To Philip Welding
November 25, 1999 (2:50 PM JT)
Thanks very much for sending me a humorous photograph with an analysis of
the humor in terms of incongruity.
The photograph (for anyone who might read this but doesn't have access to
it) shows two floor lamps (which you call standard lamps), one relatively
curvacious with an ornate shade suggestive of a skirt and the other
straight and plain, standing, one on each side, over a baby carriage (which
you call a push chair), that holds a little table lamp, outdoors on a fine
day in a large open area, a public park (though I wouldn't have recognized
it as such on my own). In short, it's a lamp-family of three, mother,
father, and baby, out for a walk in the park. Have I misdescribed something
or left something out? If so, please correct me!
I want to proceed in an orderly way, and so, before I comment on your
analysis, I want to be quite sure that I understand it. You begin: "Here is
an example of one of my pictures that I see as incongruous. The elements
within the image, standard lamps, a push chair and a table lamp positioned
in a public park, create what I would describe as incongruous
juxtapositions. The placing of these particular objects into this particular
scene is not something that correlates with specific codes and conventions,
surrounding their individual decoding: Separately they would make sense,
together they are incongruous."
Here, I have three questions:
1) Is it that you perceive incongruity in this photograph, or is it that
the subject perceives incongruity?
This distinction is important, because your viewpoint as a humor theorist
bent on analysis is very different from that of a subject who simply happens
on the photograph and enjoys the humor in it.
2) How many inconguities do you perceive/does the subject perceive?
You wrote "incongruous juxtapositions," in the plural. That's why I
3) For each incongruity that you perceive/the subject perceives, what are
the terms of that incongruity?
One might say that the one floor lamp is incongruous with the park, or the
other floor lamp with the park, or the table lamp with the park, or the
table lamp with the baby carriage, or the three lamps on the one hand with
the baby carriage on the other, or the assemblage of three lamps and baby
carriage with the park, or the entire scene on the one hand with certain
"codes and conventions" (please specify!) on the other, or all of these
things, or something else. I'm not sure what incongruity or incongruities
you have in mind.
Further on, you wrote: "The initial incongruity is enveloped in the
understanding of the 'situation' represented and is therefore made sense of,
in the context of a humorous photograph."
4) Do you intend to say simply that the initial incongruity is resolved,
or do you intend to say more than that, and if so, precisely what?
The trouble is just that this sentence is a little obscure to me.
Otherwise, I think that I understand your analysis. I look forward to
hearing from you again.