Tuesday, May 02, 2006

More on Reason and Humour

Since at least one of my readers has commented that he finds interesting these scholarly and sometimes confusing essays, I am happy to add a little more to the confusion with the next installment from Fr. Thomas. According to my archives this series is rather unaccountably incomplete - moreover, I cannot seem to find its starting point. But then I cannot even guess how many of these back issues I may be missing. Well, we can be grateful for what we have. There were rumours that Father was going to put all this together into a book, but there were some kind of international copyright issues to be resolved. And we all know how he was called to Roma some years ago, so many of his projects were probably suspended.

But, along with DNA, computers, Chesterton, Jaki, Duhem, science, Catholicism, cooking, painting, music, and all the other interesting topics, I am also interested in humour, and have done some studies, yes, even of the transiting avian. (You ought to see what that looks like when you express it in the formalisms of automata theory! Wow.)

And hey - is there really any such thing as an uninteresting topic? No way - not to a Chestertonian! One of the boldest, but most accurate phrases in all of Fr. Jaki's writing is a chapter title from his Chesterton a Seer of Science, where he calls GKC the "Champion of the Universe". (So it's little wonder the American Chesterton Society publishes the "Chesterton University Student Handbook"!)

-- Dr. Thursday
Humor and Its Basis in Reason
by Father A. Thomas, O.P.

In our previous column, we discussed certain variations of the principle of humor known as the "Double Dictionary Entry." Let us consider another example, which might be classed as a municipal entry, along with highways and sewage. Blücher again classes it as one of the avian/aviator form, though again this may be due to errors in translation. We give it as it appears in the May issue of Chronicles of the Metaphysical Municipality:
Q: What is big and yellow, has four wheels, and flies?
A: A garbage truck.
By now, the Blücher approach will be obvious, but when this aphorism was discussed in a number of papers in subsequent issues of Archaeology of Aphorism, the debate centered on Blücher's suggestion that the operative word is not wheels but rather yellow.
This aphorism was thus proposed as one of the very interesting subclasses of the "Double Dictionary Entry" - those which takes advantage of color. The subclass itself has a multitude of variations, each of which has given rise to proposed rules of aphorism or humor, though each has also been fiercely debated as well. Let us pass, however, from examples of the Blücher style, to those analyzed with such care by Flemington-Richardson: the "black-and-white" category. The first one is:
Q: What is black and white and red all over?
A: A newspaper.
The difficulties attendant upon translation of this classic aphorism proved too much for Blücher, which is why it does not appear in his otherwise complete collection. He also omits this one, which is a clerical derivative:
Q: What is black and white, black and white, black and white?
A: A nun rolling down a hill.
This aphorism clearly dates before 1962, and it has been the subject to censure and severe condemnation by some ecclesiastics, as it excludes those orders which use brown or blue in their habits, or those whose Rule forbids rolling on the ground (which are now quite few, thank God!)
The third of these appears in a little-known monograph by J. Gilson (not E. Gilson!), which is an obvious derivative of the above.
Q: What's black and white, black and white, black and white, and green?
A: Three skunks fighting over a pickle.
Several authors class this as one of the more elegant derivatives in the long history of aphorisms, and I think it speaks for itself.
Let us, then, conclude this week's consideration of colors with this remarkable example, which invokes what Chesterton considered the most transcendental color of all.
Q: What is gray on the inside and clear on the inside?
A: An elephant in a baggie.
We are not certain which part of this is the most interesting: attempting to find such a large plastic bag, attempting to insert the pachyderm into the bag, or the events subsequent to its insertion. However, I have no intention of trying it. I never bought live poultry and took them to the highway. Perhaps this was Blücher's downfall.

Reprinted with permission from
Something Good To Read
Vol. CXIV No. 229 (Feb. 4, 1998)

A note: I think Father's reference to GKC is the phrase "transparency is a sort of transcendental colour" from The Poet and the Lunatics.


Post a Comment

<< Home