Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Tradition as Gelotopoesis: An Essay on the Hermeneutics of Laughter in Martin Heidegger

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Tradition as Gelotopoesis: An Essay on the Hermeneutics of Laughter in Martin Heidegger

Article excerpt


Philosophers have often been thought as thinkers bereft of laughter and cheerfulness. The idea that a lot of people, including a good numbers of philosophers, have is that philosophers represent an ascetic class of people who advance a serious discipline of the most difficult and profound issues. One might assume that Martin Heidegger is such a grave figure. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Heidegger's closest and most trusted student, testifies the following:

   Heidegger was a person beset by great questions and final things, a
   person who was shaken down to the last fibers of his existence, who
   was concerned with God and death, with Being and 'nothing,' and who
   had been called to thinking as the mission of his life. These were
   the burning questions of an aroused generation whose pride in their
   cultural and educational tradition had been shaken, the questions
   that plagued a generation crippled by the horrors of the
   materialistic slaughter of World War I, and these questions were
   also Heidegger's questions. (1)

Gadamer's remark seems to be confirmed by the undoubted observation that Heidegger had nothing to say about the effect of laughter in philosophical tradition. As a result, there is almost no direct engagement with the question of laughter in particular and that of the comic in general among Heidegger's scholars. (2)

In what follows, I beg to differ and point out that the question of laughter sanctions the question of the meaning of Being as envisioned and rehearsed by Heidegger. By raising the question of laughter, I inverse the question 'What is the meaning of laughter?' into the question 'Why is it laughter that brings forth meaning?' Rephrased in a Heideggerian way, I put forth the question, 'Why is it laughter that reveals an understanding of Being as well as the preconceived prejudices of tradition that conceal such an understanding?' However, it is most important to note that I embark on the question of laughter comically and ridiculously since I follow Heidegger's text closely in order to find something that is not explicitly stated in the text. Indeed, what really matters in this essay in not what Heidegger explicitly says but rather what Heidegger could never possibly say. The underlying trick here is that what Heidegger could never possibly say is the laughable, which authorizes Heidegger's saying.

In the essay, I hope to initiate a propaedeutic of a hermeneutics of laughter. I introduce the question of laughter as the tricky question that advances both an understanding of Being and the assumed prejudices that distort such an understanding. I identify laughter in an inextricable connection with trickery since the interpretive method at hand is fashioned from the mythological figure of Hermes who incurs laughter as he deceives. I argue, hence, in favour of a hermeneutics of laughter that dispenses meaning in the form of poetic composition. The hermeneut is initiated in the hermeneutic circle by a poetic act of laughter, called [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] by the Greeks, so I playfully name the poetic echo of Hermes' laughter as 'Gelotopoesis.' I then turn to Plato and Aristotle and discover a hypertonic boastfulness and a hypotonic irony as the two modalities that set the tone for the meaningful echoing of laughter. These two modalities of surplus simultaneously authorize and transgress what is really at stake in the essay: the possibility of a pure and simple Self-understanding of Dasein. Through Dasein's Self-understanding, the notion of presence is fully attested as the one and only prejudice of philosophical tradition that exceeds, surpasses, and overcomes itself in such an extreme hypertonic pitch that conceals itself most hypotonically. I end the essay by noting that Heidegger's laughter forces us to laugh back at Heidegger, thus relegating him to the philosophical heritage to which he essentially belongs. …

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