Monday, July 03, 2006

More on Critchley

Despite my earlier comments on Simon Critchley's On Humour - namely that it isn't very funny and that it over-theorizes its subject - he does make some very nice points. One is his highlighting of a particular type of humor:

...a more secular, democratic use of wit and humour as that which can encourage the use of reason and guide the sociability of sensus communis. (83)
That's an important point about humor and joking: that being able to tell a joke presupposes a shared social background, and that humor can actually foster a deeper sense of shared sociability.

But I'm still bothered that Critchley's conception of humor is so different from mine. A couple more examples:

1) Near the end of the book Critchley gives some anecdotes. One tells of Levinas turning down a second cup of tea because he is, he says, a "mono-thé-iste." The other ("the great Tommy Cooper gag") goes "So I got home, and the phone was ringing. I picked it up and said 'Who's speaking please?' And a voice said 'You are.'" (107)

Critchley then says "Such anecdotes, it is true, make us laugh out loud." Really ?! They are mildly amusing, sure, but laugh out loud? This convinces me that my sense of humor and Critchley's are wildly different.

2) The book ends on a real downer: "Melancholy creatures that we are, human beings are also the most cheerful. We smile and find ourselves ridiculous. Our wretchedness is our greatness." (111)

That's the last sentence of the book. (Which I might remind you, is called On Humour.) I don't deny Critchley his right to find the coal-black lining in humor, but again this seems to miss the joy, the fun, the hilarity of good humor. And so, once again, I'm struck by how different my sense of humor, or sense of what's funny, is from Critchley's. There's something odd going on here when intuitions about humor are so wildly divergent, and it makes me seriously doubt Critchley's conclusions.


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