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Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comicby Henri Bergson
Synopses & Reviews
Philosopher Henri Bergson was best known for his works on intuition, consciousness, time, and creative evolution. His writings included Matter and Memory, An Introduction to Metaphysics, and Creative Evolution, and he was said to have influenced thinkers such as Marcel Proust, William James, Santayana, and Martin Heidegger. After a career as a professor at the College de France, Bergson turned to diplomacy and writing, and was deeply involved with the League of Nations. While he won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1927, for a time his writings were shunned by devout Catholics. In Laughter, Bergson considers the meaning of the comic element in forms and movements, situations, words, and character. He regards the comic as a living thing with a logic of its own. It requires an absence of feeling, something like a momentary anesthesia of the heart. Its appeal is to intelligence, pure and simple. It must have a social signification; it must be within the human realm. Above all, since laughter inspires fear, the comic is seen as a check on our more eccentric impulses. Bergson wrote: In laughter we always find an unavowed intention to humiliate and consequently to correct our neighbour.
This classic explores why people laugh and what laughter means. According to Bergson, laughter helps us retain our humanity during an age of mechanization. His belief in life as a vital impulse, indefinable by reason alone, informs his perception of comedy as the relief we experience upon distancing ourselves from the mechanistic.
In this great philosophical essay, Henri Bergson explores why people laugh and what laughter means. Written at the turn of the twentieth century, Laughter explores what it is in language that makes a joke funny and what it is in us that makes us laugh.
One of the functions of humor, according to Bergson, is to help us retain our humanity during an age of mechanization. Like other philosophers, novelists, poets, and humorists of his era, Bergson was concerned with the duality of man and machine. His belief in life as a vital impulse, indefinable by reason alone, informs his perception of comedy as the relief we experience upon distancing ourselves from the mechanistic and materialistic. "A situation is always comic," Bergson notes, "if it participates simultaneously in two series of events which are absolutely independent of each other, and if it can be interpreted in two quite different meanings." The philosopher's thought-provoking insights (e.g., "It seems that laughter needs an echo. Our laughter is always the laughter of a group.") keep this work ever-relevant as a thesis on the principles of humor.
Table of Contents
Chapter I The Comic in General--The Comic Element in Forms and Movements--Expansive Force of the Comic
Chapter II The Comic Element in Situations and the Comic Element in Words
Chapter III The Comic in Character
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