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Engaging Humor

Elliott Oring

Publication Year: 2003

Elliott Oring asks essential questions concerning humorous expression in contemporary society, examining how humor works, why it is employed, and what its messages might be. This provocative book is filled with examples of jokes and riddles that reveal humor to be a meaningful--even significant--form of expression. Oring provides alternate ways of thinking about humorous expressions by examining their contexts--not just their contents. Engaging Humor demonstrates that when analyzed contextually and comparatively, humorous expressions emerge as communications that are startling, intriguing, and profound.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

Discussions and debates about humor and laughter have been going on for at least twenty-five hundred years.1 While the chapters in this volume are unlikely to bring any particular lines of this discussion to a definite close, I would like to believe that they can provide some alternate and, I hope, interesting ways of thinking about humor ...

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1. Appropriate Incongruity Redux

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pp. 1-12

Humor, I have argued, depends upon the perception of an appropriate incongruity; that is, the perception of an appropriate relationship between categories that would ordinarily be regarded as incongruous.1 A brief example should suffice to illustrate the notion: ...

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2. The Senses of Absurd Humor

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pp. 13-26

There is a portion of humorous expression that has been termed by various commentators “nonsensical” or “absurd.”3 But what defines this subset of humor and how does it relate to some “standard” humor that lacks nonsensical or absurd characteristics?4 Does it employ different mechanisms or depend on different principles than other forms of humor? ...

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3. Joke Thoughts

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pp. 27-40

No figure looms larger in the modern history of symbolism than Sigmund Freud. It was Freud who made symbolism a primary concern of the human sciences in the twentieth century and utterly transformed the conceptualization of human behaviors. ...

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4. The Humor of Hate

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pp. 41-57

At the close of the mystery novel A Fine Red Rain, the prostitute Mathilde accuses Emil Karpo, a detective in the Office of the Procurator General in Moscow, of being a romantic. Karpo utterly denies the charge, asserting there is nothing he has ever done or said to substantiate such a claim. ...

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5. Blond Ambitions and Other Signs of the Times

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pp. 58-70

In the last few decades a new attitude has emerged in the United States toward humor. Once thought a crucial aspect of the well-rounded personality, humor has increasingly become problematic as jokes and other forms of humorous expression have been tied to the meanest of motives and implicated in the creation of all sorts of baleful effects. ...

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6. Humor and the Suppression of Sentiment

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pp. 71-84

“Under the mask of humor, our society allows infinite aggressions, by everyone against everyone.” “At the root of a great many jokes . . . lies a deepseated hostility and a desire to degrade.” “American humor is violent—and often sexist, racist, brutal and disgusting as well.”1 ...

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7. The Joke as Gloss

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pp. 85-96

Essex Man did not spawn a joke cycle. He was regarded not as a sign but as a real sociological category. In fact, he was but one in a line of “affluent workers” described by British sociologists. The income of these workers equaled or surpassed the income of those in the traditional middle class, ...

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8. Colonizing Humor

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pp. 97-115

Despite the recognition that jokes and anecdotes migrate, the content and style of a people’s humor is usually assumed to be peculiar to the people to whom it belongs. This sense of peculiarity extends beyond the recognition that the humor of a nation will be expressed in its own particular language, ...

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9. Sigmund Freud's Jewish Joke Book

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pp. 116-128

Almost a century ago, Sigmund Freud published a book that continues to shape the understanding of humor by scholars and the general public alike. In Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, Freud attempted to corral humor, and aesthetic expression more generally, into the domain of the unconscious and the purview of psychoanalytic insight. ...

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10. The Context of Internet Humor

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pp. 129-140

If 1998 and 1999 were not favorable years for the person of William Jefferson Clinton,1 they were exceedingly favorable for humor about him. By the end of January 1999, late-night television talk-show hosts had told some 1,712 jokes about President Clinton and 749 jokes about others associated with the scandal.2 ...

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pp. 141-146

The chapters in this book have focused upon three major issues: the structure of humor, the motives of humor, and the meanings of humor. Humor depends upon the apprehension of a particular structure of ideas that I call “appropriate incongruity.” This sense of what is humorous has been recognized by a number of scholars for several centuries, ...


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pp. 147-162


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pp. 163-202


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pp. 203-208

E-ISBN-13: 9780252092053
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252075933

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2003