Footnotes to Chapter 1: The Problem of Defining Humor

1)     [page 43] Humor and Laughter: Theory, Research and Applications (henceforth HL), Introduction by the Editors, Tony Chapman and Hugh Foot, London-Sydney-Toronto, 1976, p.4. The citations here from this recent collection of empirical studies is primarily to show the theoretical and methodological confusion reigning in this approach to the problem of humor and secondarily to remind our readers of some nevertheless valuable observations which will be (re-) interpreted in the light of our own theory of humor. In several instances it will be shown, without in any way rejecting the experimental observations themselves, how they prove the very reverse of the conclusions drawn by the supposed ‘empiricist’ due to his/her rationalist preconceptions. Cf. also E. Zigler, J. Levine and L. Gould (1966), “Cognitive processes in the development of children’s appreciation of humor,” Child Development 37, pp507-18.

2)     [44] J. Dewey (1894), “The Theory of Emotion,” Psychological Review 1, pp.553-69.

3)     S. Potter (1954), The Sense of Humor, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

4)     [45] F.R. Stearns (1972), Laughing. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas.

5)     E. Zigler, J. Devine and L. Gould (1967). “Cognitive Challenge as a Factor in children’s humor appreciation,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 6, pp.332-36.

6)      D.V. Reynolds (1971). “Brain Mechanisms of Laughter.” Paper presented before the Midwestern Psychological Association. Detroit.

7)     N. M. Dott (1938). “Surgical aspects of the hypothalamus,” in N.E. Clark, R.J. Le Gros, and D.M. Dott (eds.), The Hypothalamus: Morphological, Clinical and Surgical Aspects, Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd.

8)     [46] Lawrence La Fave, Jay Haddad and William A. Maesen, “Superiority, Enhanced Self-Esteem, and Perceived Incongruity Humor Theory,” pp.79-80 (“Reasons why sense of humor is a myopic illusion”), Humor and Laughter chapter IV, pp.63-91 (henceforth, La Fave et al., HL).

9)     [47] E.J. Webb, D.T. Campbell, R.D. Schwartz, and L. Sechrest (1966), Unobtrusive Measures: Nonreactive Research in the Social Sciences. Chicago, Illinois: Rand McNally.

10) [48] Arthur Koestler, Insight and Outlook: An Inquiry into the Common Foundations of Science, Art and Social Ethics, New York 1949 (= henceforth IO), p.6.

11) [49] James Sully, An Essay on Laughter, London 1902. Cited by Koestler in Insight and Outlook, p.10.

12) Though this conclusion is aimed at demolishing the logic behind our author’s argument, smiling is in fact a better operational index of humor than is laughter, for, as will be clarified later, the enjoyment of humor does not require the compulsive release of tension characteristic of laughter. That is why both the sense of humor and smiling are attributed to cultured people whereas gross laughter and absence of humor are attributed to base characters. But this does not mean that laughter-situations are irrelevant for understanding the structure and content of humor.

13) [53] Indian aesthetics, especially the theorists of ‘suggestion’ (dhvani) and rasa, places the personal experience of the discerning audience, the ‘literary competence’ of the ‘connoisseur’ (sahrdaya), at the heart of literary criticism. The function of the latter is not to determine whether the a poem is full of aesthetic delight or devoid of it but to help the connoisseur articulate in terms of the elements of the objective configuration the reasons for its success or failure as determined by him directly through his relishing of it. It cannot negate the experience of the connoisseur for it functions within it. “To deny the possibility of something that is alleged to have been done or the possibility of an even that is supposed to have been observed, merely because we cannot in terms of our hitherto accepted framework how it could have been done or could have happened, may often result in explaining away quite genuine practices or experiences” (M. Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, New York 1964 (= PK), “Destructive Analysis,” p.51. The maxims used by the sahrdaya in formulating his appreciation of the work of art cannot therefore be transformed into a ‘psychology’ of the aesthetic experience that would do without reference to him. “Rules of art can be useful, but they do not determine the practice of an art; they are maxims, which can serve as a guide to an art only if they can be integrated into the practical knowledge of the art. They cannot replace this knowledge” (ibid., p.50).

14) Cf. Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, pp.62-63, “Unspecifiability.” Also The Tacit Dimension by the same author. Cf. also I.A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism (= PLC) (London 1963), chapter  XIII, “Emotion and Coenesthesia.”

15) [54] Since we shall be proposing a structural definition of humor in terms of emotional bisociation, it must be emphasized that this does not exclude the role of connoisseurship in the appreciation of humor but, on the contrary, presupposes it. It is only within the context of the personal and cultivated appreciation of humor that one can determine whether particular objective structures in the joke or comic stimulus are relevant or not. Jonathan Culler in his Structuralist Poetics (London 1979) has similarly criticized the French structuralists and insists that their methods of analysis assume their true value only when replaced within the ‘literary competence’ of the critic.

16) La Fave et al. in fact draw their basic model, which seeks to combine superiority theory with incongruity, from Hobbes and especially Bergson. The philosophers like Bergson and Freud sometimes give the most incredible analyses of humor-situations in order to stretch their partial insights to cover instances which these insights are incapable of covering. Cf. Koestler’s criticism of some of their examples, Insight and Outlook pp.417-30. The empiricist seems to find it easier to simply write off these stubborn instances as mere illusions of humor. The layman, even if he is unable to perceive the common denominator underlying these so varieties of humor and laughter, is hesitant to indulge in such reductionist procedure, and ultimately falls back on his personal experience, however imperfectly interpreted, to decide whether humor is present or not.

17) [55] Sigmund Freud, Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (henceforth Jokes), Pelican Freud Library, vol. 6, 1976 /1981, pp.122-23; cf. also pp. 146, 268, 272.

18) [56] “For instance, let us single out Freud since, of the preceding theorists, his has generated by far the most research. By confounding humor with laughter, the psychoanalyst is able to develop a pseudo-sophisticated, non-nullifiable ‘theory’ of humor which appears profound to the fuzzy-minded. Psychologists seem to consider Freud the leading contributor to the psychology of humor. In truth, Freud never performed any controlled research on humor—and it would be exceedingly difficult to find a person of at least average intelligence who knows less about humor than did Freud…. However, what is needed is a theory of humor, not a humorous theory. And once we cease confounding laughter with amusement, our task as humor researchers and theorists becomes less unreasonable” (La Fave et al., HL, p.81). Nevertheless, Koestler seems to have, despite his criticisms, been able to find useful corroborations of his own bisociative theory of humor in Freud and has been able to reinterpret in its terms Freudian categories such as “tendency wit, harmless wit” and “humor.”

19) [58] anaucitya-pravrtti-krtam eva hi hâsya-vibhâvatvam / tac-cânaucityam sarva-rasânâm vibhâvânubhâvâdau sambhâvyate / tena vyabhicâriNâm apy eSaiva vârtâ / ata eve samvit-satattva-nipunaiz cirantanai rasa-bhâva-tadâbhâsa-vyavahâras tatra tatra kriyate / NâTya Zâstra GOS, vol. I, p.296 (in chapter VI).


[this concludes the Footnotes to chapter 1: “The Problem of Defining Humor”]