Introduction to Dialectical Logic

Philosophical Rehabilitations:

Henri Wald

IX. Philosophical rehabilitations 221
1. Language as “Obstacle” 221
2. Metaphor 223
3. Infralogical 225
4. Dialectics 226
5. Tautology and paradox 22
6. The Sophists 230
7. Intuition 231
8. Definition 233
9. Humor 237

*     *     *     *     *


Rationalist and scientist positivism, followed by irrationalist and anti-scientist existentialism, have succeeded, in the century past, to arouse growing suspicion on some fundamental approaches of the human spirit. When language was reduced to a conventional system of sound and written signs where thinking became superfluous, positivism could no longer prevent irrationalism from avoiding the “linguistic obstacle” that hindered the path to knowledge. From a tool of thinking, language has turned into its obstacle. Some try to chase away the metaphor, other hypertrophy it, to break the “wall of speech” separating us from the essence of the world. The infralogical is shown at times as illogical, at others as superlogical. Dialectics is reduced to complementariness, tautology is taken as void, and paradox is seen as a blind alley of reason. The prejudice according to which sophists were sophism-makers is being perpetuated. Intuition is despised by some and eulogized by others, whereas humor is at most allowed.

Genuine dialectics overcomes these compromising exaggerations and restores the various acts of human spirit to their roles in knowledge.

*     *     *     *     *


Seriousness is opposed to unseriousness and not to humor; humor is opposed to lack of humor and not to seriousness. A man lacking humor altogether is comical rather than serious. Buster Keaton had the humor to impersonate one of the most comical characters: Malek, the man who never laughs. . .

Humor is a specifically and deeply human attitude. The only being that has succeeded — by the tool and speech — to keep the world at a distance couldn’t fail to ultimately reach humor. It is through humor that the superiority of subject over object, of spirit over matter, of thinking over thought, of the creator over all his creations, even over himself becomes manifest. Through thinking man transgresses the present of things and penetrates into their future, and through humor he laughs at what it is in the name of what it should be. Humor punishes, often sympathetically, all downfall of the spiritual tension into material inertness, all abandonment of seeking for what has already been found, all supervaluation of the finite at the expense of the infinite. What prevents us from advancing are not the things, but our exaggerated devotion to them, nullification of the distance that spirit needs in order to keep things in the service of man. Were this distance between himself and the world annulled man would become deprived of his most human capability: the ability to act consciously on the course of things and events. Humor is one of the most valuable correctives of any dogmatism and fanaticism. Humor is one of the spiritual feedbacks helping an advanced society to self-regulate its development. Humor is a purely cultural phenomenon.

Animals have no humor. They kill, they do not laugh. There are no opponents in nature that can become contenders, and possibly collaborators. There are only partners and enemies in nature. Only people are capable of turning their “natural aggression” into a “cultural” one. Through humor, physical attack is substituted for a spiritual one. Humor attempts to mend without destroying. What cannot be mended causes despair, not humor. Humor is an optimistic attitude. The irremediable is tragical, not comical. Tragicomedy mirrors despair transcended through humor, the survival of spirit following disaster, confidence in the subject’s self-repair, and not in the possibility of mending the object. Humor is a polemic attitude to everything that brakes the development of society and of human individuality. Non-contending humor is an enjoyable pursuit, humorouslessly contending is a moral undertaking. Only their fusion can generate a genuine work of art.

Through humor, man’s rule over nature is completed by his rule over himself. Humor is a fundamental approach of human consciousness, a natural expression of wisdom, a spontaneous philosophical attitude to life. Humor brings forth the contrast between real and ideal with a view to criticizing the real; this is also obvious when analyzing the means it resorts to: the comical, the irony, the parody and the pun.

Whereas humor is a subject’s attitude whereby spirit rises above matter, the comical is a situation of the object whereby matter hampers spirit. Humor laughs, but the comical is laughable. The comical is staged humor. Through the comical, humor gets again the upper hand over matter which tends to stop its flight. The comical in Eugene Ionesco’s “The Bald Primadonna” resides in the materiality of speech which can no longer convey any meaning to spirit; speech has turned into idle talk.

Through irony, humor asserts that the real is ideal or that the ideal is real to more obviously emphasize the laughable character of the real as against the ideal. “You, smart one!” is used only to point out the collocutor’s stupidity.

The parody, the use of a familiar tone on solemn occasions, is aimed only at laughing at some shallow forms, deprived of all content.

The pun, superposition of two remote meanings by superimpression of their sound rendering, ridicules the real that one of the meanings refers to, on behalf of the ideal, referred to by the other meaning.

If deprived of humor, mankind would advance at a far slower rate and with a far greater waste of moral and material effort.

SOURCE: Wald, Henri. Introduction to Dialectical Logic (1959). Bucuresti: Editura Academiei; Amsterdam: B.R. Grüner B.V., 1975. (Philosophical Currents; v. 14) Chapter 9, section 9, pp. 221, 237-238 [end of book].

See also links below and ...

Singer, Alexandru. “Henri Wald’s contribution to Romanian culture and philosophy,” Studia Judaica 11-12 (2004), pp. 220-225.

Wald gets only a brief mention (p. 135, below) but the larger repressive national context can be found here:

Tismaneanu, Vladimir. “From Arrogance to Irrelevance: Avatars of Marxism in Romania,” in The Road to Disillusion: From Critical Marxism to Post-communism in Eastern Europe, edited by Raymond Taras (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1992), pp. 135-150.

[....] through its unabashed support for the reemergence of rightist, ethnocentric groups and formations, Ceausescu and his clique made a mockery of their own passionate plea for the preservation of the "sacred values" of historical materialism and internationalism. For example, in the early 1980s when philosopher Henri Wald tried to publish a Marxist Reader, which included young Marx's early philosophical inquiries, he encountered opposition from precisely those official “instructors” who were supposed to watch over the ideological purity of Romanian cultural life.

by Henri Wald

Mass Media and Creative Thinking
by Henri Wald

"On Trends in the Status of Dialectical Logic:
A Brief Study of Lefebvre, Ilyenkov and Wald
by Claude M. J. Braun

Henri Wald’s Contribution to Romanian Culture and Philosophy
by Alexandru Singer

Sense and Nonsense of McLuhan
by Sidney Finkelstein

Details, details! (From Marshall & Me blog)

Selections from Contemporary East European Philosophy,
Revolutionary World, B. R. Grüner Publishing Co, & Related Publications:
Bibliography & Web Links

Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

Marx and Marxism Web Guide

Humor & Philosophy: Selected Bibliography


Henri Wald - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Wald, Henri
by Andrei Corbea-Hoisie, trans. Anca Mircea
(The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe)

Henry Wald - 80 (Romanian Jewish Heritage)

Henri Wald (1920 - 2002) Manuscripts archive

East-West Dialogues
ed. Paul K. Crosser, David H. Degrood and Dale Riepe

Introduction to Dialectical Logic
by Henri Wald

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