Siegfried Jäkel & Asko Timonen (edd.), Laughter down the Centuries, Vol. I (Annales Universitatis Turkuensis, Ser. B Humaniora, tom. 208). Turku: Turun Yliopisto, 1994. Pp. 223. ISBN 951-29-0335-0. Vol II (Annales Universitatis Turkuensis, ser. B Humaniora tom. 213). Turku: Turun Yliopisto, 1995. Pp. 275. ISBN 951-29-0551-5. Vol III (Annales Universitatis Turkuensis, Ser. B Humaniora, tom. 221). Turku: Turun Yliopisto, 1997. Pp. 299. ISBN 951-29-1006-3. No prices supplied.
University of Natal, Durban
There are times when certain special topics in the humanities attract international attention. It is certainly not by chance that during the last few years the phenomenon of laughter has been discussed at a couple of conferences. The Salzburg Symposium in 1993 analyzed 'Die lustige Person auf der Bühne'.[] In the same year the splendid series of symposia on Seili Island in Suomi started which followed up 'Laughter Down The Centuries'. It was also not by chance that the three Finnish meetings took place in Turku. Here, Siegfried Jäkel has held the chair of Classics since 1972, combined with an appointment for German Language and Literature; the comparative aspect of this arrangement is obvious. Indeed Jäkel has organised conferences under comparative aspects for many years: Literature and Philosophy in Antiquity (1985 and 1986); Sprachaspekte als Experiment (1988 and 1989); History, Literature and Philosophy in Classical Antiquity and in the Modern World (1991).[]
The Turku symposia on laughter were held in 1993, 1994, 1996, and their papers appeared in print relatively soon afterwards. They encompass about 800 pages of text, 31 pictures and at the end 10 columns of an index nominum for all three volumes. There are all in all 65 papers from a dozen countries, written in English or German, with a single one in Italian thrown in. About half of the whole corpus deals with questions from classical antiquity; the other half of the papers discusses German (6) or English (4) or French (3) texts; there are also studies on political jokes (2), on laughter in music (3) and in art (2), on Russian (2) and on Jewish (1) jokes as well as on humour in proverbs (1). To round out the panorama, there are 3 papers analysing generally the phenomenon of laughter and 4 others which investigate thermodynamics, computer science, biology and psychology, always with an eye on laughter. Given the forum for which this review is written, the papers on classical topics will mainly be discussed here. As an introduction, however, a few words about the opinions on the general phenomenon of laughter as they appear in this collection.
It emerges that Henri Bergson's essay of 1899 'Le Rire',[] reprinted more than 50 times since then, is the basis for most of the theoretical thinking in this collection. Only Aristotle is quoted here more often; among the moderns, only Sigmund Freud matches the presence of Bergson in these volumes.[] Hellmuth Flashar, 'Aristoteles, das Lachen und die Alte Komödie' (Vol. I, pp. 59-70) points out that Freud's many categories (jokes as 'Verkürzung, Verdichtungsvorgang, Klangwitz, Modifizierungswitz, Situationswitz, obszöner, feindseliger, zynischer oder skeptischer Witz') parallel closely Aristotle's categories in Rhet. III.1 (Vol.I, p. 63 n.12). He also underlines that three areas, i.e. 'Drastik, Phantastik, Politik', are at the core of the humour in Old Comedy, but not so much later on in plays after Aristophanes. He lists as the forms of laughing in Old Comedy 'das kathartische Lachen, das ambivalente, das triumphierende, das reflektierende, das ironische, vielleicht sogar das indignierte Lachen' (p. 69), to be supplemented by cathartic and the reflective laughter (p. 67), and concludes, that such a variety ('Vielschichtigkeit') of laughter is to be found only in Old Comedy, whereas it is reduced to one dimension only ('Eindimensionalität') in Middle and New Comedy.
In his openings essays of Vol. I ('The Irony of Reality') and II ('Das Phänomen des Lachens als Verfremdungseffekt -- oder 'Lachen' als Motiv kritischen Denkens'), Siegfried Jäkel puts the discussion into a wide framework, positioning it between the fundamental thoughts and artistic achievements of Homer and Brecht, of Menander and Musil, between Herman Bahr and Hermann Broch, between Soren Kierkegaard, Franz Kafka and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. He also opens the debate on Homer ('Laughter in the Iliad', vol.I, pp. 23-27), which is linked to the essay of Carles Miralles ('Laughter in the Odyssey', vol.I, pp. 15-22); both authors agree that laughter works 'as a possibility of communicating with each other beyond words, beyond the restrictions of language' (p. 27). There is also another set of distinctions given here: laughter as a sign of mockery and malicious joy or of friendly communication; the laughter of victory; finally ritual laughter and laughter as an expression of the universe. That Homer is discussed on many other occasions throughout all the three volumes (as the index shows) hardly needs to be mentioned; see especially Kullmann on the 'Homeric laughter' (Vol.II, 80ff.).
Obviously, certain genres are connected with laughter more closely than others: comedy, satire, to a certain extent fable. Our collection definitely takes care of them: Not only Flashar, as mentioned before, discusses comedy, but also Isolde Stark, 'Who laughs at whom in Greek Comedy' (Vol. II, pp. 99-116; the answer is ' . . . at slaves, cooks, hetaerae and pimps . . . at departures from norms'); W. Geoffrey Arnott, 'Humour in Menander' (Vol. III, pp. 65-79); and Walter Stockert, 'Der plautinische Amphitruo, eine Tragikomödie' (Vol.II, pp. 117-19). Here we come across the bridge to a few other combinations of the serious and the comical, such as 'The Marriage of Tragedy and Comedy in Euripides' Ion' by Katarina Zacharia (Vol.II, pp. 45-63) or 'The Comic-Serious Figure in Plato's Middle Dialogues: the Symposium as Philosophical Art' by Kevin Corrigan (Vol.III, pp. 55-64). There is more to this vein: 'Umorismo e serio-comico nell' opera die Luciano' (Vol.I, pp. 113-20) by Paola Angeli Bernardini or Antonio Garzya's 'Die tragische Ironie im Theater des 5. Jahrhunderts v. Chr.' (Vol.III, pp. 33-43). Satire is treated by Gregor Vogt-Spira, 'Das satirische Lachen der Römer und die Witzkultur der Oberschicht' (Vol.III, pp. 117-29); by Ernst A. Schmidt, 'Vom Lachen in der römischen Satire' (Vol.II, pp. 121-43), who at the end points to Brecht's reference of the 8th satire of Horace in 'Galileo'; and by Barbara K. Gold, 'Humor in Juvenal's Sixth Satire: Is it Funny?' (Vol.I, pp. 95-111), who finds it funny for men only.
Philosophy has a strong place in this collection, comprising no less than 9 papers: 4 treat humour and philosophy in general, 2 are given to Plato, 1 each to Democritus, Aristotle and Marcus Aurelius. To show the difference: history comes next with only 3 contributions; one of them is on 'Jesting Emperors in Roman Biography' by Asko Timonen (Vol.I, pp. 121-31); one on Herodotus by Alan Griffith (Vol.II, pp. 45-63) and one on 'Clio's Smile: On the Styles of Laughter in European Historiography' by Gerrit Walther (Vol.II, pp. 17-29), a stimulating paper ranging from the 'Father of History' to 'The End of History', from antiquity to Voltaire and Gibbon, Ranke and Marx, Nietzsche and Baudrillard and Cioran. From the conclusion we learn of yet another category of laughter: 'laughter may be itself . . . apocalyptic . . . -- it is nevertheless an act of liberation from the tyranny of fashionable apocalypticism'(Vol.II, p.28). Philosophy and Laughter -- it seems they normally do not go often hand in hand. Surely, philosophy is commonly seen by almost everybody as fundamentally serious business, including only now and then a bit of irony or a dash of sarcasm or a dab of satire. However, if one looks more closely at the papers presented here, especially those of Zacharia, Stockert, Corrigan, one begins to understand how correct the opinion of Socrates/Plato was to suggest that the same author should be capable of writing tragedies as well as comedies.
Among the contributions printed here, 2 have an almost identical title: Zeph Stewart's 'Laughter and the Greek Philosophers: A Sketch' (Vol.I, pp. 29-37) and Wolfgang Kullmann's 'Die antiken Philosophen und das Lachen' (Vol.II, pp. 79-98). While Stewart brings in 'that mysterious laughter, beautifully described by Spinoza (Short Treatise pt. 2, chap. 11) that arises when we feel that all is going well and we are happy in our world', he ends insisting on the wide variety of laughters: 'Surely no single cause can be found, no single theory can be devised, that will explain this vast phenomenon of laughter' (Vol. 1, p. 37). Kullmann on the other hand underlines the 'shame culture' of classical antiquity and the social context of laughter.
A particularly interesting piece is Pierre de la Ruffinière du Prey's study 'Laughter at the expense of the City: From the Ancient World to A.W.N. Pugin and Léon Krier' (Vol. I, pp. 145-153 with 6 illustrations). Here, a line is drawn from Aristophanes (Birds) and Varro (Rerum Rusticarum liber III) to the British architect Augustus Wellby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852) and the Luxembourgian Léon Krier (b. 1946). At the end, the study sums up its results: 'The fun being poked at the city over the millennia by Aristophanes, Varro, Pugin and Krier has a lighthearted side that avoids philosophical heavy-handedness. But underneath wit and humor they disguise their earnest concern about social ills in an increasingly urbanised civilisation.'
There is one other article which deserves special mentioning: Hans Schwabl's 'Von der Seltenheit des Lachens, komischen Konstellationen und Unterhaltung im Traumbuch des Artemidor' (Vol.II, pp. 171-83). Since angst is the origin of many dreams, it is not astonishing to find only few remarks on laughter in Artemidorus' material.
Before finishing, it should be noticed that here laughter is not only discussed in its literary, musical and fine arts context; it also is explained from the physiological point of view, including the aspect of evolution in a chapter by Gertrud Hauser et al., 'The Biology of Laughter. Medical, Functional, and Anthropological -- Human Ethological Aspects' (Vol.III, pp. 9-22), where the 6 'buccolabial muscles involved substantially with laughter or smiling' (pp. 11-13) are painstakingly explained and where human ethological aspects come under scrupulous scrutiny. The paper's final climax: 'Modern medicine has proven what Solomon said 'A merry heart doeth good like a medicine'; as our great grand parents, and our parents expressed it: 'Laughter is healthy' (p. 17).
The very last paper by Carl A. Rubino, '"To make Truth Laugh" -- Umberto Eco and the Power of Laughter' (Vol. III, pp. 257-263) distinguishes between to kinds of laughter: one of exclusions, scorn, ridicule, victimising its objects, like Juvenal does, reaching back to Homer's 'sardonic grin (Od. 20, 302); and the other one, like Horace, 'where we laugh not only at others but at ourselves as well....a laughter of inclusion and fellowship' (Vol. III, p. 262).
As a corollary (Vol. III, pp. 265-275), we get a very helpful and enlightening final chapter 'Post Risus', i.e. notes, written by some participants and the organisers, on the 3 symposia, their achievements as well as their limitations and shortcomings; we also get valuable suggestions for further related research projects. It is rightly pointed out how often papers appearing later in the cycle take up ideas of earlier ones; also the directions that discussions took: a very useful dialogue to which unfortunately only very few symposia aspire. At the end the editors point to the interdisciplinary character of the whole undertaking, its range from antiquity via the Middle Ages to modern times, its mix of generations (younger and older participants), of speakers from different countries, contrasting schools and various disciplines. There are indeed many reasons to thank the contributors -- and of course especially the organiser Siegfried Jäkel -- for an unusual series of stimulating conferences, well documented, rich in facts and thoughts. It is good to hear that he is preparing a new conference in 1999; this time it will be on the phenomenon of silence.
[] Peter Csobàdi et al. (edd.), Die lustige Person auf der Bühne. Gesammelte Vorträge des Salzburger Symposions 1993 (Anif/Salzburg 1994), = Ulrich Müller, Franz Hundsnurscher, Oswald Panagl (edd.), WUM (Wort und Musik) Salzburger Akademische Beiträge, Nr. 23. See also D. Arnould, Le rire et les larmes dans la littérature grecque d'Homère à Platon. Collection d'Études anciennes 119 (Paris 1990); Thomas Vogel (ed.), Vom Lachen. Einem Phänomen auf der Spur (Tübingen 1992).
[] Siegfried Jäkel (ed.),Power and Spirit (Annales Universitatis Turkuensis vol. 199) (Turku 1993); he also edited (with Toivo Viljamaa and Kurt Nyholm) Sprachaspekte als Experiment: Beiträge zur Literaturkritik in Antike und Neuzeit (Annales Universitatis Turkuensis 187) (Turku 1989); and (with Heikki Koskenniemi and Vappu Pyykö) Literatur und Philosophy in der Antike (Annales Universitatis Turkuensis 174) (Turku 1986).
[] English edition: Henri Bergson, Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic (London 1911 [first French edition, Paris 1899]).
[] Sigmund Freud, Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewußten (Vienna 1905).