Laughter (Tariq Ali)
Why do we laugh? How do we laugh? The answers depends on different aspects of our make-up: language, culture, tradition, etc. Can there be a truly universal humour? I am sceptical, though the market tries hardto confect a global amusement. US television networks make up for the deficiencies of other nationalities and cultures by the introduction of canned laughter in comedy shows. There is no longer any need to laugh. It has been sorted out by the producer/director and like one of Pavlov’s dogs all that is required is for a viewer to sit back and join the fun. Even jokes about sex and sexuality, which could aspire to universality, are not always appreciated to the same extent, if at all, by every cultures. For instance take a traditional popular anecdote from South Asia: “A nobleman fucking his wife’s maidservant could not manage an erection. He instructed her to take his penis in her mouth and help him. As she did so he farted. The maidservant began to laugh and the limp penis dropped out. He said: ‘What is there to laugh about? I’m not Sulaiman (Solomon) that I can command the wind.’ ‘No’, she replied, ‘and I’m not Isa (Jesus) that I can bring the dead back to life.’ This might bring a smile to the face of a Westerner who understand the references, but would a Confucian appreciate it at all? The way we laugh is equally related to class and culture. Refined women, for instance, and in most cultures, were taught that laughter was vulgar and their hand should cover their mouth were they tempted to do so.
There is a Punjabi saying: Hansi te phansi (She laughs, she’s yours). Even in the case of men loud laughter was generally regarded as the privilege of peasants and the ‘lower orders’ excepting gentleman who had drunk too much and could be forgiven. In some ways these traditions persist. Unaffected laughter remains a subversive act.
Pour citer cette ressource :
Tariq Ali, "Laughter (Tariq Ali)", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), juin 2014. Consulté le 29/11/2023. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/entretiens-et-textes-inedits/laughter-tariq-ali-