Friday, June 19, 2009

American Humor (2)

American Humor: A Study of the National Character (2). Constance Rourke. Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc. 1931.

Why read it? The two strains of American humor are the Yankee and the back woods. And both are a part of American character.

Sample quotes and ideas:

“Strange new words came rolling out of the West…absquatulate, slantendiculur, cahoots, catawampus, spyficated, flabbergasted, tarnacious, rampageous, concussence, supernatiousness, rumsquattle.” p. 58. ……….

“The feller looked as slunk in the face as a baked apple.” p. 63. ……….

“Those evasive dialogues by which the Yankee sought to learn everything and tell nothing….” p. 68.

“We Yankees…make our fortune with the right hand, and lose it with the left…. We Yankees don’t do things like you Britishers; we are in a hurry, educated at full speed, our spirit is at high pressure, and our life resembles a shooting star till death surprises us like an electric shock….” p. 66.

“Backwoods profusion was set against Yankee spareness.” p. 68.

“Triumph was in his [Negro] humor, but not triumph over circumstance.” p. 83.

“Laughter produced the illusion of leveling obstacles in a world which was full of unaccustomed obstacles.” p. 86.

“I drinks nothin’ but stump water and a rattlesnake bit me and died.” p. 88. ……….

“As a story teller, Lincoln used the entire native strain; he was consistently the actor, the mimic, the caricaturist.” p. 125. ……….

“In Lincoln two of the larger strains of American comedy seemed to meet…the western ebullience…but his economy of speech and his laconic turn seemed derived from the Yankee strain….” p. 127.

“…that compact turn with unspoken implications which is the essence of poetic expression.” p. 129. ……….

“In a sense the whole American comic tradition had been that of social criticism….” p. 168. ……….

“Repeatedly [Henry] James set the wickedness or subtlety or deceit of Europeans against American innocence.” p. 192.

Mark Twin: “The humorous story is American, the comic story is English, the witty story is French; the humorous story depends for its effect upon the manner of telling; the comic story and the witty story upon the matter…. The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it. The humorous story is strictly a work of art…and only an artist can tell it; but no art is necessary in telling the comic and witty story, and anybody can do it.” p. 169.

Comment: The trouble with this book is that every time I hear something funny, I begin to analyze it to determine how it reflects American character. Takes all the fun out of laughing. RayS.

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