This article aims to put forward some ideas as to the narrative characteristics of funny novels. Since the chief common denominator of this kind of work is the goal to make the reader laugh, one would suppose that these works have a lot in common with other forms of verbal humor, such as jokes. Here I look into incongruity-resolution theories of humor and certain linguistically based accounts of joking as well as the insights provided by Sperber and Wilson's theory of relevance into the type of pragmatic processing attendant on the appreciation of humor. Jokes appear to be characterized by an increased demand in processing effort for the attainment of maximum contextual effects, but this increase is limited to the resolution of incongruities typical of this sort of utterance. Also, social-behavioral theories of humor relate the effect of jokes to the establishment of a climate of normative sympathy between teller and receiver. Humorous novels, far longer and more complex than jokes, largely base the process of incongruity-resolution on an interplay of, on the one hand, text-internal coherence established by the persistent use of strong implicature in the creation of character and, on the other, text-external incongruity established by the narrator's appeal to the reader's encyclopedic knowledge. Although it is probably true of most novels, it seems particularly important for the humorous effect of “funny” novels that their discourse should be based on moral, social, cultural, aesthetic, and even generic assumptions shared with the reader: these allow the latter either to see the narrator as “reliable” and to develop a feeling of rapport with him or her or to easily assume the existence of an implied author who manipulates thenarrator for his or her own purposes. The use of strong implicature, which characterizes these works and seems necessary for the sustained creation of humor, explains the air of inevitability that permeates their plots and, finally, would also seem to explain the fact that they are intuitively and almost invariably considered low-class literature. For “good” literature, according to Relevance Theory, is characterized by a complexity and multiplicity of contextual effects produced fundamentally by way of weak implicature.
Cristina Larkin Galiñanes; Funny Fiction; Or, Jokes and Their Relation to the Humorous Novel. Poetics Today 1 March 2005; 26 (1): 79–111. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-26-1-79
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