Zhuangzi’s humor is basically ironic. Ironic humor typically turns on the incongruity of a statement with perceived “facts”. It states the opposite of what we likely believe to be the case so as to make us actively reconsider and (probably) recommit to that belief, though now some ambiguity has entered the equation. We are required to engage in a process. This is often good for a chuckle.

Irony can take different forms.

On a sweltering day I can say, It’s hot. Or I can ask, Is it hot enough for you? This latter requires you to think about it and come to your own conclusion that yes, it’s hot as hell. When Zhuangzi poses the possibility of depending on nothing we are similarly required to engage in an imaginative exercise.

A classic example of an ironic situation is seen when an Athenian general consults the Oracle on the eve of battle, and asks about the outcome. “There will be a great victory,” is the reply. He thus confidently engages in battle only to discover that that victory belongs to the opposing general. He failed of a sense of irony—the ability to see the ambiguity inherent in all things and to avoid literalism.

Then there is the case of Socrates who was told that the Oracle had declared him the wisest man in the world. Since he knew he knew so little, he made it his mission to prove the Oracle wrong by questioning those who “knew” what he did not. The mission itself was ironic, of course, since he knew that not-knowing was the source of his wisdom. But his ironic questioning served to awaken others to their own not-knowing and to perhaps become a bit wiser thereby.

Zhuangzi brazenly declares the fantastic, the obviously fictional, and historical truth bent to his purposes to make us consider and engage with possibilities that lie beyond what can be said.

One thought on “HAVING A GOOD LAUGH II”

  1. There is one other way to when a joke leads to a laugh. I have noticed that many times a comedian is unearthing and revealing to us the truth about how we humans ridiculously behave and conduct ourselves. They sort of put a magnifying glass on our human condition and it is (we is) hilarious. I imagine that your examples have similarity to this but not as blatantly confronting as some comedians make it. I have thought many times that the truth is funny. The Hopi Kachina Clown is a example of when the trickster and Shaman converge.

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