Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Kinds of Comedy in Plato, Hobbes, Kant, and Kierkegaard

I found several ties between the theories of Plato, Hobbes, Kant, and Kierkegaard, as well as several ties to concepts of humor we've discussed in class. I felt that, if I had to divide the four into two different categories, Plato and Hobbes would be in one while Kant and Kierkegaard were in the other. At the heart of each Plato’s and Hobbes’s discussions of humor was the same idea: humor as a sort of superiority over another. To Plato, we laugh at what is ridiculous; this means we laugh at something or someone that is weak and unable to retaliate. We feel threatened, however, by something that is strong and would be able to retaliate, so we do not laugh at it. That is to say, we laugh at what we feel superior to. Hobbes would agree, seeing as his understanding of humor is rooted in the idea that we laugh at the sudden joy of realizing we are superior to someone else (though in his case, it can even be our past selves). To put this in conversation with what we’ve been discussing in class, I feel that the most relevant category of humor this could be classified into is “Pain + Distance”. In this situation, we laugh because of other’s pain (be it physical or mental) and are able to do so because we have no real stake in the issue, or at the very least, we are observing it. This could be taken to mean superiority as well; we laugh at the pain of someone else, but because we’re distanced from it, we’re able to feel superior to the person experiencing the pain because it isn’t us.

The heart of Kant and Kierkegaard’s theories, however, is something much different: contradiction. Kant’s description of the convoluted mental process we go through when we hear a joke is rooted in this contradiction. We laugh at the punchline of a joke because it is not what we expect—it befuddles our reason, and the confusion is what leads to our pleasure (or, to our health). Reason is reversed in humor, or, that is to say, it is contradicted. And it is likewise with Kierkegaard’s theory. He agrees that we laugh at things when they subvert our expectations, like when a man suddenly falls into a cellar or a woman seeks to be officially given the title of a prostitute. They’re jarring in that they don’t make sense—they contradict our understanding of the natural order. I feel that the mostly likely candidate for classification of the two theories into a concept of humor we’ve discussed so far in class would be Pain + Irony. Kant discusses this more fully (as I mentioned) but in humor based in contradiction, our expectations for how the joke will go are subverted and our reason undergoes a sort of “pain” (which, ultimately makes us laugh).

No comments:

Post a Comment