According to image experts, a person with a bright smile also displays self-confidence and a sense of worth. In modern Western democracies, consequently, knowing how to smile is an essential prerequisite for political success. But laughter has not always been judged so indulgently and favourably by the community. A bust of a sneering Caesar is utterly inconceivable, as Kundera once wrote. The author leads the reader along a journey among the various types of laughter and its anthropological manifestations, from Mona Lisa's baffling smile to the canned guffaws of American sitcoms. The book helps one grasp the essence of comedy: rupture, suspension of the everyday, openness to other dimensions behind the world's ordinary reality. When we laugh we are like cartoon characters who suddenly realize they're walking on air (and then fall to Earth). And this is why, when we laugh, we experience relief, comfort, and emancipation: we detach ourselves from the world, defying the law of gravity.
Andrea Tagliapietra teaches History of Philosophy and History of Ideas and Philosophical Hermeneutics at the San Raffaele University in Milan.