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Related: humour - comedy - ridicule - amusement - expression - emotion

Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic (1911) - Henri Bergson [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

The Irresponsible Self : On Laughter and the Novel (2005) - James Wood [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


Laughter is the biological reaction of humans to moments or occasions of humor: an outward expression of amusement. Laughter is subcategorised into various groupings depending upon the extent and pitch of the laughter: giggles, chortles, chuckles, hoots, cackles, sniggers and guffaws are all types of laughter. Smiling is a mild silent form of laughing. Some studies indicate that laughter differs depending upon the gender of the laughing person: women tend to laugh in a more "sing-song" way, while men more often grunt or snort. Babies start to laugh at about 4 months of age. Philosopher John Morreall theorises that human laughter may have its biological origins as a kind of shared expression of relief at the passing of danger. The relaxation of tension we feel after laughing may help inhibit the fight-or-flight response, making laughter a behavioral sign of trust in one's companions.

On the other hand laughing at somebody is ridiculing him or her. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laughter [Mar 2005]

The Great Laughter

Unless we see as the meaning of life life itself, it is not hard to see all our existence and toils ultimately meaningless. Let's face it: life is tragic; personal fullfilment and social justice often hard to be found. In the end, there are only two ways to resolve life's existential meaninglessness: to let one be usurped by it, and choose self-destruction, OR, learn to laugh about it. To see life as a game it is. Every comedy of holds its portion of tragedy, and vice versa.

Mikhail Bakhtin wrote that laughter "overcomes fear, for it knows no inhibitions, no limitations. Its idiom is never used by violence and authority". Steven W. Gilbert: "Divine laughter is helpless laughter. The recognition that all social constructions are but frail, weak, and finally ineffectual in face of the inevitable regenerative force and movement of the material life force, located ridiculously (ridiculous only when you think about it) in the lower bodily stratum, calls forth an irrepressible belly laugh".

Harry Haller of Hesse's Steppenwolf was redeemed when he learned to laugh at himself. "When you laugh, they can't kill you", stated Perry Farrell on one of Porno For Pyros records.

This Great Laughter will release us, it is our ultimate salvation. --via http://phinnweb.blogspot.com/2005/02/great-laughter.html [Feb 2005]

Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic (1911) - Henri Bergson

Clem Kadiddlehopper wore a funny hat. Even animals other than humans seem to laugh, because they, too, possess emotions. And sometimes, when you're by yourself, you just start giggling for no reason. But that's not funny. As Henri Bergson, proto-existentialist French philosopher and author of Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, would say, you can stop laughing now. We must rethink what tickles us. For Bergson, laughter is a purely intellectual response that serves the social purpose of assuaging discomfort over the unaccustomed and unexpected. We chuckle at Lucy attempting to wrap the bonbons speeding by on a candy-factory conveyor belt because she's stuck in one place, performing the same task over and over, and failing; we hope that in similar situations we could be more flexible. Bergson recaps: "Rigidity is the comic, and laughter is its corrective."

Bergson's thinking typifies a peculiarly Gallic tendency to rationalize the apparently ephemeral and subjective (in this case, humor), discussing it in exquisitely rarefied language in order to assert that which defies common sense (a funny hat is not funny, laughter expresses no emotion, no one laughs alone) but partakes nonetheless of a logical inevitability. Laughter, first published in 1911, clearly draws upon the early years of European modernism, yet also prefigures the movement in some ways. In recognizing the comic as it embodies itself in a "rigid," absentminded person, locked into repetitious, socially awkward behavior, Bergson--even as he looks backward, primarily to Molière--seems to be spawning the sophisticated visual and physical comedy of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd; the transformation of Léger's figures into anthropoid machines; and Nijinsky's starring role in Stravinsky's satirical clockwork ballet Pétrouchka.

This little book resurrects a British translation that has long been out of print. While Laughter won't quite explain why the French love Jerry Lewis, or keep you in stitches, it's a bracing read that will make you think twice about laughing the next time someone stumbles into a lamppost. --Robert Burns Neveldine via Amazon.com

Product Description:
Philosophy. In this great philosophical essay, Henri Bergson explores why people laugh and what laughter means. First translated into English in 1911, this important work has long been unavailable.

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