Laughter and Intentionality

Proceedings of the XXIII World Congress of Philosophy 27:123-128 (2018)
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A remarkable number of philosophies of laughter center their research on explosive laughter. When it comes to 20th century philosophers of laughter, this is true for Henri Bergson, Sigmund Freud, Hélène Cixous and Helmuth Plessner among others. What those approaches share is the assumption that in explosive laughter people are rendered powerless. Others, as for example Georges Bataille speak of the entire loss of intentionality. But how far does the loss of intentionality and power really go? From this starting-point a reconsideration of the so-called loss of power seems to be at stake. I will discuss selected theories of laughter from the phenomenological tradition in order to show that the loss of power cannot be claimed to be total. With the help of Plessner’s phenomenology of the body in Laughing and Crying and Merleau-Ponty’s concept of “operative intentionality” from his Phenomenology of Perception, I will argue that a certain form of intentionality is a precondition for the act of laughter. In general, the paper aims at clarifying the phenomenon of explosive laughter and expounding on the debate over intentionality vs. non-intentionality from the perspective of phenomenology.



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