Footnotes to Chapter 6: Laughter and Bisociation

1.      [page 175>] According to Abhinava: By “attire” is meant the arrangement of the hair, etc; by “ornament” (is meant) bangles, etc. When both of these are incongruous, that is when contrary to place, time, nature, or condition, they become the ‘determinants’ (vibhâvas) of hâsya. By this, it has been demonstrated that all the rasas are included in hâsya. Thus, the vidűSaka also makes manifest the ‘semblance of humor’ (hâsyâbhâsa), by wearing such attire; but this has already been said before. When seen on another, such attire or ornaments of, say, Devadatta while performing the udghaTTaka ‘posture’ (karaNa, in dancing—cf. NâTya Zâstra  4.187) or of a buffoon dancing, etc., produce hâsa. Through attire and ornaments, imitation of others, etc. (? gatagatikâdi) are also indicated.”

2.      dhârSTyam: ‘effrontery’ is explained by Abhinava as “shamelessness” (nir-lajjatâ), not in the sense that one reacting with laughter is devoid of a sense of shame but that the determinant of hâsya transgressed the bounds of propriety provoking an element of shame in the response of the spectators. Among the diverse elements coming together to form the drama, Bharata mentions dhârSTya caused by eunuchs: klîbânam dhârSTya-jananam NâTya Zâstra I.110. Abhinava explains that through the determinant, the ridiculous appearance of eunuchs, it is hâsya that is meant here. [Sanskrit text ???] GOS I, p.39. This could imply that if the onlooker himself were wholly without a sense of shame (nir-lajja) there would be no (bisociative) laughter. The role of shame would be related to the censor-mechanism opposing the released of repressed psychic contents with their own emotional charge, in Freud’s category of tendency wit; cf. above pp.40-42.

3.      Abhinava: laulyam viSayeSv aniyatatâ. Ficklemindedness, as in the rapid oscillation of contrary mental states or emotions.

4.      Abhinava: kuhakam kakSa-grîvâdi-sparzanam vismâpana-vidhi-prasiddham bâlânâm / This is obviously more a stimulus (kâraNa ‘cause’) of laughter than a determinant (vibhâva) of hâsya. It is difficult to see how it could be reduced to a form if incongruity, though Koestler (Insight and Outlook, pp.104-07) insists on subsuming it under his bisociation-theory by interpreting it as “mock aggression. It is probably the first stimulus encountered in life which makes the infant experience a situation simultaneously in two different fields: the mother’s tickle is a caress disguised as a mild attack. For a while theorists held that the laughter caused by tickling is a purely physiological reflex response to a pure physiological stimulus. But already Darwin, Crile, and Sully had pointed out that the reflex response to tickling is squirming, wriggling, striving to withdraw the tickled part, which may or may not be accompanied by laughter, according to circumstances” (p.104). But this only proves that tickling by [176>] itself may not be a sufficient cause of laughter, but it does not necessarily exclude a physiological component that may be inhibited or facilitated by other factors in producing laughter. Nevertheless, as tickling comes to be closely associated with bisociative perception, as in the mock-attacks of the mother on her child, we find that in certain mythologies it even substitutes as a symbolic substitute of bisociative perception as the cause of laughter. Such seems to be the case in the tickling myths of South America, discussed by Claude Lévi-Strauss in his The Raw and the Cooked.  

Koestler restates his interpretation of tickling in his book The Act of Creation (1964, London 1975), 79-81, where he admits that, among all the stimuli of laughter, it is tickling that poses the most insurmountable problem to humor-theorists. “The harmless game of tickling has resisted all attempts to find a unitary formula for the causes of laughter; it has been the stumbling block which made the theorists of the comic give up, or their theories break down” (ibid., p.79). Though we suspect that tickling, as cause of laughter, has a necessary physiological component, it becomes a socialized reflex at an early stage so that an element of incongruity becomes indispensable to its success. As Koestler points out, babies laugh fifteen times more when tickled by their mothers than when tickled by strangers, and the mechanism of laughter here seems to closely resemble the alternation of apprehension and elation in the experiments with masks which we mentioned earlier (see chapter 4 on “Laughter and Distress”).

5.      asatpralâpa: one of the thirteen elements (vîthyanga) of the riddle-play, and defined by the Dazarűpaka as “incoherent or irrelevant talk” (asambaddha-kathâ-prâyo’sat-pralâpo yathottarah // 3.24). The vidűSaka, by prescription, has to speak in this manner, NâTya Zâstra GOS XII.140.

6.      Anga-vigamo vikhunâdi vyangam / Abhinava. The NâTya Zâstra prescribes the vidűSaka to be deformed corporeally and attributes this deformity to the intention of producing hâsya. Danturah khalatih kubjah khańjaz ca vikRtânanah / 138 / ya îdrzah pravezah syâd anga-hâsyam ti tat bhavet… / 139, chapter XIII. “He has protruding teeth, is bald-headed, hunch-backed and lame and has a disfigured face. His entrance with such an appearance is (termed) hâsya based on bodily causes (anga-hâsyam)” (cf. Kuiper, VaruNa and VidűSaka, p.214). Though his description in the plays themselves does not conform to this detailed prescription, his general deformity and monkey-like appearance are often alluded to by himself or other characters. “Although it will be shown that the curious appearance of the vidűSaka, as described in the Handbook, had not originally any connection with the stage nor aimed at a comic effect, it cannot be denied that in the classical drama is behavior was intended to evoke laughter” (Kuiper, VaruNa and VidűSaka, p.202). Deformity has always been associated with laughter, though under differing circumstances, it is also capable [176>] fear, revulsion, etc.; but as we have seen, the latter can be ingredients of bisociative laughter. It will be argued, as against Prof. Kuiper’s views in VaruNa and VidűSaka, that the vidűSaka’s deformity can be simultaneously—and without contradiction—be attributed a comic and a non-comic function.

7.      doSâ atat-prakRter api bhayâdayah akârya-karaNâdayaz ca vikRta-veSâdaya eva vâ / Abhinavagupta. “Fear, etc., in one who is not of that nature, doing what ought not to be done (i.e., transgression), etc., or simply incongruous costume, etc.” “Fear, etc.” has already been discussed earlier. It is important to note that Abhinava considers transgression, which includes the violation of socio-ritual norms, to be also a determinant (vibhâva) of hâsya, for it will be argued that this is the prime function of the vidűSaka in the Sanskrit drama.

8.      Atha hâsyo nâma hâsa-sthâyibhâvâtmakah / sa ca vikRta-para-veSâlankâra-dhârSTya-laulya-kuhakâsatpralâpa-vyangadarzana-doSodâharaNâdibhir vibhâvair utpadyate / NâTya Zâstra GOS vol. I, pp.312-13. Abhinava comments that hâsya is produced not only by the description (udâharaNa) of defects but also by their imagination, remembrance, etc.

9.      [178>] Thomas R. Shultz, “A Cognitive-Developmental Analysis of Humor,” chapter I, pp.11-36, Humor and Laughter, p.12.

10.  [179>] F.T. Vischer, Aesthetik, vol. I, p.422 (Leipzig & Stuttgart, 1846-57, 3 vols., in 4). Cited by Freud in Jokes, p.41.

11.  E. Kraepelin, Zur Psychologie des Komischen, Philosophische Studien (ed. W. Wundt), vol. II (Leipzig 1885), p.143; cited by Freud, Jokes, p.42.

12.  [180>] D.O. Hebb, “On the Nature of Fear,” Psychological Review 53 (1946), pp.259-76.

13.  D.E. Berlyne, Conflict, Arousal and Curiosity, New York, 1960.

14.  J. Mc. V. Hunt, “Motivation Inherent in Information Processing and Action,” in O.J. Harvey (ed.), Motivation and Social Interaction, New York 1963.

15.  M. K. Rothbart, article cited, Humor and Laughter, p.38.

16.  [186>] For our purposes, we may ignore here the typically Freudian terminology and the distinction he retains between jokes (wit) and the comic (for both, according to him, must be automatically processed, or otherwise they will not strike us as funny). Again in Jokes, p.204, he insists on calling this absence of attention “automatic” instead of “unconscious,” thereby admitting that the peculiar status of the comic process defies the conscious/unconscious dichotomy: “I deliberately say ‘automatically’ and not ‘unconsciously’, because the latter description would be misleading. It is only a question here of holding back an increased cathexis of attention from the psychical process when the joke is heard…” The “automatic,” in the Freudian analysis, seems to have a problematic and dubious existence somewhere between the conscious and the unconscious. We have preferred to define the mechanism responsible for the comic convulsion (O) as the object of subsidiary, instead of focal, awareness and, hence, tacit. In The Act of Creation, Koestler has also adopted Polanyi’s distinction of these two modes of awareness (p.159).

17.  [191>] T.R. Shultz, “Development of the Appreciation of Riddles,” Child Development, 45, 1974, pp.100-05.

18.  [196>] Shultz 1972 (see note 17 above); T.R. Shultz, “Order of Cognitive Processing in Humor Appreciation,” Canadian Journal of Psychology, 28, 1974, pp.409-20.

19.  T.R. Shultz and F. Horibe, “Development of the Appreciation of Verbal Jokes,” Developmental Psychology, 10, 1974, pp.13-20.

20.  [191>] Shultz, see note 17 above.


 [this concludes the Footnotes to chapter 6: “Laughter and Bisociation”]