Hâsa and Hâsya distinguished in Rasa-Theory
By Sunthar Visuvalingam
Published with author’s permission from: http://www.svabhinava.org/hasy-abh/Thesis-7.html
[chapter is complete except for footnotes]
- Distinction humor/laughter in empirical psychology does not correspond exactly to Indianhâsya/hâsadistinction, and what is called ‘humor’ is, within the theoretical limits of behaviorism, only the bisociative convulsion (O). Distinction sthâyin/rasa (hâsa/hâsya) and the role of identification (tanmayîbhavana) with a ‘support’ (âshraya) in the transformation of the sthâyin into rasa. Abhinava distinguishes hâsa-sthâyin as self-subsisting in the world (siddha/laukika) and provoked by common (sâdhârana) stimulus, whereas hâsya is to be brought into being by a transcendental act of relishing (sâdhya/alaukika) through a transposed stimulus (vibhâva) that is uncommon (asâdhârana) . Only vibhâvas of the rati (love) and shoka (sorrow)—i.e., of shrngâra and karuna—are always asâdhârana whereas those of other rasas may be also ‘common’ (sâdhârana, inwhich case the rasa-status is maintained only by the technique of dramatic illusion). Hâsya in drama is often indistinguishable from hâsa of everyday world. The distinction is problematic because hâsa, like rasa itself, is not characterized by purposive activity, whereas hâsya, like hâsa, may be accompanied by the laughter-reflex.
- Problem of the absence ofâshraya in the enjoyment of hâsya. Jagannâtha’s attempted solution—(i) projection of an imaginary âshraya, or (ii) identity of sahrdaya and âshraya (as when one’s own wife is the vibhâvaof shrngâra)—is refuted.
- Another’s (âtmastha) laughter at a stimulus, acting as the infectious catalyst of one’s own laughter (parastha-hâsa), cannot be identified with the role of anâshraya evoking and sustaining one’s relish of hâsya. The distinction âtmastha-/parastha-hâsa in Bharata seems intended to distinguish the (sacred?) explosive laughter of the vidûshaka (as institutionalized taboo-violator?) from the laughter it provokes in others, though Abhinava generalizes teh formula to cover a familiar psychological phenomenon peculiar to hâsa.
- Partial identification withâshraya of semblances (âbhâsa) of rasas that are emotionally bisociated is responsible for partial aestheticization of hâsa into hâsya: example of shrngârâbhâsa = hâsya in Râvana’s love for Sîtâ. Sustained half-identification with comic hereo, ritual clown and vidûshaka. Bisociated identificatory mechanisms with conflicting protagonists in witticisms that are not emotionally-centered, though emotive components vital. In hâsya the fields serve to nourish the well-defined emotional flavors relished through the âshraya, whereas in jokes (exaggerated in ‘irony’) the cleverness of the joke-technique and the questioning of selective operators overshadows the affective component.
- Distinction (hâsa-)sthâyin/ (hâsya-) rasa corresponds to Koestler’s distinction between “self-assertive” or “aggressive-defensive” and “self-transcending” or “participatory” emotions; not two different categories of emotions but two different modes of experiencing the same basic emotions, separated by the universalization (sâdhâranî-karana) of consciousness. Refutation of Koestler’s isolation of the comic as the type of the “self-assertive” emotions and privileging of sorrow as the most “self-transcending” of the emotions. Where both poles of the emotional bisociation depend wholly on tanmayî-bhavana, there is only self-transcending hâsya, as exemplified by shrngâra-based hâsya of the Sanskrit muktakas.
- Hâsa/hâsya is the most problematic among the bhâva/rasa distinctions but is nevertheless valid. Hâsa is a personally involved worldly reaction that is pleasurable only due to the discharge of tension, whereas hâsya is the active skill of relishing the emotional bisociation itself that can dispense with laughter.
In chapter I, we insisted that a distinction must be made between humor and laughter, though the analyses, both empirical and theoretical, of the psychology of laughter-situations could, and should, be freely exploited for arriving at an adequate theory of humor. But till now we have not clearly formulated this distinction and spoken of humor as if it were no more than the bisociative convulsion, called ‘laughter’ by Gurdjieff, responsible for the nervous discharge. It is also apparent that when many theorists insist on distinguishing between ‘humor’ and ‘laughter’ within the behavioral S-O-R model, with ‘humor’ being the organismic variable O and ‘laughter’ the response R, this ‘humor’ could only be the bisociative mechanism that generates laughter. But if such were the case, the amusement that is central to our appreciation of humor would be nothing more than the pleasurable relief from superfluous emotional energies, not a form of aesthetic relish that can be actively cultivated and refined. People with ‘a fine or delicate of humor’ are generally not those who laugh most boisterously on each and every other occasion, and neither is their precious faculty judged in terms of the mere magnitude of the reflexive laughter they evoke. Later, we shall have the occasion to relish several independent verses overflowing with humor that were meant to be relished contemplatively, and are yet unlikely to make us burst out laughing, evoking probably no more than a prolonged smile that is nonetheless delicious. On the other hand, even the bisociative laughter at someone slipping over a banana-skin would not be indicative of highly developed humor. It therefore becomes necessary to separate the enjoyment of humor from pleasurable laughter without however severing the link between the two.
An examination of the distinction made between hâsa and hâsya in Indian aesthetics may help us clarify that between laughter (as O) and humor as something based on, though different from, the bisociative convulsion (O) of laughter. There is nothing that corresponds to this distinction in empirical psychology and the term ‘humor’ has to do double-duty in comprehending within itself situations that Indian theory would try to separate into instances of hâsa or hâsya. It is only when the emotional constituents of hâsa are evoked and sustained through empathy (tanmayîbhavana) that hâsa is promoted to hâsya. Hâsa is a sthâyi-bhâva or ‘permanent emotional disposition’ as it manifests itself in the world, whereas hâsya is its aestheticized counterpart, a rasa, in drama and poetry. Though all the sthâyins (underlying abiding emotions) are defined in terms of the S-O-R model, the stimulus being the ’cause’ (kârana), the response the ‘effect’ (kârya), and the organismic variable being constituted of the sthâyin plus the transitory emotions that accompany it (sahakârin), the model does not suffice to account for the genesis, mode of cognition and relishing of their respective rasas. In short, rasa is of such nature as to be impossible within the sole framework of the S-O-R model. In describing the sthâyin, hâsa, Bharata distinguishes it from the laughter-responses (R) of various intensity through which it manifests itself to the empirical gaze: “Hâsa indeed is evoked though such ‘determinants’ (vibhâva) as the imitation of the behavior (gestures) of others, tickling, incoherent or disconnected blabbering, effrontery, foolishness, etc. It should be represented by ensuants (anubhâva) mentioned earlier like laughter (hasita), etc.”
In normal worldly life, the mere perception of the ’cause’ (kârana S) is sufficient to provoke the mundane ’emotion’ sthâyin (O), along with its accessory transitory emotions, that manifests itself in the ‘effects’ (kâryas R) of the subject experiencing the sthâyin. But the corresponding rasa in drama/poetry differs radically from its own sthâyin in that it is evoked and nourished in the connoisseur (sahrdaya) not by the transposed stimulus (vibhâva) alone but by the simultaneous perception and contemplation of the transitory emotions (vyabhicârins) and responses (anubhâva) transposed into another person, other than the sahrdaya, viz. the (aesthetic) support (âshraya) such that it appears to the sahrdaya that it is the âshraya who is experiencing the sthâyin and reacting to the vibhâva. It is the total configuration , the conjunction of S-O-R, that acts as the stimulus of the rasa-experience that, though based on the sthâyin, still differs radically from the latter. In the non-aesthetic context, the sthâyin is a direct reaction to the stimulus (S), but in the dramatic context, the whole S-O-R configuration is presented before our mind’s eye that restores the coherence lacking in these dispersed elements only by supplying from its own past experience the relevant emotion (sthâyin) inferred to be existing in the âshraya (dramatic personage). The calling up of this ‘selective operator’ is accompanied by the arousal of the latent traces (samskâra) of the same emotion in ourselves, which is however prevented from taking the normal course of expending itself in purposive activity (artha-kriyâ) because it owes its whole existence to the special sustained attention (avadhâna) that holds the configuration together in the imagination, and the sahrdaya’s personal purposive involvement with the vibhâva (= S for the âshraya). Would immediately destroy this attention. It is this sthâyin arrested and maintained at its incipient stage as an object of relish that constitutes the aesthetic experience of rasa.
But since the rasa experienced by the connoisseur is superimposed on the emotion (sthâyin) merely inferred in the dramatic personage (âshraya), as the meaning of the configuration, and fluctuates in resonance with all the modifications the latter seems to undergo, since the aesthetic experience in the sahrdaya and the objective meaning located in the âshraya coincide, one has the impression of experiencing the stimulus (= vibhâva) through a process of (aesthetic) identification (tanmayîbhavana) with the âshraya. Thus, Sîtâ, the chaste and devout wife of the heroic god Râma, is not the stimulus of our personal sexual desire (rati)—something highly improper—but the determinant (vibhâva) of the aestheticized, de-personalized erotic sentiment (shrngâra) that we experience only insofar as we identify ourselves with the âshraya, Râma.
Now, the distinction between hâsya and hâsa is precisely the difference between rasa and its sthâyin: “Now then hâsya is of the nature of the permanent emotion (sthâyin) of hâsa” (Nâtya Shâstra, GOS, chapter VI, vol. I, p.318). This basic formula of Bharata, governing the treatment of hâsya in Sanskrit drama, at the same time identifies and distinguishes hâsya and hâsa. The distinction is so much taken for granted by Abhinavagupta that he appeals to it in order to refute those who sought to deny the existence of the shânta-rasa, the aesthetic emotion of peace and tranquility, by claiming that it was synonymous with its underlying permanent emotion of ‘cessation’ (shama). “The (supposed) synonymy of shama and shânta has been explained on the analogy of (the distinction between) hâsa and hâsya. The distinction between shama and shânta also is easily established in that the former exists naturally (in the world) as an accomplished fact (siddha), is worldly, and (the stimulus of which) is common, whereas the latter is to be sustained (through aesthetic relish in drama: sâdhya), transcendental (unworldly) and (the determinant of which) is uncommon (exclusive).” That hâsa, as a sthâyin, is worldly, i.e., occasioned in the course of our ordinary transactions with the world governed by purposivity, and hâsya, as its corresponding rasa, must be transcendental and free of purposivity can be deduced from the preceding discussion.
The distinction between the self-subsisting (siddha) nature of sthâyins like hâsa and the nature of rasas like hâsya as being wholly dependent on the determinant (vibhâva), consequent (anubhâva), etc., is clarified as follows by Abhinava in his Locana: “And this meaning, viz. rasa, etc., does not arise in the same way as the joy that arises on being told ‘A son has been born to you!’ Nor does it arise from the figurative use of language. On the contrary, it manifests itself as the very relishing—its whole essence consists in its being relished—through aesthetic identification due to the sympathetic response (hrdaya-samvâda) of the connoisseur on his cognizing the vibhâvas and anubhâvas, and is wholly different from pleasure, etc. which are self-subsisting in nature (siddha-svabhâva)….. Here the only function of word is suggestion, and in this the word is aided by the (explicit) meaning. Even the meanings such as the vibhâvas, etc., do not give rise to the particular emotion in the same way that joy is produced by the birth of a son, and this function of the meaning exceeding (the function of mere) production is called suggestion alone.”
The birth of the son is the direct stimulus (S) of our personal joy, and it can be so only to the father and not to someone unrelated. The relation is that of two separate events that stand in the relation of cause (birth) to effect (joy), and this personal joy could never be said to be the meaning of the son’s birth. In the aesthetic configuration, though the vibhâvas (‘determinants’) are the transpositions in art of stimuli that would have functioned in the world in a mode analogous to the birth-of-a-son, they do not produce rasa in the same way that they would have caused their respective worldly emotions (sthâyins) in their original context. Instead the rasa is cognized, being relished through a cognition that is indistinguishable from the relish itself, at the same time and only so long as the vibhâvas, anubhâvas, etc., are being attentively perceived. It is perceived not as the effect succeeding the configuration (which comprises much more than the original stimulus S alone) as cause, but as the very meaning of the configuration and co-existing with it; it is that which organizes and restores the coherence to the situation before us. Rasa exists only so long as and insofar as the configuration is perceived in a particular skilled way and its relish, being non-different from this mode of perception itself, is “to be brought into existence” (sâdhya) throughout its actual duration. It does not possess the independent (siddha) existence of worldly emotions, which though occasioned by their stimuli are nevertheless separable from the latter.
The siddha/sâdhya distinction is intimately connected to, yet different from, the sâdhârana/asâdhârana distinction. Masson and Patwardhan take the last pair as referring to the sthâyin and rasa respectively: “shama is sâdhârana, ordinary, while shânta is asâdhârana, extraordinary” (Shântarasa, p.128). Their mistranslation is naturally translated into the fault of tautology in Abhinava’s otherwise habitual precision: “We cannot ascertain any difference between laukika [worldly] and alaukika [transcendental] on the one hand, and sâdhârana and asâdhârana on the other, such that Abhinava would be justified in using both terms. Surely, sâdhârana and laukika mean precisely the same thing” (Shântarasa, p.128, note 2). But actually sâdhârana and asâdhârana, meaning ‘common’ (general) and ‘uncommon’ (exclusive) respectively, refer to the determinant (vibhâva = S of the sthâyin) primarily and only by extension to sthâyin or rasa it evokes. The ’cause’ (kârana) S is ‘common’ (sâdhârana) when it acts directly, without any intermediary, on all those who perceive it, and is ‘exclusive (asâdhârana) when it evokes its specific emotion only in those who stand in the necessary personal relation to it. Rasa is wholly distinct from its corresponding worldly emotion (sthâyin) only when the latter is evoked in an ‘exclusive’ mode in the presented dramatic support (âshraya), so that the connoisseur can relish the rasa only through identifying himself with the âshraya to whom alone the stimulus (S) is perceived a pertinent. It is only through this identification that the ‘exclusive stimulus’ (asâdhârana-kârana) of the sthâyin becomes the ‘generalized determinant’ (sâdhârana-vibhâva) for the entire audience.
But this ‘exclusive’ mode of action is strictly obligatory for the stimuli of love (shrngâra) and pathos (karuna) only for they cannot directly act upon the spectators, whereas the stimuli of the other sthâyins are susceptible to either or both modes of action depending on the case. In the opening scene of Kalidasa’s play Abhijñâna-Shâkuntalam, we are treated to a hunting scene which depicts, with such graceful strokes, the mortal panic of a deer in flight. The king is the ‘exclusive determinant’ (asâdhârana-vibhâva) of the ‘sentiment of fear’ (bhayânaka-rasa) for us, because we relish it only through our identification with the receptacle (âshraya) fear, namely the startled deer fleeing desperately before his chariot. But in a horror movie, many of the fear-stimuli act directly upon us instead and others in both ways simultaneously, so much so that the distinction, in experience, between real fear and bhayânakabecomes relatively blurred in comparison with the preceding example. Thus these other rasas when evoked in the ‘common’ (sâdhârana) mode become difficult to distinguish from their corresponding ‘worldly emotions’ (sthâyins) and it is only when evoked in the ‘exclusive’ (asâdhârana) mode through aesthetic identification with a suitable (dramatic) support (âshraya) that they attain their full status as rasas. Hence, the distinction sâdhârana/asâdhârana is not synonymous with the laukika/alaukika or siddha/sâdhya ones, though it is because the ‘determinant’ (vibhâva) is ‘exclusive’ (asâdhârana) that the response is a ‘transcendental’ (alaukika) rasa (that needs) ‘to-be-sustained’ (sâdhya)instead of a ‘self-subsisting’ (siddha) ‘worldly’ (laukika) emotion (bhâva). Hence, the ‘sentiment of tranquility’ (shânta-rasa) is evoked by exclusive determinants seeming to produce their corresponding sthâyin of ‘cessation’ (shama) in an appropriate (dramatic) personage (âshraya), through identification with the latter. In such a case, where the determinant (vibhâva) is incapable of directly evoking shama in the spectators, the shânta-rasa is clearly distinct (vilakshana) from mental peace (shama) in real-life. This is Abhinava’s way of showing that shama can indeed be the sthâyin of shânta because the two terms are not synonymous.
Yet the choice of the hâsa/hâsya, instead of the (love) rati/shrngâra (erotic sentiment) or the (sorrow) shoka/karuna (pathos) distinction as the pertinent analogy for shama/shânta implies that at least some of the stimuli of shama are capable of acting on at least some of the spectators in a direct (sâdhârana) mode; so that it is more difficult to distinguish between shama and shânta in such instances. For Abhinavagupta is very explicit in an earlier passage in the same chapter, while discussing the nature of hâsya to hâsa, that the determinants of hâsya in the aesthetic context are capable of acting in a ‘generalized’ (sâdhârana) mode to produce hâsa in the spectators. When this hâsa is relished it is called hâsya. This is why, he says, when Bharata defined the rasas in terms of their respective sthâyins, only of shrngâra and karuna does he specify that they are ‘born of’ (tat-prabhava) ‘love’ (rati) and ‘sorrow’ (shoka), whereas of the other rasas, beginning with hâsya, he simply says that they are ‘of the nature of’ (tad-âtmaka) of their corresponding sthâyins.
“Now (Bharata) proceeds to define hâsya. This is what he means to say in using the term ‘âtman’: Rati (love) when being the object of that mode of cognition called ‘relishing’ does not at all assume the form of rati (i.e., the sthâyin, cf. note 20, page 75 below). Because the determinants (vibhâva), etc., are uncommon (asâdhârana) at the initial stage (pramukhe, of the aesthetic cognition). But because incongruous costume, etc., cause hâsa in the spectators in the same way as they do in real life, the relish in hâsa (i.e., hâsya) is of the same nature as hâsa, the determinants being common (to all). For it is relished through a process of relishing, called ‘tasting’ (rasanâ), that has hâsa for its essence. It is rati and shoka alone that arise only in the form of pleasure and pain (respectively) borne by a continuous flow of relishing of a consciousness that is supremely of the nature of (parama-taj-jâtîya) rati or shoka, and hence only through the force of stimuli conditioned by the restriction (niyama) that they must be of exclusive (uncommon) nature (i.e., relevant only for the âshraya whose rati or shoka is being relished by the spectator). This is why the sage uses the term ‘born (of)’ with regard to these two. But in the case of the other sthâyins, because of the possibility of their determinants (vibhâvas) being common, the term ‘of the nature of’ has been used. Because skilled policy and proper conduct, etc., cause enthusiasm, evil-doers cause anger, fear or disgust, and things which are extraordinary with respect to time, etc., cause surprise in the same way in all (who witness them), the vibhâvas being in this way common.”
But this in no way implies—and certainly not for Abhinava—that the distinction between rasa and sthâyin is wholly effaced in the case of the other rasas, whenever they are produced by ‘generalized determinants’ (sâdhâranavibhâvas). It only means that at the initial stage, what the spectators feel is not distinguishable from the worldly emotion (sthâyin), which is however immediately depersonalized by a mechanism other than that of identification (tanmayîbhavana). Masson and Patwardhan object to the above interpretation of ‘tadâtmaka’ given by Abhinava: “But this argument seems to be false: we are not really afraid (bhaya) in the theater. It is an aesthetic experience only, just like shoka. Abhinava comes back to this point on p.318 when he says (of karuna): sarva-sâdhâranatvena prâg-yuktyâ âsvâdyamânasya samjñâ / tad-artham eva nâma-shabdah / tat-prabhatvam shrngâravad vyâkhyeyam /” (Aesthetic Rapture II, p.85, note 431). If Abhinava had meant that there were no difference at all between hâsa and hâsya he would not have sought to establish the distinction between shama and shânta on them. The depersonalization (also sâdhâranîkarana) in the case of ‘common determinants’ (sâdhârana-vibhâvas) is brought about not by the primary mechanism of identification (tanmayîbhavana) but by the more general process whereby temporal and spatial determinations are eliminated from the aesthetic perception through the mutual cancellation of the contrary temporal-cum-spatial determinants affecting the represented elements and the representing elements (i.e., anukârya character and nata actor). With or without aesthetic identification, the experience is thus unconditioned by space and time and thus universalized. Nevertheless, where there is no identification at all, the rasa(necessarily excluding shrngâra and karuna) is much more akin in experience to its corresponding worldly emotion (sthâyin).
But even if this is granted, the case of hâsa/hâsya still remains problematic. The most empirically verifiable criterion for distinguishing a rasa from its sthâyin is that the latter gives rise to purposive activity (artha-kriyâ) centered around the stimulus, whereas the enjoyment of the former involves no such activity. But hâsa stands apart in that its resulting laughter is not so much purposive activity but release of energies that would otherwise have sustained a purposive attitude (artha-kriyâ-kâritva). And hâsya though a rasa may well be accompanied by the same laughter that is characteristic of hâsa. Since hâsa is not accompanied by purposive activity and hâsya is not exclusive of laughter, this important criterion is invalid for this pair, and the distinction between them becomes much more blurred here than for the other rasa/sthâyin pairs. That is why jokes and witticisms seem to form a separate genre having a quasi-independent existence, somewhere on the borderline between the aesthetic and the worldly domains. So we must turn to the ‘exclusive determinant’ (asâdhârana-vibhâva) for re-establishing the crucial distinction.
But an ‘exclusive determinant,’ to produce its aesthetic effect, must necessarily have as its complement a support or receptacle (âshraya) responding to it in the expected manner on the stage (or in the poem), and with whom the connoisseur (sahrdaya) can identify himself. But the problem remains that in many, if not most, situations depicting hâsya-rasa, in poetry especially, there is no such âshraya represented as laughing at the determinant (vibhâva). It becomes difficult to explain, within the framework of the rasa-theory, why we should be experiencing hâsya instead of the usual hâsa. Panditarâja Jagannâtha is obliged to face this objection that there is never any âshraya in the case of the enjoyment of hâsya and bîbhatsa (sentiment of disgust):
“But then there is no perception, in the case of hâsa and jugupsa (disgust), of both the primary (âlambana) determinant and the âshraya, for the âlambana alone is perceived here, unlike the case of love, anger, enthusiasm, fear, sorrow, surprise and self-abasement (nirveda) which were illustrated before (and where both are cognized). Moreover, the hearer of the poem cannot be the âshraya of the worldly hâsa and disgust, for he is already the locus of the relish of rasa.”
“This is correct. (But it can be resolved by assuming) the projection of some particular (imaginary) person as the âshraya. Or if there is no such (imaginary) projection, there is still no obstacle to the evocation of rasa in the hearer if (we assume that) it arises just as (shrngâra-rasa arises) from a poem describing one’s own wife.”
The only signification of the above ‘solution’ is that it reveals Panditarâja’s anxiety to maintain the distinction between rasa and sthâyi-bhâva as upheld by tradition, and the difficulty of doing so in the case of hâsa/hâsya and jugupsâ/ bîbhatasa. The essential function of the âshraya is that it is the instrument of aesthetic identification (tanmayîbhavana) whereby the determinants (vibhâvas) that are ‘exclusive’ or ‘uncommon’ (asâdhârana) and cannot directly act upon the connoisseur (sahrdaya), as is definitely the case in shrngâra and karuna, are rendered common (sâdhârana) to all the spectators, who are only thereby able to relish the emerging rasa. When hâsya-rasa is already directly evoked by the vibhâva, without any intervention of an âshraya, why the futile exercise of projecting an imaginary âshraya simply in order to placate one’s embarrassment at being able to enjoy hâsya in a manner apparently contradictory to the prescriptions of the Nâtya Shâstra. Such an exercise is also belied by experience, for we do not make any conscious effort to project an âshraya when we are humored by or laugh at a funny situation.
The second alternative that transforms the sahrdaya himself into the âshraya, is as misleading as it is ingenious: the description of one’s own wife in a poem should evoke at the same time worldly love (rati), because she is the wife, and also shrngâra-rasa, because she is the poeticized vibhâva (‘determinant’) like any other heroine (nâyika) in a love-poem. If the two are compatible here, there is no reason for refusing to accept that both hâsa and hâsya (or jugupsâ and bîbhatasa) may coexist in the sahrdaya as response to an incongruous stimulus. But the argument is false.
If the hearer perceives the heroine as his own wife, in a direct personal relationship to himself (svagatatvena), her erotic portrayal by the poet could only engender worldly love and other emotions like indignation and jealousy for the poet, resulting in purposive activity. Something like my fury at Richard Burton as Mark Anthony when I suddenly realize that the Cleopatra he is so ardently embracing is being played by my own wife. If she is perceived as the wife of the poet alone (just as Sîtâ stands in a special asâdhârana relation to Râma), in a personal relation to this other (than oneself) person alone (paragatatvena), there will only be indifference, or shame at one’s own improper feelings for her, etc., and no shrngâra. For there to be sâdhâranîbhâva (‘generalization’ or depersonalization) of the (otherwise worldly) love (rati), it must be perceived neither as pertaining to oneself (svagatatvena) nor as pertaining to another (paragatatvena), but relished through identification with the poet as âshraya, in which case it is shrngâra alone that is relished without there being any clear awareness of the distinction between self and other. Here, even if it is one’s own wife who is erotically described, one does not respond to her directly in a personal way, but by seeing her through the poet’s vision which, though prescribed from outside by the structure of the poem, is no longer distinguished from our own. The mechanism of identification with the poet-âshraya is the same as when he is describing a purely imaginary heroine and not anybody’s wife in particular. Of course, this does not prevent the ‘determinant’ (vibhâva) from acquiring a heightened potency in evoking shrngâra due to this very emotional familiarity of its contours. But the process remains essentially the same, and there is no scope for confusing worldly love (rati) and its aesthetic counterpart (shrngâra). Panditarâja’s example, being irrelevant, proves nothing. If we enjoy shrngâra on hearing a poetic description of our wife, it is only because the poet, with whom we identify ourselves, is the a, it is only because the poet, with whom we identify ourselves, is the âshraya, and so now the only way in which hâsya could be legitimately distinguished from hâsa is when the former is evoked through the mediation of a presented ‘support’ (âshraya)
One of the three criteria given by Abhinava to distinguish between hâsa and hâsya is that (the stimulus of) hâsa is ‘general’ (sâdhârana) as opposed to (the vibhâva of) hâsya, which is ‘exclusive’ (asâdhârana; see note 3 above). This clearly shows that Abhinava considered hâsya to be fully distinct from hâsa only in those instances where it is evoked through identification with a support (âshraya) as is always the case in shrngâra and karuna. The question to be examined is how an âshraya could play an effective role in the evocation of hâsya. The sight of someone else laughing at the ‘determinant’ (vibhâva) only serves as a catalyst to our own laughter at the same and cannot really be assimilated to the function of a ‘support’ (âshraya, in the technical sense) of hâsya, for there is nothing to distinguish definitively our own laughter from the laughter of the supposed âshraya. Why should the latter be indicative of hâsa alone, whereas our derived laughter should be the privileged expression of hâsya? That this is not what Abhinava intended by ‘exclusive’ (asâdhârana) hâsya is evident from his labeling such a situation as laughter ‘existing-in-onesel’ (âtmastha) as opposed to laughter ‘existing-in-another’ (parastha). According to Bharata, hâsa “is of two kinds: existing in oneself, and existing in another person. When one laughs on one’s own, that laughter is said to be existing in oneself. When one causes another person to laugh, then the laughter is said to be existing in another.” This distinction having been interpreted diversely by previous commentators, Abhinava takes pains to clarify his own conception of parastha-hâsa:
“When the vidûshaka himself laughs with determinants (vibhâvas) like incongruous costumes, etc., on his own person it is âtmastha for him. And when at the same time he makes the queen laugh, it is parastha for her. But this is false. For the distinction of being âtmastha would apply in this way to the determinants and not to the hâsa itself. Moreover, since the sorrow of the master causes sorrow in his dependents, the possibility of being parastha would be applicable everywhere (i.e., not confined to hâsa, but valid for all the other sthâyins as well). If it be suggested that (the hâsa) that is born in oneself, itself becomes parastha when it is manifested elsewhere in the queen, etc., in that case the anger of a very serious master manifested in his dependents through the latter’s reactions (anubhâvas) would also be parastha. To say that (hâsa) having these paraphernalia for vibhâva is âtmastha, whereas the other type has no vibhâva (but arises as a reaction to the previous laughter?), is also false. For the laughter of another can also be the determinant (vibhâva) of such (parastha) laughter; and this mechanism is applicable to all (the sthâyins) like love (rati), etc.
Therefore the real meaning here is as follows: In ordinary life we see people laughing at the (mere) sight of another laughing, even when they themselves do not perceive the determinants. In the same way, there are those who do laugh on account of their seriousness even when they are perceiving the determinants, etc. But the very moment they perceive another laughing (as these same determinants) a special kind of laughter is indeed provoked—this is in the very nature (of laughter). Just as the relish of the taste of tamarind, pomegranate, etc., being infectious (sankramana-svabhâva), passes over to others as well as causing their mouths to water (to salivate) at the mere sight (of another enjoying them), in the same way hâsa is by its very nature infectious, like dry wood (that ignites immediately).”
A little further on, while clarifying that Bharata’s six degrees of laughter are divisible into two broad divisions of âtmastha and parastha, each division comprising the three categories of high, middling and low laughter, he again insists that it is only hâsa, and not the other emotions (sthâyins), that is infectious:
“It has already been said that love (rati), anger (krodha), sorrow (shoka), etc. are not infectious. Only in the case of hâsa, does that very (i.e., the normal) determinant (vibhâva), the person possessed of that state of mind (i.e., the person laughing directly at the vibhâva) or both these two at the same time assume the status of vibhâva. It is not the case here, that those very vibhâvas, having evoked the corresponding state of mind in the (other) person…[corrupt]. Others say that through hâsa it is intended that this distinction of âtmastha and parastha should be applicable to all the emotions (sthâyins). But this is also false, for experience proves that hâsa (alone) id infectious.
If we have interpreted Abhinava correctly, parastha hâsa occurs when we laugh at the determinants, not directly, but under the influence of someone else’s laughter, the latter acting as a catalyst for our own laughter. In all this there is no question whatsoever of hâsya, and it is evident that in Abhinava’s mind the function of infectious laughter is in no way to be assimilated to the function of the âshraya (dramatic personage as support) in evoking hâsya-rasa at the sight of an ‘exclusive’ (asâdhârana) vibhâva. For those in whom the vidûshaka’s incongruities are insufficient or ineffective in provoking laughter, it is the vidûshaka’s own explosive laughter (atihâsa) in the midst of his antics that ensures that they too join in the chorus of resounding laughter that returns to echo his own. Or it may be induced at the mere awareness of the laughter of their less serious fellow-spectators. But this does not suffice to distinguish hâsya for, as Abhinava pointed out, it is a mechanism common in ordinary life with nothing particularly aesthetic about it. We also know from experience that many poems suffused with hâsya or many fine examples of humor in witticisms are nevertheless devoid of a presented âshraya of hâsa upon whom our own hâsya would depend. How then can an ‘exclusive’ (asâdhârana) vibhâva evoke hâsya without an âshraya reacting with hâsa?
It is the bisociative theory of hâsa alone that can account for its aestheticization without a laughter âshraya and this theory is certainly implied in Abhinava’s formula which states that the semblances (âbhâsas) of the various rasas are productive of hâsya. The determinant (vibhâva) has to evoke a bisociative response in the spectator which the latter experiences as hâsa—as we saw in the preceding chapter, this is what constitutes the incongruity of the determinant. This means that it has to be viewed from two opposing angles simultaneously. Very often, as is always the case with the ‘semblance of shrngâra’ or the ‘semblance of karuna’ (shrngârâbhâsa or karunâbhâsa), at least one, if not both, of these viewpoints is induced in the spectator through his identification with a presented âshraya, and it is this tanmayîbhavana that distinguishes the (semblance of the) rasa from its corresponding sthâyin. When therefore the bisociative effect depends on the semblance of a rasa that requires an âshraya for its relishing, what results is not so much hâsa as hâsya. What is enjoyed now is not so much the pleasurable laughter-discharge, that may or may not accompany the relishing of hâsya, but the very aestheticization of the bisociated emotional and cognitive structures themselves. The mechanism involved becomes clearer when we follow Abhinava’s analysis of the cognitive processes responsible for our experience of hâsya on perceiving Râvana’s unrequited love for Sîtâ:
“When a permanent emotional disposition (sthâyin) presented without incongruity (aucitya: in its proper or befitting mode) is relished, it is rasa; when a transitory emotion (vyabhicârin) is similarly relished, there is bhâva (not to be confused with the worldly sthâyi-bhâva). When either of these is presented with incongruity (anaucityena: in improper or unbefitting mode), there is their semblance (âbhâsa) as in the case of Râvana’s love (rati) for Sîtâ. Although here there is the relishing of hâsya-rasa alone, in accordance with the (Bharata’s) maxim ‘hâsya arises indeed from (the semblance of) shrngâra’ (see p. ???), nevertheless this state is produced only subsequently in the spectators. But during the state of aesthetic identification (tanmayîbhavana), provided that there is no attention given to the discriminating the context, there is the relishing of love (rati) alone and hence it shrngâra only that is experienced, as in (hearing Râvana’s outpouring): ‘Ever since it fell upon my ears, her name is like a deluding spell that draws me irresistibly from afar…’ etc. Thus this is only the semblance of shrngâra (shrngârâbhâsa). The semblance of bhâva (bhâvâbhâsa) is an accessory (of âbhâsas of rasas like shrngâra).”
Uttungodaya in his Kaumudî commentary on the Locana stresses the point that there is not the least difference between the relishing of Râma’s love (rati) for Sîtâ and of Râvana’s rati for her, so long as all consideration of context (speaker, etc.) are suppressed. It is only when the impropriety which, in aesthetic terms, amounts to an incongruity is perceived, and the identification partially broken, that there arises hâsya. Still Râvana’s love for Sîtâ provokes hâsyaonly because we partially identify ourselves with him (as an âshraya) and view Sîtâ partly through his eyes as a determinant (vibhâva) of the erotic sentiment (shrngâra) and partly directly as an object unsuitable for playing this role. The element of shrngâra is an essential component of the bisociative cognition, and if there were no partial identification, there would be only indignation or disgust at the immorality of such feelings and no hâsya. Because hâsya relies on the semblance of shrngâra and the determinant of shrngâra is always ‘exclusive’ (asâdhârana), the determinant of hâsya itself is uncommon, for it is only through identification with a support (âshraya) that one of the components of the bisociated response is produced. In all such cases, where the determinants of the constituent rasas are asâdhârana, hâsya may be distinguished from hâsa, which is produced directly without the intervention of an âshraya.
This also answers one of the objections raised against Bhatta Tauta’s dictum that “the experience of the poet, the hero (nâyaka = âshraya) and the hearer is the same”: “Identification with a comic hero is not possible because the essence of his comicality is his abnormality or eccentricity. In what sense can we say that we identify ourselves with Ben Johnson’s rogue-heroes? To insist that the poetic experience is necessarily inferior when identification with the hero does not take place is to imply that a play like Richard III is inferior to any sentimental melodrama.” The point is that identification, even if only partial, does occur, and since it is the comic hero who is the focus of all the comic situations, this continual partial identification with him overrides the momentary identifications with other characters of the play. Of course, the so-called comic hero acts as much as the determinant (= butt, in terms of the superiority–theory of humor) of hâsya as its âshraya (for the second component of the bisociation may be evoked directly though the incongruous elements located on his person), but he attains this status mainly by acting simultaneously as the âshraya of the semblances of the various rasas and bhâvas. Moreover, when Bhatta Tauta enunciated the above formula he could hardly have been thinking of hâsya which is unanimously classified as a secondary and derivative rasa, and for the reason that the four categories of heroes (nâyaka), as defined by the dramaturgic tradition, correspond to the permanent (dhîra = stable) âshraya of the four primary rasas, viz., shrngâra (love – dhîra-lalita), raudra (anger – dhîroddhata), vîra (heroism – dhîrodâtta) and shânta (dhîra-prashânta). Lastly, Abhinava cites his guru’s formula (and we are otherwise ignorant of its original context) not so much to prove that the three experiences are rigorously identical, but to support his assertion that the poet’s creative genius (pratibhâ) is not inferred by the connoisseur (sahrdaya) but known directly by reliving it in the process of enjoyment (cf. our remarks on unspecifiability, pp. 52-54, chapter I above). This mechanism of half-identification with the comic hero is important because it is fundamental to the comic aspect of ritual clowns, of whom the vidûshaka is the dramatic projection.
Both elements of the bisociation may depend on identification with presented supports (âshrayas) and in such cases, of which we shall see several fine examples soon, the differences, perceptible in the experience itself, between aesthetic hâsya and worldly hâsa is evident. What is common to both, however, is the bisociative structure, which in hâsa is discharged as laughter but enjoyed for its own sake in hâsya. Such mechanisms of identification, even where their finality is not the relishing of a fully ‘developed’ (upacita) rasa as such, are often necessarily involved in the realization of the bisociative effect of joke- or wit-structures. Thereby, a certain degree of aestheticization is achieved and it is often difficult to decide whether our enjoyments of a particular witticism is a case of humor (hâsya) or of simple bisociative laughter (hâsa). The ‘delayed-action-joke’ borrowed by Koestler from Freud, to illustrate the riddle-like character produced by the implicitness of the joke-structure (see above, pp.84-85), is also a fine example of bisociation depending on the presentation of twin âshrayas whose contrary perceptions clash at a junctional concept:
While the prince was travelling through his domain, he noticed a man in the cheering crowd who bore a striking resemblance to himself. He beckoned him over and asked:
“Was your mother ever employed in my palace?”
“No, Sire,” the man replied, “but my father was.”
(Insight and Outlook, p.31).
The opposing ‘âshrayas’ here are the prince and the rustic and the junctional concept or ‘flash’ is their striking resemblance. The prince’s question does not make immediate sense and we are unable to reintegrate it into the context without calling up an entire field of associations about aristocratic mores and attitudes with which we are familiar. The implied or suggested meaning that links the rustic’s mother to their otherwise incomprehensible resemblance, is that the rustic must have been born as bastard from the king’s (the prince’s father’s) passing liaison with the rustic’s mother while she was employed in the palace. This comes to the prince, and to us, easily—even if we are ourselves not and even against aristocrats—because we are habituated to the peculiar morals of court-life that permit the king free sexual indulgence outside of royal matrimony, even while ensuring the perpetuation of the royal lineage and the kingly inheritance through legitimate from the queen-mother. By supplying this ‘selective operator,’ which remains implicit, we reproduce the prince’s thought processes and thereby identify ourselves with his emotional attitude of assured aristocratic superiority. In this we are aided by such cues as his being cheered while touring, the imperial gesture of beckoning to a commoner, the submissive (“Sire”) mode of address the rustic employs, etc. So much so that we, even if we be paupers, reproduce in ourselves the condescending self-assured attitude of a prince questioning his subject.
But this exalting identification is immediately punctured by the negative reply, which reveals that the riddle has yet to be solved and eliminates the mediation of the mother. Yet the substitution of the rustic’s father for his mother, while conforming rigorously to the logical aspect of the prince’s (i.e., our) cogitations and supplying a perfectly plausible answer, completely subverts, indeed inverts, the emotional aspect. The peasant suddenly appears as the legitimate son of his own father, whereas it is the prince who is now suddenly revealed to be the bastard son through the queen’s liaison with a commoner. His new identity stands in stark and sudden contrast to his attitude to the commoner before him. What has happened is that the roles of the king, the rustic’s mother and the rustic himself in the first operational field are suddenly and simultaneously replaced in the second field by the rustic’s father, the queen and the prince himself, so that the kind of emotional attitudes that held together and facilitated the first field are abruptly and momentarily transferred to the second field. It is as if the prince suddenly found himself in the shoes of the rustic and were looking at himself with exactly the same unchallenged aristocratic arrogance that had characterized his own attitude to his double only a moment ago. Normally, the second field should not be accompanied by the kind of attitudinizing associated with the first field, but because the second field immediately succeeds the first and is, cognitively and logically, the replica of the first, but with inversion of all the terms, the emotional framework that had held the key terms of the first field together is suddenly superposed on the inverted terms of the second field. The sharp juxtaposition, almost superposition, of the two contrasting yet symmetrical fields, with the clash of identical emotional patterns of opposing orientations, is what is responsible for the humor here.
And the second field consists of an identification with the rustic as ‘âshraya,’ or rather, as a ‘counter-âshraya’ to the prince as the locus of the first field. That the first cognitive field, and especially its emotional pattern, is crucial to the dynamics of the joke can be proved experimentally by modifying the prince’s original question into: “Was your father or mother ever employed in my palace?” and the reply into: “Yes, Sire, my father was.” Here the cognitive and logical patterns of the two simultaneously presented fields remain the same, but there is no humor, precisely because the emotional attitudes built into the original question are absent in the modified form of a purely logical alternative. Instead of an unambiguous and unmistakable aristocratic attitude that is suddenly reversed, we are immediately left to waver between two matter-of-fact solutions to a purely logical problem.
This illustrates a common joke-pattern where the two opposing fields of the bisociation depend on our identifying ourselves simultaneously with the clashing viewpoints of two different characters centered on a common junctional concept or situation. In this respect, these characters play the same role as the aesthetic support (âshraya) in the enjoyment of hâsya-rasa. The difference is that what is really enjoyed in the âshraya contributing to hâsya is the emotional state itself which is well-defined and nourished. This is in keeping with the rasa-theory and the rasa-literature from which it derives, where the stress is on the relishing of emotional flavors. In joke-structures like the above example, though the emotional dynamics is still there and vital to the humor, the stress is displaced to the cleverness of the joke-technique, and especially to the satirical intent of showing up the hollowness, pretentiousness or one-sidedness of certain conventional modes of thought, or of prejudiced attitudes, by allowing them to appear suddenly in the light of an alien field. It is the questioning of the selective operators brought into play for realizing the enjoyment of the joke, rather than the exploitation of these operators to relish their emotional contents, that is the center of attention. All that we have tried to show is that the mechanisms of humor in witticisms and in the relishing of hâsya are essentially the same, and the necessary conditions for transforming hâsa into its aesthetic counterpart of hâsya are to varying degrees present in ordinary day-to-day humor as well.
This distinction between (hâsya-) rasa and (hâsa-) sthâyin corresponds to Koestler’s own distinction between the depersonalized ‘self-transcending’ emotions of art (and mystical experience) and the personal ‘self-assertive’ emotions pf ordinary life rooted in our biological instincts. “The participatory or self-transcending tendencies…in these emotional states the need is felt to behave as a part of some real or imaginary entity which transcends, as it were, the boundaries of the individual self; whereas when governed by the self-assertive class of emotions the ego is experienced as a self-contained whole and the ultimate value. As a rule our emotions are complex mixtures in which both tendencies participate” (Act of Creation, pp.54, 259). The problem with Koestler’s whole discussion is that he is never clear, even to himself, whether this fundamental opposition is between two different categories of emotions (involving even different physiological mechanisms: parasympathetic versus adreno-sympathetic) or between the different modes of the same basic emotions: he keeps oscillating between the two positions. Though he keeps repeating that it is impossible to find either tendency in its pure form in most given emotional states, he at the same time makes sorrow and the tragic the very type of the self-transcending emotions and, conversely, laughter and the comic the typical instance of the self-assertive emotions. Nevertheless, the manner in which he defines this opposition leaves no doubt that it is the universalization or depersonalization of consciousness—none other then the ‘generalization’ (sâdhâranîkarana) that transforms the sthâyin into its corresponding rasa (cf. note 9 above)—that is the touchstone for distinguishing the self-transcending from the self-assertive emotions. “From the psychological point of view, the self-asserting emotions, derived from emergency reactions, involve a narrowing of consciousness; the participatory emotions an expansion of consciousness by identificatory processes of various kinds” (Act of Creation, p.286, author’s emphasis). Indian aesthetic theory draws the logical conclusion that any self-assertive emotion when evoked through participation (hrdaya-samvâda) leading to complete identification (tanmayîbhavana) is necessarily transformed into its own self-transcending counterpart (rasa), and, in this way, the emotional bisociation that constitutes worldly ego-involving hâsa is also raised to the level of depersonalized aesthetic relish of hâsya-rasa.
In Western aesthetic thought, ever since Aristotle first set up the opposition between tragedy and comedy, there has always been the tendency to elevate the ‘pity’ characterizing the former into a highly aesthetic and self-transcending emotion (catharsis) to be distinguished from the real sorrow of the tragic hero, whereas the buoyant emotions provoked by comedy tend to be confused with the self-assertive emotions of its characters. This bias is carried to its extreme but logical consequences by Koestler who, because he takes tragedy as the very type of the aesthetic experience, goes to the extent of interpreting sorrow and even weeping in real-life contexts as a manifestation of self-transcending emotions (Insight and Outlook, pp.113-29; Act of Creation, pp.271-84) and, conversely, reduces the enjoyment of humor in comedies to no more than the discharge of self-assertive emotions. “At all times a component of malice, of debasement of the other fellow and of aggressive-defensive self-assertion, has been recognized in laughter—a tendency diametrically opposed to sympathy, helpfulness, and identification of the self with others. Now most of our emotional reactions to complex stimuli are blends of various, and partly contradictory elements; we may laugh at a person despite simultaneous stirrings of tenderness or sympathy, or we may be deeply moved by a person’s predicament, without being able to suppress a smile at the comic aspect. But this very ambivalence of our reactions proves that there are opposite tendencies at work: the component of aggression tending to produce the comic, that of sympathy the tragic. To sum up: whatever the composition of the emotional charge of the narrative, it will only produce comic effects if the aggressive component, however sublimated, dominates the opposing tendency….this opposite tendency of sympathetic identification , or ‘self-transcendence’ as opposed to ‘self-assertion,’ is dominant in the emotional charge of the tragic narrative, and stimuli of identical cognitive pattern will give rise to tragedy or comedy according to which emotive tendency dominates the pattern” (Insight and Outlook, pp.56-57).
It is no doubt true that sympathy or participation is at its maximum in the evocation of depersonalized sorrow (karuna-rasa), as Abhinava himself insists when he declares that its determinant (vibhâva), unlike those of the rasas, is always ‘exclusive’ (asâdhârana); and its transformation into hâsya requires the breach of this identification resulting in the ‘semblance’ of karuna (karunâbhâsa). But as we have seen, this element of identification (tanmayîbhavana) is not opposed nor even external to the laughter-mechanism; it is essential to the hâsya insofar as it sustains one of the poles of the bisociated perception of Râvana. Nevertheless, Koestler is right in maintaining that the opposing pole, in this case at least, contains a component of aggression or malice, “of debasement of the other fellow” and it is this that ensures the function of laughter as a social corrective for we thereby dissociate ourselves from Râvana’s inordinate lust.
But again, the participative pole in the hâsya here is not the tragic (karuna) but sexual love for it is based on the ‘semblance’ (âbhâsa) of love (shrngâra). Now, there is no reason why any of the other so-called ‘self-assertive’ emotions too should not be produced by such participatory processes so as to constitute the ‘self-transcending’ (X-âbhâsa) pole of hâsya. Koestler himself is forced to face this fact when he discusses the aesthetic emotions evoked by the technique of dramatic illusion, for, after all, Aristotle defined tragedy not only in terms of pity but just as much in terms of fear. “It is true that illusion, from Greek tragedy to horror comics, is also capable of generating fear and anger, palpitations and cold sweat, which seems to contradict its cathartic function. But the emotions thus generated are vicarious emotions derived from the spectator’s participation in another person’s existence, which is a self-transcending act. Consequently, however exciting the action on the stage, the anger or fear which it generates will always carry a component of sympathy,…which facilitates catharsis (Act of Creation, pp.303-04, author’s emphasis). Koestler here has given up his whole case, for if it is this participation (tanmayîbhavana) that makes these emotions in drama (or poetry) self-transcending, it would be erroneous to bracket apart certain emotions like humor as self-assertive and privilege others like sorrow as being the opposite. Indian aesthetics would relegate the latter too to the rank of a ‘self-assertive’ sthâyin for it arises from a personal loss, and only when it is evoked through identification with a support (âshraya) reacting to the ‘exclusive determinant’ (asâdhârana-vibhâva) is it raised to the status of karuna-rasa. Conversely, where the other pole of the bisociation of hâsa is likewise evoked and sustained by participation in another or the same âshraya, the process of aestheticization is carried to completion and the hâsa is relished impersonally as hâsya.
No doubt, such a counter-participation productive of humor would tend to detract from the unilateral sympathy so crucial for the deepening and consummation of the tragic experience (though here again we have the interesting possibilities of the tragic-comic techniques exploited with such effect by Charles Dickens). But unlike Western literary and critical tradition, Indian aesthetic thought is unanimous in according to the sentiment of love (shrngâra) the same requirement of total identification with an âshraya resulting in the same depersonalization as with the pathetic sentiment (karuna-rasa). And when the opposing pole of the emotional bisociation does not erupt through the reassertion of self-centered aggressive-defensive emotions that operates a partial dissociation as is the case in most forms of the ‘semblance of love’ (shrngârâbhâsa), but is instead projected through counter-identifications that ultimately only serve to nourish and heighten the shrngâra, what we have is self-transcending hâsya that requires complete identification (tanmayîbhavana). This is the technique we shall find fully at work in the Sanskrit isolated verses (muktaka = ‘pearl’). Even apart from shrngâra-based hâsya, wherever both poles of the bisociated emotional structure depend wholly—or even mostly—on participation, what we have is self-transcending humor and not self-assertive laughter.
We may summarize our conclusions as follows. Among all the rasas, it is hâsya that is the least differentiable from its corresponding ‘worldly emotion’ (sthâyin), hâsa. This is because, on the one hand, hâsa is discharged as laughter and is not accompanied by the goal-oriented activities characterizing the other sthâyins and, on the other hand, the relish of hâsya easily merges into and is confounded with the pleasure of the discharge. The bisociative structure of hâsa results in a kind of mental and physical paralysis that is easily confused with the inner detachment of rasa. There is the additional difficulty that unlike the other emotions whose intensity and duration of bisociative laughter are narrowly dependent on that of their respective stimuli, the intensity and duration of bisociative laughter may depend very much on the amount of inner tension or energy that merely finds in the stimulus an occasion for expending itself. Thus what begins as hâsya or humor may easily degenerate into rollicking laughter. But the distinction is nevertheless valid. Hâsa as bisociation is a mere response to an external stimulus (kârana) and may continue to exist independently of this stimulus after its production. It is pleasurable but this pleasure is simply due to the release of tension, of excessive energy, in other words the by-product of a passive reaction. Its best examples are real-life situations in which one is personally wholly involved (laukika) and where there is no real aesthetic distance. Such is the hâsa of the damsel on recognizing her mischievous lover who has just startled her by popping out from behind the corner, of the child on a swing, or that of a baby alternating so easily with tears, or at the sight of a eunuch, or at crude incongruities such as those of ritual clowns in ‘primitive’ societies. We would hardly refer to such instances as ‘humor’ and having a self-subsisting nature (siddha-svabhâva) in the world, they are certainly not instances of hâsya.
Hâsya is an active relishing of hâsa, of the bisociative structure itself, and it is sustained (sadhya) by the continued perception of determinants (vibhâvas), etc., in conjunction with the human supports (âshrayas) of its constituent emotions, and not persisting once the aesthetic configuration is no longer contemplated. “Laughter has a subjective or mental aspect and a physical aspect. The idea of humor is connected with the mental aspect. If the physiological reaction that is produced in us on perceiving some kind of incongruity is called laughter, the sense in us which enables us to contemplate the incongruity, either in actual life or in art, is to be called humor” (Bhat, p.146). It is only when the mental aspect, that is the bisociative structure itself, is aestheticized through the intervention of tanmayîbhavana (identification) in the evocation of its contents, that the ‘mass momentum’ of the emotion involved loses its force, and one no longer feels the compelling urge to laugh. Otherwise, the mental aspect, unless forcibly suppressed, inevitably overflows as physical laughter. Where the tanmayîbhavana is as primary as it is delicate, laughter may even hinder and curtail the contemplative relishing of the aesthetic configuration. Hâsya too is pleasurable but this pleasure consists of an active relishing (carvanâ) of the sthâyin hâsa, and is not the mere by-product of the release of bisociative tension in laughter. This is why it is possible to enjoy hâsya or have a fine ‘gift of humor’ without laughing at all, whereas vulgar people or children may laugh on every other occasion without having any ‘sense of humor’ at all.
Perhaps this is what George Meredith implied when he said: ” The laughter of Comedy is impersonal and of unrivalled politeness, nearer a smile; often no more than a smile. It laughs through the mind, for the mind directs it; and it might be called the humour of the mind.” The distinction is best understood by comparing it to that between a connoisseur of wines and a drunkard both of whom enjoy wine but in wholly different ways. But just as the presence of rasa may be signaled in the connoisseur through certain involuntary physical expressions, like trembling, horripilation, joyful swaying of limbs, etc., the presence of hâsya-rasa too may be signaled involuntarily by slight or broad smiling. The expenditure of energy, and the resulting pleasure of the discharge, may be minimal, but it would be erroneous to conclude therefrom that the degree of amusement, the quality of the humor, is any the less for that reason. And finally, there may be various degrees in the transformation of hâsa into hâsya.
If by Comedy is meant the ‘farce’ (prahasana) , there is certainly greater scope in it for bisociative laughter than for humor and this is also true for the inverse behavior of the vidûshaka which, the Nâtya Shâstra insists, should draw the most extreme form of laughter (atihâsa) from the audience. This is because the prahasanas and the vidûshaka, within the limits set by the refined atmosphere of the nâtaka (legendary play)—and to a lesser degree the prakarana(secular play)—are generally vulgar and their comic effect is to a large part based on slapstick, having to cater to the tastes of the common lot, the function being more overtly didactic than aesthetic. It is by conceiving of ‘comedy’ in terms of such examples, that Koestler misapplies his very valid distinction between the ‘self-asserting’ emotions of ordinary life and the ‘self-transcending’ emotions of art by attributing them to comedy and tragedy respectively. The distinction corresponds to that between the sthâyin and its corresponding rasa, but this is applicable to all the emotions including hâsa and shoka (sorrow). And just as ‘sorrow’ is the ‘self-assertive’ counterpart of karuna-rasa, hâsa finds its ‘self-transcending’ counterpart in hâsya. ‘Comedy,’ understood as love-drama, certainly abounds in humor proper of hâsya, for the sentiment of love (shrngâra-rasa) depends wholly on aesthetic identification, and as such the presentation of hâsya as ancillary to shrngâra also makes full use of this process of tanmayîbhavana. It is here therefore that we should look for the best, the most aesthetic, presentation of humor, of hâsya, in comedy.
[This concludes chapter VII on Hâsa and Hâsya Distinguished ]