GROUCHO MARXIST THEORY OF HUMOR -- WHY A DUCK?

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Sat Jun 3 19:52:55 MDT 1995


Did anybody get my joke about the Third Camp?

Jerry, I'm so sorry you're getting bored, 'cause if my act is
getting stale so soon, a big hook is going to grab my torso and
pull me offstage.  (Gus Hall will be on the other end of it, no
doubt.)  Then the Scott and Jerry show will monopolize the stage.
Hey, everybody, let's have a vanguard party.   (Drum roll.)

This topic is only starting to get interesting for me.  I haven't
thought so much about the philosophy of humor and the humor of
philosophy since I first moved to DC a decade ago, when the first
two books I read to overcome the culture shock of yuppiedom (after
living my whole life in proletarian Rust Belt bergs) were
Ellison's INVISIBLE MAN and MATHEMATICS AND HUMOR by some guy,
maybe that Paulos guy who wrote INNUMERACY.  Chris B isn't the
only one to use mathematical catastrophe theory to describe humor,
though I find this approach too formalist even for
menshevist-idealizing likes of me.

Santiago also gets the whiff of an important theoretical issue,
but nobody will give him any play.  Now tell me: how many
postcolonial intellectuals does it take to screw in a light bulb?


And as for the Irish, well, having grown up as a victim of the
violence and bigotry of Irish-Americans, I'm afraid I have a
different take on this subject than some of you, and I stopped
laughing long enough to note that it is not a very flattering (if
revealing) portrait of an Irishman to break somebody's nose at the
drop of a hat.  There happen to be other ethnic groups out there
whose offspring are enculturated to respond rather differently to
verbal provocations.  So please, send all your Irish jokes to me,
and I promise to relish every one.  The only ones I know are those
my Irish friends told me back in Buffalo, raised as they were
under the Irish Catholic Holy Trinity of child abuse,
wife-beating, and alcoholism.

But I seem to be too serious.  "Are not words made for the heavy,
are not words lies to the light?", asked Nietzsche in one of his
more inspired, less supercilious moments.  I believe here is that
golden opportunity to transcend the customary axiomatic structure
of theoretical cognition that Juan gropes for in Argentina.  For I
do believe that a Marxist theory of humor, which I put forth in
all comedicness, should be recursively self-exemplifying.  I would
hate to see anyone throw away the opportunity to make that
dialectical leap to a higher plane of understanding.  But I stand
humbled before my incapacity to top the brilliance of my previous
jokes.  Having laid the Grundrisse of a dialectical if not
historical materialist theory of humor, I don't think I can pursue
the decisive abstract general relations of the use value of the
political economy of humor at an even higher level so that I can
reproduce the concrete as a concept, or better yet, as a joke.

A plague on both your houses!


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