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A. J. Sutter
- Publié sur Amazon.com
As other reviews have indicated, despite the broad title, this book is focused on philosophical issues relating to humor. Even more narrowly, the discussion is limited to the genre of jokes, so the book doesn't have anything to say about humor in literature, political discourse, advertising, ordinary conversation, or most other contexts. Apparently, jokes are for philosophers of humor something like what out-of-control trolley cars are for ethicists: a convenient model to help focus on certain issues, even though somewhat contrived. The main topics in the book are theories of why jokes are funny, the question of whether "comic amusement" -- the state to which humour gives rise -- is an emotional state, and the ethics of telling certain sorts of jokes. The point of view is mainly American and British; apparently it's implicitly assumed that the mechanisms of humor operative in other cultures are the same as those in the English-speaking world.
Although the author (NC) strongly favours one particular theory of humor, known as the "incongruity" theory, he presents some other alternatives as well. To the book's credit, the presentation is sufficiently balanced that although this is the first book I've read on these topics, I didn't find NC's argument always persuasive. In particular, he isn't well-disposed to a theory by British aesthetician Roger Scruton, who proposed that incongruity isn't a necessary condition for humour, and that some humour may be based on congruities -- i.e. something in the joke that corresponds to the way things are. NC cites as an example how we might be amused by caricatures of Nixon showing his heavy five o'clock shadow, or of Obama showing big ears; but to call these "congruities," he says, is "an equivocation," because what we find funny is an exaggeration of their actual features, i.e. an *in*congruity from the way things are (@50-51).
Scruton is a very controversial person, for his strong political conservatism, his support of things like fox-hunting and smoking, and other positions. I can't say I'm a fan of his, but congruities do seem to me to explain why certain people find certain jokes funny, including one NC includes in the book. That joke is an old one about a Jew who's washed up onto a desert island after a plane crash, where he's the only human inhabitant (@35). Eventually he's rescued, but the rescue team discovers he's built two synagogues. When asked why, he explains "The one on the north side of the island is my synagogue. The other one I wouldn't step into." NC explains that the first incongruity is that someone would build a structure just for the purpose of not entering it, "and yet the answer itself is an absurdity or incongruity equal to the first one, which does not prompt further interrogation but simply jollies us" (@36). Actually, I'd always heard this joke with a punchier punchline, along the lines of "That other one? Feh -- why would I ever go *there*?" On those occasions, the joke was told by Jews to poke fun at their own snobbery and need to feel better than others in their own group. Maybe other religious groups have the same foibles. This might seem like an "absurdity or incongruity" if you've never belonged to a religious congregation and possibly if you aren't Jewish, but if you have or are, you might recognize the joke as pointing out something true, in a comical way.
A related example, not in the book, comes from the 1959 comedy routine by Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, "The 2,000-Year-Old Man." At one point, Reiner, purporting to interview Brooks, the 2,000-year-old man, asks Brooks to talk about some of the most fascinating people he'd met in his long life. Brooks responds hesitantly with something like, "You mean... Jewish people, or just anybody?" Now, I don't know how for many generations this attitude lasted, but my grandmother, may she rest in peace, was born near the end of the 19th Century, and this was spot-on the sort of comment I would hear from her and older sisters whenever I visited them in the Bronx as a child long ago. Brooks was born in 1926, so his parents were the same generation as my grandmother. For a listener like me, this is a clear example of humour due at least in part to a congruity, recognizable by at least some people (and maybe from various ethnicities: e.g., if my memory isn't deceiving me, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" had characters as parochial as my relatives).
When I wrote to NC about this, his reply was that the Reiner/Brooks joke "strikes people like me who are not Jewish as incongruous," and that neither of the examples I cite has any congruity about them, unless they rest on the same "equivocation" he mentions in the book. I'm not so sure. While I could understand if non-Jews and maybe younger Jews miss the Reiner/Brooks joke or enjoy it because it seems odd, I don't see that this joke or the synagogue one rely exclusively or even primarily on exaggeration or other incongruity. Unlike the Nixon/Obama caricature examples, enjoyment of the jokes for some listeners comes at least in part from recognizing oneself or members of one's group: what's most precious about these jokes is how they act as a mirror. NC's one-size-fits-all argument -- that, regardless of the audience, congruity is always spurious and incongruity is always the most important aspect of a joke -- just doesn't seem to me to fit here.
Jewish humor and the work of Jewish-American comedians are featured quite favorably in this book, as is Irish humor, though my favorite in the book was a Welsh political joke, @10. I was a little disappointed, though, to see Jewish humor rather reductively described as "emphasiz[ing] cunning, especially in matters financial" (@88). There are certainly Jewish jokes of this type, especially in contemporary America; by email NC cited Larry David's show, and Jack Benny's character is another example. But even the original role model in English of the "cunning" Jewish trickster, Israel Zangwill's "King of the Schnorrers" (a major influence on Groucho Marx's stage and movie character), was as much or more concerned with acceptance, prestige and putting food in his mouth as with "financial" matters. And "emphasize" is also too strong when it comes to finance, and even to cunning, apropos of the humor of Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, Jerry Lewis, Gilda Radner, Sacha Baron Cohen, Andy Samberg, Ben Stiller and many others. For the broad range of topics covered by traditional Yiddish humor see especially the classic, 850-page collection edited by the late Yiddish scholar Salcia Landmann, "Der jüdische Witz," 14th ed. 2006, published by Patmos Verlag in Düsseldorf. There's an even longer tradition of humor with a specifically religious theme, going back thousands of years to the midrashic and Talmudic literature.
I very much appreciate that NC was kind enough to reply to my emailed questions despite a family emergency. He also mentioned that he'd written a chapter about humor in non-joke contexts, which unfortunately was cut by the publisher in order to stick closer to the norm for length of "Very Short Introductions." Personally, I think that could have been of more general interest than the current, very philosopher-targeted Chapter 2, on the question of whether comic amusement is an emotion; I hope OUP will allow NC to re-balance in a future edition. If you're not so much interested in philosophical issues, you might find Matthew Bevis's VSI on Comedy more pertinent. At a little more detailed level, Italian scholar Delia Chiaro focuses on cultural aspects of humorous language in her very readable book "The Language of Jokes" (Routledge 1992, and still in print); she's also edited a pair of academic books on translation and humor, one focused on literature and the other on film, TV and other media (Bloomsbury 2010, in English). But if you're interested specifically in the philosophy of humor, you'll find much of this book stimulating, even if not always convincing.
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- Publié sur Amazon.com
Some scholars refer to the stimulus in humor (what is found funny) as the "holy grail of humor studies." Though this is appropriate, it gives the impression that the stimulus question is the only important one. It would be equally useful if "holy grail" referred to both stimulus and response, the two being inherently linked by the way they are defined.
There is a theory that establishes such a link. It is better than any of the ones Carroll mentions, and was introduced in 2011 after 5 years of work. This is probably the best possible view, which holds that all the images or stimuli of humor without exception are allusions to or direct images of a selfish self-deceived state of mind, and that the response is a copy of the stimulus. Compared with all previous explanations this one alone covers all categories without any weaknesses. I defy the world to produce a counterexample or to defend another theory.
Because self-deception is a vice, an informed reader might say, "but that is the superiority theory, of Hobbes or of Charles R. Gruner." But it is not. Superiority does not explain the humor response, which is clearly imitative, and Gruner's theory overlooks most of the content of jokes. The new theory is not a "superiority theory."
The incongruity theory is false because it claims that contrasts create humor either directly or by their resolution. The former of these versions is trivial or false, as it neither explains nor consistently applies incongruity. It is not relevant to humor to describe the fall of a person as "incongruous" with his walking a moment earlier, unless the change implies a thematic meaning. Noël Carroll's view of caricatures, too, displays this deficiency. The humor does not consist in the deviation from the person's actual appearance, simply because caricature is not a mere disguise. In fact, the important incongruity in caricature further disproves the theory. Caricature turns the human shape away from the human or adult, so that the element of mind ceases to belong to it. But that is a perfect reference to anthropomorphism or self-delusion. The familiar incongruity theory is therefore void of content, and ought to be replaced by the one that is self-deception-based. Academe now stands on the threshold of that event. It might be considered already past, since in fact it has been worked out in thorough detail.
Noël Carroll endorses mostly the earlier form of incongruity theory. But the later one that proposes instead "incongruity resolution" is also false. The joke form of this goes by the name of appropriate incongruity. The appropriate incongruity theory is a kind of incongruity resolution theory, and, in fact, the concept of resolution is what destroys its effectiveness. What the theory describes is a kind of sarcastic tact, or hint-dropping that emphasizes the self-deceptive character of a person. Compare what is known as "'by the way' humor."
Appropriate incongruity does exist in jokes and correctly describes them. But such appropriate incongruity is one, but not the only, humorous configuration that involves incongruity and verbal ambiguity. The prevailing theory of appropriate incongruity is wrong, but not because it merely points out a property and gives no explanation of it. The theory, as it is known, claims that in jokes where double meaning renders an incongruity more appropriate, that what we are laughing at is a feeling of "resolution" of the incongruity. The resolution theory is false, because such an interpretation is obviously not funny. This kind of humor alludes to selfish self-deception, insofar as the incongruity, which is some complaint or foible, is entered obliquely using the double meaning as a sort of soft-pedal. But the double meaning also has a prima facie humorous quality; by itself it already alludes to a kind of gaffe that involves only meaning.
A "selfish self-deception" theory of humor accounts for all the descriptions involved, and explains the origin of their force and meaning.
Complaints about this review sound like a lot of excuses. Those excuses don't change the fact that Mr. Carroll's book, while containing some insight, has far too much error and is a hindrance to understanding or appreciating humor. It represents an academic authority that ought to admit its mistake today. Not 50 years from now, not 5 years from now but immediately.
Noël Carroll misses some double meanings and he does not have a convincing theory of that kind of humor, or of other kinds of jokes. He claims that incongruity explains the humor in double meaning and in violations other than jokes. Violation, either as something so general as to be meaningless, or else as the rule-breaking sense of folly, is not the essence of humor despite philosophers trying to force it to be so. It is useful to have a theory of nonsense humor if jokes exhibit it in the way that Carroll claims. Yet they do not. But success in humor theory should be a question of breadth. If a theory shows that a single idea applies well to everything, informatively, then it should be the leading and authoritative position.
Carroll argues (like Freud) that some jokes end in nonsense, as a form of tension and release. It is true that the very idea of tension and release creates humor. Carroll and many others are right that this element adds to the power of a joke. But they are wrong to invest much of the humor in it, and they don't have a global theory that explains this and all other types of humor. Tension and release, appearing even in the riddle of the Sphinx, are only part of the cumulative structure of a joke. Humor in such tension and release can only be explained by the "selfish self-deception theory" of humor, that is, because the disappearance of tension alludes to the putting down of unjustified emotions; and when humor shows the increase of tension, the allusion is to complacency. But it is ambiguity that creates most of the humor in jokes. One might say that Carroll's idea of prolonged nonsense is meant as a sort of false release. But jokes can gain very little from any kind of tension except if they finally make sense. Only then can they refer to the only idea that is humorous on its face: delusion.
Freud too overlooks many double meanings but he does not identify their significance even when he does perceive them. And since he seeks to emphasize tension, nonsense and puzzlement, he, like Carroll, selects a joke as nonsensical when actually he does not understand it. Freud then thinks laughter follows as a response by resembling a dissipation of purpose. One way to refute this view then is to explain all the jokes that are thus misinterpreted. This has already been accomplished in several examples of Freud's.
Carroll introduces the Incongruity Theory before the others (Release/relief and Superiority) and then returns to defend it more closely. This is where he introduces the problem that jokes are so puzzling as to be nonsensical. He then enlists an empty answer to address this pseudo-problem, which might be more easily solved by dropping incongruity as a theory altogether.
Jokes actually don't work by means of nonsense. I will illustrate this point again later with Carroll's cited joke about the Irishman who orders three drinks, one for himself and two for his absent brothers. But here is the one about the plane crash survivor on his island, and his two synagogues.
The lone survivor of an airplane crash is marooned on a deserted island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. After many years, he is rescued by a passing ocean liner. The doctor who examines him says, 'You're in great health, but tell me one thing. Why did you build two synagogues on the island?' The survivor answers: 'The one on the north side of the island is my synagogue. The other one I wouldn't step into.'
Of this joke, Carroll says, "the punchline explains the puzzle of why there are two synagogues on an island with one inhabitant, but it does so at the cost of compounding the absurdity. For the joke invites us to imagine...a man [who] would build a structure for the sole purpose of not entering it. [Thus] the answer itself is an absurdity..." (Carroll 36).
Carroll's reading is similar to that of Freud, in that both thinkers are preoccupied with the surface of what it feels like to hear a joke for the first time -- not an unimportant idea. There is a bit of humor in this, so Carroll is right that the man's answer compounds the absurdity, creating a minor part of the humor. But it is a superficial description of the joke as it is to be explained. It is not the explanation itself.
The main meaning of this joke is, mostly likely, one of basic hyperbole. It is a joke of exaggeration, which is understood by the "self-deception" theory as an example of extreme emotion or exaggerated concern. There is abundant evidence. The man is on a desert island, where there are no people present to care about Jewish spiritual and observational differences or tensions. That is the point of the joke being about a desert island. Thus the humor consists almost solely in the idea that the religious divisions familiar to the survivor and to all Jews persist when he is alone. There is perhaps another level, wherein the man's beliefs have resulted in the construction of an extra building, as though he were beside himself or had generated without thinking this division within a community that is not there. Thus there is an extra allusion to absence of mind, or to a community that lacks actual bodies. A.J.Sutter has written his review of this book in May 2015. Yet while calling attention to foibles and cultural biases, Sutter does not acknowledge that the humor in such things consists in the element of ambition and delusion, and that these themes ground all the humor in jokes and in all else.
Try this example - what does "I never met a man I didn't like" mean? Is it nonsense, or double meaning? Is the double meaning a mere "violation," and is that what makes it funny? It's far more likely that we respond to an archetype or image of one who evades context, for when we see such double meanings we are affected by that image. Similarly, Groucho Marx says, "These are my principles, and if you don't like them, well, I have others." This might be an often misunderstood joke. Most people hearing this line probably feel that it only expresses the sudden reneging on the initial offering of irreplaceable principles. But although it's there, that's not the main meaning. Groucho really means that the emphasis changes from the word "These" to the word "my." Thus the possessive sense of "my" comes out and becomes dominant because of the punch line. It is the double meaning that is important, though the reneging theme is also there adding to the mix. Even if we thought mere linguistic violation to be funny, shifts of meaning cannot easily be perceived as transgressions at all.
The humor is often partly or entirely in the double meaning or equivocation. Thus Carroll does not know the nature of most jokes because he doesn't know where to look for it. Now, on p. 21 he does mention the humor of ambiguity, as in puns and the like. But like many theorists of a similar view, he chalks this phenomenon up to incongruity. Carroll claims that puns and other double meanings are "incongruous." Thus to misinterpret a sound is, he says, to "violate a conversational protocol" or maxim of some sort, and that's why such examples are funny. Actually, this very old view can be discredited. Many violations similar to the level of violation in misreading language simply aren't funny at all.
Although it is a violation not to pay attention to context or others' intentions, it is more important to note that it is an ethical sort of violation, a kind of self-centeredness. And according to what I think is the best theory (the one that I claim as intellectual property) every example of humor is or alludes to an image of such delusion, and our dispositional response to this stimulus is merely an echo of that image. Thus the "dispositional theory" that Carroll attributes to Jerrold Levinson, for example, only becomes truly important in this sense. It is only an obvious fact that there is such a disposition. The dispositional response does not warrant being called a theory, though I noticed it probably well after Levinson did. And we have probably evolved or developed this response in a psychological sense as an expression of our adjustment to ethical and social norms.
Contrary to Carroll's impression that incongruity only has marginal problems, it is inadequate in every instance. He admits that he is not completely satisfied with what he finds the least problematic view, the Incongruity Theory. And yet he defends it in scores of examples. It is difficult to conclude from this picture what sort of improvement is actually desired. If new theories are actually in the works to improve things, there ought to be clearer knowledge of what form this will take. Anything less is unconvincing.
"The incongruity theory still seems the most promising, because it offers the most informative approach to locating the structure of the intentional object of comic amusement" (48). It does not follow from such success in locating basic features in only some classes, that a concept is very informative. Carroll also mentions that the banishment of fear is a factor that is "added to perceived incongruity in order for the incongruity theory to approach adequacy" (29).
The problem here is not just that incongruity is too general as Carroll himself notes. But he seems unaware of an alternative, already known, that much better explains all that it explains.
Success in "locating the structure," is in noticeable tension with incongruity as an "imprecise notion" (37) and "no more than a necessary condition for comic amusement" (28). How is it informative to explain many examples, if only by a necessary condition? Carroll also criticizes incongruity directly on p. 34 and 37. On 34, he grants that incongruity is similar to puzzles (a problem that he then tries to solve), and shortly thereafter on p. 37, it is admitted that incongruity is too general, or does not describe its object informatively. But there is a basic reason for doubts. It is explained here and in a book. Incongruity is only a description of humor, rather than an actual explanation, something that's been said enough times. For Carroll, it is hoped that eventually a supplemental theory will arrive to patch up the problem, "isolate the pertinent recurring variables" and actually vindicate and preserve Incongruity, an implausible prognosis (53). I predict that it will never happen.
One problem with incongruity is that it does not produce a "response side" theory. It has not in 300 years presented a contentful view of what the response to humor is, only the stimulus. The fact is that incongruity by itself is incapable of eliciting in us something like the response to humor. Theorists like John Morreall suggest "pleasure," but this is untenable. For there are pleasures in incongruity that are not humorous. Matthew Hurley has pointed out that relatively "benign" violations are often not funny at all. Furthermore, any pleasure felt in these violations or humor is not necessarily where the humor is.
Thus when I assert that "humor is not a pleasure," I don't mean that it does not include pleasure, but that this does not capture it because it is too general, and in two ways. It is too general because pleasurable feeling is too general, and because a satisfaction in some knowledge or fact is too general. As for the latter case, one might be "pleased" by a fact or evidence of something, and might not have any feeling about it. As Victor Raskin once noted in a conference, the response to humor resembles intoxication. But Raskin did not assert, and did not know, why the response to humor is related to intoxication. The relation is plainly that both phenomena evoke not only delusion but a willful, appetitive delusional state. Tickling tends to evoke this state, not merely because it is sensual or sexual, but by the sense of its impropriety. By rapidly and repeatedly approaching sensitive areas, it violates the form of intimacy. This is the best account, though others have been attempted. Tickling is not a "mock attack," and we don't laugh when tickled because of only a bodily impulse. We laugh because we find the IDEA of being tickled an allusion to selfish self-deception. Therefore laughter is not a reflex in the case of tickling.
A cold beverage, or a cool shower on a very hot day, might be congruous with desires. But they are incongruous with the surrounding heat, while even in that very sense they are pleasant in both the objects and their effects (the hot-cold contrast is desired), but neither, in that sense, is funny. Thus it is not, as Alexander Bain once suggested, that non-humorous incongruity is so easily found to be unpleasant. (In fact, Bain's "snow in May" example even eerily resembles the kind of pleasure just mentioned). A man in a wheelchair winning a track race is quite incongruous as well as inspiring and pleasing in an ethically sound way, and this even answers with the positive version of Bain's "decrepit man under a heavy burden." If the "special Olympics" does not violate actual defunct norms, it follows new norms that would been considered strange long ago. But it has no humor, unless we twist things by an insensitive interpretation.
Humor is not in essence, as Carroll claims, a "deviation from some presupposed norm" (17). Evidently, however, every humorous incongruity violates some norm.
How bizarre it would be, if we really thought that breaking rules, per se, was what the humor in romantic intrepidity, or unlikely love were all about. Who would we resemble, but the romantic fool himself, for whom rules are so all-important? Is that not inapposite? Indeed, I maintain that our sense of humor is a mirroring of folly, but not in this sense.
Now one does not have to look to Alexander Bain to provide counterexamples to the Incongruity Theory, though he provided several. He did so without consideration of the possibility of positive cases, and did not resolve the objection that he himself raised. If one cites Bain, it all comes to nothing unless some valid alternative may be proposed.
There are various other cases in which the incongruity theory misidentifies what the relevant incongruity actually is. Birds might perch on the head of a rhinoceros. The incongruity theory would say that the use of the rhino as a perch is incongruity, as is their difference in size. In fact, the latter may be important, but only as a difference of power alluding to ambitious self-deception. But the rhino is being treated as a thing, thus losing its implied mind, while also appearing to have a human-like absentmindedness.
Carroll has had the sense not to mention one other theory, that associated with Tom Veatch or A. Peter McGraw, now the so-called Benign Violation theory. It is not clear, though, that Professor Carroll perceives how frivolous McGraw and Veatch's view is. It confuses an accidental or particular aspect of humor with the essence. But the flavor of the "Incongruity Theory" that Carroll himself adopts is similar to Benign Violation. According to Carroll, the transgressive aspect of incongruity is paramount; it holds that "what is key to comic amusement is a deviation from some presupposed norm." For example, he uses the word "mistake" to characterize the idea of personified or anthropomorphized things or animals (Carroll 19). As I have claimed, it is more likely that anthropomorphism amuses as an image of delusion--something lower taking itself to be, or becoming, something higher and greater than what it really is. And that is just the sense in which Ron Burgundy verbally taunts his dog in the comedy Anchorman. Humor in this taunt has nothing to do with norm-violations about the treatment of an animal qua animal on the part of Ron or us. Rather, it's about the allusion to the dog's hyperbolic privileges, his being elevated to the attributes and comforts of a human. And we don't find humor in this as purely norm-deviation, either.
Carroll does not have a plausible theory for what, as he mentions, "vital interests humor serves" (68 ff). Freud's own psychology can be applied to a better theory of humor than his own, in order to produce a teleology of humor and the comic. Suppose humor stimuli cause an imitative response (in the form of, for example, something like Levinson's inner mental "disposition" toward laughter). The psyche may be expressing its moderation and control over delusion, by internalizing the gestures of delusion through humor and jokes. This is similar, but different from Freud's theory of the matter, in that for him these stimuli, in particular jokes, represented moderated vestiges not of delusion but of closely related childhood play. Carroll, however, considers little or no answer to the purposive question, unless it is in line with the Incongruity Theory. On this point he makes reference to a Marvin Minsky, whose theory of cognitive debugging sounds exactly like that advanced in Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse Engineer the Mind. Does it make sense that Carroll mentions two separate authors, Marvin Minsky and Matthew Hurley (in the bibliography) without noting that their ideas are pretty much identical? One main reason this now somewhat popular theory is mistaken, is that there is no need for humor to have such an everyday, general heuristic-aiding role, or evolutionary origin. The mind is equipped in that task much more basically.
Carroll's traditional explanation also fails in the case of incongruity that is not strictly verbally based. He considers a joke about a priest and abbot who encounter Jesus praying in their own church sanctuary. It is the priest who asks, "What should we do?" to which the abbot answers, which we could take as irony on his part, "Look busy." Carroll holds that, because it is the priest who expresses an everyday kind of worry, it is he who interprets his job in terms of an "earthly" system of behavior or rules. And this amuses by way of incongruity, not just because the two religious reveal themselves to be worried, but because the proposed solution is both superficial as well as derived from worldly affairs. It is a helpful and rich reading, although it is the abbot who ends the joke (Carroll 83). Again, however, incongruity is too vague. A mere mismatching or discrepancy between things, even if they are high and low, or whatever, does not tell us what's going on. If expensive jewelry is soiled, there is incongruity but there is no humor without some other element. That element is a kind of violation or wrong, but a motivated one, not a merely objective one.
The everyday and earthly may connote either an unpleasant truth, or else, the very opposite, the everyday as itself a complacent delusion. In other words, there is a sense that the downward pulling from the sublime (heaven and God) to the un-sublime is a shattering of delusions of religious importance, holiness and salvation. And in fact the delusion embodied in these serious things is very often felt in humor in different, even contrasting ways, as a kind of peace and complacency, but also as anxiety, fear and rage. When the rage "comes to nothing" to borrow Kant's phrase, what we are left with is its after-image or reverberation. We find that reverberation ridiculous, because the rage expresses delusional interest. And yet at the same time, religious grandeur and anxiety are themselves a form of reality, over which the everyday life is plastered as instead the delusion, the complacency. We can have, therefore, a complete reversal, in which either life or afterlife can function as the delusion or the reality. The incongruity theorist, then, is not remiss in pointing to a recurring dichotomy that dominates the joke and humor. He simply does not note its strange reversals or specific concepts of delusion and reality. In fact, as I show in my book, various images of this kind tend to flip-flop between these two roles of delusion and reality.
Jokes that are meaning-based don't create humor by breaking conventions of language. And contrary to Freud and Carroll, verbal humor does not consist in nonsense. The nonsense theory of this joke class has been defended, yet the search for evidence has been most unsuccessful. And Freud tried very hard to discern exactly how jokes mix sense and nonsense, and he failed. David Hume challenged the world to produce empirical evidence of causal connections, and that didn't happen. Now it seems, perhaps, that Freud with his ability could not discern the double meanings in jokes. He was, however, probably not even looking for them. Freud never wrote another full-length treatment of humor after 1905. Thus he formed his view, before the landscape was transformed by the brilliant equivocations of Groucho Marx, which at any rate are in English (the jokes that begin with "I never forget a face," and with "time flies like an arrow," etc.). Freud had, therefore, that much less material for inspiration and insight. It is not unrealistic that later humorists, including Groucho, have radically augmented what we possess, in terms of humorous content. To Freud's (and Carroll's) theory of jokes (to say nothing of Freud's bizarre taxonomy of its classes) we might apply Occam's Razor. Jokes obviously exhibit double meanings in a vast proportion of cases, while others contain double meanings that are more subtle and harder to detect. If the choice is between the Freud/Carroll position or a double-meaning theory, the latter is much more probable. It is applicable to more cases. And it is more likely that ambiguity is humorous as a reference to implied or potential delusion, rather than as either norm-violation or as nonsense.
After Carroll tries to establish that a logical violation is humorous, he claims that "many other laws than those of logic" are equally applicable to the phenomenon. He proposes that there is a handful of illegalities or legal concepts that involve humor (at the inexplicable exclusion of others). He even mentions an instance of anthropomorphism, calling it a "biological anomaly." "Panels by Francois Boucher show very young children at work in very adult roles." Carroll doesn't seem to realize that children in adult roles fall into the same logical category as any object in a human role. Why would he not perceive the analogy? It is plainly a question of delusion, like anthropomorphism, or personification, and all images of an ambition that is petty and yet vaulting.
Carroll tries to explain a joke about an Irish drinker. As Carroll puts it, humor consists in the fact that the drinker "understands the concept of `being on the wagon' to be consistent with downing two drinks for his brothers, so long as he refrains from tossing one back for himself." Carroll is claiming that we are amused at violations of reasoning, qua violations. But if this were so, then we would seem to be more amused by logical errors. There are several kinds of basic logical fallacies that are not funny at all. Various non-sequiturs, many half-truths, and other errors are often mostly humorless. It may be that we are amused by the "circular" quality of other fallacies, or the way they suggest a lack of awareness of reality.
But if humor derives from the corrupt logic of the drinker, it is because unreason resembles selfish self-deception. And the humor is perceived mostly in what he says, not in what he does or thinks. The drinker says, "Because I am on the wagon," thus referring to himself as though he were absent as his brothers are. It is mostly these words that count, and their ambiguity.
On page 29, in the context of explaining humor and violence generally, Carroll mentions the idea of a "funny face." He is surely thinking of such things as stretched grins, grimaces, rolling of eyes and wanderings of the tongue. What is felt as humor in these gestures, however, is an attitude of delusion (with particular nuances like desire or frustration). Humor is always a reference to this idea, and our response is to mirror the allusion.