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response to the alternative stagings.
Similarly, when a fast movement toward the camera in a point of view schema
startles us, it startles us directly without our simulating the character™s being star-
tled. Our cognitive/conative system may be off-line, but we need not be running
the character™s program in order to be startled. Nor do we need to simulate the
character™s mental state in order to recognize that he™s been startled. And a similar
explanation can be given for our response of disgust when a putrid monster
lurches from a dark corridor.We have direct access to our own response; we need
not imagine ourselves to be the character. For once again, the character might just
be unaware of the putrid monster.
Currie says that when we watch a character walking down a dark street, perhaps
in a detective thriller, we enliven the situation by simulating the character™s mental
state. But I think that this is not usually the case. Rather, we are onlookers.We are
more likely to subvocalize our concern in terms of thinking almost aloud:“Get out
of there,” or “Watch out!”We are not necessarily replicating the mental state of the
character. For again, remember that this could be a situation in which the character
SIMULATION, EMOTIONS, MORALITY 315
AND


feels no sense of danger. Will it make a difference or not? Perhaps we need some
experiments here, though my prediction about their outcome should be evident.
According to the simulationist, we use simulation in order to predict and
understand characters. On the other hand, I claim that simulation doesn™t play
much of a role in the typical case. Is there any way to motivate my claim? Perhaps
our response to villains is relevant here. Often villains are the characters whom it
is most difficult to understand “ in mass media narratives, they are often evil incar-
nate. Thus, one would predict that they would be especial targets of simulation.
But, I suspect that even simulation theorists will admit that we rarely try to put
ourselves in the place of villains, though ex hypothesi, these characters would seem
to be the ones who cry out most for simulation.
Also, I question how useful simulation is for following narratives. Simulation is
supposed to be a device for predicting behavior. But very often, the cognitive
stock of characters is beyond what the average audience member can simulate.
Who could have simulated the incredible catch that Buster Keaton executes when
his girlfriend goes over the falls in Our Hospitality? Characters often surprise us
just because their imagination is beyond simulation by average viewers, listeners,
and readers. Had one been simulating Rick™s state in Casablanca, it would have
been more likely to predict that he would fly off with Ilsa. But he surprises us.
Perhaps, most often when we consume fictions our posture is that of expecting
the characters to surprise us rather than that of simulating them.20
But, in any event, I think that we do have reason to believe that our relation to
characters is less often a matter of simulation than of what I have called elsewhere
assimilation.21 That is, rather than centrally imagining that we are the character,
we adopt the stance of an observer or an onlooker and form an overall emotional
response to the situation in which the character finds herself.This may involve an
assessment of the character™s emotional state. His anger may be relevant to our
indignation. But our access to his anger need not, and I claim, most often does
not, require simulation in order to be detected; and, in any case, our emotional
response is different than his, since our emotional response has as part of its object
a man who has been angered.
I am not prepared to claim that simulation never happens. Perhaps sometimes it
even happens as a subroutine in the process of assimilating the situation of the char-
acter. But I do think that it happens much less frequently than theorists like Currie
appear to think it does.They leave the impression that it is very pervasive. But I think
that, supposing it does occur, it is very rare.The simulation theorist, in my view, over-
estimates the importance of central imagining for our response to fiction. Indeed,
sometimes the emphasis on central imagining, where simulation is supposed to tell us
something about ourselves (i.e., about how we would act or feel), seems to me to be
an inappropriate response to fiction, since the author generally does not intend that
we imagine how we, as readers, feel.That may be to leave off paying attention to the
story and instead to go wandering off into some fantasy of our own.
But, in any case, it is my contention that, in the main, central imaginings, such as
simulations, have little to do with our typical response to fictions.That is more a mat-
316 ART, EMOTION, MORALITY
AND


ter of acentral imagining where, on the basis of acentrally imagining the situation of
the character (i.e., entertaining it in thought) from the perspective of an onlooker, we
go on to formulate our own emotional response to it, often assimilating the charac-
ter™s emotional state as part of the object of our more encompassing emotional state.
Thus far I have been focusing on the story the simulation theorist tells about
our emotional response to fiction. I have not addressed the link that the simula-
tion theorist alleges to obtain between simulation and moral deliberation. This
linkage, of course, is what the simulation theorist regards as one of the most
important relations, if not the most important relation, between narrative fiction
and morality. Needless to say, if simulation occurs as rarely as I assert, then this
relation to morality cannot be very comprehensive. But even if simulation occurs
more often than I have argued it occurs, it also pays to ask how significant this
putative link between simulating fictions and morality could really be?
According to Currie, fiction serves moral deliberation by providing information
about what it would be like to do certain things.Watching Sunrise and simulating the
mental state of the husband, I learn what it would feel like to intend to kill my wife.
This sort of information is relevant to moral reasoning, since knowing what it would
feel like to nurture this intention is something one should consider before embracing
it. For example, if as a result of such an exercise of the imagination, one thinks that
doing x would bring about insufferable discomfiture (in the form of pangs of con-
science), that should count as a reason against doing x.
But I am very skeptical about this picture of the relation of morality to fiction,
not only because I think that our perspective on characters is, in the vast majority
of cases, that of an onlooker rather than that of a simulator, but also because I
doubt whether the simulation of characters plays much of a role in moral deliber-
ation, since we know that the situations that fictional characters find themselves in
are contrived. I would not deny that simulation may play a role in moral deliber-
ation. However, I think that when it does play a role, we are simulating ourselves
undertaking alternative courses of action tailored to our own situations. Since the
situations of fictional characters are known by us to be made up, I doubt that
moral agents frequently use simulations of the states of fictional characters to assess
alternative lines of action for real-life purposes. Thus, if this kind of simulation
occurs rarely in moral deliberation, Currie™s account of the relation of fiction to
morality is not a very comprehensive one.
Simulation theory comes to aesthetics with impressive credentials, since it has
been ably defended by philosophers of mind. However, the phenomena that
philosophers of mind are dealing with are subtly different from the phenomena
aestheticians must consider when thinking about our emotional responses to fic-
tion and their significance for moral deliberation. In this brief essay, I have tried to
show why those differences indicate that there is little call for the concept of sim-
ulation in dealing with our emotional response to fictions.Thus, despite the grow-
ing popularity of simulation theory among English-speaking aestheticians, I argue
that it is a bandwagon that we should allow to pass us by.22
PA RT V: A LT E R N AT I V E T O P I C S




ON JOKES

Traditional comic theory has attempted to encompass a wide assortment of phe-
nomena. Often it is presented as a theory of laughter. But even where its ambit is
restricted to amusement or comic amusement, it typically attempts to cover quite
a large territory, ranging, for instance: from small misfortunes and unintentional
pratfalls; to informal badinage, tall stories, and insults; to jokes, both verbal and
practical, cartoons, and sight gags; through satires, caricatures, and parodies; and
onto something called a cosmic comic perspective.Thus, predictably enough, the
extreme variety of the subject matter “ reaching from puns to the comedy of
character “ customarily results in theories that are overly vague.
For example, the most popular contemporary type of comic theory “ the incon-
gruity theory1 “ is generally very loose about what constituted its domain (objects,
events, categories, concepts, propositions, maxims, characters, etc.) and, as well, it is
exceedingly generous about the relations that may obtain between whatever com-
poses the domain (contrast, difference, contrariness, contradiction, inappropriate sub-
sumption, unexpected juxtaposition, transgression, and so on). Consequently, such
theories run the danger of becoming vacuous; they seem capable of assimilating any-
thing, including much that is not, pretheoretically, comic.
Moreover, attempts to regiment such theories by making them more precise
tend to result in incongruity theories that are too narrow and, therefore, suscepti-
ble to easy counterexample. Schopenhauer, perhaps the most rigorous of incon-
gruity theorists, hypothesizes, for instance, that the relevant sense of incongruity
always involves the incorrect subsumption of a particular under a concept “ an
operation he believed could be uniformly diagnosed in terms of a syllogism in the
first figure whose conjunction of a major premise with a sophistical minor
premise invariably yields a false conclusion.2 But, as illuminating as this theory is
with respect to certain cases, it is hard to mobilize to account for what we find
humorous in a funny gesture, like Steve Martin™s silly victory dance at the baseball
game in the movie Parenthood. Again the problem seems to be that the field of
inquiry is so large that any relatively precise theory is likely to exclude part of it,
while, at the same time, adjusting for counterexamples appears to send us back in
the direction of vacuity.

From. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, XVI (1991), 280“301.

3 17
318 ALTERNATIVE TOPICS

Starting with the intuition that the objects of comic theory are too unwieldly,
I want to propose that the task of comic research might be better served if we pro-
ceed in a piecemeal fashion, circumscribing the targets of our investigations in
such a way that we will be better able to manage them.This does not imply that
we should ignore the rich heritage of comic theory, but only that we exploit it
selectively where this or that observation seems best to fit the data at hand.
In the spirit of the preceding proposal, I will restrict my subject to the joke,
which, though it may bear family relations to other forms of comedy, such as the
sight gag, I will, nevertheless, treat as a distinctive genre.The purpose of this essay
is to offer an account of jokes and, then, to go on to consider certain quandaries
that my theory may provoke, especially in terms of ethical issues that pertain to
such things as ethnic, racist, and sexist jokes. However, before advancing my own
view of the nature of jokes, the leading, rival theory in the field, namely, Freud™s,
deserves some critical attention.

F R E U D ™ S T H E O RY O F J O K E S

Freud™s theory of jokes is certainly the most widely known as well as one of the
most developed theories of jokes in our culture.Thus, if we want to field an alter-
native theory, we must show why this illustrious predecessor is inadequate, along
with indicating the ways in which our own view avoids similar pitfalls.
Freud™s theory of jokes is part “ albeit the largest part “ of his general theory
of what we might call amusement.3 He divides this genus into three subordinate
species: jokes (or wit), the comic, and humor. Membership in the genus seems to
be a matter of economizing psychic energy; the subordinate species are differenti-
ated with respect to the kind of psychic energy that each saves. Jokes represent a
saving of the energy required for mobilizing and sustaining psychic inhibitions.
The comic releases the energy that is saved by forgoing some process of thought.
And, lastly, humor is defined in terms of the saving of energy that would other-
wise be expended in the exercise of the emotions.
Put schematically: jokes are an economy of inhibition; the comic is an economy
of thought; and humor is an economy of emotion. Freud™s theory is often character-
ized as a release or relief theory of comedy4 for the obvious reason that the energy
that would have been spent inhibiting, thinking, and emoting in certain contexts is
freed or released by the devices of jokes, the comic, and humor, respectively.
A notable feature of Freud™s way of carving up this field of inquiry is that he
does it by reference to the types of psychic energy conserved rather than by refer-
ence to the structural features of distinctive comedic strategies. Thus, we might
anticipate that Freud™s way of mapping the territory may diverge from our stan-
dard ways of, for example, distinguishing jokes from other comedic genres. But
more on this in a moment.
Joking for Freud releases the energy saved by forgoing some inhibition.That
is, the joke frees the energy that would have gone into mounting and maintaining
some form of repression. What is involved here is readily exemplified by what
ON JOKES 319

Freud calls tendentious jokes “ jokes involved in manifesting sexual or aggressive
tendencies. Such jokes, so to speak, breach our defenses and liberate the psychic
energy we might have otherwise deployed against the sexual or aggressive content
articulated by the joke.
Though the gist of Freud™s theory is initially easy to see when the jokes in
question involve transgressive content, it is also the case, as Freud himself freely
concedes, that there are what to all intents and purposes appear to be innocent
jokes “ jests, nonsense, and ostensibly harmless wordplay.These do not seem pred-
icated on articulating transgressive content. But Freud™s general hypothesis is that
jokes involve a saving in terms of psychic inhibition. So the question then arises as
to what relevant inhibitions are lifted when one hears an innocent joke “ one that
evinces no sexual or aggressive purposes?
The second problem that Freud™s theory of jokes needs to address is the ques-
tion of how “ even if inhibitions are lifted when we hear sexual and aggressive
jokes “ this liberation from repression occurs. That is, supposing that we agree
with Freud that our inhibitions are put out of gear by tendentious jokes, we will
still want to know exactly how this happens.
Freud™s answers to these questions are interconnected. First, Freud establishes
that jokes employ certain techniques, notably: condensation, absurdity, indirect
representation, representation by opposites, and so on.5 These techniques “ call
them the jokework “ are the very stuff of innocent jokes, while at the same time
they parallel the techniques that Freud refers to as the dreamwork in his studies of
the symbolism of sleep.6 With dreaming, these structures, such as condensation, are
employed to elude censorship “ to protect the dream from repressive criticism.
And, at the same time, eluding censorship itself is pleasurable.
So, when tendentious jokes employ the techniques of the jokework, they avail
themselves of the kind of pleasure that beguiles our psychic censor and that lifts
our initial inhibitions in the first instance in such a way that the sexual or aggres-
sive content in the joke is free to deliver even more uninhibited pleasures in the
second instance.With tendentious jokes, inhibitions are thrown out of gear by the
jokework, which protects the transgressive content in the manner of the dream-
work, while also facilitating the relaxation of censorship by means of its own
beguiling pleasurableness.
This account, of course, still leaves our first question unanswered, namely, what
fundamental inhibitions are relieved in the case of innocent jokes? Freud tackles this
in two stages in his Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious. The first stage (which is
developed in chapter 4) might be thought of as a nonspecialized approximation of his
considered view, while the second stage (developed in chapter 6) is his specialized
(i.e., technical/psychoanalytic) refinement of his first approximation.
The first approximation correlates the jokework “ which is also the essence of
innocent wit “ with childlike wordplay and thought play: the “pleasure in non-
sense” of the child learning the language of her culture. Indulging in this childlike
pleasure represents a rebellion against the compulsion of logic and a relief from
the inhibitions of critical reason. The saving in psychical expenditure of energy
320 ALTERNATIVE TOPICS

that occasions the jokework, then, involves “re-establishing old liberties and get-
ting rid of the burden of intellectual upbringing.”7
This pleasure in reverting to childlike modes of thought can be further speci-
fied psychoanalytically in light of the analogy between the dreamwork and the
jokework. Jokes, even innocent jokes, employ infantile (not merely childlike)
modes of thought; they manifest the structures of thinking of the unconscious,
structures repressed by critical reason. When critical reason is put in abeyance,
regressive pleasure is released.“For the infantile source of the unconscious and the
unconscious thought-processes are none other than those “ the one and only ones
“ produced in early childhood. The thought which, with the intention of con-
structing a joke, plunges into the unconscious is merely seeking for the ancient
dwelling place of its former play with words.Thought is put back for a moment
to the stage of childhood so as once more to gain childhood pleasure.”8
The inhibitions lifted by innocent jokes (and by the jokework across the
board) are those of critical reason against infantile modes of thought and the
regressive pleasures they afford. But, as in the case of tendentious jokes, here again
we must ask: what makes the lifting of the inhibitions of critical reason possible?
That is, what protects the innocent joke in particular and the jokework in general
from the censorship of logic and reason? Freud™s hypothesis is that for the word
and thought play to be protected from criticism, it must have meaning or, at least,
the appearance of meaning.The childlike pleasure in alliteration, for example, can
elude criticism in expressions like “see you later, alligator,” where the saying has
some sense, though, admittedly, not of a resounding sort.

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