• Mark Twain’s Serious Humor and That Peculiar Institution: Christianity

    Chris A. Kramer (see profile)
    Analytic Philosophy, Film-Philosophy, Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion
    Wit and humor, Education, Twain, Mark, 1835-1910, Philosophy, Literature--Philosophy
    Item Type:
    Book chapter
    Humor, Humor studies, Mark Twain, Philosophy and literature
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    According to Manuel Davenport, “The best humorists--Mark Twain, Will Rogers, Bob Hope, and Mort Sahl--share [a] mixture of detachment and desire, eagerness to believe, and irreverence concerning the possibility of certainty. And when they become serious about their convictions--as Twain did about colonialism…they cease to be humorous”. I agree with the first part, but not the second. Humor does require disengagement, but not completely such that one has no emotional interest in the subject of the humor. Humor does require some degree of commitment to value, but, as Davenport rightly notes, it “despairs of absolutes.” Following Bertrand Russell, “humorous” and “serious” are not antonyms. Davenport does not provide examples of Twain’s attempts at satire that fail to be humorous due to being serious. I will examine some of the very serious issues Twain addresses through irony and humor, and make the case that his commentary and argument, though serious, is still funny while not falling into frivolity. “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know; it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.” Complacency, self-satisfaction, disinclination to self-monitoring, all lead to closed mode, or rather, to sustaining a serious mode which can spill over into a “spirit of seriousness” if not checked. This feeling or attitude, the “spirit of seriousness”, is what Twain confronts with serious humor, motivating his readers to consider where their ideals and reality contradict.
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    Last Updated:
    3 years ago
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