However, we need to recognize that “throwaway” laughs are of incident also. In fact, by way of their very superfluity and fugitivity they more perfectly crystallize what I believe to be the true nature of laughter. These laughs surface in a text without the author’s permission and are precisely more interesting because of this stowaway quality. They are isolated because they are singular, anomalous because they are of a different (a-structural) order to the text, they don't "do" anything because they refuse the tyranny of utility which demands that everything become a means to an end.
When you read these laughs in a book or watch these laughs in a film, you are jolted from the narrative, returned abruptly to the outside of representation.
“Ha-ha,” he said.
The laugh is a glitch that interrupts and makes visible various generic parameters of the text – the expectation that the plot will move forward and resolve, that the characters are self-contained individuals embedded in a social milieu, and, more basically, that internal and external reality can be represented with letters arranged into words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters.
The laughter glitch may appear only one time in a whole novel. But across literature and film, that same glitch recurs with a frequency that is itself comic (or horrific, depending on your temperament). These laughs are swept away with a fearful denial we recognize from every horror film: it only happened that one time, maybe it won’t happen again.
But it has already happened again, it happens everywhere. The barely concealed panic that underlies these denials stems from the fear that the generic borders of the novel, the individual, time itself as a progressive narrative, are coming apart. The laughter glitch is ignored not because it is a one-off but because it’s very fugitivity and particularity indexes the breakdown, the coming undone, of structures of meaning and feeling. Or worse (or better, depending on your temperament) the laughter glitch is the little boy who shouts “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”
And we all know what happens to the teenage girl who ignores the scraping at the window it's only a branch it won't happen again.
Whether this laughter is revolutionary (as Benjamin would have it) or barbaric (as no-fun-Adorno repeatedly insists) is what I want to investigate.
I am a collector of laughs.