My literature review of the domain of humour studies has two broad ambitions.
The link between theory and practice leads to the first ambition of the literature review. The creative work at the core of this research project, the development of humorous conversational agents, needs to be grounded in a theory of humour that can encompass the interaction of human and non-human actors. I feel Bergson's theory supplies this basis. I argue that his “new law” of comedy that states, “We laugh every time a person gives us the impression of being a thing” may be tested by being inverted (Bergson 2005, p.28, Original Publication 1911). That is, will we laugh when a thing gives the impression of being a person? Testing this argument in a creative work is a substantive addition to the field. The logic of undertaking such an inversion test is based on the “Computers as Social Actors” (CASA) paradigm.
Humour has been studied from various perspectives including the psychological, social and anthropological. Each of these domains has contributed a unique theoretical understanding. However, added to these academic understandings of humour are accounts of the practice of humour. For example, Cicero’s De Oratore can be understood as an account of the verbal techniques used to promote a cause or defend a client. Likewise, Stephen Halliwell in the introduction to his translation of Aristotle’s Poetics argues that “The Poetics … represents something in the nature of teaching materials or ‘lecture notes’, produced not as a text for private reading by anyone interested, but for instructional use in an educational context” (Halliwell in Aristotle 1995, p.4). These texts, and more modern ones, provide an insight into the link between theory and practice.
The second ambition is to provide an overview of the existing literature. This overview is structured as a chronology to make explicit the historical order of the threads and concepts that have informed the current state of humour theory.
So far this all sounds 'cool and froody' to use a Zaphod Beeblebrox expression. Truth be told - I'm a lot more like Arthur Dent than the freewheeling Zaphod. I've developed a personal relationship with a brick wall - I keep hitting my head against it and it doesn't seem to mind in the slightest.