Comedy and its opposite lie in the same disposition of feeling, and they are inside the process which results from it. In its abnormality, this disposition is bitterly comical, the condition of a man who is always out of tune; of a man who is at the same time violin and bass: of a man for whom no thought can come to mind unless suddenly another one, its opposite and contrary. intervenes; of a man for whom any one reason for saying yes is at once joined by two or three others compelling him to say no. so that yes and no keep him suspended and perplexed for all his life; of a man who cannot let himself go in a feeling without suddenly realizing something inside which disturbs him, disarranges him, makes him angry.
It is a special psychic phenomenon, and it is absolutely arbitrary to attribute to it any determining cause. It may be the result of a bitter experience with life and man-an experience that doesn’t allow one the naive feeling of putting on wings and flying like a lark chirping in the sunshine: it pulls at the tail when one is ready to fly, on the other hand, it leads to the thought that man’s sadness is often caused by life’s sadness, by evils so numerous that not everyone knows how to take them. It leads to the reflection that life, though it has not ordained a clear end for human reason, does not require me to wander in the dark, a reflection that is peculiar and illusive for each man, large or small. It is not important, though, since it is not, nor may it be, the real ends which all eagerly try to find and which nobody finds-maybe because it does not exist. The important thing is to give importance to something, vain as it might be. It will be valued as much as something serious, and in the end neither will give satisfaction, because it is true that the ardent thirst for knowledge will always last, the faculty of wishing will never be extinguished-though it cannot be said that man’s happiness consists in his progress.
All the soul’s fiction: and the creations of feeling are subjects for humor; we will see reflection becoming a little devil which disassembles the machine of each image, of each fantasy created by feeling; it will take it apart to see how it is made; it will unwind its, spring, and the whole machine will break convulsively. Perhaps humor will do this with the sympathetic indulgence about which those who see only a kind of good humor speak. But it ought not to be trusted…
If one sees in humor a particular contrast between ideal and reality, it means that it has been considered superficially and from one aspect only. An ideal may exist-this depends on the personality of the poet -but if it exists, it needs to be analyzed, limited, and represented in this way. Surely, like all the other elements in the spirit of a poet. It enters and is felt in any humorous work. It gives to it a particular character and particular taste. But it isn’t a pre-established condition. Just the opposite: it is characteristic of any humorist, through his special kind of reflection, which creates the feeling of incongruity, of not knowing anymore which side to take amid the perplexities and irresolution of his conscience.
This characteristic already distinguishes the humorous from the comic, the ironical, and the satirical. In these no feeling of incongruity arises, if it did arise, it would be bitter, that is: no longer humorous. When laughter is aroused by the first realization of any given abnormality, any purely verbal contradiction between what is said and what is to be understood becomes effective, substantial, and therefore no longer ironical; disdain no longer exists, at least not as that inversion of reality which is the reason for any satire. It is not that reality pleases a humorist. Even if he likes it for an instant, reflection working on this pleasure ruins it. Reflection insinuates itself sharply and subtly everywhere and it disarranges everything: each image of feeling, each ideal fiction, each flash of reality, each illusion.
Man‘s thought, said Guy de Maupassant. “goes around like a fly in a bottle.” All phenomena either are illusory or their reason escapes us inexplicably. Our knowledge of the world and of ourselves refuses to be given the objective value which we usually attempt to attribute to it. Reality is a continuously illusory construction.