Incongruity and Seriousness

Florida Philosophical Review 15 (1):1-18 (2015)
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In the first part of this paper, I will briefly introduce the concept of incongruity and its relation to humor and seriousness, connecting the ideas of Arthur Schopenhauer and the contemporary work of John Morreall. I will reveal some of the relations between Schopenhauer's notion of "seriousness" and the existentialists such as Jean Paul Sartre, Simone Be Beauvoir, and Lewis Gordon. In section II, I will consider the relationship between playfulness and incongruity, noting the role that enjoyment of incongruity plays in creative, non-dogmatic thinking. In section III, I will critique Morreall's arguments against the efficacy of humor as a means of serious protest, analyzing the complex relationship between the ambiguous terms "seriousness" and "playfulness". In the final section, I contend that Morreall's conception of humor, with which I generally agree, fails to adequately address subversive humor. He is cognizant of the benefits of a humorous attitude and of the work of rebellious groups who use humor, but his insistence that the play mode of humor precludes emotional attachment and practical concern, renders his philosophical analysis of humor far less comprehensive than his title suggests. I will make the case, contra Morreall, and he is the most prominent of many humor theorists who make similar points, that some humor in play mode is non-existentially, non-gravely serious, and intends to do more than simply "delight" audiences; the subversive humorist, in particular, is attempting to disclose and transmit information in such a way as to create change in both attitudes and practical social interactions.
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