A Marxist theory of Humor?

glevy at acnet.pratt.edu glevy at acnet.pratt.edu
Sat Jun 3 13:53:06 MDT 1995

Dear Santiago:

Since you are determined to continue discussion of this subject I will
briefly answer the questions you raise below.

Are all theoretical issues also practical political issues?  I think not
(I assume you would agree if you give the question some reflection).
Are all practical political issues theoretical?  In a sense, yes.  All
positions on practical political issues imply a certain ideology and
"method" that the political person brings to bear on the subject (and a
certain relation that said person has to material reality and social and
class forces).

Intentions and effects:  Intentions certainly have to be taken into
consideration.  Whether a person intends or doesn't intend something
frequently doesn't effect results.  Lenin talking to Clara Zetkin once
recited the old expression (concerning a German communist, Paul Levi):
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

We are all responsible not only for our intentions alone (an idealistic
concept) but our actions and the consequences of our actions.

I believe that no one on this list intended to be saxist.  Had I believed
otherwise, my replies would have been sharper.

Let's discuss something else -- I'm getting bored with this topic.



On Sat, 3 Jun 1995, Santiago Colas wrote:

> Jerry,
> Could you elaborate, if you aren't already tired of being on the hot seat
> for this topic, on the distinction you make between "theoretical issue"
> and "practical political question"?  And then also, to say something
> about how one determines first, what the "intentions" of a particular
> statement (humourous or otherwise) might be?  what its effects (e.g.
> giving offense) might be and for whom?  What the relations between
> "intentions" and effects might be?  And, of course, what sorts of forces
> (I'm thinking, primarily, of class relations) shape these three things
> (intentions, effects, relations) and how?  I know you disclaimed the post
> reproduced below as not a theory of humor, perhaps getting at some of
> these question might at least begin to expose some of the presuppositions
> upon which such a theory might rest...
> Best,
> Santiago
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Santiago Colas					e-mail:	scolas at umich.edu
> Asst. Professor					phone:	(313) 763-4352
> Latin American and Comparative Literature	fax:	(313) 764-8163
> University of Michigan
> Ann Arbor, MI  48109-1275
> On Sat, 3 Jun 1995 glevy at acnet.pratt.edu wrote:
> > Is it possible for one to develop a Marxist theory of literary
> > criticism?  What about a Marxist theory of visual arts?  A Marxist theory
> > of language?  A Marxist theory of ideology?  A Marxist theory of
> > consciousness?  If you answer yes to any of the above, I don't see how
> > you can believe that a Marxist theory of comedy is not possible.
> >
> > I am not attempting below to offer such a theory.  The point that I was
> > trying to make is that humor has its origins in the conditions of
> > material reality and is class-specific.
> >
> > If list participants would simply agree that some forms of humor are
> > offensive and intended to degrade and demean classes, or nationalities,
> > or ethnic groups, or women -- and should therefore be avoided -- I think
> > we could move forward to other topics.  This is not primarily a
> > theoretical issue, but a practical political question.  I am quite sure,
> > for instance, that our list members from the ANC are very well aware of
> > how language and humor can be a means for the continued oppression of
> > certain groups.  I am rather surprised that other list members don't also
> > realize this.
> >
> > Jerry
> >
> > On Sat, 3 Jun 1995, KERRY wrote:
> >
> > > :Since you are evidently very interested in the topic of humor, I would
> > > :ask:  Could you give us the outline of a Marxist theory of humor?
> > > : Humor is a part of language and ideology, I would suggest.  Humor is
> > > : often class, race, or gender-based.  It can be a means with which the
> > > :ruling class continues its domination.  Consequently, there can be
> > > :progressive humor and reactionary humor, humor which moves the struggle
> > > :for socialism forward and humor which retards that struggle.  What is
> > > :humorous for one class is frequently insulting to another.
> > >
> > > And they said that this type of structuralist/economistic type of Marxist
> > > anaylsis died out  over 30 years ... hah :)
> > >
> > >
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> > >
> >
> >
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> >
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