According to Koestler, there are exactly 29 references to humor -- or at least laughter -- in the Hebrew Bible. Interestingly, only two are "born out of a joyful and merry heart," while thirteen "are linked with scorn, derision, mocking, or contempt" -- with the sarcastic ha ha of Nelson Muntz.
However, I think we need to widen out our definition of humor, because much of what is humorous resides in the Human -- in Homo hoho -- not in the text or the situation per se. Funny things are everywhere, but it takes a funnyman to notice them -- to bring out the implicit connection that tickles the funny bone.
I've been reading Koestler's The Act of Creation, which regards humor as the equal of scientific discovery and artistic creation. You might say that each of these three quintessentially human activities has the identical deep structure.
Many people have noticed, for example, that the theory of anthropocentric global warming is a joke. Problem is, it is a bad joke, because instead of seeing an implicit connection between two frames of reference -- in this case, weather and human activity -- it just makes one up. So the humor is forced, like the severely cramped and restricted humor that is permitted in a politically correct world.
Or sometimes the PC world forbids seeing the real comedic connection, therefore barring certain subjects from ridicule for the purpose of sustaining power. This article, for example, explains why comedians have somehow failed to exploit the comedic goldmine that is Obama:
'We learn this from Jim Downey, the longtime Saturday Night Live specialist in political japery. "If I had to describe Obama as a comedy project, I would say, ‘Degree of difficulty, 10 point 10,’” the writer says in the expanded new edition of the “SNL” oral history book, “Live from New York.”
'“It’s like being a rock climber looking up at a thousand-foot-high face of solid obsidian, polished and oiled,” Downey says. “There’s not a single thing to grab onto — certainly not a flaw or hook that you can caricature."'
Okay. Least funny president ever:
"The charter Choom Ganger, confessed eater of dog and snorter of coke. The doofus who thinks the language spoken by Austrians is 'Austrian,' that you pronounce the p in 'corpsman' and that ATMs are the reason why job growth is sluggish. The egomaniac who gave the queen of England an iPod loaded with his own speeches and said he was better at everything than the people who work for him. The empty suit with so little real-world knowledge that he referred to his brief stint working for an ordinary profit-seeking company as time 'behind enemy lines.' The phony who tells everyone he’s from Chicago, though he didn’t live there until his 20s, and lets you know that he’s talking to people he believes to be stupid by droppin’ his g’s. The world-saving Kal-El from a distant solar system who told us he’d heal the planet and cause the oceans to stop rising. The guy who shared a middle name with one of the most hated dictators on earth."
And that just touches the surface: his Lovely Wife. The Mom Jeans. The intellectual and physical laziness. The pomposity. The corruption. The backwoods liberal insularity. The straw man arguments. The compulsive lying. The thin skin. The media sycophancy. The fascination with celebrity trash. The never ending campaign. The absurdly positive Pravda-esque pronouncements on the economy. The blaming of government as if he's not in charge of it. Not only is Obama an ass, he is a perfect ass.
Anyway, Koestler's book is the only one I know of that gives humor its proper due, and treats it with the metacosmic seriousness it deserves (which itself is kind of funny). In the subsequent week or so, I hope to not only plunder the book for all it's worth, but extend his arguments into some hitherto unexplored corners of cosmic merriment -- or in other words, illuminate the divine sense of humor, which Raccoons know subjectively as the guffah-HA! experience.
In many ways, the latter is what defines us, which is why a Raccoon has merely to read the blog's masthead to know in his bones that he's come to the right place -- that he has found a spiritual home, or at least a halfway decent flophouse.
But today I have only time enough to play a fundation. Let's see how far we can take the joke in our remaining moments.
The frontispiece of the book has a helpful cosmic cartography that looks like this:
What does it mean? How to interpret the pleasure map? First, it reads from left to right; or maybe from the center, with left and right hands. Basically, the left column belongs to the Jester, the center the Sage, and the right the Artist. The center sage has to do with truth, while the right has to do with beauty. With what does the left have to do?
Koestler doesn't exactly say, as he leaves a lot to the imagination. Getting awkwardly personal for a moment, there are a couple of things I might say. There is no post in which I do not attempt to convey truth, beauty, and humor. The latter is especially difficult to judge, since I can't hear the joyous peals of laughter from my precious lambs.
Koestler points out that the person crafting the joke doesn't have the same physical reaction as the one who hears it. How then does one detect the humor? "The person who invents the joke or comic idea seldom laughs in the process." In fact, it just occurred to me that some things are so funny that they are beyond funny. For example, I might react to a Perfect Tweet by Iowahawk not with laughter, but with an envious THAT'S FUCKING BRILLIANT!
However, the converse might occur with a particularly earth-shattering scientific discovery: it might literally provoke laughter, a spontaneous physical release upon perceiving the hitherto hidden connection. So right there we see that jokes can be serious while science can be a hoot.
And not only. I have also noticed that certain aesthetic experiences -- i.e., exposure to beauty -- may provoke laughter. In my case it often occurs with music. I might hear something that provokes a broad smile accompanied a spontaneous confession that this is ridiculous! In fact, it occurred last Sunday morning while listening to some gospel music. Here was one of the tunes:
The same song in a different style also made me grin:
So don't tell me God doesn't laugh.