Laughter - Part 7
I really like this section. About halfway through, it really becomes something quite beautiful and profound.
On this read-through I'm struck by how many examples from stage and literature Bergson examines. And it ain't just high art - his description of the clowns in this section makes Itchy and Scratchy look like the intelligentsia.
“The comic” for Bergson is actually two things: what people laugh at in general, in their day-to-day lives; and the special, stylised, constructed comic of fiction. Bergson glides from the one to the other and back, like a camera operator racking the focus on a shot. Using art to illustrate life and vice versa, with comedy as the refractor, the focal point that bridges both worlds - the constructed and the sloppy mess of everything else. The laugh, the shaking of the body, the curious barking whinnies that come from us - are the same in both of those worlds, and respond to the same stimulus.
But of course, when we’re leading our supple, slack, unscripted regular lives, we’re still following scripts, after a fashion. Scripts that have been drilled into us by habit and routine, or scripts we’ve learned recently, like the right tone to take with a new colleague, or a new partner. Revealing these rigidities can be hilarious.
Is this the relationship between art and life that Bergson wants to investigate? How constructed-ness can be embedded off the stage, in even the most intimate details of our lives? And it’s laughter that tells us when we’ve gone too far? I think it is, but that’s not Bergson’s whole point.
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