Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hobbes on Laughter

Of Human Nature, 1650.

Chapter IX.

13. There is a passion that hath no name; but the sign of it is that distortion of the countenance which we call laughter, which is always joy: but what joy, what we think, and wherein we triumph when we laugh, is not hitherto declared by any. That it consisteth in wit, or as they call it, in the jest, experience confuteth: for men laugh at mischances and indecencies, whereto there lieth no wit nor jest at all. And forasmuch as the same thing is no more ridiculous when it groweth stale or usual, whatsoever it be that moveth laughter, it must be new and unexpected. Men laugh often (especially such as are greedy of applause from everything they do well) at their own actions performed never so little beyond their own expectations; as also at their own jests: and in this case it is manifest, that the passion of laughter proceedeth from a sudden conception of some ability in himself that laugheth. Also men laugh at the infirmities of others, by comparison wherewith their own abilities are set off and illustrated. Also men laugh at jests, the wit whereof always consisteth in the elegant discovering and conveying to our minds some absurdity of another: and in this case also the passion of laughter proceedeth from the sudden imagination of our own odds and eminency: for what is else the recommending of ourselves to our own good opinion, by comparison with another man's infirmity or absurdity? For when a jest is broken upon ourselves, or friends of whose dishonour we participate, we never laugh thereat. I may therefore conclude, that the passion of laughter Is nothing else but sudden glory arising from a sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others, or with our own formerly; for men laugh at the follies of themselves past, when they come suddenly to remembrance, except they bring with them any present dishonour. It is no wonder therefore that men take heinously to be laughed at or derided, that is, triumphed over. Laughing without offence, must be at absurdities and infirmities abstracted from persons, and when all the company may laugh together: for, laughing to one's self putteth all the rest into jealousy, and examination of themselves. Besides, it is vain glory, and an argument of little worth, to think the infirmity of another sufficient matter for his triumph.


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  2. Recently, I was reading a chapter about Freud and how he shifted his focus from Brain to Mind! He wanted to define some ideas and feelings that operated outside of awareness by moving from neurology to psychology. I believe that going deeply into mind may cause some laches regarding to some external variables.
    This chapter about the theory of laughter reminded me Freud'a approach in defining some phenomenas such as "glove anesthesia". I think this theory of laughter, which, to me, seems so similar to the Superior Theory of Plato and Aristotle and also the Relief Theory that I read about just now after reading this chapter, has missed some important sociocultural variables about humor and laughter. according to this, I found the General Theory of Verbal Humor (GTVH) proposed by Victor Raskin and Salvatore Attardo so interesting and also during reading this I found another model from Delia Chiaro about the dependence of the laughter to other major variables such as linguistic competence, sociocultural competence and poetic competence! Anyway I found this topic so interesting and here is a link to this discussion: