Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Eco, Umberto. "The Comic and the Rule."

Eco, Umberto. "The Comic and the Rule." Faith in Fakes. Trans. William Weaver. London: Vintage, 1998.

Eco distinguishes between humour and the comic, both of which arise out of the violation of cultural and social rules. Humour is understood as a positive force, wherein a social or textual rule is explicitly established and then broken (“Comic” 276-8), such that the values therein embedded are revealed (“Carnival” 7-8). In contrast, the comic is a rhetorical device in which a social rule or intertextual frame is broken without that frame ever being made explicit (“Comic” 272). Hence, in order for the comic to be appreciated as such, the rule must be presupposed to the extent that it is regarded as inviolable; comedy is only perceptible to those who have internalised the rule to point where it is regarded as inviolable (“Comic” 275). Thus what appears as a moment of liberation is argued to actually institute a reinforcement of the existing order: in the modern media, “laughing is allowed precisely because before and after the laughing, weeping is inevitable” (“Comic” 275). Moreover, even as the carnivalesque humour of the mass media reveals that the rules may be broken, it circumscribes the conditions for doing so, only in specific arenas and in particular ways (Eco, “Carnival” 6). The distinction between the comic and humour can therefore be framed that carnivalesque comedy breaks the rule and, in doing so, reinscribes it; where as humour acts to defamiliarise the rule and therefore make it known.

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