30 June 2005 | Draft
Recognized Role of Humour
in politics, leadership, religion and creativity
- / -
Annex to: Humour
and Play-Fullness: Essential integrative processes in governance, religion
Varieties of humour
Research on humour
Marginalization of humour
Recognized role of humour in conventional political processes
Recognized need for humour in leadership and management
Recognized need for humour in religion and spiritual development
Recognized need for humour in religion and spiritual development
Recognized role of humour-playfulness in the media
Recognized role of humour-playfulness in creativity
Recognized role of humour in philosophy and cultural studies
Varieties of humour
There are many typologies of humour. Wikipedia has an extensive categorization
of styles or techniques of humour [text].
Ken Willis provides a critical discussion of the problems
of classification of humour (cf Ken Willis. Making
Sense of Humour: Some Pragmatic And Political Aspects, 2002 ) with
reference to the schema of Sigmund Freud (Jokes And Their Relation To
The Unconscious, 1905) regarding the techniques of joking:.
Condensation: (a) with formation of composite words (b)
Multiple use of the same material: (c) as a whole and in
part (d) in different order (e) with slight modification (f) of the same
words full or empty
Double meaning: (g) meaning as a name and as a thing (h)
metaphorical and literal meaning (i) double meaning proper (play upon words)
(j) double entendre (k) double meaning with an allusion (pp. 76-7)
Moniek Buijzen and Patti M. Valkenburg (Developing
a Typology of Humor in Audiovisual Media. Media Psychology
2004) identified 41 humour techniques. Their analysis gave rise to 7 categories
of humour: slapstick, clownish humor, surprise, misunderstanding, irony, satire,
and parody. However, according to Joel Goodman (The
Humor Project), there are (at least) 57 varieties of humour. 14 are distinguished
in another study by Roy Paul Nelson (Fourteen Varieties of Humor Comedy,
Five varieties of humour have been identified as valuable in stressful emergency
situations : (1) tension-relieving nonsense, (2) play on words, (3) sense
of the preposterous and incongruous, (4) gallows humor, and (5) foolish jest
(cf K van Wormer K and M Boes (Humor
in the emergency room: a social work perspective, Health Soc Work.
1997 May, 22(2):87-92). (see also Frank Henry Katz. Screaming Laughing:
the functions and varieties of humor in American Holocaust Literature.
Diss. Arizona State U, 2000).
Research on humour
As noted in the newsletter Humor,
there are a number of arenas through which the role of humour is studied:
International Society for Humor Studies (resources and bibliographies)
- International Conference on Humour and Laughter
- European Workshop on Humour Studies
- International Summer School and Symposium on Humour and Laughter
Australasian Humour Scholars Network which brings together
cartoonists, satirists and scholars to discuss the subversive nature of
humour and its role in reflecting public life [more]
- CORHUM (Association pour le développement des recherches sur le COmique,
le Rire et l'HUMour)
In addition, gatherings like the International Cognitive Linguistics Conference
(University of La Rioja, Spain, 2003) may devote special sections to cognitive
linguistic approaches to humor.
Marginalization of humour
As reviewed by Karl-Josef Kuschel (Laughter:
a theological reflection. SCM Press, 1994):
- For Plato, laughter is a mixture of anxiety and pleasure, a Schadenfreude.
Ethically, therefore, laughter is to be avoided and "persons of worth,
even if only mortal men, must not be represented as overcome by laughter,
and still less must such a representation of the gods be allowed"
For Aristotle, laughter cannot be condemned because it is
a natural characteristic of human beings; but, it should only be used to
refresh and relax, as well as to confound opponents .
However, Kuschel points out, in response to the argument of the novel of
Umberto Eco (The Name of the Rose, 1983) around the lost second half
of Aristotle's Poetics (which dealt with laughter), that,
...if the poetics of postmodernity is a poetics of play ...then
this poetics corresponds to an aesthetic of laughter: laughter at the fact
that one is free from all binding ties, values, and norms ... If nothing is
binding any more and everything is fluid, if the 'as if' reigns, then in fact
laughter can be a congenial expression of this poetics.
The modern marginalization of humour might be understood as a reaction against
views held in the medieval and renaissance periods. The persistence of carnivals
might be understood as an exception.
The nature of the marginalization of humour is well-made with respective
to cognitive linguistics:
In concentrating on conceptual and cross-cognitive aspects
of language use, cognitive linguists have given centre stage to phenomena
like metaphor, metonymy and conceptual integration, which more traditional
paradigms of linguistic inquiry have relegated to the periphery of cognitive
processing. It is the organizers' firm belief that another peripheralized
area of conceptual inquiry, humour, will return similar dividends as the study
of metaphor, inasmuch as it will shed light on crucial aspects of cognitive
processing that extend beyond the purely 'humorous'. Jokes, to take the prototype
of a humorous text, are extremely fragile linguistic and conceptual constructs,
the meaning of which depends vitally on a nexus of quantitative criteria (such
as the time of delivery, and the activation of key expectations) and qualitative
criteria (such as social context, cultural taboos, shared world models, etc.).
This fragility of humorous language makes it an ideal linguistic form in which
to theorize about the relationship between the quantitative and qualitative
aspects of language and cognition. [text]
Recognized role of humour in conventional political processes
Humour is a well-recognized part of the political process. It is exemplified
by the work of political cartoonists (cf New Zealand's House of Representatives,
in cartoons). In an article in the Australian Marxist Review
(No. 27, 1991. pp. 33-36) entitled Humour
is Serious Business, appears the statement: "It is a generally
admitted truth that humour is a serious business".
Both within parliament and in reporting on parliamentary activities, satire
is extensively used. Arguments may be won through humour -- or an opposing
case can be reframed so that it does not carry the weight its proponents would
wish. US President Jimmy Carter found that his encounter with an "attack
rabbit" on 20 April 1979 became, through humorous media presentation
of the story, a symbol of his floundering presidency -- photos of the incident
were "accidentally" released by Ronald Reagan to the press. Tony
Blair has subsequently been framed as America's "attack poodle"
More generally, in whatever form, humour is vital to the the process of political
campaigning and parliamentary debate -- and sustaining interest in debates
which are of marginal interest to an audience (cf C B Crawford and C S Strohkirch.
of humor frequency and types in the 1992 and 1996 presidential debates,
1999). For example:
In South Africa, the Government Communication and Information
System reports "No one should expect the media to take the 'bite' out
of their reporting. The satire, the humour and the sharp criticism are what
Parliament is all about". [more]
"To survive in the Parliament we need a sense of humour
otherwise we would be totally mad by now." [more].
- "With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh
I should die." (Abraham Lincoln)
Humour poses a notable challenge in multilingual parliaments, such as the European
Parliament. For example, Elsa-Maria Michael (Interpreting
Jokes, Swear Words and Brusque Remarks: Experience in the European Parliament,
2003), points out "To find oneself interpreting jokes, swear words or brusque
remarks in the European Parliament is by no means a rare occurrence. To the
contrary, it is the order of the day."
Parliamentary written records typically include parenthetical indications of
"[laughter]" -- or, on occasion, ["a titter ran through the crowd"].
This suggests an interesting piece of research to determine the criteria under
which this is inserted, and the parliaments where this is not used. It should
however be noted that in a multilingual context, what is recognized as humour
within one language group may not be so recognized by another
The widely cited commentary of Sheila Samples (Laughter
of the Gods, DemocraticUnderground.com, 5 March 2004) looks
at the "religions" of the Neocons in the USA, the "God People", and the "Chosen
One" and finds them to be following some God different than the rest of the
world. For them, in the words of Michael Ledeen: "Creative destruction is our
middle name. We do it automatically...It is time once again to export the democratic
revolution." Furthermore, "God understands that all men are evil, and the only
way to achieve peace is through total war." Consequently"the sparing of civilian
lives cannot be the total war's first priority... The purpose of total war is
to permanently force your will onto another people."
Given Samples title, this view would be consistent with Francis H Buckley (The
Morality of Laughter, 2003) for whom laughter "announces and enforces
a code of behavior through the jester's signal of superiority over a butt. There
is no laughter without a butt, and no butt without a message about a risible
inferiority." Laughter was used as a moral tool to justify intervention in Iraq
and to mock those (notably the French) unwilling to engage with the Coalition
of the Willing in that enterprise.
- Governance humour paper ***
Recognized need for humour in leadership and management
Humour is widely recognized as an important attribute of leadership. As noted
by President Dwight D. Eisenhower: "A sense of humor is part of the art
of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done."
For Carson Pue ("Fun"damentals
of leadership. ChristianWeek, April 2005):
Many leaders believe that to be successful, they should always be serious.
However, leadership is not simply about being serious. It's about motivating
and inspiring others, and it requires a variety of skills, including humour.
Corporate management: For Carolyn Barker (The
7 Heavenly Virtues of Leadership.
Australian Institute of Management's Management Today, 31 July 2003):
Humour as a leadership virtue is difficult to define. As E. B. White once
said, "analyzing humour is like dissecting a frog... few people are interested
and then the frog dies from it". It is, however, more than jokes, riddles,
gags, clowning and laughter. It is a virtue because it positively enhances
personal and organisational well-being.
Even under the most frustrating work conditions, it enables leaders to return
perspective to the situation, restore sanity and fraying tempers, and keep
people going when all they want to do is quit. In organisational terms humour
allows leaders to increase morale and productivity, drive corporate culture
and strengthen alignment.
Humour may be used as an educational device as with the the humorous, yet eminently
practical parables, based on real problems by real managers (cf Russell L. Ackoff,
Ackoff's Fables: Irreverent Reflections on Business and Bureaucracy,
Working environment: In addition to the management perspective on the
value of humour, its value in the working environment has also been recognized.
For example, Kathy Jourdain (Humour
at work Approaching Change, Volume 3, no. 7, March 2003)
Laughter is a powerful way to reduce tension and stress, create a sense of
well being, increase contentment and alertness, and help us to place the problems
and difficulties of life in context.... Humour is a means of communication
and to determine exactly what is being communicated you need to look underneath
Military leadership: The value of humour is clearly recognized by the
military. For example, Robert F. Priest and Jordan E. Swain (Humor
and its implications for leadership effectiveness. Humor, 15-2
(2002), 169-189) note:
Research on the relation between using humor and organizational leadership
is scarce.... The United States Army leadership manual describes, "Having
a good sense of humor" as a valuable character trait for leaders (Department
of Army, 1983).
International relations: Beyond commentary on political humour at the
national level, there appears to be relatively little study of the role of humour
in international relations. This was probably the reason for the creation of
APHIA -- the Association for the Promotion of Humour in International Affairs,
co-founded by John
Fobes, former Deputy Director General of UNESCO. An interesting pointer
to the possibility of such study is a little-known work by V S M De Guinzbourg
and Wisdom of the United Nations: Proverbs and Apothegms of Diplomacy.
United Nations, 1961).
Aneurin Hughes, Head of the European Commission delegation in Australia (The
Importance of Language Services in International Relations, 1997) recognizes
the value of humour as "the affectionate communication of insight which
makes the wheels turn round".
Jacob Bercovitch and Patrick M. Regan (Managing
Risks in International Relations: The Mediation of Enduring Rivalries)
Reflexive strategies involve behaviour that allow a mediator to establish
the groundwork upon which later activities will be built. These entail such
tactics as seeking to gain the trust and confidence of the parties, using
humour to diffuse tension, dealing with the constituency and representational
problems of the parties, and taking responsibility for concessions.
Local authorities: In this case the argument has been well made by
Joey Novick (Politics
unusual: the dollars and sense of humor in government. County News Online,
National Association of Counties, Vol. 37, No. 11, 6 June 2005):
A good sense of humor is an important management tool that
will carry you a long way in government and in political life. Good humor
skills enhance creativity and problem solving, relieve the stress of leadership,
provide good communication skills and enhance team building and cooperation.
Particularly interesting are the local communities that recognize a need
to challenge a level of boredom which may be held to be a characteristic of
their town. For example the new mayor of the city of Salisbury in the UK decided
to do something about the city's malaise in that respect. He brought back
a long-lost tradition -- that of the court jester [more].
Court jester: The role of the court
jester was well-recognized in the past in many cultures, as various historical
studies attest (cf Beatrice K. Otto. Fools
Are Everywhere: The Court Jester Around the World, 2001 [excerpt]).
The First Congress of the New Age (Florence, 1978) benefitted significantly
from such a role through Brother
Blue (see A
Congress that Dared the Unthinkable, 1978).
As noted above, the model continues to be seen as having relevance in the
present [more]. In the UK,
English Heritage has advertised in a national newspaper in 2005 for the
post, last held in the court of King Charles I in 1649 and abolished by
Oliver Cromwell as part of the purges that followed the Civil War and was
not reinstated after the Restoration. [more]
Wim Bos, responsible in the Netherlands for artistic support at the Stichting
Milieubewustzijn (1996-2000), had the idea to revitalize the role of the
court jester in society. His innovation was that the court jester would
not be employed by the Court of the King, but within organizations. He argues:
The Court Jester offers new perspectives and helps people
to look at their daily work and every day reality in new ways. Here the
court jester is concerned with the quality of the organizations and the
well-being of all employees, independent of their positions. [text]
Although the role of an officially appointed "national poet"
is recognized in a number of countries, the value of a court jester is seen
to be more relevant by Gilbert K. Chesterton (Revive
the Court Jester: Utopia of Userers, et al)
Instead of reviving the Court Poet, why not revive the Court
Fool? He is the only person who could do any good at this moment either
to the Royal or the judicial Courts. The present political situation is
utterly unsuitable for the purposes of a great poet. But it is particularly
suitable for the purposes of a great buffoon. The old jester was under certain
privileges: you could not resent the jokes of a fool, just as you cannot
resent the sermons of a curate. Now, what the present Government of England
wants is neither serious praise nor serious denunciation; what it wants
Recognized need for humour in religion and spiritual
There is widespread recognition of the value of laughter and humour to
physical health and psychological well-being -- valuable preconditions
for spiritual development (cf George S. Riggins III, The
Worth of Mirth, 2001). Humour, through laughter, is recognized
as valuable for: increasing muscular and respiratory activity; stimulating
the cardiovascular system, and the muscular and skeletal systems; increasing
antibodies; increasing pain tolerance; decreasing levels of stress hormones;
and decreasing heart rate
It is curious that sacred literature in general tends to be totally lacking
in humour. There is little reference to the founders of spiritual movements
laughing or telling jokes (cf Todd Leopold. Is
'religious humor' an oxymoron? CNN, 19 November 2002). The tendency
is for humour to be considered incompatible with the serious business
of religion and salvation, as explored by Vassilis Saroglou (Religion
and sense of humor: an a priori incompatibility? Theoretical considerations
from a psychological perspective, 2002):
Although humor is not absent from religion, one may wonder whether
religion's historical mistrust of the comic is not accidental, but reflects
a deeper reality. Based on theory and research on both psychology of
humor and psychology of religion, as well as on the psychological anthropology
of early Christianity....
It appears that, from a psychological, and especially from a personality
psychology perspective, religion associates negatively with personality
traits, cognitive structures and social consequences typical to humor:
incongruity, ambiguity, possibility of nonsense, low dogmatism and low
authoritarianism, playfulness, spontaneity, attraction to novelty and
risk, lack of truthfulness and finality, affective and moral disengagement,
loss of control and order as implied by emotionality, and finally transgression,
especially transgression of prohibitions related to aggression/dominance
M. Conrad Hyers (The
Ancient Zen Master as Clown-Figure and Comic Midwife. Philosophy
East and West, 1970, 10, pp. 3-18) generalizes this marginalization
beyond her focus on Zen:
In the dimension of humor visible in such enigmatic koans and commentaries...
is to be found a much-neglected side of Zen, as well as of the entire
Buddhist tradition -- indeed, ultimately, of religion as such. Because
of a long-standing prejudice against associating the comic too closely
with the sacred, a prejudice which has been supported by both religious
and academic taboos, the function and place of humor in religion has
been almost completely ignored by phenomenologists and historians of
religion. This "conspiracy of silence" is as much in evidence with respect
to Buddhism as to every other tradition.
It is apparent upon closer examination, nonetheless,
that in Buddhism, and in Zen Buddhism in particular, as in any religious
tradition, a place has been granted to the comic spirit and perspective
-- a time to laugh and to dance, as well as a time to weep and to
mourn (Ecclesiastes. 3:4). One very illuminating and seldom
explored method, therefore, of approaching a religious tradition,
and of disclosing even its innermost features, is to examine what
the comic means, and in what ways it has been employed, or at least
permitted, in that particular context. The experiences and expressions
which we associate with the terms laughter, humor, and comedy often
play a far greater and more significant role in relation to religious
experience and expression than scholarly inquiry has been ready to
admit or careful to recognize. Human existence, in fact, as it is
religiously lived and understood, is only given adequate definition
in terms of a dialectical interplay between seriousness and laughter,
between "holiness" and humor; and apart from an appreciation for both
sides of this dialectic, the sacred and the comic, no religion is
fully comprehended or interpreted. It must be acknowledged at the
outset that the inclination of a religious tradition, especially insofar
as it moves toward an orthodoxy, is often to squelch the comic spirit
and perspective, or at least to keep it at a relatively safe and innocuous
Islam: Concern at the role of humour has been expressed within
Islam Go against Laughter? 2004), to which a prominent Muslim
scholar Yusuf 'Abdullah Al-Qaradawi has responded:
Laughter or joy is part of the instinctive feelings created in humans,
and Islam, being a religion that calls man to the natural phenomenon
of monotheism, is not expected to forbid humanity from expressing such
natural feelings. On the contrary, it welcomes pleasure. A Muslim should
develop a positive and optimistic personality, and not a gloomy and
pessimistic one that is negative towards life. One must try to follow
the good example set by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)
on this aspect. Despite his enormous responsibilities, he always had
time for jokes; however, he never lied when joking. On many occasions
the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) shared in the good cheer
of his Companions; he'd joke with them and have fun. But as he shared
in their joy, he shared in their sorrow.
The Al-Islam.org through its Ahlul
Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project (Allah:
The Concept of God In Islam) points to issues relating to laughter:
Laughter is not at all dignifying. Whenever a Muslim
laughs, he/she is supposed to seek Allah's forgiveness and say, "Allahomma
la tamqutni" (O Allah! Do not despise me!"). Such is the Islamic
code of conduct. Yet there are numerous references to the Prophet laughing
in hadith the authenticity of which leaves much to be desired.
Whenever you laugh, you ought to remember verse 82 of
Surat Bar'a: "So they shall laugh a little and weep much as a
recompense for what they earned" (Qura'n, 9:82).
Imam Ja'fer al-Sadiq quotes his fathers citing the Messenger
of Allah saying, "A good deal of jesting is not at all dignifying, while
a good deal of laughter wipes out iman (conviction)."
One of the pieces of advice given by the Messenger of
Allah to Abu Tharr al-Ghifari was this one which is recorded in 'Uyoon
Akhbar al-Rida: "Strange how one who knows that there is the fire (of
hell) and who still laughs." He has also said, "Beware of much laughter,
for it causes the death of the heart." The Messenger of Allah always
smiled but never laughed.
The extent to which the founder of Islam laughed is a concern in Islam
-- as with founders of other religions. is said to have smiled rather
than laughed. In a Hadith, The Prophet Muhammad (p) is quoted as saying:
"O followers of Muhammad! By Allah, if you knew what I know, you would
weep much and laugh little." [Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 8, #627]
Amir Taheri (Spirit of Allah, 1985) cites Ayatollah Khomeini's
comment on the matter when endeavouring to combat the presence of music
The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test
through hardship and prayer. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no
humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy
in whatever is serious. (page 259)
A related concern has been explored by Khaled Nusseibeh (Is
Laughter Banned in the Holy City? 2000) arguing that: "The
Muslim faith encourages laughter to the extent that it is a religion that
seeks to achieve human well being". There is however a specific concern
with "excessive laughter" since it "deadens the heart"
There is a marked intolerance of satire which may be considered and treated
Laughter is considered a characteristic of corporeal entities. The Al-Islam.org
text (Allah: The Concept
of God In Islam) clarifies the question of the "laughter
References to Allah laughing exist in lengthy "traditions"
narrated by Ma'ath ibn Fulah who quotes Hisham quoting Qatadah quoting
Anas ibn Malik and is recorded on pp. 119-120 of The Divine Traditions.
It depicts one of the scenes on the Day of Judgment. A variation of it
is narrated by Abd al-'Aziz ibn Abdullah who quotes Ibrahim ibn Sa'd quoting
Ibn Shihab quoting 'Ata ibn Yazid al-Laythi quoting Abu Hurayra, and it
is recorded by al-Bukhari and cited on pp. 121-122 of The Divine Traditions.
We do not think it is worth quoting here.
With regard to humour, the renowned exception within Islam is its use
by Sufis (the mystical branch of Islam) against foolish rigidity and willful
ignorance -- notably through the numerous teaching tales of Mullah
Nasruddin (cf Idries
Shah, Special Illumination:
the Sufi use of humor, 1977).
Buddhism: In the case of Buddhism according to Conrad Hyers (Humer
in Zen: Comic midwifery, 1989):
One of the early Buddhological debates was over the question of whether
the Buddha ever laughed, and if so in what manner and with what meaning...
There were those among the Buddhist scholastics who clearly would have
preferred to believe that the Buddha never laughed at all, especially
after his enlightenment experience at Bodhgaya. The Buddha's wisdom
and the Buddha's mission seemed to require the ultimate in seriousness,
gravity, and solemnity....The difficulty is that some sutras seem to
suggest, if not state outright, that on such and such an occasion the
On this topic see Michel Clasquin (Real Buddhas Don't Laugh, 2001).
To resolve the contradiction, this "laughter" of Buddha was
considered to have been limited to the first of six types of laughter,
using a classical scale derived from drama by Bharata:
sita, a faint smile -- serene, subtle, and refined.
hasita, a smile which slightly reveals the tips
of the teeth.
vihasita, a broader smile accompanied by modest
upahasita, a more pronounced laughter associated
with a movement of the head, shoulders, and arms.
apahasita, loud laughter that brings tears to
atihasita, uproarious laughter accompanied by
doubling over, slapping the thights, "rolling in the aisles" and the
However this reservation did not apply in the case of Zen Buddhism according
... what is especially striking about the Zen Buddhist
tradition, in both its Chinese and Japanese forms, is that in its literature,
art, and religious practice, what one often encounters is the opposite
of sita, namely, the fifth and sixth and supposedly lowest levels
of laughter, offered both as authentic expressions of Buddhist enlightenment
and evidence of the authenticity of the enlightenment. In Zen, Bharata's
aristocratic and spiritualistic schema seems abruptly to have been stood
on its head. Zen anecdotal records contain frequent reference to "loud
roaring laughter": of the master in response to a foolish statement by
a monk, or of a monk in experiencing a breakthrough to enlightenment,
or of the master in attempting to precipitate such an experience. [more]
In his account of a Zen master, Ishwar C. Harris (The
Laughing Buddha of Tofukuji: The Life of Zen Master Keido Fukushima,
Roshi Keido Fukushima is not against people seeing humor
in Zen. However, they should understand it for what it is. He reiterates:
'A Zen person laughs when he laughs and weeps when he weeps. That's
all!' During our discussion on humor I asked the Roshi about those Zen
masters in China and Japan who told funny stories to their disciples
or behaved like the legendary Sufi, the incomparable Mulla Nasrudin.
The Roshi agreed and pointed out that such stories or acts can be used
as an upaya (means) to illustrate a point. However, he pointed
out that the purpose behind such activities is to engender Zen experience,
not to teach about humor. Furthermore, within the narratives, the Zen
person who is the object of the humor, does not think of himself as
funny. Only the others do....On this issue I find a remarkable similarity
between Sufi tradition and Zen.
In China, Bodhisattva Maitreya (Chinese: Pu-tai, Ho-shang, Japanese:
Hotei), known also as the" laughing Buddha", is usually
represented as a rotund figure of happy disposition. The tradition of
the Laughing Buddha derived its beginnings from a mix in Buddhist, Taoist,
and Shinto religions and can be traced back to the time of the Liang
Dynasty in China. Chinese Buddhists have integrated the Laughing Buddha
into the Mahayana Buddhist pantheon. He is not to be confused with the
historical Buddha Shakyamuni. Buddha Maitreya is the Buddha of the future,
the one to follow the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. [more
With regard to the spiritual significance of humour, A
Zen Study of Humour notes:
Reality, Truth, Wisdom may not be imprisoned in the pigeonholes of ordinary
consciousness, and one may be hindered in experiencing them by too rigid and
narrow categories. In Zen and Taoism many categories of the common man and
woman are turned upside down or reversed. Effects of that may well challenge
the ranking business of the discriminating mind. In a similar vein Santayana
argues that at the heart of the comic lies a confusion of categories. And
in the Zen anecdotal records, there are many tales in which the master is
depicted behaving in ways we might associate with clowns or fools.
It further notes:
There are some known, related functions of humour in Zen, as examples of
ways in which the Zen tradition self-consciously employ humour:
As a technique for reversing and collapsing categories,
As a technique for embracing opposites....
As an expression of enlightenment, liberation,
and inner harmony....
The study recognizes the role of humour in enlightenment and liberation:
Anagarika Govinda once wrote "The Buddha's sense of humour—which
is so evident in many of his discourses—is closely bound up
with his sense of compassion [...] His smile is the expression of
one who can see the "wondrous play of ignorance and knowledge"
against its universal background."
Such humour goes beyond Buddhadatta's laughter over the degraded or
even the joyful laughter of one who has found wisdom; it is the laughter
of compassion, which seeks the enlightenment of others and their liberation.
Humour in this context can give vent to a higher knowledge which sees
through much worldly foolishness; and it may help in preserving higher
knowledge too. This type of humour is of enlightenment and liberation.
Judaism: Lionel Blue (To Heaven With Scribes and Pharisees,
1976) argues that "the most typical weapon of Jewish spirituality is
humor." In commenting on this, A. Roy Eckardt (Divine
Incongruity: comedy and tragedy in a post-Holocaust world, 1992)
Insofar as Blue is on to something, I submit that he is
pointing up one of the major dissonances, if not the major dissonance,
between Jewishness and Christianity -- a conflict of telling sociological,
psychological, and moral import. How can it be, for example (speaking
of mysteries), that in the United States today (an unofficially Christian
land) Jews, constituting 2.7 percent of the population, should comprise
some eighty percent of the humorists?
The extensive article in Wikipedia on Jewish
Jewish humor is rooted in at least two traditions. The
first is the intellectual and legal methods of the Talmud, which uses
elaborate legal arguments and situations so absurd as to be humorous in
order to tease out the meaning of religious law. The second is an egalitarian
tradition among the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe in which the
powerful were often mocked subtly, rather than attacked overtly... Jesters
known as badchens used to poke fun at prominent members of the
community during weddings, creating a good-natured tradition of humor
as a levelling device... Jewish humor was also a device for self-criticism
within the community.... The humorist, like the prophet, would basically
take people to task for their failings. The humor of Eastern Europe especially
was centered around defending the poor against the exploitation of the
upper classes or other authority figures, so rabbis were made fun of,
authority figures were made fun of and rich people were made fun of. It
really served as a social catharsis
Other sources include:
Yehuda Radday and Athalya Brenner (Eds.) On Humour
and the Comic in the Hebrew Bible. Sheffield, Almond Press, 1990
- Hershey H Friedman. He Who Sits in Heaven Shall Laugh: divine humor in
Talmudic Literature. Thalia: Studies in Literary Humor 17.1-2 (1998):
- Hershey H Friedman. Is There Humor in the Hebrew Bible? A Rejoinder. Humor:
International Journal of Humor Research 15.2 (2002): 215-222.
- John Morreal. Sarcasm, Irony, Wordplay, and Humor in the Hebrew Bible: a
response to Hershey Friedman. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research.
14.3 (2001): 293-302.
- Jakob Jónson. Humour and Irony in the New Testament: illuminated
by parallels in Talmud and Midrash. Reykjavík, Islande: Bókaútgafa
- Henry Daniel Spalding. Encyclopedia of Jewish Humor: from Biblical Times
to the Modern Age. Jonathan David, 1987.
- Avshalom C. Elizur. Psychodynamic and Cognitive Aspects of HumorSihot/Dialogue:
Israel Journal of Psychotherapy 6.1 (1991): 5-18. (In Hebrew).
Hinduism: Humour is considered to be rampant in Hindu literature,
both sacred and secular. The rishis of the Rig-Veda jested about
the ordinary human state of mind. The point is made that:
Where else is there laughter in Heaven, bantering among
the Gods? In most faiths, there's rarely a smile in the sacred texts,
and heaven and its denizens are seldom viewed as having a lighthearted
side... The Mahabharata excels in its mastery of trickery and satire....Both
Krishna and Siva sanctify humor, but in different ways.... Either way,
their laughter links Heaven and Earth. This not-so-serious side of Hinduism
is evident in saints and sages. Some consider wittiness a warrant of egolessness
and spiritual attainment, for the greatest souls are often jovial, and
many go for the jocular vein." (Hinduism Today, May 1997)
As studied by Lee Siegel (Net of Magic Wonders and Deceptions in India,
At the core of Indian comedy there is an irony, a revelation
of the humanness of the Gods and the divinity of human beings. The human
comedy has two heroes -- the fool and the trickster. The divine comedy
recapitulates the human. The trickster and fool find their wholeness embedded
in consciousness as the laughing child, and that child is deified as Krishna.
As that God has been examined for the ways in which He reveals the seriousness
of humor and its capacity to affirm life, so Siva has been invoked to
indicate the humor of seriousness -- the ludicrousness of all human endeavors
in the face of death.
Taoism (Daoism): As with Zen, Taoism has traditionally made extensive
use of various forms of humour to give expression to paradox and to allude
to ways of comprehending it. Perhaps more than any other religion or philosophy
(even including Zen), Taoism has integrated humour into spiritual discourse
and relevant texts. However, consistent with the elusive nature of the
way with which Taoism is associated, there are surprisingly few "studies"
of the role humour actually plays.
Neopagan: In an excerpt from his work on Rites
of Worship: a neopagan approach (1994), as a liturgist Isaac Bonewits
Tension, Humor, Play and Pacing in Liturgy, 2001) considers the
role of humour in the designed drama of druidical ceremonies. He notes:
How does humor fit into all this? Very carefully. I have seen humor used
in ceremonies with positive results on several occasions, both as theatrical
inserts in large-scale liturgies, and as quiet quips to bring back a congregation's
focus after a minor disruption of the mana flow. I've also seen it used,
often deliberately, to drain the power from rituals that are getting "too
heavy" for the jesters (sometimes the clergy themselves!) to handle. Humor
is a two-edged blade that should be handled with the greatest of care, or
left out entirely.
Within the framework of the neopagan culture, he offers valuable cautions with
respect to Trickster deities discussed earlier and to the role of play in liturgy,
notably citing Johan Huizinga (Homo Ludens: a study of the play-element in
culture, 1938). He also notes: "Healing deities, on the other paw,
are sometimes serious, sometimes playful, and a small bit of humor and play
is often helpful when doing a healing spell, especially if the sick person is
Other: Different cultures express the sense that laughing
brings one closer to heaven:
- "He deserves Paradise who makes his companions laugh" (Koran).
- "Time spent laughing is time spent with the Gods." (Japanese
- "What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul." (Jewish proverb)
From the perspective of atheist David Nicholls (Made
in the Image of a Humourless God, 2004):
Of all the traits of this alleged god and the godly proclamations
of its followers, the most important one is completely missing.
I refer to humour. Without humour, people would exist in a conscious
state of total despair. Humour is the safety valve allowing both
recognition of the pain, suffering and ridiculous components of
life and a method of being able to deal effectively with them....
The Bibles and its theologians give scant regard to the importance
of humour as a necessity for our survival in this life. Not only
that, but rules, mores and laws have been instituted to prevent
religious jocularity. They come under the heading of blasphemy.
Religions are oh such serious affairs, so much so, that the 'faithful'
find it extremely difficult to even laugh at themselves.
None of the above is to suggest that there is no humour associated
with religion. Religious humour is a significant branch of humour
however it is not an activity inherent in religious practice. There
are however some exceptions.
As recognized in the case of leadership (above), humour may be
considered an important attribute of the rapport between religious
leader and congregation. For example, Tim Bulkeley (Study
Notes on Jonah, including Hebrew narrative) quotes:
"Warning: if a congregation has no conception of spiritual
humour, if it has no sense of irony and has quite failed to discover
the secret of laughter, it is perhaps better to let [Jonah] lie;
for here the laughter never lets up." (K H Miskotte. When
the Gods are Silent. Collins, 1967)
Humour may be understood as a guarantee of appropriate humility on
the part of religious leaders, as noted by Ittoop Panikulam (A
Portrait of a Religious Leader (Conference given to the General
Chapter of his Congregation, June 2000) in quoting Gerald A. Arbuckle
(Provincials as "Cultural Revolutionaries": The Role
of Provincial Superiors):
"Together (all the virtues of Superiors) they could be united
under one virtue -- the gift of humour. He who has a sense
of spiritual humour recognizes deep in his heart that ultimately
he can do nothing by himself. He needs God, he needs other people.
When he tries to do everything himself, he plays God." And
he asks: "And what would be funnier!"
Jokes are successful because they play with the rules of language,
often in ways that suggest new relationships. In some spiritual traditions,
as noted above, humour is used precisely for this reason to elicit new
levels of insight -- -- as with the tragi-comic Sufi tales of the Mullah
the "crazy wisdom" and "spiritual foolishness" promoted by
Taoists such as Chuang
Tzu as paradoxical "ways of knowing", or the deadly paradoxes and
savage black humour of Tukaram.
Recognized need for humour in religion and spiritual
The response of some concerned Christian commentators to the challenge
of humour is a slightly defensive struggle to prove that humour is acceptable,
despite Biblical quotes such as: "Woe unto you that laugh now! for
ye shall mourn and weep" (Luke 6:25). Piety has been understood
to be necessarily associated with "gravity". Humour and laughter
have been considered unseemly because of the association of laughter with
triteness, superficiality, debauchery and carousing. Most telling is because
there is little about laughter in the Bible and in particular Jesus never
seemed to use humour or commend laughter (cf Stuart D. Robertson, What
Did Jesus Have Against Laughter? 2003). A very old tradition relates
that he never laughed. Whether he laughed is therefore considered by some
to have major Christological implications. The God of the Bible is not
a laughing God. In fact, there is only one reference in the Scriptures
where Jesus actually rejoiced (Luke
10:21). He was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah
As a Chrsitian theologian, Paul
Tillich (The New Being, 1955) makes the point:
But let us be honest. Is there not enough foundation for
criticism? Are not many Christians--ministers, students of theology, evangelists,
missionaries, Christian educators and social workers, pious laymen and
laywomen, even the children of such parents--surrounded by an air of heaviness,
of oppressive sternness, of lack of humor and irony about themselves?
We cannot deny this. Our critics outside the Church are right. And we
ourselves should be even more critical than they, but critical on a deeper
One early argument to the contrary was presented by Leslie B Flynn (Serve
Him With Mirth: the place of humor in the Christian life, 1960).
Schutz, creator of the cartoon Charlie Brown and Peanuts, set
his entire life's work within the context of humor, stating:
Humor is a proof of faith, proof that everything is going
to be all right with God, nevertheless those who find no humor in faith
are probably those who find the church a refuge for their own black way
of looking at life.
In the case of Alan Morrison (A
Laugh a Day keeps the Pharisees away: a Biblical analysis of humour,
2001), he however asks:
Is there humour in the Bible? Are Christians supposed to enjoy "a
good laugh"? Is comedy permitted for Christians? These are serious
questions. For there are some believers who would answer soundly in
the negative to all three. Or, even if they would not openly say "No",
they appear to do so with their lives and by the sombre expression on
their faces whenever something humorous occurs or is uttered.
Morrison sees laughter as inappropriate: in the context of corporate divine
worship; when it stands in the way of sorrow; when it is used merely as an addictive
diversion from a grim reality; when it is crude and coarse; when it is unduly
at the expense of others. However Morrison sees it as justified at the expense
- when it glorifies God and ridicules rebellion against Him
- when it is carried out by God Himself
In a sermon on Psalm 2, Steven R. Key (Christ
Our Etenral King, 1996) states:
But let us stand reminded, there awaits another great day of the Lord, a
day of final judgment. And that laughter of God will again be heard, a terrible
laughter to all who stand outside of Christ the Savior. For that laughter
of God is not a laughter that expresses joy, nor an unholy delight in the
torment or pain of another. But that laughter of Jehovah is a laughter of
mockery, of derision, and hence of fierce anger and hot displeasure. And it
is a laughter of mockery because those ungodly, in all their raging and proud
boasting, simply serve Christ's purpose and do His will.
Four kinds of laughter have been usefully distinguished in the Bible. These
appear to have been first identified by W. Herschel Ford (Simple Sermons
for a Sinful Age, 1972) and developed by R. L. Hymers, Jr. (Four
Kinds of Laughter, 2002) and Don Robinson (Laughter:
Ecclesiastes 3:4) with Biblical references:
For Morrison, "laughter is inextricably linked with the end of the age
for the believer (Luke 6:25). And without a doubt, the experience of heaven will be one huge eternal
smile!" He also notes: "However, the Lord Himself can be said to have
the last laugh". There is however the curious ambiguity of: "He that
sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision"
For Francis H Buckley (The
Morality of Laughter, 2003) there is an element of malice in humour,
making it one of the earthly rather than one of the divine pleasures. He agrees
with Baudelaire that, though there will be joy in Heaven, there will not be
laughter, as the latter reflects human impurity. For some Christian commentators,
such as Tim Spiess (Joy
Laughter is not joy, and humor is not of the Lord. The confusion on this
important distinction is both enormous and extremely misleading and damaging,
for it portrays God as something He is not.
The emphasis on "joy" (which occurs 250 times in the Bible) is notably
stressed by the "Fun Nun" Sister Mary Christelle Macaluso (Discovering
Joy in Spirituality). The word "laughter" (occurs 40 times
in the Bible, of which 22 refer to scornful laughter) has a distinct root from
"joy" in both Hebrew and Greek (Is
the Laughter Phenomenon Scriptural?). Concerns have however been expressed
at the phenomenon of "holy laughter", "laughter revival"
otherwise known as the Toronto Blessing" [more
| more], as well as that of "Holy
Ghost laughter" [more]
and "laughing in the spirit" [more].
Less ambiguous points are made by Martin Luther ("If they don't allow
laughter in heaven, then I don't want to go there.") or by Walter C. Lanyan
(Laughter of God):
"Under the aegis of Jesus Christ you can 'go' with the Laughter of God
in your heart".
Curiously old Christian religious
practices of various denominations are now being resuscitated to celebrate
-- notably through practical jokes -- the joke that God played on Satan at Easter.
An active role in this process is played by the Fellowship
of Merry Christians. Easter was understood as an appointed "time to
laugh" (Ecclesiastes 3:4). The perceived abuses arising from the
earlier practices had previously resulted in their prohibition (cf Risus
Paschalis; John M. McCoy, Risus
Paschalis, 2000). For theologian Jürgen Moltmann: "The laughter of
the universe is God's delight. It is the universal Easter laughter in heaven
and earth" (A Passion for God: The Mystical-Political Dimension of Christianity,
The traditional practices of Easter laughter had been associated with the
role of humour in the Middle Ages and Renaissance as noted by Mikhail
Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, 1981):
The laughing, parodic-travestying literature of the Middle Ages was extremely
rich. In the wealth and variety of its parodic forms, the Middle Ages was
akin to Rome. It must in fact be said that in a whole series of ways the
medieval literature of laughter appears to be the direct heir of Rome, and
the Saturnalia tradition in particular to live in altered form throughout
the Middle Ages
Medieval laughter is holiday laughter. The parodic-travestying 'Holiday
of Fools' and 'Holiday of the Ass' are well known, and were even celebrated
in the churches themselves by the lower clergy. Highly characteristic of
this tendency is Risus Paschalis, or paschal laughter. During the
paschal days laughter was traditionally permitted in church. The preacher
permitted himself risque jokes and gay-hearted anecdotes from the church
pulpit in order to encourage laughter in the congregation — this was
conceived as a cheerful rebirth after days of melancholy and fasting. No
less productive was 'Christmas laughter' (Risus Natalis); as distinct
from the Risus Paschalis, it expressed itself not in stories but
in songs. Serious church hymns were sung to the tunes of street ditties
and were thus given a new twist
The most helpful study of the theology of laughter from a Christian perspective
is perhaps that of Karl-Josef Kuschel (Laughter:
A Theological Reflection, 1994) who notes the following:
Christian condemnation of laughter and the praising of
weeping in Augustine,
Chrysostom ("Christ never laughed"), and other church
fathers as well as in the monastic tradition: "weeping alone unites with
God, while laughter leads a person away from God"
whereas humans laugh, in the Bible Sarah and Abraham see
the discrepancy between their bodily capacities and God's promise of seed
and laugh "the laughing doubt of God." They are not punished; rather,
God proceeds with his plan and laughs with the doubters
God also laughs a "laugh of partisanship and superiority"
at the wicked, as in Psalms.
God laughs an "enigmatic, arbitrarily uncanny" laugh at
the suffering of Job
- apocryphal and gnostic gospels depict Mary laughing, and Jesus, and others
In a lecture to the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Paul Thigpen (God
has Given Me Cause to Laugh: Toward a Theology of Humor, 2001) presents
a complementary view, citing American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: "Laughter
is the beginning of prayer". Thigpen then considers the way in which humour
"can become a prelude to wisdom and to worship, as a spiritual discipline
of the virtue of hope". He provides a series of examples of humour in the
Bible. He quotes G K Chesterton (Orthodoxy,
1908): "the laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear," and
that "joy, which was the small publicity of the pagans, is the gigantic
secret of the Christians."
Thigpen disagrees with Chesteron's subsequent speculation about why the Gospel
writers never speak of Jesus smiling or laughing, and his conclusion that perhaps
"the one thing that was too great for God to show us while He walked upon
our earth -- was His mirth." He queries Chesterton's view that Jesus hid
his sense of humour. Indeed Thigpen then explores the Gospel as humour, in the
light of the degree of paradox that it embodies:
Now these comical remarks of our Lord, though certainly significant in themselves,
point beyond themselves, I think, to a more profound reality. In a sense,
the entire Gospel is permeated with the liberating vision of humor.
Thigpen then explores the evidence for humour amongst Christian saints (cf Jyles
Jacques et al. L'humour chez les saints
, 1938) before exploring the probability
of humour characterizing the afterlife, whether heaven or hell. He concludes with
a reference to Sarah, wife of Abraham, who called her son Isaac (meaning "laughter")
who had declared: "God has given me cause to laugh, and all who hear of it
will laugh with me" (Genesis
Kuschel puts forward three arguments:
- with respect to "messianic jubilation, namely the joy and healing of the
Christian message .... the foundation of Christian existence is the new joy
made possible in the 'event of Jesus Christ' in and to God and the world,
a joy which need not always express itself in laughter, but which becomes
concrete in laughter.... has the character of liberated and redeemed joy which
breaks down barriers and brings integration.... especially in the interests
of those who are marginalized and excluded ... It is laughter in trust that
God's laughter is ... a laughter of boundless goodness and joy in his creation
- "A Christian theology of laughter protests above all against a laughter
from above; at the cost of those who in any case are weak, exploited and socially
despised; laughter at the expense of human dignity; laughter as a kind of
further delimitation and declassification"
- "... a Christian theology of laughter ... will also speak out against the
absolutizing of laughter'... For "it is impossible for the believer, the Christian,
to remain permanently in the aesthetic sphere ... to leave decisions open,
to replay the game ad infinitum, to keep exchanging the masks and
roles for new ones and continually enjoying ... Rather, believers feel challenged
to a basic decision about their life and death, an ultimate seriousness and
an infinite wager: discipleship of Christ, and thus trust in the God who has
shown himself in Jesus Christ". [more]
Daniel L. Migliore (Reappraising
Barth's Theology, Theology Today, Vol 43, No 3, October 1986)
draws attention to Karl Barth's
theology of humour, arguing that as theologians go, Barth was uncommonly appreciative
of the rightful place of humor in human life in general and in Christian life
- First, humor for Barth is often and perhaps primarily self-directed. "Humor
is the opposite of all self-admiration and self-praise" .
- Second, for Barth true humor, far from being an escape from the realities
of suffering and evil in the world, is "laughter amid tears." True
humor "presupposes rather than excludes the knowledge of suffering".
- Third, and most decisively for Barth, humor is grounded in the grace, faithfulness,
and promise of God. Humor is part of the freedom which is ours to exercise,
thanks to the grace of God in Jesus Christ. It is a sign of liberation and
release rather than bondage and resignation. Grace creates "liberated
laughter," laughter made possible by the memory of God's faithfulness,
the present foretaste of God's new creation, and the hope in the fulfillment
of God's promises. While it is certainly correct to speak of his theology
as Christ-centered, to say that it was rooted in a life-long, uninterrupted
conversation with the Bible, and to note how important prayer was in his life
and theology, all such characterizations of Barth's work would still miss
something essential if they overlooked his remarkable freedom and playfulness.
Laughter was deeply etched in Barth's theology and spirituality. He was a
theologian with a rare sense of humor. He is quoted as saying "Laughter
is the closest thing to the grace of God".
Humor often arises from the experienced discrepancy between reality and appearance,
from the distance between what we pretend we are and what others know us to
be, or between what others imagine us to be and what we know of ourselves.
Humor thrives on incongruity, disproportion, the sometimes bizarre disparity
between assumptions and facts, protocol and performance, the imagined past
and the real past, the awaited future and the experienced present. The quality
of humor -- whether it is harsh or gentle, destructive or humanizing --depends
on whether these contradictions and incongruities are held to be eternal and
inescapable or provisional and redeemable.
In reviewing the work of Mikhail
Bakhtin on humour in the medieval and renaissance periods, Peter J. Leithart
notes that the role of laughter and the comic that arose during the Renaissance
was quickly suppressed. "Modernity, beginning philosophically with Descartes,
is an effort to harness and control the vitality of the Renaissance. Bakhtin
sees something similar with the comic... Something drastic happened to the comedy
of theology after the Reformation, something that needs to be discovered and
Recognized role of humour-playfulness in the media
Adrian Strong. Why
Every Newsroom Needs a Cultural Mythologist: How Hard Are Hard Facts?
The news of the day is often used or abused to create polarities
and stress a particular morality, so that one sides with the good and scorns
the evil. Myth, however, like Nature and Life stresses neither good nor
bad. An identification with the process of Life through the larger window
of myth leads not to judgement but to compassion. If George Bush behaves
like an arrogant thunderbolt-wielding Indra, we may well decide to take
action and protest, but we can also smile in the mythic knowledge that Indra's
arrogance reduced his form in many incarnations to the status of an ant.
Thus through a mythic reading of news we may, simply through a shift in
our own focus, proceed from the tragedy of events in this particular time
and space to the endless divine comedy -- the laughter of the gods who participate
eternally in the processes of life and death. In dark and tragic times,
how much more do we need this laughter and the deeper wisdom which accompanies
it? And when we act out of mythic wisdom and compassion our play may bring
warm smiles, not only to the gods but even perhaps to those mortals whose
temporary snow-blindness limits them to cold and lonely dwellings in neon
forests of fact, devoid of meaning. [comments]
Marianne Cianciolo, in a 1998 doctoral thesis for the College of Business
Administration of the University of Cincinnati, noted that each year over
$150 billion was spent on advertising in US national media -- with as much
as 30 percent of it used to place humorous ads. However, despite this widespread
use, there was little understanding of the dynamics of humor, let alone how
effective it can be in advertising. [more]
Recognized role of humour-playfulness in creativity
Practitioners of research disciplines naturally perceive themselves
as creative in the advancement of knowledge. It is therefore worth
noting their enthusiasm for humorous initiatives such as the
Journal of Irreproducible Results, founded in 1955 by virologist
Alexander Kohn and physicist Harry J. Lipkin.
Arthur Koestler (The Act of Creation, 1963) considered "bisociative
thinking" -- recognizing, linking or combining ideas -- as all
important to creative thinking. Creativity -- in response to dilemmas,
paradoxes and complexity -- has since been studied in the light of
bisociative and divergent thinking (cf René Victor Valqui Vidal.
and Problem Solving, 2004). But although a considerable range
of skills has been devoted to creativity, the experiential nature
of humour in providing a bridging dynamic between the dissociated
elements of a dilemma seems to have been largely ignored -- except
perhaps as a personality characteristic of the "creative".
However humour may well be a precursor to what is labelled as creativity
-- a carrier or catalyst for it.
Edward de Bono (Lateral
Thinking for Management, 1971) indicates that learning most effectively
occurs through this process. He cites humour as the most evident example
of how the brain works as a thinking tool -- with learning occurring when
a jump in perception occurs. The result is a new idea or insight. The process
of creative (generating from nothing) thinking is therefore exemplified
in humour. When an alternative perception is not seen, it is the process
of bridging this gap and understanding the alternate paths, and their interplay,
through which the humour is generated. Linear, or progressive logic is indeed
effective in processing information such as in computer technology. But
active, creative thought requires a process based on perception and pathways,
or interconnecting webs of information. [more]
Innovation in physics, "playing with the rules", is illustrated
by the classic tale of a lecture in which Wolfgang Pauli proposed a new
theory of elementary particles and came under heavy criticism. Niels Bohr
summarized this by saying "We are all agreed that your theory is crazy.
The question which divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance
of being correct. My own feeling is that is not crazy enough."
Francis H Buckley (The Morality of Laughter, 2003), as director
of the Economics and Law Center at the George Mason School of Law, recognizes
the humorlessness of academe and its consequences. He notes:
"The loss of a sense of humor has impoverished academic
discourse, where nonsensical theories that could not survive the test of
ridicule are now taken seriously."
Recognized role of humour in philosophy and cultural
and his World, 1984) notes with respect to the Renaissance view
of the comic:
Laughter has a deep philosophical meaning, it is one of
the essential forms of the truth concerning the world as a whole, concerning
history and man; it is a peculiar point of view relative to the world;
the world is seen anew, no less (and perhaps more) profoundly than when
seen from the serious standpoint... Certain essential aspects of the world
are accessible only to laughter.
He sees similar perspectives in medieval parodies:
For the medieval parodist everything without exception was comic. Laughter
was as universal as seriousness; it was directed at the whole world, at
history, at all societies, at ideology. It was the world's second truth
extended to everything and from which nothing is taken away. It was, as
it were, the festive aspect of the whole world in all its elements, the
second revelation of the world in play and laughter.
Mark Weeks (Beyond
a Joke: Nietzsche and the Birth of "Super-Laughter") The Journal
of Nietzsche Studies (Penn State University Press), 27, Spring
2004, pp. 1-17
There is no question that in the latter decades of the twentieth century
philosophical, literary, and cultural studies were infected with something
of a comic spirit. Postmodernism was identified with and through images
of play, energy, and movement that sought to ceaselessly and joyfully
throw into crisis our faith in the permanence of structures. The only
thing that would be permanent now was the need for change that the ascendancy
of desire itself as a cosmological principle was driving. Here, of course,
postmodernist theory revealed its continuity with, and indeed its debt
to, high modernist dynamism--most conspicuously, Nietzsche's Dionysianism,
Bergson's quasi-mystical élan vital, and Freud's "energo-economics."
Thus when Derrida announced the triumph of "becoming," of endless desiring
and jouissance, through his linguistic concepts of signifying force and
différance, it was in Nietzsche that he found inspiration: "we must affirm
this, in the sense in which Nietzsche puts affirmation into play, in a
certain laughter and a certain step of the dance." Desire and play were
inseparable, and laughter was the privileged icon--the transcendental signifier,
if you like--of that unruly force that drove us. Amid the excitement the
celebration of difference and playful energy introduced, especially as
it was reinforced by the not unrelated rise of Bakhtinianism, it was common
to overlook the qualifying adjective in Derrida's reference, that "certain."
It was just as easy, and perhaps convenient, to overlook the fact that
Nietzsche's laughing hero Zarathustra, from whom poststructuralist notions
of "Nietzschean laughter" commonly derived, was, first, a fictional projection,
and second, not a proponent...
Useful questions can be raised about the role of humour in some cultures
-- especially when assumed by others to be humourless. This is particularly
valuable in the case of instances cultural domination, notably indigenous
and aboriginal cultures. In the case of the indigenous cultures of North
America, Drew Hayden Taylor (Me
Funny, 2006) offers a collection of studies of the humour, wittiness
and repartee dominant among the First Nations people of Canada. Humour has
always been an essential part of North American Aboriginal culture. This
fact remained unnoticed by most settlers, however, since non-Aboriginals
just didn't get the joke. Indians, it was believed, never laughed. But Indians
themselves always knew better. Humour may also be seen as an integral part
of the healing journey for displaced nations.
In the case of Australian Aborigenes, Lillian
Holt explores the question as to whether humour is both a weapon of
resistance and/or a tool for healing [more
The healing role of humour is also recognized amongst Aboriginal communities
WEH Stanner, Aboriginal
humour, Aboriginal History, 1982, Vol 6)