Laughter

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LAUGHTER: AN ESSAY ON THE MEANING OF THE COMIC Henri Bergson Bergson's thinking typifies a peculiarly Gallic tendency to rationalize the apparently ephemeral and subjective (in this case, humor), discussing it in exquisitely rarefied language in order to assert that which defies common sense (a funny hat is not funny, laughter expresses no emotion, no one laughs alone) but partakes nonetheless ofa logical inevitability. Laughter, first published in 1911, clearly draws upon the early years of European modernism, yet also prefigures the movement in some ways. In recognizing the comic as it embodies itself in a "rigid," absentminded person, locked into repetitious, socially awkward behavior, Bergson--even as he looks backward, primarily to Molière--seems to be spawning the sophisticatedvisual and physical comedy of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. While Laughter won't quite explain why the French love Jerry Lewis, or keep you in stitches, it's a bracing read that will make you think twice about laughing the next time someone stumbles into a lamppost. — Robert Burns Neveldine

L A U G H T E R · Henri Bergson

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LAU GH TER · Henri Bergson

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TRANSLATORS' PREFACEThis work, by Professor Bergson, has been revised in detail by the author himself, and the present translation is the only authorised one. For this ungrudging labour of revision, for the thoroughness with which it has been carried out, and for personal sympathy in many a difficulty of word and phrase, we desire to offer our grateful acknowledgment to Professor Bergson. It may be pointed out that theessay on Laughter originally appeared in a series of three articles in one of the leading magazines in France, the Revue de Paris. This will account for the relatively simple form of the work and the comparative absence of technical terms. It will also explain why the author has confined himself to exposing and illustrating his novel theory of the comic without entering into a detailed discussionof other explanations already in the field. He none the less indicates, when discussing sundry examples, why the principal theories, to which they have given rise, appear to him inadequate. To quote only a few, one may mention those based on contrast, exaggeration, and degradation. The book has been highly successful in France, where it is in its seventh edition. It has been translated intoRussian, Polish, and Swedish. German and Hungarian translations are under preparation. Its success is due partly to the novelty of the explanation offered of the comic, and partly also to the fact that the author incidentally discusses questions of still greater interest and importance. Thus, one of the best known and most frequently quoted passages of the book is that portion of the last chapter inwhich the author outlines a general theory of art. C. B. F. R.

LAUGHTER
AN ESSAY ON THE MEANING OF THE COMIC
BY HENRI BERGSON
MEMBER OF THE INSTITUTE PROFESSOR AT THE COLLEGE DE FRANCE

AUTHORISED TRANSLATION BY CLOUDESLEY BRERETON L. ES L. (PARIS), M.A. (CANTAB) AND FRED ROTHWELL B.A. (LONDON)

L A U G H T E R · Henri Bergson

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LAU GH TER · Henri Bergson

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CONTENTSCHAPTER I THE COMIC IN GENERAL--THE COMIC ELEMENT IN FORMS AND MOVEMENTS-- EXPANSIVE FORCE OF THE COMIC. What does laughter mean? What is the basal element in the laughable? What common ground can we find between the grimace of a merry- andrew, a play upon words, an equivocal situation in a burlesque and a scene of high comedy? What method of distillation will yield us invariably the sameessence from which so many different products borrow either their obtrusive odour or their delicate perfume? The greatest of thinkers, from Aristotle downwards, have tackled this little problem, which has a knack of baffling every effort, of slipping away and escaping only to bob up again, a pert challenge flung at philosophic speculation. Our excuse for attacking the problem in our turn must lie in...
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