The issue of the phenomenon humor, as a process, as a human activity widely used in literature, is the goal of this attentive research. This phenomenon persisting throughout time has a wide social acceptance. It has been present in different cultures and civilizations. To find its reflection in literature, humor had to meet certain needs, to be in line with the foundations and expansions and to be inseparably connected with the social contexts. Thus, the conditions for transparent, straightforward experience of what permanently happens in life are established.
This essay is about the character of the condition that in literature is called humor. It will attempt to give, as much as possible, a comprehensive view of the conditions from which humor springs out, of its presentation in different literature genres, its social function, meaning as well as maintenance in different civilizations. The main question is why writers choose comical expression. Or even, why this expression in some works abounds with joy and happiness, while in other works it is very serious. Why do some writers incline towards harmless laughter and good mood, whilst others use so much black humor and cynical ridicule.
Clearly humor is a point of view on the world, which can be a vital expression of the truths in the world and its extensiveness. Things seen through the prism of humor seem different to the things seen through the prism of seriousness. The place that humor takes in literature can be compared with the place of crisis in society – the indispensable prerequisites for new changes. It is as obvious as it is important to point out that humor discovers the long lasting disorders which people do not want to face. Humor is the only way through which people can express their inconveniences. According to Preisendans1F the worst events are given over to laughter because presenting misfortunes and evil deeds mobilizes the comic. Everything can be brightened up with the help of comics, as we have found out from our experience as well as from the theory.
Comical and humor are two closely related phenomena. They are two different things like music and musicality. Humor connects the comical, a pure aesthetic category, with the other types of laughter dominated by the physiological or sociological factors. However, humor has a specific ethical function. It disappears at the moment when grave sufferings and pain appears. Humor is the spiritual condition in which we fall into, discovering the positive inner being through outside reflections of someone else’s small insufficiencies. In literature, humor is mostly expressed in prose, by writers such as Boccaccio, Rabelais, Cervantes, Chaucer, Dickens, Maupassant, Gogol, Chekhov, T. Mann, Borges, but we also find it in the comedies by Aristophanes, Menander, Terentius, Ariosto, Shakespeare, Molière, Goldoni, Ostrovsky, Shaw, Pirandello, Ionesco, Ustinov, and in folklore in humoristic poems and stories. Real humor must not be reduced to wittiness, because humor flows out of the affective depths of the personality. Coleridge2F notes that humor relates spiritually with the pathos and compassion of human weaknesses. Also, Carlyle says that the meaning of humor is in the empathy, and in the compassion of all kinds of existence. In the same sense, Thackeray’s aphorism goes further in saying that humor is joking with love. Humor is more personal and more affective than impersonal wittiness. Contrary to satire, irony shows obvious signs of tenderness. The main presumption for good humor is the absence of cynicism, malice, or pretense. Writers indicate insufficiencies through humor. Their criticism is ambiguous, i.e. Pirandello puts it: “a humorist armed with his shrewd intuition shows how much people as social beings differ to their intimate world. The good intentional humor is familiar to the writers such as: Chekhov, Pushkin, Tolstoy, Zoshchenko, Nušić, Sremac, Čopić etc. Humor is a feature of the heart. It is similar to love. There are people who do not know how to love. Probably, those are the ones who have no sense of humor.
Aristotle advocates the idea of humor is an expression of health. He sees the genesis and nature of the comical phenomena in the cathartic role. According to Aristotle, a representative of the benign attitude, the object of ridicule must not be suffering aggression. In “Poetics”3F he states that only the mistakes and insufficiencies that do no harm or inflict great damage can be comical. In his work we find the quotation: “Be joyful so that you can be serious”4F. In other words, a man must have fun in order to be able to do serious work afterwards. Humor is not a threat to anyone; neither can it harm anybody. Hilon wrote: “Do not laugh at the unfortunate”5F. In the same spirit is Democritus’ aphorism: “It is unseemingly of people to ridicule other people’s misfortunes, instead they should show compassion for them”.
The idea of relaxation as a prerequisite for mental health, thus the evident role of humor in controlling anger can be found in the works of Democritus and later on Socrates. The laughing philosopher, Democritus, comes to the conclusion that it is better to laugh in life than to cry. The aphorism: “A life without feasts and holidays is like a long trip without a break”6F has been prescribed to him. Aristophanes, the most interesting comedian of the old century, is well known for his riddles, jokes, good– intentional humor, but also for his sharp and poisonous mocking. His works are full of jokes, riddles and unexpected shifts from the magnificent to the obnoxious. Unlike his unmerciful humor full of grotesque excesses, Menander expresses superior, but harmless irony because he is aware of human weaknesses, although he fully understands them.
1. Preisendans Wolfgang: O prednosti komičnog u prikazivanju povjesnog iskustva u njemačkim romanima našeg vremena (About The Advantages of Indication of Historical Experience in German Novels of Our Time) in Introduction to Narratology (Uvod u naratologiji), pg. 226
2. Rečnik književnih termina, (Dictionary of Literary Terms), Nolit Beograd 1985, pg. 254
3. Aristotle, Poetics, Makedonska kniga, Kultura, Naša kniga, Komunist, Misla, Skopje 1979, pg.125
4. Aristotle, Nikomah’s ethics, BIGZ, Belgrade, 1980, VI, pg. 282
5. Diels, H. Fragmenti presokratovca, (Pre-Sokrates Fragments) Naprijed, Zagreb, 1983, pg. 58
6. Ibid, pg. 179