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Paperback, 132 pages

ISBN 0982530935

ISBN-13 9780982530931

----Henri Bergson is the author of numerous works including Matter and Memory, Creative Evolution and Time and Free Will. His work has been influential for many thinkers such as Walter Benjamin, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Gilles Deleuze. ----Drew Burk is a graduate and technical director at the European Graduate School. He is the translator of such philosophers as Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida and Paul Virilio. ----What does laughter mean? What is the fundamental element of the laughable? What common ground can be found between the grimace of a clown, a play on words, a similar situation in a burlesque and a scene of high comedy? What method of distillation will invariably yield us the same essence from which so many different products borrow either their obtrusive odor or their delicate perfume? The greatest of thinkers, from Aristotle on down, have tackled this tiny problem, which has a knack of baffling every effort, of slipping away, escaping only to pop up again, as a lively challenge to philosophical speculation.

Publication Program: Interventions

Customer Reviews:

  • Still profound after all these years

    Why is a pun amusing? In brief, it treats something human as if it were something mechanical. Language is a way of conveying meanings from one human to another, and the most inflexible, most mechanical, most artifiial POSSIBLE way of looking at words is to classify them by their sound alone. That's precisely what a pun does.

    When Mel Brooks is playing a Polish actor playing Hitler, he says: "All I want is peace. A little piece of Poland, a tiny piece of France...." That is amusing -- the juxtaposition of the vital and the mechanical.

    More sophisticated jokes than such puns are based on the same juxtaposition. Here is one of Bergson's example, from a play by Labiche. "Just as M. Perrichon is getting into the railway carriage, he makes certain of not forgetting any of his parcels: 'Four, five, six, my wife seven, my daughter eight, and myself nine.'"

    source: Amazon
  • Admirable

    The blessed healing of laughter and of those who are gifted in bringing it to us. A great read for anyone who wants to live and look at the lighter side of life.
    source: Amazon, by user: A2II1BPD2ZH9MN
  • A bit dated. Somewhat incomplete. Astoundingly insightful

    Before reading this essay, you should be forewarned that it was written by the same great opponent of Cartesian dualism that resisted the reduction of psychological phenomena to physical states. In other words, this is an early 20th century French philosophical essay. To go further, it's a bit dry. Still, it is hard to argue with many of the axioms that Bergson espouses in this essay. For the most part, the laughter caused by much of modern comedy can be explained using one of his primary axioms or their many corollaries. Bergson's biggest miss here, however, is that although he adequately explains why a comic may cause an individual to laugh at either the comic himself or a third party, he doesn't sufficiently explain, or even realize, that much of what the comic intends is for his audience to laugh at themselves. Even so, you can still ascribe Bergson's incisive deductions to include the comic audience and still come to the heart of why people laugh. In any event, to my knowledge the subject has never been tackled so logically. Certainly, no (funny) comedian will ever attempt to publicly disclose the nature of laughter, but don't suppose that there aren't many famous comedians out there today who are familiar with this essay. It is obvious that many comedians and writers are familiar with this essay and that they have put these axioms directly to the test to great comic effect on many occasions. A word of advice to anyone who has difficulty wading through the chapters of Bergson's dry, recondite language: Read it in your head with the voice of baby Stewie from the Family Guy in mind. This technique amused me through the first half of the book, and by that time the language didn't bother me so much anymore.
    source: Amazon, by user: A305BWHBS9V9LJ
  • Early, provocative, but slight work on the subject.

    One of the more accessible books by an underrated philosopher whose usefulness, especially with regard to literary narrative, is being rediscovered, "Laughter" must qualify as one of Bergson's slighter works. Much of its importance stems from its place among the very first essays to take seriously an elusive and slippery subject. As a result, the author's thesis that laughter derives from "the mechanical encrusted upon the living" is at once somewhat dated and limiting. A reader wishes more distinctions between "comedy" and "laughter" (since many of the most revered comedies, from Shakespeare to Keaton, no longer provoke laughter from their modern audiences). Moreover, the author's thesis, though consistent with his views of "real time" (la duree), is applied too broadly to illuminate the dark let alone grey areas of "black comedy" along with numerous sub-genres, ranging from witty and garrulous, so-called "screw-ball comedy" to parody and the mock-heroic (both of the latter presenting major obstacles to appreciation let alone laughter because of what the post-modernists call "cultural amnesia").

    Nevertheless, it's a readable start.
    source: Amazon, by user: A6FIAB28IS79
  • Does that man remind you of a machine? Then laugh at him!

    Like Socrates, French Philosopher and Nobel Prize Winner for Literature Henri Bergson is associated with a "method." Socrates piled question after question upon the hapless denizens of Athens. Bergson posed questions not to citizens but to situations, gestures, stage plays, puns, quips, oddities and mannerisms. He asked: what makes this so funny, laughable, risible?

    If his book LAUGHTER were a prize fight, it would still be going on: for it never delivers a knock-out punch. LAUGHTER never quite succeeds in defining what makes the humorous uniquely what it is. Perhaps Bergson never intended to deliver a crushing blow or write the last word. Perhaps he was more the butterfly gathering nurture first here then somewhere else. Certainly, his thought was always in motion. But then so was life, in his view.

    The way Henri Bergson analyzes humor is consistent with his theory of life. Not for him Descartes's view of man as a mind locked into a machine. Henri Bergson does accept that spirit is not matter and that a man's soul is always being tempted by his body to cease growing, cease adapting to reality, tempted to grow lazy, "inattentive" and eccentric.

    We laugh when we see people layering themselves with something alien to their best nature. They wear disguises, like clowns or the emperor who preened himself on his invisible clothes. They repeat cliches from the ceremonial side of life that don't apply to the spontaneous challenges of love, politics or art.

    When men lose interactive, supportive touch with their society, we laugh at them. We thereby simultaneously salute their spirit while rebuking their giving in to the downward tug of their flesh. Laughter is the medicine by which society, a living thing, heals itself. Laughter is the abrasive scouring away the barnacles growing on living flesh. Laughter is what the doctor ordered.

    Next time you chuckle over a cartoon, try out a little Bergsonian analysis. Does that talking dog remind you of a person? Does that man trapped against his will in an office romance remind you of an animal caught in a trap? Does that robot seriously think itself in love with the scientist who created it? Laughter thrives on imperfection, exaggeration, the conquest of the living by the mechanical. Or so says Henri Bergson. -OOO-
    source: Amazon, by user: ABABCND8BHUXC
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