably from the work of Koestler (The Act of Creation 1961). He presents here an account of joking from the perspective of contemporary discourse analysis, and more specifically on the model of conversation analysis. The terms, definitions and methods used to describe conversations are thus used to describe joking. "An account of joking will be a fundamental part of any complete description of conversation" (1). A critique of his book is then a critique of both conversation terminology as well as joking.
1. The Conversation Model: Levels and Stereotypy
If "conversation" is to be the fundamental model of interpretation, an adequate definition of "conversation" would be expected, but none is forthcoming. It is not clear what "conversation" is to include or exclude. We could approach it from the viewpoint of the various disciplines: psychology, philosophy, anthropology, linguistics, semantics, pragmatics, phonetics, literary theory, etc. This book does not take these various points of view or the view of a critical philosophical analysis. Norrick opts for a sociological viewpoint (2) while seeming to present an interdisciplinary analysis. His conclusions must then be limited to the more restricted domain mentioned here.
The meaning and scope of a sociological analysis are assumed and its methods and theories are not actually employed. Thus, the basic term "conversation" in not clearly circumscribed and cannot as such serve as a scientific concept upon which to base an analysis.
The fundamental approach is to put language into a context-though which context is not so clear. Whereas a more full contextual analysis of humor might be anticipated, only the context of conversation is given. This involves noting the role of joking regarding 1) language games: turn taking, intruding, parting, greeting, closing, questioning, bridging uncomfortable gaps, "winding down the conversation" (27), encouragement, warning, politeness, etc.; 2) intentions of the speaker, e.g. to relieve embarrassment, save face; 3) theoretical commentary: strategy, interactional aggression, overstatement, functions of conversation, social control function, metalinguistics (jokes regarding the language itself), joke telling technique, audience reception, etc.
The author often confuses these levels. For example, the technique of questioning is not the same as intending to question, or having wonder, or questioning as a scientist questions a strategy. When one asks a question one may have no intent or knowledge of using questioning as a strategy. One may, for example, use it because of prior learning or habit, and even do it when it would be bad strategy. Similarly, one may joke without being aware that it is a joke, just tell the joke, tell a joke to fulfill a certain purpose. We cannot simply say that the purpose of a joke is to accomplish a set purpose without knowing the actual intention of the speaker. Nor, similarly, can we claim that the speaker intends to accomplish a certain conversational purpose unless we know that it was so intended. On the third level, we may describe what we think the intention of the joke is and what conversational function it may have even if neither were intended by the speaker. These levels are often run together by the author. That is, if I make a joke, I am not thereby necessarily "engaging in conversational strategy."
The juxtaposition of such levels can create humor as in the following: Question: "Why did you ask about Wittgenstein's notion of meaning being mentalistic?" Answer: "To keep the conversation going." Or one could have answered, "Because I like your accent." Norrick states, "The whole interchange thrives on attempts to make others laugh." (28) How do we know the precise intent of each speaker? Would anyone have the intent of merely making someone else have laughter-any kind of laughter? Would laughing gas do as well?
To ascribe fictive intentions in this way is to stereotype, and such conversational terms can thereby create a false stereotypic typology. A joke may rather have an unlimited number of possible uses, and for each person we must have evidence as to which use was selected. This is an intentional fallacy. This calls into question the main point of the book that "Joking fulfills many 'serious' functions in conversation." This is from the theoretical level #3, but may not be intended (level #2). The language game played (level #1) must also be assessed. We may find that a greeting is really an intrusion or insult.
"Joking ushers in a play frame." (133) What is this? Does one need a frame when one plays? Does this mean that when I joke I open it up or wish to open it up for others to joke as well, as the author asserts? Perhaps one only intends to monopolize the conversation. "The uttering of any joke makes any other joke topically relevant" (42), is not necessarily true and is an all statement fallacy.
The number of possible uses, intentions and purposes a joke may have is endless, just as each word uttered may have unlimited meanings depending upon its intonation. The number of uses narrows down when we find the actual intent and use of the joke. To avoid the use of conversational model terms stereotypically, description of actual motivation and self-talk is needed. We need to know what people actually intend when joking.
"Laughter serves as a move toward closure." (40) There are numerous statements like this which are or border on being teleological fallacies. That is, it is like saying that the purpose of laughter is to move toward closure (or to conform to the terms of the conversational model). It may, but need not be so. He says, for example, that banter aims at entertainment, not topical talk. (29)
In addition to the many possible intonations and uses there seems to be an infinite number of language game descriptions. The author himself rightly states that humor has multiple functions (43). Thus, the uses and games can extend to every possible verb and description available in the language. No map is given here to help delimit these possible uses and language games. The same action can be embarrassing, mauling, showing affection, being polite, engaging in local customs, etc. We cannot say that just one of these games is being played, unless we can establish the case. Certainly there are vast contexts available other than, or even instead of the conversational ones. What would be preferred in analyzing the function of jokes is a careful, critical interdisciplinary analysis. A conversational analysis is acceptable if it is seen to be only a perspectival model or metaphor, not the actual description. Such statements then as "Joking does x in conversation," or "Joking has the function x," are unacceptable. We cannot say what the conversational joke really does.
One would not, therefore, make such statements as: a) "Conversationalists use joking to negotiate the introduction of a new arrival" (29), or b) "A joke calls for laughter immediately upon its completion." (43)
For the above reasons and reasons given later, the following claims are also suspect: "This investigation revealed wordplay interaction not previously treated in research on humor" (80), and "No one has ever illustrated any of the relevant processes until now." (129)
As a result of the above, the typology and pragmatics lacks adequate basis. The author, however, having an interest and some expertise in poetics, might have shown how rhetoric and metaphor can be used to form a classification of humor. "All forms of argument [and tropes] afford equal opportunity for jests." (Quintilian Institute Oratoria VI.iii.65)
2. Theories of Emotion and Humor
Theories of humor and humor as an emotion, are not presented, but nevertheless must of necessity be implied. "Joking" is used in the title and mainly throughout the book, instead of "humor," presumably to keep the issue focused on the "conversational" level. In this sense, the book is technically not about humor at all. Without having a theory of emotion and humor, problems inevitably arise, such as the following:
1) joking (humor?) is often falsely identified with laughter: "Conversationalists may place laughter in certain positions so as to arrange their talk." (41) (Do we tell a joke to arrange our conversation?) "Laughter indicates genuine amusement." (42) "Laughter serves as a move toward closure." (40) "Joking and laughter are linked as two parts of an adjacency pair." (23)
2) On the rational-emotive or cognitive theory of emotion, emotions are due to cognitive value assessments which then cause bodily feelings. This opposes the theory that emotions are just released-like steam. The author, however, appears to opt for the steam theory in holding a covert catharsis-release view. "It may help us let off steam and relieve tension which might find less salubrious expression otherwise." (133)
3) Due to the lack of a theory of humor-ridicule, sarcasm and mocking are treated throughout the book as forms of humor. They are not. Humor may be defined as the assessment of a mistake or deviation which is accepted as not being harmful. For there to be humor there must be acceptance and positive emotion. (cf. Shibles Humor 1978) He states, "Puns rank quite high on the scale of aggression." (60, cf. 25-37, 42, 44, 73-81, 132-135) On his view, joking has the social control function of keeping people in line (130)-presumably possibly involving nagging, ridicule, intimidation, mocking, etc. He himself calls some comments "facetious" (29), and notes that joking involves "laughing at" those who do not speak like we do, e.g. dialect or foreign language speakers (130). This is not humor, but ridicule which does not conform to the definition of humor which I have proposed. One should not be ridiculed for speaking a dialect or a foreign language. Most all speakers of English around the world have an accent or speak a dialect. On the other hand, the author senses that something is not quite right with treating ridicule as humor, for he says, "Jokes hardly count as real aggression" (133), though he does not state why. It may be suggested here that if the ridicule (including sarcasm, mocking, etc.) is treated as being nonserious and accepted, it may be regarded as humor. Sarcasm as sarcasm, and ridicule as ridicule, can never be humor as a matter of definition. On this view, of course, virtually anything even horror and tragedy can be humorous if it is regarded as being nonserious (or distanced) as in tragicomedy. As humor, tragedies are not tragic, horror stories are not horrible, and battles are not belligerent.
4) Puns are treated as forms of aggression and as being the lowest form of joking:
"Puns count as frivolous and superficial." (60)
"Wordplay carries little or no weight as personal experience." (59)
"Punning types are aggressive." (80)
"Punning disrupts." (23) [It may rather enhance. He even cites such a case (31).]
Without a theory of humor it is understandable that one cannot develop a theory of good or bad humor and cannot determine if puns can be important or not. Puns can, however, give insight and there can be excellent puns. James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake consists of innumerable puns. Consider, for example, the lines of the poet Dylan Thomas: "The poles are kissing as they cross." The poles of the crucifix are meeting and crossing at the same time. This gives the insight that the cross is a kind of double-cross of religion and life, a cruel situation for people to be in. Religion may also be spoken of as the "loophole" of rationality, playing on the notion of "tax loophole" which typically favors religion.
Puns can give insight and be important. It is enlightening to note that the aesthetician, Scruton, holds that art is inscrutable, and that John Dewey's pragmatism stresses doing. Sherzer is cited here for his view that puns are aggressive (24, 105. etc.), and in German Scherz means "joke, tease, wisecrack." Hanslick, an Austrian writer on the aesthetics of music plays with language in: "Die Musik ist ein Spiel aber keine Spielerei. "[Music is a play (playing, game, game of chance, performance, involvement, interchange, playing of music), but no playing around (pastime, hobby, fiddling around).] (Vom Musikalisch-Schönen: Aufsätze Musikkritiken. 1982:144) The ambiguity is used to try to support his arguments for objective formalism.
Pun is a form of ambiguity humor. What seems true is taken as false. On this view, the reader cannot overlook the dedication of the book: "For Corinna because she never had one before." This could refer to a number of things ambiguously: A dedication? That one did not have a dedication before is no special reason for one to have one now. If it were a flattering dedication, one would not stress that it is only one's first. One looks for something more, perhaps a peak sexual experience, impressive enough to warrant the dedication of a book. Perhaps it means a "sense of humor" which she never had before-though which this book does not deal with. One may also try to imagine who Corinna might be. But we can close the possibly endless analysis of the ambiguity here-perhaps the author is just trying to keep the conversation coming.
3. Conversational Phonetics
Norrick does not use IPA phonetic symbols, preferring standard orthography and contractions such as "hafta," which he also negatively evaluates as "careless speech." (11) He redefines the usual symbols as follows: (.) = falling intonation, (,) = level, (?) = final rise, italics = stress, [ ] = simultaneous speech, double quotes = a nonregular production of speech such as parody. (11-12) Pauses are noted in seconds, e.g. (2.0) = two seconds pause, e.g. "Hello (2.0), Jim!" There is no mention of theories of intonation or related problems of symbolism. His system may be confusion-producing and inadequate, but the symbols for intonation on the 1993 IPA chart are also awkward and rather unusable-I have never seen them in use. Intonation is admittedly a notoriously difficult thing to record. My own system uses numeral superscripts, e.g. low-high-low = abbreviated as [ $] with bold numerals being used for tone languages.
Because IPA sound symbols are not used , one would never know how a single word the author presents is to be pronounced. Given the importance of intonation for meaning, this is a significant shortcoming in the description of conversations. Thus, the dialogues given look and "sound" like the following one which is recorded by Norrick (29):
"Vera: He He.
Andy: Huh huh huh.
Vera: Yea [he he]
Teddy: [Ha ha] ha heh heh.
Vera: He ha ha ha ha ha ha
Teddy: Huh he he"
This may be compared with the following conversation given by Merkle (Bairische Grammatik, 1975:194), but Merkle gives the meaning of each utterance. As with Norrick's example the phonetics should have been given in IPA symbolism. For example, "m-m" might be IPA [/m./m].
Bavarian Meaning in Standard German
Max: Fahsd mid? Fährst du mit?
Marie: M-m. O nein.
Max: Hàà? Wie bitte?
Max: À Ach fahr doch mit!
Marie: À-à Nein nein.
Max: Gäh! Sei doch nicht so.
The author has shown some of the uses of joking from the perspective of discourse analysis terms used to describe conversations. It is concluded that "Joking works to present a personality, to test for shared attitudes, to identify a common code for our interaction, and generally to keep the conversation moving along." (129) His limited approach does not allow him to analyze humor, determine what the difference is between good and bad humor, or to develop humanistic or insight humor. He deals with conversational joking as he sees it rather than as how it might be understood or improved. The major positive attributes of the book are that it deals with ordinary language and that it emphasizes the context aspect of the joke. He states, "Joking fulfills many 'serious' functions in conversation." (128)
16. Theories of Humor exemplified by Type:
In the following, several of the types of humor are presented along with one or more theories of humor which mention that type:
Abstractionism Humor. Schopenhauer states that humor is to wrongly subsume under the abstract. (cf. Stewart 1967:11ff.) "The cause of laughter in every case is simply the sudden perception of the incongruity between concept and the real [or perceived] objects." (1958:Book I, §13) The sensuous and particular is seen as incongruous with abstract knowledge. Humor is said to arise from the unexpected relief of intellectual strain, or victory of sense perception over abstract, obscure thinking. Humor is the escape from the too intellectual.
Acceptance. A fundamental distinction may be given between theories which are based on humor as acceptance versus those based on aggression. I have argued that the latter do not generate humor. The required acceptance aspect has been referred to in various ways from love (Carlyle) to an attitude of mirth, or play. Berger (1997:4), for example, states that humor needs a "Play frame." A number of other such views were mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. Seward (1930) says that for humor there must be incongruity plus playfulness, a "happy sense of irresponsibility." (32) Thurber's definition of humor as chaos remembered in tranquility is based on the acceptance which comes from time, distance and calmness.
Aesthetic Humor. (See aesthetic humor section and introduction above.) As stated above, We have approached an analysis of humor as an emotion which may be clarified by means of an assessment theory of emotion. Humor may be seen as an aesthetic emotion or form of beauty. D. H. Monro (1967) wrote that humor is "a special kind of aesthetic emotion." The aesthetic as an emotion and how art expresses emotions has been analyzed in the book, Emotion in Aesthetics. (Shibles1995b) Aesthetic humor may similarly be analyzed. Just as we may speak of humanistic art, we may speak of humanistic, aesthetic humor. Wells (1997:56) on Japanese humor speaks of omoshiroi which refers to the aesthetic quality of humor and ingenuity. Roger Scruton (in Morreall 1987:156-171) thinks humor is the enjoyment of the object for its own sake, an aesthetic enjoyment rather than to reveal knowledge or discover. That it is "for its own sake" an abstractionist fallacy. There is no meaning to such a phrase. Furthermore, others, e.g. Raskin (in Ruch 1998:95-108) think that there is a deep truth in all humor.
Category Mistake. Bergson's theory of stereotypes is also a theory of category mistakes. This theory overlaps with contradiction, incongruity and other types of humor. Berger (1997) says humor is based on mixing styles. He also mentions: allusion to indiscretion, the inept wins, inflated language, sinking, eccentricity, exposed privacy, naming (e.g. John Butterfingers).
Circularity Humor. Basically never mentioned.
Conceit Humor. Mentioned as incongruity or exaggeration, but not usually taken notice of in connection with humor. (See John Locke below) Gracián (1642) and Tesauro (1968/1654) in work on the conceit mentioned its use as humor.
Connotation Humor. Rarely or not mentioned at all. John Locke spoke of associations of ideas even on a slight basis of resemblance. Humor is based partly on unexpected resemblance.
Context Deviation Humor. Koestler (1964) sees humor as combining things from two incompatible contexts. Monro (1963) argued that all humor involves a mixing of different universes of discourse. One thing is regarded as another (cf. metaphor). The incongruity gives us delight in the new and an escape, just as does metaphor. Context deviation may also be thought of as category-mistake. The latter is a fallacy discussed extensively in the philosophical criticisms by Gilbert Ryle (1949) and Wittgenstein (1968). For Schopenhauer humor is based on the subsumption of a phenomenon under a heterogeneous concept: "The cause of laughter in every case is simply the sudden perception of incongruity between a concept and the real objects which have been thought through it." (1819:I, 76) For Bergson (1911), humor results from stereotyped and inelastic behavior in an inappropriate context.
Contradiction and Incongruity Humor.
Wherever there is contradiction, the comical is present. (Kierkegaard in Morreall 1987:83)
Wit is the clash and reconcilement of incongruities, the meeting of extremes round a corner.
(Leigh Hunt, Table Talk 1851, in Stevenson 1948:2543)
Schopenhauer mentions the incongruity between the sensuous and the abstract. Koestler says humor relates incompatible contexts. Jean Paul Richter (1813, cf. Stewart 1967:102) regards humor as the relation of seemingly unlike things. There is supposedly a deception which is then resolved. Hazlitt (cf. Stewart 1967:139; Morreall 1987:68) wrote: "The essence of the laughable, then, is the incongruous, the disconnecting one idea from the other, or the jostling of one feeling against another." Humor is a sudden, unexpected "painless contradiction" between the way things are and the way they ought to be. Baudelaire speaks of a contradictory collision of infinite misery with infinite grandeur. This view may be combined with his view of metaphor according to which everything corresponds to everything else. (1923-1952, MB:40) Edgeworth (1803) said that "Irish Bull humor" is a sudden apparent congruity in real incongruity. The Irish Bull as it is commonly used seems in fact to include other types of humor as well. Among others who mention incongruity are Bergson, George Campbell, Carlyle, Michael Clark (1987), Coleridge, Darwin, Eastman, Emerson, Goethe, David Hartley, Hunt, Schaeffer (1981), and Schlegel.
In more recent research, Morreall (1983:58, cf. 1983ab, 1985, 1987) states, "Laughter is an expression of pleasure at a psychological shift." Perhaps recognizing that laughter is not the same as humor he later revised this definition to: "Humor always involves the enjoyment of a perceptual or imagined incongruity." (1987:135, cf. Ziv & Diem 1987) It is based on surprise or incongruity, and may be an affective shift. Whereas "emotion" is almost always assumed and undefined by philosophers and others, Morreall refers to the theory of emotion used: Jerome Shaffer's (1983) definition of emotion which is a version of the cognitive-emotive theory. For Morreall, incongruity is said to be involved in all humor. (1983:19) His view is also like that presented in this book to the extent that humor is an assessment which is not taken seriously. He states, "The situation is not disturbing to us .We enjoy the incongruity." (1987:195) Kierkegaard regarded humor as painless contradiction. (Lippitt 2000) The comic is incongruity which then leads us to a new way of seeing, a new religious existence, supposedly. The serious and speculative philosophers are seen as comic in comparison with one's actual experience. "The more completely one exists, the more he will discover the comic." (Lippitt 2000:46) The religious person "is one who has found the comic on the greatest scale." It is humor which brings hope. Christianity was thus thought to be the most humorous view of life in world history. (cf. Ch. 10, Humor about Religion)
For Hegel, comedy is the triumph over one's contradictions. One rises superior to one's own contradictions. Hegel's philosophical model is to synthesize thesis and antithesis. (Stewart 1967:109ff.) The model applied to humor becomes: "An infinite geniality and confidence capable of rising superior to its own contradiction, and experiencing therein no taint of bitterness or sense of misfortune whatever." It is "an expression of self-satisfied shrewdness." (1920:iv:302) We triumph over contradiction and ruined purpose. The contradictory contrasts are mastered and resolved. Horvay Barnes (1978) holds a similar dialectic theory that the humorous assertion is first seen as a thesis, then in terms of an antithesis (or contradiction as in the literal falsity of metaphor), and then there is a resolution into a synthesis. This seems to be also the way metaphor works. Beardsley's (1958, 1962) logical absurdity theory of metaphor, discussed earlier, could be similarly used to develop a logical absurdity theory of humor. Lippitt (2000:7) does suggest this when he writes of "humour that depends upon incongruity operating in the same way as metaphor." Adam Schaff (Dziemidok 1033;33) sees humor as a struggle of oppositions and of mutually exclusive emotions such as altruism vs. egoism. It is a Marxist view.
Leacock (1938) stressed the positive assessment needed for incongruity humor to work. Humor is regarded as the essence of human kindness: "the kindly contemplation of the incongruities of life and the artistic expression thereof." (3) Humor can develop and progress so as to refine our character. (18)
Pirandello (1960) regards humor as the feeling of the opposite. It is a dismantling, disruptive tool by means of which to unmask society, but cautions against being indignant. (31, 134, 145)
Linguistic script theories are largely based on incongruity and opposition. By "shift" is meant, for example, between actual-nonactual, impossible-possible, good-bad, high value-low value, joke mode-truth mode, life-death, etc. A switch is triggered from one incongruous script to another. Raskin advances over logicians by opposing the reduction of statements to mere truth values (T/F). He realizes ordinary language cannot be reduced to logic and that truth is not even essential to meaning. (1998:100-103) Mulkay (1988) similarly regards humor as a sudden shift of two incongruous frames. Jokes first create a reality, then undermine it.
Plessner (1970), adopting a European phenomenological approach, states,"Only those boundary conditions excite laughter which, without being threatening, are nevertheless unanswerable, so that the person is prevented from becoming their master and doing anything with them." (111) This deviates from the theories which require resolution. For Plessner, a contrariety confuses us and because we cannot resolve it, our body takes over and we laugh. In this sense, "he himself doesn't laugh; there is laughter in him." (116) [Es lacht in ihm.]
One type of congruity is Beardsley's (1962) logical absurdity theory.
Defeated Expectation Humor. "The most common kind of joke is that in which we expect one thing and another is said." (Cicero "On the Orator" 1942, Book I, Ch. 63) Eastman (1936) speaks of "practical humor" as a snatching away of meaning. Darwin mentions exciting surprise. Hazlitt (1819) wrote that humor is due to the experience of surprise or contrast arising before one can reconcile the discrepancy between appearance and reality. Perhaps the most significant adherent of the defeated expectation theory is (Kant !990:190; 1951:177) who wrote: "Laughter is an affection arising from the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing" [Das Lachen ist ein Affekt aus der plötzlichen Verwandlung einer gespannten Erwartung in nichts.] (cf. Monro 1963:Ch. 3, Morreall 1987:45ff.) Dziemidok (1993:17) rightly points out that such can happen without producing humor, e.g. when one expects a high grade, but gets a low one. Furthermore this cannot account for all humor. Pascal also has a defeated expectation theory.
Deviation from the Ideal Humor. Plato's philosophy consists of contrasting an ideal world with the imperfect everyday world that we know. The deviation from the ideal may serve as a source of humor. Humor is based on ignorance of oneself (ignorance humor), seeing others as they fail to see themselves (dramatic irony), revealing faults where there are pretended virtues (hypocrisy). Plato also has a superiority theory of humor. Moses Mendelsohn (Stewart 1967:Ch. 2) similarly states that laughter originates in a contrast between perfection and imperfection. The work, Don Quixote, by Cervantes relates romantic idealism to realism, the ideal world of the outdated codes of chivalry to the real world. The reduction of the ideal to the real also produces sinking humor. Feibleman (1972), a neoplatonist, regards all humor as being based on deviation from the ideal. All humor is satire as it criticizes the deviation from the ideal. Thus, there is a contrast between: ideal vs. real (cf. Jean Paul), actual vs. possible, complete vs. incomplete, perfect vs. imperfect, world as it ought to be vs. world as it is, macrocosm vs. microcosm, universal vs. concrete.
Lessing (1959) said that the ridiculous requires a contrast between perfections and imperfections. Schopenhauer (1958) spoke of humor as the incongruity between the norm and the imperfect. Hazlitt (1819) wrote, "Man is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be."
Deviation from Purpose Humor. Hegel mentions that comedy derives from the triumph over the defeat of one's purposes.
Escape or Release Humor. "Something offensive in an inoffensive manner." (Cicero On the Orator 1942, Book I, Ch. 58) Freud's mentalistic and metaphorical version of release humor was discussed earlier. Schopenhauer's version is that humor results from the escape from oppressive reason. There is a vital, sudden joy of pleasure derived from release from the constraints of reason. McDougall believes there is an instinctual mechanism which converts pain into pleasure. It is a kind of release. Laughter helps avoid pain. It seems to be a kind of defense mechanism. Similarly, Eastman (1936:41) treats humor as an unpleasantness or frustration taken pleasantly. He wrote: "A joke is composed of unpleasant experiences playfully enjoyed." This is like Kant's view of humor as strained expectation come to nothing. This is also similar to and possibly based on Plato's view, according to which the ludicrous is a mixture of pain of malice with the pleasure of superiority at observing a harmless ignorance in others (Philebus). Fry (1957) and Mindess (1971) also have release theories. Mindess regards humor as a freedom or escape from conformity, morality, inhibitions, reason, language, naivete, seriousness, etc. Thus, to laugh is to be liberated from such things. He stresses the use of humor as a way of gaining insight. D. Berlyne, Viktor Frankl (1963:68-69) see humor as necessary detachment in order to allow for survival. We can thereby rise above the otherwise intolerable situation. The escape from the self also leads to altruism. Another form of release theory is relief theory. Gregory (1924:200) holds that humor is a sudden and surprising interruption by the release of effort regarding a negative event. It is incongruous relief. It turns the negative into the positive and so humanizes and develops sympathy.
On Latta's theory (1999) we go from an aroused state to a cognitive shift of interpretation to a new state which nullifies the first stage, thereby causing rapid pleasurable, relaxation through laughter. An example is given: one prepares to jump a brook, recognizes failure, then laughs at landing in the water. But this could produce anger instead of humor. The theory does not account for the acceptance needed. Secondly, laughter is not the same as humor. Thirdly, the kinds of shift are not accounted for. Fourthly, relaxation is not necessary for humor-often just the reverse. Fifthly, his definitions are circular: "The mark by which a humorous context is identified as such is the laughter of humor," and ""Something is funny...only if one finds oneself or others laughing...in that...way which is characteristic of humor." (59) It is a shifty theory. Nevertheless, one may agree with his statements that neither one or all of the following are necessary for humor: aggression, the unexpected, surprise, superiority.
Illogic Humor. Kant's (1951:181) view is that the logic in seeming illogic produces a defeated expectation giving rise to laughter. His logical absurdity theory is: '"Humor', in the good sense, means the talent for being able voluntarily to put oneself into a certain mental disposition, in which everything is judged quite differently from the ordinary method (reversed, in fact), and yet in accordance with certain rational principles in such a frame of mind." The psychologist, Jerry Suls (1972) presents a similar view in his two stage model for the appreciation of jokes. Stage 1 is defeated expectation (or incongruity). Stage 2 is the resolution of the incongruous parts. A needed explanation or resolution of the punch line is required for there to be humor. This is the sort of view Beardsley presented in his explanation of metaphor. It appears to derive from Kant's analysis of humor.
Incongruity. See contradiction and incongruity above.
Insight Humor. "Humor is superior to religion...in its hospitality toward the continual arrivals of truth. It is a more congenial companion of science. Humor is the most philosophic of all the emotion." (Eastman (1936:25)
Take Literally Humor. Bergson states that we erroneously fix our attention on the physical aspects of metaphor. This is similar to asserting that humor is produced by taking metaphors literally. Clark (1970) holds that every object of humor is incongruous.
Metaphor Humor. Discussed extensively earlier. Several additional views are as follows. Metaphor is mentioned and central in Freudian theory. Samuel Johnson (1925, in MB:149) defines wit in the way that metaphor has often been defined. He wrote, "Wit may be considered a combination of dissimilar images, or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike." Eastman (1972) spoke of "poetic humor" which is picture humor, comic sight, or any joke which vividly arouses the imagination. Hobbes (1840) notes the intellectual pleasure of metaphor and striking juxtapositions.
Mixed Theories. Most theories are mixed theories. The classifications are given here on the basis of where the greater emphasis is. Freud, for example, stresses aggression, but actually has a mixed theory. . Berger (1997), says humor is based on various things: mixing styles, allusion to indiscretion, the inept wins, inflated language, sinking, eccentricity, exposed privacy, naming, etc.
Nonsense or Absurdity Humor. See logical absurdity theory under illogic humor. Eastman believes that pointless humor is best. He calls it "pure humor."
Paradox Humor. Schopenhauer (1958:Book I, §13) states, "All laughter is occasioned by a paradox."
Perceptual Humor. The perceptual aspect of metaphor is imagery. John Locke (1690:Book ii, Ch. 11, §2) wrote, "Wit lying mostly in the assemblage of ideas, and putting them together with quickness and variety, wherein can be found any resemblance or congruity, thereby to make up pleasant pictures and agreeable visions in the fancy." What Eastman called "poetic humor" is also imagistic or perceptual humor.
Reversal. Apter (1987, 2001) has what he calls a Reversal Theory. It seems to be rather an arousal, contradiction theory. The reversal only involves going from one opposite to another. The reversal is bringing together (synergy) a nongoal directed state (paratelic, good) with a goal directed, serious state (telic). Humor, then, like metaphor, is an identity of opposites. The unexpected synergy, going from A to not-A, the escape from logic causes humor. Opposites are: sacred-profane, superior-inferior, poor-rich, intellectual-unintellectual (clown), humans-animals (machines, depersonalization), man-woman, adult-child.
Ridicule and Superiority. "Laughter always arises from the gaiety of disposition, absolutely incompatible with contempt and indignation." (Voltaire) Ridicule is not regarded here as genuine humor although Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics Book IV) said, "A joke is a kind of abuse, and Wit is cultured insolence." (Book ii, Ch. 12, §16) Plato's view that humor deviates from the ideal is more a creation of ridicule than humor. Bergson's theory and superiority theories also seem to stress a nonacceptance, and so are not humor. The Japanese usually reject ridicule as humor. (Wells 1997) For Freud, humor is basically an expression of hostility. In one form or another a number of writers, including Plato and Hobbes, hold the superiority theory. The theory stresses ridicule of others, or laughing at others. In a sense, it is a moral theory asserting, in effect, "I'm better than you are." Baudelaire held a superiority theory but he defined superior as the delight of humans over such things as the ideal/nature, the grotesque, fallen humanity, ignorance, and misery. In a sense this is like saying humor is due to a mistake or deviation. Rapp (1951) combines aggression, ridicule and superiority in his theory. Humor is a kind of ridicule plus love.
Superiority can refer to a number of things: the sublime feeling of metaphor, sudden self-esteem due to seeing another's inferiority, superior to false logic, feelings of security, satisfaction of having solved a problem, feeling of well-being after a narrow escape, etc. In any case, the superiority theory only accounts for certain feelings of well-being, not humor as we have earlier defined it. Hobbes wrote that laughter is: "nothing else but sudden glory arising from a sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others, or with our own formerly." He says that the laughter is at the defects of others. His claim that laughter is "nothing else but sudden glory" is certainly untrue. And it is not clear that superiority alone will produce humor--it may produce conceit. Dziemidok (1993:10) points out that superiority does not have anything to do with the comical. It fails to account for the other types of humor and seems to largely describe the laughter of ridicule and not humor at all. Criticizing the superiority theory, Huizinga (1970) says, "The genuine seeker after truth sets little store by triumphing over a rival." Stendahl follows Hobbes, but adds that no strong emotions can be present. (Dziemidok (1993:12) We may suggest that this may be interpreted to mean that no negative emotions are present. Groos (in Dziemidok 1993:41-43) has a superiority theory combined with deviation from the norm. Humor always involves an absurdity (Verkehrtheit), a victim and a resulting emotion of superiority. Dziemidok (1993:42) objects that no notion of superiority is needed to account for humor here.
Self-Deprecation. Deconstructionism is a special form of this. Lévi Strauss holds that humor is a sudden short-circuiting of the connection between two semantic fields. Symbolic activity reconstructs it. This could almost serve also a definition of metaphor. By so doing the self, society, the self-righteous, etc. are dismantled. We deconstruct ourselves and our society.
Sinking Humor. Spencer (1892) says we expect something important, but something minor happens instead. When we realize fear is inappropriate, we laugh. It combines with a release theory. Alexander Bain (1865) speaks of degradation of the sublime to the low, the serious to the unserious, but without strong emotions (i.e. presumably without negative emotions). Bergson also mentions the reduction of the solemn to the familiar.
Stereotype Humor. Bergson's theory (1900) is based on compulsive, rigid, and inappropriate, stereotype humor. Objects of laughter for him are also clumsiness, absentmindedness, puns, automatism, vices. Of special concern is that people be vital human beings, yet they ludicrously act as machines or automatons (le méchanique vs. le vivant). Basically it is to treat a person as a thing. Thus, humor mainly involves clumsiness, rigid behavior, automaticism, vices and compulsions. It is a tragicomedy to watch soldiers marching robot-like in a straight line. The incongruity results in laughter. Bergson's stereotype humor becomes personification or dehumanization humor. Basically, his theory of humor is merely an extension of his philosophical metaphor of vitalism and intuition as opposed to reason. It also seems closer to ridicule than to humor. Whatever does not cohere with his philosophical vitalism is ridiculed. Bergson also gives five classes of word humor: fixedly saying you will do something you do not intend to do, divert attention from the moral (or metaphor) to the physical (or literal), invert words or reversal, pun, sinking.
Value Deviation. Alfred Stern (1949), a Bergsonian, speaks of humor as a degradation of or deviation from values. Roger Scruton (1983) thinks humor devalues the object in the subject's eyes and creates an "attentive demolition."
Return to Table of Contents
or continue toChapter 9 on
Feminist and Wonen's Theories of Humor.