Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic

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Cosimo, Inc., Apr 1, 2005 - Philosophy - 212 pages
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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."

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Page 3 - The first point to which attention should be called is that the comic does not exist outside the pale of what is strictly human, A landscape may be beautiful, charming and sublime, or insignificant and ugly ; it will never be laughable.
Page 4 - They might equally well have defined him as an animal CHAP, which is laughed at ; for if any other animal, or some lifeless object, produces the same effect, it is always because of some resemblance to man, of the stamp he gives it or the use he puts it to. Here I would point out, as a symptom equally worthy of notice, the absence of feeling which usually accompanies laughter.
Page 6 - However spontaneous it seems, laughter always implies a kind of secret freemasonry, or even complicity, with other laughers, real or imaginary.
Page 4 - Try, for a moment, to become interested in everything that is being said and done; act, in imagination, with those who act, and feel with those who feel; in a word, give your sympathy its widest expansion: as though at the touch of a fairy wand you will see the flimsiest of objects assume importance, and a gloomy hue spread over everything. Now step aside, look upon life as a disinterested spectator: many a drama will turn into a comedy. It is enough for us to stop our ears to the sound of music...

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Born in Paris in 1859 of Jewish parents, Henri Bergson received his education there and subsequently taught at Angers and Clermont-Ferraud before returning to Paris. He was appointed professor of philosophy at the College de France in 1900 and elected a member of the French Academy in 1914. Bergson developed his philosophy by stressing the biological and evolutionary elements involved in thinking, reasoning, and creating. He saw the vitalistic dimension of the human species as being of the greatest importance. Bergson's writings were acclaimed not only in France and throughout the learned world. In 1927 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. In defiance of the Nazis after their conquest of France, Bergson insisted on wearing a yellow star to show his solidarity with other French Jews. Shortly before his death in 1941, Bergson gave up all his positions and renounced his many honors in protest against the discrimination against Jews by the Nazis and the Vichy French regime.

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