So there must be something funny about the accident of it.
We laugh, Bergson argued, because this person’s contact with the ground comes about due to their clumsiness—their inability, given, say, a stone in the street, to change course.
Nevertheless, humor is at the very heart of Carroll's major works, and no discussion of them could be complete without an examination of some of the principles of that humor, especially as they apply to Alice.
Henri Bergson's essay on laughter, published in 1900, is a classic statement of the principles of humor.
Bergson proposed that we laugh when we notice something machine-like in people.
Humanitarian agencies might do well to be attentive to what makes people laugh, that funny crease of the mouth directing us to consider—think about this—where and how development projects fail.Bergson’s theory came to mind in 2013, when I was doing fieldwork at a struggling school in Dakar, Senegal. Thiam was not one of those “dinosaurs” (his word) who found computers suspect. They were, in his view, an essential sign and component of modernity. Thiam’s faith in technology was shared across Senegal, a country which has embraced digital interventions in schooling, and among others in this very institution.École Gueye was participating in a development aid program which championed the use of computer technologies in the classroom. The good teacher, meaning to enliven the day’s lesson, had begun setting up a laptop, projector, and screen, an hour ago. His blinding white shirt was beginning to stick to the vertebral basin. So it was that the principal had petitioned the development organization to include the school in a pilot program in which schools received desktop computers and teaching kits which allowed the inclusion of video in lessons.Strangely, the teachers, observing how computers were in no way able to resolve the problems burdening their classrooms, nevertheless persisted in their faith in the computer. Why did they not speak up about the shortcomings of this so-called development project? He held the newspaper high in front of his face, and began to read. Thiam leaned to me and, truly troubled, whispered: Here was a dinosaur. “We are gonna pause, because you are not understanding.” Given the skill level of the students, and given the classroom infrastructure, handing greater control to the teachers may have allowed for productive and meaningful integration of computers in pedagogy.Then, one day, it emerged that, after the computer teacher had gone to France and decided to stay put, the school had found itself with no funds to recruit a substitute teacher. But being made to work within the manufactured framework of the development project made a person a little like an automaton, in that they were perfectly capable of observing and comprehending the inadequacies, but could not adjust their response—in this case, teaching with computers—to the altered reality.The teachers were beneficiaries of aid, and did not want to provide negative feedback to the aid agency for fear of “exaggerating.” They knew this much: They were to be grateful. Judging quickly, they booed, and other hands shot up. Yet this technological device was taken not as an index, nor an aid, of progress, but as progress itself.Machine-like rigidity, argues Bergson, indicates a failure to become a socially active, responsive being. When spoken criticism is inhibited, laughter might be a way for beneficiaries of aid to remark on incongruity and friction.The children’s parents were snack vendors, or maids. Thiam called—to answer the question of, how much did it cost to rent the room in the video? He dived under the teacher’s desk and retrieved a nub of chalk. After all, they had watched a video set in Britain.They struggled to pay the annual fee of ten thousand CFA (twenty dollars). This, it suddenly seemed to everyone, was key to moving forward with the lesson.In classes, red-eyed kids dozed, while others leaped up, eager to answer, even when they didn’t know the answer. Thiam began to ask questions to test comprehension. Meanwhile, beyond the gates of the school, women, possibly the mothers of these children, hiked up waxcloth skirts to sit before baskets of peanuts and madd fruit.They were learning the gestures, if nothing else, of acquiring an education. Boys little older than the ones in the classroom hawked alphabet books and roach poison.