"Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. I am vast. I contain multitudes." -Walt Whitman

:malicious user:

Thursday, January 22, 2004

background music:
jack dejohnette - tin pan alley
in the nursery - l'esprit
jack johnson - on and on
j. geils band - full house
catrin finch - from coast to coast

watching my kids get older, it's deeply rewarding and immensely pleasureable to see them developing into their own selves. their dad is a sarcastic misanthrope, so it's a relief that they're evolving into polite, interesting, charasmatic human beings. it interests me to see how the different facets of their personality tendencies mature. my daughter is shy around adults but popular with her peers, and physically fearless. i also live vicariously through her budding musicianship. i am convinced my death will be heart failure instigated by watching her do free-style rock climbing and hearing her call down to me, telling me she's given up the violin.

my son reminds me so much of myself sometimes that it is freakish. he spontaneously creates songs and stories. he has a photographic ear - he can hear a song once and be singing it the rest of the day perfectly. the boy is all ego and energy and clown tricks. he makes his big sister laugh uncontrollably, in a way that assures me they will have a relationship that will weather much over their lifetimes. what he lacks in courage he makes up for in bravado.

they both have a great sense of humor, for which i am greatful. thinking about my kids, and reading over the posts of some of the stunningly talented writers over there on the right, i found myself thinking about humor, and trying to arrive at an understanding of just what humor is - of why we laugh. after a bit, i came to this definition:

humor is that quality that allows us to defuse the anxiety brought upon by situations that we perceive as either threatening or absurd.

and i figured i'd stick it here and see what, if anything, anyone had to say on the matter. then, as a precaution of sorts, i figured i'd see what m-w.com had to say on the matter.

merriam-webster defines humor as a : that quality which appeals to a sense of the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous b : the mental faculty of discovering, expressing, or appreciating the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous.

i wasn't that far off then, was i?

the portion of my theory of humor as a reaction to threat hinges on the "there but for the grace of god" priniciple. that is, we witness others' pain and at some primordial level we're glad it's them and not us. it's the close-call anxiety in this case. there is a boundary at which the other party's pain ceases to be funny. this boundary depends upon how much we empathize with the other. this boundary is the point between laughing at somebody and laughing with somebody.

humor as perception of the absurd is easy to understand, and interesting to recognize. it's the reason a person doesn't get the joke: they don't see the absurdity of the situation. my six year old son understands - at some level - the absurdity of malapropisms, and laughs when i tease him about going to "funky donuts" for munchkins. he is even more aware of the ludicrousness of a six-foot elf, so that movie was quite enjoyable for him. but he doesn't understand the humor of his dad being beaten up in a christian-science reading room by two quakers and a jehovah's witness.

that's about all i have to say. no big conclusion. this isn't an essay, it's just a post.

you can have the soap box back now.
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i used to be disgusted. now i try to be amused.
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