As a communication medium of black content, humor plays an active role in a certain period, but the relationship between humor and black content is a double-edged sword. When the black content can’t satisfy the condition of the humorous effect, the artistic effect of black humor will weaken. The author introduces the content, form of expression and role in aesthetics of black humor.
Connotation of Black Humor.
Although the term of «black humor» has a long history, it is not clear to the definition of its connotation. Critics hold different views and attitudes about the American black humor novel. Pratt, Allaned. (1993) believes that, in order to expand a new field, satire novelist in the early stage evolved into a higher level of black humor novelist as the result of being taken the writing position by the news reporter. Therefore, the black humor novel is a satire in essence. In 1973, Scholes Robert tried to redefine the «black humo» in his book «The Black Humor Novel of the Sixty»: the black humor is a kind of American phenomenon in the sixty’ s except for a few European writers. At that time, the cultural diversity, the political integration and the unsound value system made the United States have a kind of anxiety, and this anxiety was given to the black humor literature with specific writing techniques and themes. Friedman thinks that the core of the connotation of the «black» refers to the inequality existing in the social, political, or personal level. The so-called «black» by Friedman refers to a «sense of urgency» in the ontological level, the greatest art achievement of American black humor novelist is making the sense of crisis artistic and detailed. A comprehensive overview of critics for the «black content» in different levels of interpretation, some focus on the social implications, some focus on the political connotation, while some make it the same as the war and death.
The Manifestation of Black Humor.
Although the «crisis sense on the ontological level» proposed by Scholes Robert is general, it made a preliminary definition on the «black» from the philosophical meaning. In essence, the sense of crisis modern people generally appreciate is absurd. Absurdity is a kind of cognition theory in essence. The subjective world and the objective world are always in contradiction, and when the subjective world is able to better understand and interpret the external things, people will realize the meaning and value of existence.
The absurd presents a variety of themes by different black humor novelists, such as war, death, technology, human nature and so on. Because of the characteristics of the times, many American black humor novelists are thinking about the war. However, different from the positive attitude of Norman Miller on the war in the previous period in the 1950s, the attitude on war of American black humor novelists in 1960s is often jeering. Catch 22, known for the beginning of American black humor novels, makes an intensive thinking about war, and then gives a critique incisively and vividly.
Death is another important theme of absurdity. In the monograph of «Life and Death», Schulz Max. (1973) proposed that life and death is a continuous cycle, death makes sense only under the guarantee of «regeneration», even if the «regeneration» is only limited on the form. In a few words, only the death can see the future is meaningful. Because of this, soldiers will willingly to rush to the front and be killed in battle under the heroism of the vaunted «faith» «justice» and other slogans in the war.
The Function of Humor in the Aesthetic System.
Humor can Promote the Readers to Complete the Reading of Black Humor Novels.
As the British poet Rubin, D Louis. (1977) said «And if I laugh at any mortal thing/This that I may not weep». This verse of Byron contains such a black humor aesthetic attitude, that is, accept the dark reality through the media, and this is one of the important basis for the construction of black humor fiction. American black humor novels described an absurd world filled with black, alienated interpersonal relations, suffocating life situation, which is sufficient to make readers produce fear, prohibitive in the process of reading, or even to read at the beginning of the work itself. The involvement of humor is to relieve the fear of «black content» and the effect of depressing emotion. For example, in Catch22, Heller takes the white soldiers which symbolize the death into the reader’s horizon through his sense of humor. «White soldiers» appear in the first chapter, he is wrapped in a white bandage with legs and arms hung on the shelf. The «white soldiers» like the mummy appeared in three times in the novel, in addition to the human form wrapped out of the white bandage, there is no trace of the breath of life, so as to become an ominous symbol of death. But Heller brings smoothly this terrorist presence to the reader through the intervention of humor. In the first chapter, «white soldiers» is secretly placed in the ward by midnight, and successfully mates a «surprise» in the morning to the ward mate, this funny play eases the panic caused by his mummy appearance. Then, Cramer nurse finds he has been dead when measuring the body temperature of the «white soldiers». Yossarian identified Texans as the killer of the white soldiers. Texans who loves speech is disgusted by people, has to talk with «white soldiers» to demand his talking desire. Yossarian and Dunbar identify that it is Texas’s endless talking that result the death of «white soldiers». In this case, the shadow of death is secretly diluted in the meanwhile readers’ simmer with laughter.
Humor can make readers realize the seriousness and the real meaning of «black content» through the function of psychological suggestion. In American black humor novels, humor is often involved in the process of dilution of death, which will bring a sense of depression and heaviness to the readers in the process of reading. In this reading process, the reader will form a habit, that is, when there is a sense of absurdity, they will subconsciously look for the vent of humor. However, the American black humor novelist ultimately want to present to the reader «black content» around the absurd theme, so the story of the black humor novels also tend to «black» and not to the end of humor. After reading expectation is frustrated, it is unable for readers to give vent to their sense of depression generated in the process of reading, which will produce a kind of frustration, even angry green mood, and this emotion just reinforces the seriousness of «black» novelist. As the critic Le Clair, Thomas. (1975) said: «it will strengthen the atmosphere of terror once frustrated after forming the habit of releasing emotions in humor.» The author will make «Catch 22» as an example. The white soldier inexorably hangs on in the thirty-fourth chapter again in the novels. The previous «white soldiers» has been confirmed dead, so Dunbar loudly cried: «he is back» in the face of the terrible scene that he appeared again, and the patients unconsciously followed him along loudly shouted in the ward heard. In this case, the horror of the scene becomes a farce for readers, and humor successfully intervene and ease the fears of death again. But because of this farce, the «white soldiers» is shipped out of the ward at that night, and Dunbar disappears inexplicably. Used to release the pressure through humor readers, the readers naturally looking forward to humor to intervene again, but after the disappearance of Dunbar, the plot came to an abrupt end, making the readers difficultly let go on the plot. The frustrated reading expectation makes the readers realize that the original humor is just a medium, death is not worst, but the hands hidden in the novel, which can confuse right and wrong. Therefore, humor increases the terrorist means of the «black content» through the psychological implications of the reader.
As mentioned above, the combination of «black» and «black humor» in black humor novels of the United States is mutually beneficial, and the «black content» gives humor to the depth of thought, while the medium of humor makes the «black content» can be expressed smoothly. But there is no denying the fact that the relationship between «black content» and the medium of humor is a double-edged sword. In addition to mutual benefit, there is a certain contradiction, and once this contradiction is intensified, the aesthetic value of American black humor novel will be greatly reduced. Psychologist EsslinMartin. (1960) points out that there is an essential prerequisite for the production of humor, namely «make surprise». In other words, only the story of the plot or the novel scene is more than the reader’s reading expectation, there may produce the effect of humor. According to Schultz’s interpretation, black humor novel is a special literary carrier in the United States in 1960s, so the «black content» of black humor novels in the United States has the limitations of time and space. It is impossible for the «black content» to adapt to the requirements of «creating pleasant surprises». This can be seen from the difference of the gap the readers reflect between the «Catch 22» and its so-called sequel «The Last Scene» in art. The same role, equally absurd theme, even the same art presentation, «Catch-22» is known for the founding of American Black Humor Novels, while the «The Last Scene» never caused much of the waves in the readers.
In summary, the American black humor novel is a special literary vocabulary, which is used to describe the works of black humor novelists represented by Heller Joseph in the sixty’s of United States. Therefore, absurdity has become the main content of «black» in American black humor novels, which is reflected in the theme of war, death, alienation of human nature and so on. Humor is another important factor in the American black humor novels, the combination of humor and the «black content» is mutually beneficial, the humor obtains the depth of thought in black humor literature, and the important medium that «black content» can express is humor. At the same time, this combination also has its contradictory side. By the background of the times, the «black content» can not adapt to the premise of the humor to «make surprise», and with the intensification of the contradiction, the aesthetic value of black humor novels is reduced until its withdrawal from the stage of literary history.
- Pratt Allaned. (1993). Black Humor: Critical Essays. New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 56(34), 21–25.
- Scholes Robert. (1973). The Fabulators. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Schulz Max. (1973). Black Humor Fiction of the Sixties: A Pluralistic Definition of Man and His World. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.
- Rubin D Louis. (1977). The Comic Imagination in American Literature. New York: Harper & Row, 46(26), 391.
- Le Clair Thomas. (1975). Death and Black Humor. Critique. Volumel7, Numbed, 42(10), 5.
- Green Daniel. (1995). A World Worth Laughing at: Catch-22 and the Humor of Black Humor. Studies in the Novel. 27(2), 159.
- Esslin Martin. (1960). The Absurdity of the Absurd. Kenyon Review. 22(4), 7.
- Blocker H. Gene. (1979). The Metaphysics of Absurdity. Washington D. C.: University Press of America, Inc.
- Eifton Jay Robert and Olson Eric. (1974). Living andDying. New York: Praeger Publisher, 18(04), 136.