An alert member of the elite readers of this blog sent me this link to a paper, "What makes humour aesthetic?"
I'm not going to lie, I'm not going to make idiots of you, I'm not going to take you on a ride on my spangled unicycle down stupid lane . . . I only skimmed this paper. Barely. I haven't studied it deeply, I am not presenting you with a comprehensive rebuttal, I'm not hitching you on a spangled unicycle and taking you down brilliant analysis lane.
But it includes one of my favourite quotes from the humor philosopher, John Morreal:
In aesthetic experience, we are not out for sexual gratification, enhanced self esteem, or other self-interested emotions, but are enjoying the experience of the object itself. Here there is a parallel between funny objects and aesthetic objects in general. Any work of art, or any natural object, can be enjoyed in non-aesthetic as well as in aesthetic ways. A general could enjoy a sunset for its promise of clear weather for his dawn attack. Someone could masturbate looking at the Venus de Milo.
I'm sorry, is there something else you're supposed to do when looking at the Venus de Milo? I got some funny looks when I did it in front of the Mona Lisa, but that was mostly because I was the only person there working both ends at once. Really. Come on. Enough is enough. It's like Catholicism here, where the celibates get to define the limits of carnality. Why should the non-masturbators get to define the limits of aesthetics?
Anyway, the author of the paper smooshes Morreal under his thumb but, like a foolish, ambitious general who quashes a village and now decides he's Alexander the Great and sets about conquering the entire known world, he won't let a small victory suffice; he leaves the smoldering ruins and charred heaps of Morreal, where the survivors howl and claw through the charcoaled remains, turns to face the loud, storming world of comedy and says, "I'm coming to get you, and I've got a theory." Little does he know . . .
In his theory, he's trying to distinguish aesthetic from non-aesthetic humor:
Thus, I would like to propose the following hypothesis, which will be tested shortly: humor is aesthetic to the extent that it arouses the viewers’ imagination, provides them with insights about human existence, and provokes them to think more critically and creatively. My contention is, therefore, that even if the humor in question is very amusing and funny, if it does not meet these three essential conditions, then it should not be considered aesthetic.
Now, I think this is absolutely fine. In fact, it's great and he is exactly right. He's exactly right because he is simply making stuff up and so he can create it and define it any way he likes, just as I now will make up the concept of arachnohumanism, which requires that somebody live in a flat or apartment that is web-like, drinks dew or the equivalent of dew (municipal water will do), and multi-tasks (i.e. metaphorically has eight arms and legs). This should be distinguished from another form of arachnohumanism, which I define as an affinity for constantly creating new works of art, new business models, novelty of some sort, in order to attract mates and earn money. We can sit around all day and make stuff up and define it and then see what fits and what doesn't.
Anyway, the author of the paper goes on to diss a Sarah Silverman passage as 'non-aesthetic', comparing it unfavourably to a Carlin and a Pryor passage, both of which are 'aesthetic'. It's a bit like condemning Shakespeare by quoting some boringly lovelorn shepherd in one of the problem plays and comparing it to a favourite piece of Ovid and Homer.
The real problem is that comedy infiltrates those areas of existence that are not supposed to be aesthetic -- David Chappelle says reality is hidden for a reason, these area of existence are 'not supposed to be aesthetic' for reasons: for moral reasons, because of their ugliness, because of their banality, because of their privilege. The real problem is in distinguishing 'aesthetic humor' from 'non-aesthetic humor' (an argument that we'll leave for a rainy day; there really is none; it's all aesthetic); no, it's how comedy is like somebody standing in front of the Venus de Milo, wanking, and everybody realises: that's right. He gets it.