Saturday, June 14, 2008

Can There Be Non-Linguistic Jokes?

Brothers, Sisters, and Transgendered Comedists Everywhere,

This week marks the 110th birthday of M.C. Escher. Escher was the son of a Dutch civil engineer and at his parents' behest began to pursue a degree in architecture, but failed out by not passing several courses including bookkeeping.

He switched over to decorative arts and trained in making woodcuts when he began traveling to see the art of Europe. Going to Spain in 1922, he visited the Alhambra. Islamic art is not allowed to include images and as a result, they developed tiling to an incredible degree. Amazed by the art form, Escher began to work with space-filling repeating sequences, or tesselations. It was a topic that apparently had been with Escher for many years previously,

Many years later a lady... "remembered the care with which this little boy [Escher] had selected the shape, quantity and size of his slices of cheese, so that, fitted one against the other, they would cover as exactly as possible the entire slice of bread. This particular trait never left him."

Escher's fascination with tesseleations led him into group theory, projective and non-Euclidean geometry, and topology. This attraction to mathematics, a subject he showed no affinity for as a child, led to the famous "impossible world" works, the most famous being "Waterfall."
My question is "Does this count as a joke?" The way the viewer interacts with the piece seems to have all of the structural elements of a joke. There is a set up, a straight scenario that does not seem out of the ordinary. then there is a punchline that makes you realize that your initial interpretation of the set up couldn't be right. There is the moment of confusion where the mind is trying to hold competing interpretations. People react to viewing this in a way that is joke-like. They come to "get" the painting in a way similar to getting a joke. So, it seems like it could be considered a joke.

But it is non-linguistic. There is non-linguistic humor aplenty, for example, slapstick comedy. But this is a different type of comedy from joke telling. the question here is whether there could be non-linguistic jokes.

Again, let's bracket off something like what Bob Newhart would do in merely giving a look instead of delivering a punchline at a great set-up. That technique left formulating the punchline to the view, but it is a truncated linguistic joke, it was linguistic. In this case, it is visual, but non-linguistic.

So, is it a joke? Is it visual irony?

Speaking of irony, we need not move to impossible worlds. Good brother Richard has alerted me to this item from this possible world.
A casualties of powerful storms that hit the Kansas State University campuse on Wednesday was the Wind Erosion Lab, which the university said was destroyed by apparent tornado.

"The damage on campus is extensive," Tom Rowson, the university's vice president for administration and finance, said in a statement. "The Wind Erosion Lab is gone. There is significant damage to the engineering complex."
The Wind Erosion Lab was blown away. Yet another example to support our theory of humorous design.

Of course, if we pair that argument with M.C. Escher's Waterfall, we might be able to formulate something akin to the traditional problem of God creating a rock too heavy for Him to lift. Hmmmm... A job for Comedist theologians to come...

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve