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On Humour (Thinking in Action) Paperback – June 2, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Simon Critchley is Professor of Philosophy and Director for the Centre of Theoretical Studies at the University of Essex. He is the author of Ethics-Politics-Subjectivity (1999) and Very LittleAlmost Nothing (Routledge, 1997). His most recent book is Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (2001).

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Product Details

  • Series: Thinking in Action
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1st edition (June 2, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848164270
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415251211
  • ASIN: 0415251214
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.3 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #490,734 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Simon Critchley is Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York. He is series moderator of "The Stone," a philosophy column in the New York Times, to which he is a frequent contributor.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Juha Lehtonen on July 27, 2004
Format: Paperback
Critchley observes humour from many perspectives: What is the role of crossing conventional cultural boundaries in comedy? How are the most simple-minded and -- may I say -- barbaric jests used as tools of societal isolation, racism and sexism? In what manner are religious ideas similar to or different from comical conceptions? Most importantly Critchley observes the relationship between our cultural existence and our profound and inescapable, but constantly disturbing animality.

Critchley's writing is extremely enjoyable. His theorizing could be occasionally hard to grasp if not familiar with his philosophical background, but the book never turns dull. Actually, in addition to being able to keep up the reader's enthusiasm, Critchley's writing is also remarkably amusing. Not only being explained perceiving theory of comedy, the reader is also able to test the theory himself while reading by observing his own chuckles, bursts of laughter and dark grins as Critchley tells -- depending on the context -- more or less witty jests. And always the jokes help to illustrate his more academical ends.

Personally I found the work fresh and inspiring, and also in aesthetic sense nimble. Enjoyable book, from cover to cover.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By ewomack VINE VOICE on December 31, 2007
Format: Paperback
Everyone is their own authority on humor. After all, who has the right to tell another person "Stop laughing! You don't find that funny!" Though humor contains distinct subjective elements, the story doesn't end there. Some jokes, characters, or narratives seem to elicit more laughter than others. In such cases, humor appears to contain objective traits. Here lies the comedian's Holy Grail. What makes people laugh and why? A comedic formula that guarantees mass expulsions of laughter remains as elusive as that legendary chalice. But people pursue it. Though dangers await all who search, as we will see, the rewards are so momentous they render all risks insignificant.

Laughter, at heart, is a philosophical problem. If we knew for certain the source of mirth, and we might someday, we wouldn't need sitcoms, romantic comedies, or bawdy limericks to stimulate our pleasure centers. We do know that humans laugh, and laughter seems indubitably human. This small and entertaining book by philosopher Simon Critchley starts with that simple proposition. We laugh but why? Other animals, such as hawks or grouse, don't seem to. But "reducing" a human to an animal or vice versa seems to make us smirk, or at least feel disgust, depending on the analogy. Anthropomorphizing animals, on the other hand, really seems to get us going. The book cites numerous examples, including cartoons such as "The Far Side" (as well as a joke about a rather naughty talking bear). Lurking underneath such species bending is human behavior. It turns out, according to this book, that we're far funnier than any animal. At the core of humor we find ourselves. All of our glory and puffery can get reduced to ridiculousness by an ill-timed fart. Such events verify our corporeality.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David VanderHamm on August 28, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is about as good as it gets for anyone wanting to think in depth (not necessarily "seriously") about humour. It is commendable both for its overview of the relevant theories as well as for Critchley's original ideas. It is short enough to read in an evening, but sufficiently substantial as well. Critchley writes as well as any contemporary philosopher I've read, which helps immensely when tackling a subject like this.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Gontar on March 19, 2015
Format: Paperback
That which Critchley proposes about the essence of humor is not true, though it points toward the true theory of humor that I presented in 2011, having begun to develop it in 2008. How does he point in the right direction? While he focuses on the fictional notion of objects or animals bestowed with humanity, this happens to be a key image of diminutive selfish self-deception. Rather than for the reasons Critchley gives, we find the animal-as-human funny for the simpler reason that it represents a kind of small-scale "ambition," the "desire to be man." How anyone can deny a principle like that and prefer the threadbare alternatives -- objectively -- is beyond me. Is it worth it to support a flimsy status quo? Surely you can understand an argument as simple as this, so if you don't agree or fail to act, you are delinquent. By flouting the rule of reason you refuse to grow up. You are being asked repeatedly to respect truth, as though you are a rebellious twelve-year-old.

The desire to be man in beings that are non-human, is not literal of course, but only figurative. And the less than human is a sign referring to type-differences among actual humans.

But what is signified in that case is real. And wherever there is any kind of ambition -- which is comical if it is small -- there's self-deception. All humor and comedy either constitute or represent this idea. But the aspiration in the thing-as-human is an elementary fact of experience, and the explanation is original to me. I point to that originality not in my own interest but to indicate a remarkable deficiency in psychology and philosophy. This book does gesture at this truth about power advancement as expressed in such juxtapositions, never yet explicitly acknowledged by the human race.
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