Humour in Literature

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Humour in Literature

The opinion that the comical in literature is an expression of hidden aggressions, antipathy, doubt, revolt, or indifference is widely spread. The aggressive nature of humor, actually of the comical, was known even to Plato13F, who noticed the author’s contained inventions, but who also pointed out that humor’s aim was to find a spiritual solution through attack, insolence and absurdity. The one who uses humor must have a critical spirit and a great deal of courage to express a judgment over man’s insufficiency or a social anomaly. According to the malign theory of the comical that comes from Plato humor must contain the elements of supremacy and derogation on the part of the one who is ridiculing. It is expressed as envy and fear from another person’s supremacy, and then there is a relief when somebody else’s inferiority is noticed. Every man is harming another when laughing and even he does not pity his friend when he is in a disposition, according to Plato. Therefore the state of Athens had to make a law to forbid writers to make personal allusions. Mocking was allowed only on special occasions, during carnivals and feasts when the participants were drunk, thus, the proverb “in vino veritas”. At the same time it appears that humor has to be moderate. “Laughter has to be used carefully, just like salt”14F says Socrates who saw everything around him with a bit of irony. Aware of the power of the comical Homer says that Achilles feared ridicule more than death.
When we talk about humor we meet the terms contrast, conflict, confrontation, revolt, breaking norms by the object of the comical, creating an emotional tension and relief, aggression, a feeling of supremacy, distance, detached, a game of mixing elements of pleasure and displeasure and polarity opposition. For Goethe the root of the comical is in the contrasts. The comical is not a result of a thoughtful action. On the contrary, it appears unexpected and accidental, mostly as an outcome of certain occasions caused by a delusion or language deformities. True humor always hurts somebody; there is always someone who is being ridiculed. That someone is a human being. Humor is criticism of human behavior according to Singer15F. Humor and wittiness are possible ways of describing people’s weaknesses, by their refusal to learn, to go in deeper into the meaning of things, to look themselves into their eyes.
Although humor has adopted the principles to deny, humiliate and destroy, it is just a harmless game. Abstract and aggressive denials are unfamiliar to humor. Every denying in humor must be benign; it cannot be subjective, capricious or pretentious. Laughter shows the world in a new way. The comical is an upside down world because every scary thing in it becomes funny. Through ridicule we play with the fright and fear looses its endangering function.
Everyone carries within themselves two worlds, an official and a comical one. The official excludes the rules of jokes and laughter, but still, sometimes one needs to be spontaneous. He accomplishes that through humor. “The barrels of wine get spoiled if from time to time they are not opened and if some air does not go in”. All people are like closed barrels of the wine of wisdom and will burst if it continually fermentates burdened with different fears. It is necessary to let some air in order not to spoil it. In modern culture, firm seriousness acquires a special place. By principle, that seriousness is deprived of dogmatism. But that does not happen always. On the other hand, any kind of unilaterality is problematic by nature because it is not self-critical and definite. That’s why there is humor that will point out the weaknesses in a harmless manner. The original open seriousness is not afraid of the parodies, irony or any kind of reduced laughter, because of the awareness of the presence of laughter in the world. The comical is an adventure of the original, a moving power that renews. Plato in Phaedo said: “The one who knows the truth can make jokes”. Truths told with comic are acceptable to everyone. The thoughts, which are otherwise unallowable, adorn in the attire acceptable by most people and because of it, they can then be freely expressed. For a short while, life overflows from the ordinary, legitimate ways and enters into the sphere of utopian freedom. On contrary, seriousness signifies conformity with official truths and implies extortion, prohibition, and limitation. This kind of seriousness always hints elements of fear and danger of punishment. Laughter means releasing that fear.
Arthur Koestler differentiates two facts in the comical phenomenon. The logical structure and the emotional charge. In the beginning, nonsense in the comical must be well hidden. At least for a moment the impression of a logical event must appear to be quite convincing and real. However, ridiculing is a powerful criterion of the truth. Only truth can handle the control of the laughter. Humor pushes the closed truth in the labyrinth of the soul outwards. The constructive approach determines the comical phenomenon as incoherent, incongruent, in contrast, in opposition, contradictory, paradoxical, or as standard or rule breaking. The contradiction is contained in the relationship of the expected, sensible or reasonable and the unexpected, nonsense and insanity. When the logical and incongruent conditions are met, an emotional charge contained in some aggressive tendency, i.e. minor humiliation is created. The comical feeling is provided only if a strong psychological interest in the comical object does not exist and only if strong affections such as pity, fear, disgust do not have an opposite effect.
Humor is a divine gift, which is not coincident with the logic of the linear rational or/or principle. A humorist can only be a writer who understands the irrelevance of things. For example Nušić had a sense of humor because he was a skeptic, and skeptics never take anything seriously. But, there are also people who have no sense of humor. Their behavior is rigid; they are limited in their actions, pushed by strict rationality. The conclusions of Walter O’Connell’s16F research are interesting. He realized that only productive significant people show a high degree of understanding the meaning of humor, whilst those with pathological conditions show resignation towards humor or their attention is turned towards the evil witticism. Laughter examines the human soul. If you carefully watch people how they laugh, you can suddenly understand them very deeply. According to the experts of laughter, the merriness of man is his most eminent characteristic that reveals him best. When a man laughs sincerely, at once his character shows up as on a palm. If you want to find out the character of someone, to find out about his soul, do not observe him when he speaks or when he is silent, or even when he cries or when he is upset by a passion or an idea, but instead it is better to watch him laugh. If he laughs well it means he is a good person. Then notice the small details. As soon as you notice any sign of foolishness in his laughing, without any doubt it means that this man is mentally limited even if he seems perceptive. If the man that is laughing seems to be even a little bit funny, you should know that that man does not have any personal dignity or at least does not have a full measure of it. Finally, if the laughter of a man is contagious, but it seems ugly you should know that the nature of this man is simple and mean, and that all the nobility in him is consciously, or unconsciously, borrowed and that man will change to the worse, became egotistic and will be involved only with practical things. Only children can laugh perfectly. According to him, laughter is the safest way to examine the soul.
Humor is a humanistic identification that promotes a happy self-realized individual. It shows a social character, but also possesses the function of self-respect. The question is how to find a compromise between self-respect and universal values. The easiest way to achieve that is through humor. The work of the humorist is to settle the differences. The sense of humor has an important role in overcoming disappointments and fear. It helps to find a perspective for the crisis, to make them more endurable. However, the actual moment for humor must be carefully chosen. In the first moments people affected by crisis feel a strong emotional charge about everything connected with it. Later on, as time goes by, the emotional pressure falls and then opportunities arise for acceptance of good-intentional humor. The saying: “Time cures everything” illustrates the significance of the time distance of crisis. Fear must be destroyed from the very beginning in humor. The comical has no intentions to instill fear, even though laughing on Earth, according to Bakhtin, is the work of the devil. Here things are seen different. The official sense, the commonly accepted representations and judgments, are rejected and replaced with holiday madness. Humor indicates the material, the physical principles of life such as eating, drinking, celebrating and sex. A metamorphosis takes place where things have a different meaning. Laughter is appointed to degrade the official speech and to destroy everything that is conventional. The destroying power of humor receives attributes of freedom and transfiguration. Bakhtin notes that people have a perpetual inner self, their own complex and inexhaustible depths. That is why nothing that concerns their nature is defined and limited. Some see humor as a destroying power, others as freedom and transfiguration. The meaning of humor is to express contradiction, to touch the two-sided meaningfulness of life including denial and destruction.


13. See Life and Thoughts of Prominent Phylosophers, (Život i mišljenja istaknutih filozofa III, BIGZ, Beograd, 1979
14. Quatation from Janković Vladeta’s book “Smiling Animal” (Nasmejana životinja”, Književna zajednica Novog Sada, 1987, pg. 11.
15. Bergin, Richard: Conversation with Isaac Singer (Razgovori s Isakom Singerom), Dečje novine, Belgrade, 1988, pg.46.
16. Dunn R. Joseph: Identity and Sense of Humor, An Interview with Walter E. O’Connell, Humor and health Journal, Nov./Dec., 1995, pg.10.

AuthorJasmina Mojsieva Guševa
2018-08-21T17:24:02+00:00 October 1st, 1998|Categories: Reviews, Literature, Blesok no. 05|0 Comments