Let us clearly mark the point towards which our three preliminary observations are converging. The comic will come into being, it appears, whenever a group of men concentrate their attention on one of their number, imposing silence on their emotions and calling into play nothing but their intelligence. What, now, is the particular point on which their attention will have to be concentrated, and what will here be the function of intelligence? To reply to these questions will be at once to come to closer grips with the problem. But here a few examples have become indispensable.
"Here is someone writing a medical account who includes Hippocrates ( bold type ), the Qur'an and Hadith ( bold italics ), commentaries on them ( italics ) and his own thoughts (normal type) in one and the same paragraph. Of course the intelligentsia of Muhammed's time would have been familiar with both Greek and Indian medicine: "Hippocrates said ... 'some membranes are formed at the beginning, others after the second month, and others in the third month ... ' That is why God says , 'He creates you in the wombs of your mothers, by one formation after another in three darknesses' . Since each of these membranes has its own darkness, when God mentioned the stages of creation and transformation from one state to another, He also mentioned the darknesses of the membranes. Most commentators explain: 'it is the darkness of the belly, and the darkness of the womb, and the darkness of the placenta' ... Hippocrates said, 'The ears are opened, and the eyes, which are filled with a clear liquid .' The Prophet used to say, 'I worship Him Who made my face and formed it, and opened my hearing and eyesight ' etc. etc"" (B. Musallam (Cambridge, 1983) Sex and Society in Islam. p. 56).
What does laughter mean? What is the basal element in the laughable? What common ground can we find between the grimace of a merry- andrew, a play upon words, an equivocal situation in a burlesque and a scene of high comedy? What method of distillation will yield us invariably the same essence from which so many different products borrow either their obtrusive odour or their delicate perfume? The greatest of thinkers, from Aristotle downwards, have tackled this little problem, which has a knack of baffling every effort, of slipping away and escaping only to bob up again, a pert challenge flung at philosophic speculation. Our excuse for attacking the problem in our turn must lie in the fact that we shall not aim at imprisoning the comic spirit within a definition. We regard it, above all, as a living thing. However trivial it may be, we shall treat it with the respect due to life. We shall confine ourselves to watching it grow and expand. Passing by imperceptible gradations from one form to another, it will be seen to achieve the strangest metamorphoses. We shall disdain nothing we have seen. Maybe we may gain from this prolonged contact, for the matter of that, something more flexible than an abstract definition,--a practical, intimate acquaintance, such as springs from a long companionship. And maybe we may also find that, unintentionally, we have made an acquaintance that is useful. For the comic spirit has a logic of its own, even in its wildest eccentricities. It has a method in its madness. It dreams, I admit, but it conjures up, in its dreams, visions that are at once accepted and understood by the whole of a social group. Can it then fail to throw light for us on the way that human imagination works, and more particularly social, collective, and popular imagination? Begotten of real life and akin to art, should it not also have something of its own to tell us about art and life?