Monday, September 14, 2009

National Styles of Humor

National Styles of Humor, Book by Avner Ziv
Humor and laughter make life more bearable, sometimes even enjoyable. L. Weiss "Philosophie et vie" ( 1951)

Humor and the physiological response to it, laughter, are universal. As Rabelais is quoted in the article on French humor: "Laughter is what characterizes man." While laughter, the main response to humor, can be defined, measured and described, humor itself is an elusive concept. As with many psychological concepts, precise definitions are impossible. If you are asked to think about and name someone who has humor and someone who doesn't, you can do it easily. But when you try to define humor, it becomes much more difficult. For a scholarly example about the difficulties inherent in definitions, one can read the article in which Robert Miles tried to define the concept definition. He arrived at twelve perfectly valid definitions of the term ( 1957).

If concepts in humanities are not easy to define, theories proposing to explain them are even more difficult. However, this did not stop some of the most brilliant philosophers from proposing theories of humor. Their work is fascinating but never completely satisfying. George Mikes, the British humorist, expressed it rather nicely. Talking about philosophers' efforts to create theories, he wrote: "The philosopher is like a good athlete on the double bar; his movements are beautiful; his skill is breath--taking; his achievement admirable. But when he jumps off, he is where he was before he started: he had achieved nothing, he had progressed nowhere. . . . There is not one single statement--however simple, innocuous and self-evident--onwhich philosophers agree" ( Mikes, 1971, P. 19).

Theories on humor have a long history. Since Plato and Aristotle, philosophers such as Kant, Schopenhauer, and Hobbes, writers such as Baudelaire and George Eliot, and even humorists such as Leacock and Mikes have proposed theories to explain why people laugh. Diligent people have summarized and presented these theories in learned books ( Greig, 1923; Piddington, 1933; Bergler, 1956; Keith-Spiegel, 1972). There are more than a hundred such theories, some of course following the classicacademic dictum on innovative research: "Give old phenomena new names."

In full awareness of the danger, I shall nonetheless define humor, knowing perfectly well that not all will agree with the proposed definition. The definition is necessary in order to make the reader aware of what we, the writers of this book, mean by humor and the physiological phenomena most frequently accompanying it: laughter and smiling.

Art of funny

An Outline of Humor: Being a True Chronicle from Prehistoric Ages to the Twentieth Century, Book by Carolyn Wells.
OUTLINING is a modern art. For centuries we have collected and selected, compiled and compended, but only of late have we outlined. And an Outline is a result differing in kind from the other work mentioned, and presenting different conditions and

An Outline, owing to its sweep of magnificent distances, can touch only the high spots, and can but skim those. Not in its province is criticism or exhaustive commentary. Not in its scope are long effusions or lengthy extracts. Nor may it include everybody or everything that logically belongs to it.

An Outline is at best an irregular proposition, and the Outliner must follow his irregular path as best he may. But one thing is imperative, the Outliner must be conscientious. He must weigh to the best of his knowledge and belief the claims
to inclusion that his opportunities present. He must pick and choose with all the discernment of which he is capable and while following his best principles of taste he must sink his personal preferences in his regard for his Outline as a whole.

Nor can he pick and choose his audience. To one reader,-- or critic,--a hackneyed selection is tiresome, while to another it is a novelty and a revelation. And it must be remembered that a hackneyed poem is a favorite one and a favorite is one adjudged best, by a consensus of human opinion, and is therefore a high spot to be touched upon.

While the Outline is generally chronological, it is not a history and dates are not given. Also, when it seemed advisable to desert the chronological path for the topographical one, that was done.