What Are You Reading…On Humor

Recently, I came across a new Harry Potter chapter written by a predictive text computer program. The organization that organized this, Botnik, has had the program write advertisements, horoscopes, TV scripts (for shows like Scrubs and Arrested Development), and many other things. The piece is amusing because it uses many recognizable words from the Harry Potter universe, even mimicking Rowling’s style, but the plot makes no sense.  According to Botnik, the point is to create things “at once faintly recognizable and completely absurd” in order to “find natural ways for people and machines to interact to create what neither would have created alone.”  The chapter is titled “Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash,” and includes great lines like:

  • “‘If you two can’t clump happily, I’m going to get aggressive,’ confessed the reasonable Hermione.”
  • “Ron was going to be spiders. He just was.  He wasn’t proud of that, but it was going to be hard not to have spiders all over his body when all is said and done.”
  • “They looked at the door, screaming about how closed it was and asking for it to be replaced with a small orb. The password was “BEEF WOMEN,” Hermione cried.”

Absurdity is a great source for humor, given how it combines unexpected things in irrational ways. But it can be an excellent source of philosophy too. For instance, what better way to illustrate the irrationality of an opponent’s position than by reducing it to a humorous absurdity? Or, if you are partial to the existentialist school of thought, it gives you insight into the true nature of human experience.  Other forms of humor, from irony to satire, have also had a place in the history of philosophy, and philosophers from Ancient Greece to the present have used them in their writings. Here are some papers that examine that connection in more detail.

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