“Comedy is, as I said, most vulgar imitation of ordinary people; not however vulgar of any kind of ugliness, [or physical or moral], but [of that single species which is the ridiculous: because] the ridiculous is something as wrong and deformed, without however being the cause of pain and damage. Thus, for example, so as not to get out of the topic we are dealing with, the comic mask: which is something ugly as well as distorted, but without pain. “(Aristotle, Poetics, 1449b)
Parody of the order, weakness and insipidity of the flesh, entertainment for the peasant, popular phenomenon more human than the human, defense for the simple and desecrated mystery of the plebs; the laughter, the comedian, liberating and subversive, has been feared by the church for centuries for its power to violate the rule, to overturn the codes showing the fiction of the real, to the point of granting the only ritual of the Carnival as the only celebration in which the image of the Devil could be derided and the image of God turned upside down. The Carnival, the ritual violation of the precepts, had to take place only once a year because the law imposed itself with the fear, whose name was, and still is in some ways, the name of God.
Absolutely human phenomenon, for Henri Bergson the comic cannot be given in a context that is not strictly related to man. A landscape will never be comic, while what can be comic in an animal is the flashing of typically human traits. The comic is also the insensitivity towards man, a reduction of empathy, the emotion being the biggest enemy of the comic. Dynamic and changeable force, gifted with its own historicity, the comic and the laughter are always the expression of a social group. Laughs at the comic, at “that comedian”, a certain society, at a given historical moment. Laughter always needs an understanding and reinforces a social bond at any scale, and plays a corrective function. According to the French philosopher, the comedian finds himself where he laughs at all the forms of stiffening of social life that cannot be sanctioned by the moral law, laughter being a constant adaptation to social norms, discourses, and behaviours that cannot be organized easily in rigid and automatic modes:
What life and society demand from each of us, is constantly awake attention, which discerns the contours of the present situation, and also a certain elasticity of the body and spirit that enables us to adapt to it. Tension and elasticity: here two complementary forces, to each other, that life puts at stake. Does the body lack it? we have accidents of all kinds, infirmities, illnesses. Does the spirit lack it? We have all the degrees of psychological poverty, all the varieties of madness. Is it lacking in character? there are profound inadequacies in social life, sources of misery, sometimes occasions of crime. (Henri Bergson, The laughter)
It is the figure of the absent-minded, the unexpected interruption of an automatism where agility and lively flexibility is expected, or the reproduction of a mechanical rigidity, which Bergson identifies as causes of the comic effect. The more natural the cause, the stronger the comic effect. We laugh at the distraction, like a social gesture that calls for attention, keeps the activities of order that risk isolating ourselves and falling asleep. Thus it falls within the field of normative functions (aspiring to them, even immorally), unconsciously pursuing a perfecting of social and individual life, requiring the widest possible sociability, a harmony, in a neutral area of social life in which man offers himself as a show.
The comic is the stiff automaton, while the laughter is the correction, the normal automaton, connected to the productive “machinery” of sense, authentic subjective ideal. The “outside”, an instance of active force, which takes hold of the body by bending and digging a self in man, implements the prescription of the possibility of choice, of the vocation to automatism, through the normative function of the laughter…unless we talk about the laughing-schizo of the madman. Read More