The absurd and the comic



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Texas A&M University


In my thesis, I propose a theory that posits a connection between our absurd existential situation and our comic tendencies. I work within a framework of existentialist assumptions, the most important of which being the assumption that, as Sartre writes, "man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself." Consequently, I focus on the process of how human beings use humor to form themselves by using it to form their conception of reality. What I propose in my thesis is not an explanation of humor as much as it is an existential interpretation of its source and function. I begin with an analysis of the absurd. After considering and rejecting the arguments against the claim that life is not absurd, I argue that the disunity that we encounter in the world creates a need within us for stability and that one of the main ways in which we find this stability is through the comic. I use Berger and Luckmann's analysis of reality construction in my argument that the connections that we form with others through comical experiences construct and maintain a system of knowledge that satisfies what Camus calls our "nostalgia for unity," a desire that remains unfulfilled when we attempt to encounter the absurdity of human experience alone. The conclusion of my research is that it is through our laughing with others that we reify our expectations of reality. Our laughter at the objects that contradict our normative understanding of reality confirms that others share the same cognitive and affective position that we hold in a given situation, thus confirming our expectations of reality to be valid, a confirmation that protects us against the terror of the absurd.