Friday, April 20, 2012

The Art of Humor

Girl with a Pearl Camera

Over the past year, I have written a series of posts about my exploration of humor. I have explained in those posts that humor isn't humor if we're laughing "at" someone rather than "with" them. 

Following absolutely nobody's suggestion other than my own, I have refrained from using negativity to express humor. I have called it all along what it is: humor (plain and simple). 

Most definitions of humor are essentialist in that they try to list the necessary and sufficient conditions something must meet in order to be considered as humor. However, trying to isolate a common element beyond the punchline usually results in a second round of questioning, far less funny than the situation that caused a response of humorous amusement in the first place. 

Serving as an intermediary between the academic world of humor and the infinite world of humor writing requires one to pay close attention to relevant theories as well as one-liners. 

Despite how our predisposition to laugh arose, we have to covet it as well as deliver it if we want to experience it. 

Simply and solely because of this conditioning, we are compelled to assume that the world laughs at the things we personally consider to be funny. 

That's not always the case. 

Humorists of ancient times developed a set of practices designed to lighten our funny bone in order to allow us to perceive things that other people consider funny. Even though we believe our humor to be the funniest, we still have the ability to laugh at what others consider funny when it is real, unique, absolute, and as engulfing as our own humor. 

In this way, we laugh together. We do not have to personally relate to the humor at hand, but as long as we can step outside our sense of self for a moment, we can laugh as a consequence of considering another's viewpoint, laughing at the incongruity or irony (as in the case above) that makes a subject funny because we relate to it through the eyes of another. 

With the perspective that time gives, I now realize that humor is a gateway to connectivity.  Most humor is more humorous when shared. Doing away with the metaphors for a moment, humor is a practical way of putting ordinary moments to use. 

Words, and therefore "jokes," can be tricky.  Attempting to explain a joke with more words is like trying to explain why these eggs are funny. 

They just are...


Humor has to be experienced.  It's not just about the laughing; neither is it about what we laugh about. Through humor we can perceive other viewpoints, which we can describe, but we can't describe exactly what it is that allows us to perceive them in the first place. Yet we can feel how humor opens up those other viewpoints. Humor seems to be a sensation - a process in our bodies, an ancient awareness in our minds. 

In the course of my studies on humor, I have thoroughly skimmed through each of the principles, rationales, and practices of the art of humor. I have divided humor into two parts. One is about humor procedures, the other about the purely abstract explanations of these procedures. My writing style is an interplay between enticing my intellectual curiosity with the abstract principles of humor and guiding me to seek 'funnies' as an outlet in practice. 

Delving deeply into any subject very much feels like we're venturing through the same door through which Alice ventured. In this world, humor holds our attention in a way that is distinct from that of ordinary interactions. In our daily lives, we have only a vague notion of others. In terms of our relationship with humor, however, there is no vagueness. The result is that our daily interactions are heightened when we can laugh together, seemingly for the first time. 

Few of us consciously think about how deep the expression of humor goes. Since all of us are involved in our own activities and thoughts, we tend to be shocked when we find out there's more to a joke than meets the eye. This recognition seems intellectually inadmissible to us, which is probably a contributing factor to humor studies being a mostly overlooked field of study. We are left, therefore, with the disquieting knowledge that the human psyche is infinitely more complex than our jokes and puns had led us to believe. 

In an attempt to shed light on this predicament, I can offer two explanatory options. One is to cater our disillusionment and patch it up with a classic joke (An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman walk into a bar. The bartender turns to them, takes one look, and says, "What is this - some kind of joke?") explaining that everything we thought about humor was simply a product of social conditioning. The other option is to explain it the way humorists understand it: it isn't funny unless somebody laughs. 

During the fulfillment of my promise to myself, I have discovered that the things that make me laugh have in large part remained unchanged. I still laugh at old jokes and new takes on old jokes in areas that interest me.

For years, I've written funny little quips and observations in the margins of my books, along with smiley faces and ironical sketches and drawings. The bulk of what I read prior to exploring humor studies was stale and solely intended to advance my academic or professional thinking. It was only a few years ago that I discovered my first "comic book" - Seinfeld and Philosophy. 

Combining humor and academic study captured the inherent continuity of my own thinking, a continuity that had been lost to me because I bought into the what others told me, namely that the world is a serious place and that a person with honest intentions can only make the world a better place by taking all the troubles of the world seriously. This blog is a result of that rearrangement. 

All this brings me to the final part of my statement: the reason for continuing with humor studies into what will be Year 2.  Being in possession of many books on humor, I would like to explain, in a future work, what I believe to be the current position, interest and trajectory of global humor. 

However, before I describe and explain the results of positive humor on a global worldview, I must review, in light of what I know now, the parts of humor studies to which I think gave rise to positive humor, a visible trajectory I have observed during my research. 

The definitive reason I continue exploring the subject is my belief that people love to laugh. 

No comments: