Academic journal article Western Folklore

Associative Context and Joke Visualization

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Associative Context and Joke Visualization

Article excerpt

This paper uses a behavioral approach to help understand how joking evokes, embodies, and expresses the esoteric experiences of individuals and small groups.l To get at such processes, joking must be investigated in its larger contextual framework. Robert Georges's call for a holistic rather than atomistic approach to storytelling events is a guiding principle here (Georges 1969). Following Georges's model, I study jokes, which are so often presented as texts apart from context and texture, as part of larger events which include the facial expressions, laughter, conversation, associations, and so on which fall before, after, and simultaneous to the telling of a joke. In this paper I will examine how the conceptualization and meaning of jokes vary as tellers and audience members negotiate and reformulate humorous texts. I argue that during humorous exchanges, jokes become laden with multifarious associations based upon both the shared and idiosyncratic experiences of tellers and audiences, and that some of these associations may be gleaned for consideration by the researcher. I will first discuss how the associative contextualization that occurs when jokes are told is shared in groups; I will then describe the associations various joke tellers have regarding jokes in their repertoire; finally, I will explore the process of joke visualization and associative contextualization that occurs when individuals experience jokes for the first time.

Henry Glassie's remarks about context and stories in Passing the Time in Ballymenone are applicable to jokes and joking sessions: "As I began to think about stories," Glassie says, "life began to arrange itself around them as context." In defining context, he remarks that:

Some of the context is drawn from the immediate situation, but more is drawn from memory. It is present, but invisible, inaudible. Contexts are mental associations woven around the text during performance to shape and complete them, to give them meaning (1982: 33).

Meaning, which Glassie sees as "that which joins people through things," is something which "logically links intention and response, then expands through private associations to join all a thing is with all it can be in the minds of its creators and perceivers" (Glassie 1982:33). As Donald Braid points out in outlining his concept of "experiential meaning," there is a "recontextualization of the narrative imagery and events in terms of the listeners' own life experience....[P]ast experience-`what has gone on before'-is...an essential resource in making sense of present experience....Familiar images from our own experience are used to fill in...gaps" (1996:15, 19).

The associative contextualization that occurs when jokes are told is experienced and shared on different levels. In some cases, associations are shared verbally when other jokes, stories, and reminiscences are brought to mind and then recited. For example, during one induced joking session that I tape-recorded, I started to recite a joke about two "bums" who mistake a "piece of shit" for a candy bar. I was interrupted after the first sentence by my friend, who declared emphatically, "Oh yeah that's an old one....My brother tells these kinds of jokes....Oh, that goes way back, fifth grade" (2 February 1996). At this point another individual present began to laugh. These exclamations communicated an associative glee harking back to childhood, which evoked laughter from others present. The joke was temporarily cut short-although I did go on to finish it. However, it had become a vehicle through which others shared in this individual's childhood and family experiences. The associative context, in this case verbally shared, added intimate meaning to the joke. In another joking session, an individual responded to several jokes about religious figures and sex by telling his own dirty/religious jokes. His jokes were met with groans, at which point he tried to disavow responsibility for the coarseness of them by saying, "I haven't told them since I heard them in fifth grade. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.