Superiority And Incongruity Theory

1498 Words 6 Pages
In the late twentieth century, one serious flaw in several older versions of the theory came to light. Since negative emotions like fear, disgust, and anger are also reactions to what violates our mental patterns and expectations the mere perception of incongruity is not sufficient for humour. Other aesthetic categories, too, involve a non-humorous enjoyment of some violation of our mental patterns and expectations: the grotesque, the macabre, the horrible, the bizarre, and the fantastic. So, although the Incongruity Theory freed humour from the traditional stigma of being anti-social, it has not improved philosophers’ assessments of humour much over the last three centuries. In Western science since the Enlightenment, it is an axiom that the …show more content…
In the medical science of the eighteenth century, it was known that nerves connect the brain, sense organs, and muscles. Nerves were thought to carry not electro-chemical impulses, but gases and liquids called “animal spirits.” There was debate over their exact composition, but the animal spirits were thought to include blood and air. John Locke described them as “fluid and subtile atter, passing through the Conduits of the Nerves.”(16) So in the first versions of the Relief Theory, the nervous system was represented as a network of tubes inside which the animal spirits sometimes build up pressure, as in emotional excitement, that calls for release. A good analogy is the way excess steam builds up in a steam boiler. These boilers are fitted with relief valves to vent excess pressure, and, according to the Relief Theory, laughter serves a similar function in the nervous system. Lord Shaftesbury presented the first sketch of the Relief Theory:
The natural free spirits of ingenious men, if imprisoned or controlled, will find out other ways of motion to relieve themselves in their constraint; and whether it be in burlesque, mimicry, or buffoonery, they will be glad at any rate to vent themselves, and be revenged upon their constrainers (qtd. in Morreall Comic
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They give a form of pleasure which is unique to them, which enables them to serve the interests, so to speak, of ‘the major purposes and instincts of mental life’ (Freud 133) As John Dewey put the idea, “laughter “marks the ending . . . of a period of suspense, or expectation.” It is a “sudden relaxation of strain, so far as occurring through the medium of the breathing and vocal apparatus . . . The laugh is thus a phenomenon of the same general kind as the sigh of relief.”(558)
Sigmund Freud in his Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious distinguishes three laughter situations: “joking,” “the comic,” and “humour.” In all three, laughter releases energy that was summoned for a psychological task, but then became unnecessary when that task was abandoned. In joking that is the energy of repressing feelings, in the comic it is the energy of thinking, and in humour it is the energy of feeling emotions. John Morreall notices that Freud’s term for joking, der Witz, is not limited to “joke-telling,” the recitation of prepared fictional narratives, but includes spontaneous witty comments, “bon mots,” and repartee as well. In all of these, he says, there is a release of psychic energy, not the energy of repressed feelings, but the energy that normally represses those feelings

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