Laughter and Freedom: The theory and practice of humour in Kazantzakis
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In 1914 Kazantzakis published his translation of Le rire (Laughter), by the philosopher Henri Bergson, whose lectures he had attended in Paris. Le rire is clearly, though informally, integrated into Bergson’s philosophy as a whole, which profoundly influenced Kazantzakis. Bergson proposes that laughter can be interpreted as society’s way of punishing the type of behaviour which he describes as “automatism”. This occurs when humans react to circumstances or events in an “unthinking”, inflexible way. In so doing they fail to utilise the mental powers which distinguish our species, and which allow us to achieve a unique degree of freedom and creativity. Many of the amusing traits of characters in Kazantzakis’ novels can be interpreted according to Bergson’s theory. At the same time, Kazantzakis seems to continue a tradition of popular humour, in which wisdom may be found in the sayings or actions of an apparently foolish or naïve person.