Nonrepresentational Forms of the Comic: Humor, Irony, and Jokes

Dissertation, Georgetown University (1988)
Abstract
This study provides a unified, systematic theory of the comic. It begins with the hypothesis that such a theory must be considered in a hierarchical framework. To prove this, three nonrepresentational types of the comic--humor, irony, and jokes--are analyzed with an emphasis on the perspective of psychoanalytic theory. Hegel's thought is also considered because he is the first philosopher to provide the analytic and systematic background by placing the comic in the realm of subjectivity and conceiving of it as a form of detachment from objectivity. ;The three linguistic forms of the comic are examined from the social point of view, because they are linguistic rather than representational and because they imply progressively more complex and rewarding social relationships. The comic is discussed from the perspective of its content--as an expression of emotion--to demonstrate its hierarchy. Humor, irony, and jokes are seen in their philosophical and psychoanalytic aspects as the products of Eros and of increasing aggressiveness. They are viewed in relation to the unconscious with its mechanisms of metonymy and metaphor, as theorized by Lacan. A conscious act of communication is established via the unconscious in these comical forms. This communication may be temporary, but it guarantees an empirical "we" that finds resolution in laughter. Aggressiveness, considered central to the comic when sublimated by language, expresses a desire for solitude in humor, for ambivalent communication in irony, and for community in jokes. This progression of solitude, ambivalence, and community displays the social hierarchy that is central to this thesis. Humor is solitary because creating it is enough to satisfy the humorist. Irony is ambivalent in its desire to express the communicative act itself, which consequently often remains hidden. Jokes imply an act of communication because only shared laughter will satisfy its creator. It is concluded that the unified, systematic theory of the comic presented here, which takes into consideration Hegel's theory of subjectivity, and the theories of the unconscious of Freud and Lacan, is hierarchical
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