at the risk of seeming ridiculous…

The Holiness of Laughter.

Posted in written thoughts by Charles on February 3, 2009

I’ve been reading this book by the French philosopher Henri Bergson, courtesy of Becky.  It’s titled, “Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic.”  Never have I smiled/laughed so much reading a philosophical text.  The book is a great reflection on why people laugh.  Superficially speaking, it seems a bit esoteric to philosophically reflect on such an ordinary and simple action (and perhaps it is).  But the way Bergson analyzed the role of the comic remains quite profound on how we might come to view the movement that is life.

Bergson writes, “The attitudes, gestures and movements of the human body are laughable in exact proportion as that body reminds us of a mere machine.”  A popular form of the comic is imitation.  Try getting on your hands and knees in front of a mirror and bark like a dog (not that I’ve done this before or anything)… it’s funny!  And it induces laughter from those around you as well.  This action is humorous because a living being is mechanically acting like something else.  The comic is essentially “something mechanical encrusted upon the living.”  Or even further, “We laugh everytime a person gives us the impression of a thing.”

Why is this funny?  Because we are living, breathing beings.  Life, by its very virtue, is fluid.  We change, we shape, we mold… in other words, life is not static.  “[Life] must be changing every moment, for to cease to change would be to cease to live,” he writes.  Laughter is thus the corrective to this mechanical arrangement.  We laugh to remind ourselves that we are living beings, that we are not machines.

As I read through his text, I cannot help but unravel the tragic thread woven into Bergson’s tapestry, which remains undeniably applicable to our present reality.  In our globalized world of neo-liberal capitalism, we are constantly being homogenized and commodified.  In short, we are becoming machines.  Furthermore, our own cultural values have made it ethically sound to fully participate in its mechanizing processes.  And the tragedy is: We don’t find it funny.  It’s a sad thing to realize that we are practicing the comic… yet not laughing.

To Bergson, the comic is a disguise, an illusion that one wears like a garment.  It is meant to be temporary.  Thus the call of all things living is to shed the garments that we have mistaken as our flesh.  We must learn to laugh again.  Laugh at the tragicomic clenching our world, our minds and our hearts.  Perhaps then we will learn how to live and breathe again… not just individually, but collectively.

I once heard someone say, “Laughter is carbonated holiness.”  To laugh is to be holy.  And to be holy is to be set apart.  Laughter is our very protest against a tragic world that is set on taking the comically mechanical and normalizing it.

So be holy… and lol.

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5 Responses

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  1. jules said, on February 3, 2009 at 07:08

    chuck. that was good.
    that made me laugh out loud.
    caused me to pause.
    to appreciate.
    and desire to be set apart.

  2. Sam said, on February 4, 2009 at 02:15

    Haha!

  3. Anthony said, on February 15, 2009 at 18:56

    the very saddest of tragedies is trumped when you separate yourself and start laughing. Sometimes it sounds cruel to do so, and at other times, it feels like a victory.

  4. Barbara said, on May 7, 2009 at 05:08

    Totally agree !

  5. Annie said, on August 4, 2009 at 02:58

    Hi Chucky,

    Don’t know if you remember me, but I met you at UCSD a couple times through Hoice and Sars and basically the rest of your class. I randomly ran across your blog and wanted to give you two thumbs up about this post 🙂 Also wanted to share one of my most favorite quotes of all time:

    “The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.”
    – e. e. cummings

    Cheers!

    Annie


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