Book Review: Bergson’dan Mustafa Şekip’e Gülme (Laughing from Bergson to Mustafa Şekip), Aktif Düşünce Yayınları, 2015

Gözde Han, Yıldız Technical University

Laughing from Bergson to Mustafa Şekip is a book which mainly analyses Mustafa Şekip Tunç’s adaptation and translation of Henry Bergson’s Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic (Le Rire; essai sur la signification du comique). The authors of the book, Levent Bayraktar and Zeynep Tek, centre their arguments around the translation and adaptation of Bergson’s book by Mustafa Şekip. They analyse the era, the period and the meaning of laughter by integrating articles from Mustafa Şekip Tunç, introductions written by Mehmet Emin Erişirgil and Abdülhak Şinasi Hisar, to Tunç’s “What is Laughing? At Whom are We Laughing?” Bayraktar and Tek mainly clarify the place of Bergsonian thought within the act of laughing in parallel with Mustafa Şekip Tunç’s translation/ adaptation of Bergson’s “Le rire”.

In order to have a clear understanding of the book, it is necessary to include some information about Mustafa Şekip Tunç and his understanding of Bergsonian philosophy.

Mustafa Şekip Tunç adopted the perspective of gradual social change instead of drastic, sudden and immediate changes in society, thus the idea of process played a key role in his thoughts. Henri Bergson was helped him develop this perspective. Mustafa Şekip Tunç’s intellectual life was affected by his education  at the University of Geneva during World War I. His proficiency in Western philosophy and French enabled him to analyse and criticize rationalist doctrines. For him, Bergson was able to adequately challenge positivism. Bergson’s notions such as “durée” and “creative evolution” helped Mustafa Şekip Tunç define traditions as bridges between the past and the future. In this sense, the idea of progress towards the future contained the traditions of the past. and his tendency towards Bergsonian philosophy which proposed spiritual and material vitality in union contributed to Tunç introducing Bergson’s philosophy of laughter in a Turkish context. In this sense, it is possible to say that Tunç’s translation/ adaptation of Bergson into Turkish helped institutionalizing philosophy and psychology in Turkey.

Mustafa Şekip Tunç

The book “Laughing from Bergson to Mustafa Şekip” is divided into two main parts themselves organised into sub-parts that summon detailed analysis and criticism of the book itself.

Bayraktar and Tek, in their foreword to the book, summarize the main aim of their study, namely, understanding and analysing the psychological roots of laughter, the meaning of the comic, the place of Bergson’s philosophy in Turkey and Mustafa Şekip Tunç’s of Bergsonian thought.

The Introduction of the book starts with an interview of Levent Bayraktar by Zeynep Tek on Bergson and Turkish thought. In this interview “On Henri Bergson and Turkish Thought”, Bayraktar positions Bergson among other philosophers and philosophies before him such as Kant, rationalism and materialism. For him, Bergson considered all ideas and thoughts preceding him and formed his own point of view. He brought a new dimension to the discussions of evolution, Positivism and Lamarckism. . In this sense, by analysing and stating Bergson’s idea of intuition, universe and duration, Bayraktar analyses Bergson’s stance against rationalism and how he understands the individual, society and the universe collectively.

The second part of the Introduction consists of an article “An Introduction to Mustafa Şekip Tunç’s Thought: Understanding of Human Being” written by Levent Bayraktar. Bayraktar starts this article by comparing Mustafa Şekip Tunç and Ziya Gökalp:Tunç took humans, individuals, as the center of his arguments whereas Gökalp gave more importance to the idea of a community. For Tunç, human beings are not necessarily a part of society but they are a conscious and a creative force. This article mainly focuses on Tunç’s understanding of the individual and how he values human beings as unique.

The first chapter titled “About Laughter” is divided into two main parts. The first part consists of six articles written by Mustafa Şekip Tunç on laughter. These articles analyse the roots and sources of laughter. They primarily focus on what we find funny and why laughing can be a cultural act. In his articles, Tunç explains the concept of laughter psychologically, sociologically and scientifically. For example, he places the act of laughing within cognitive and clinical psychology to describe pathological cases of laughing. He also points out how laughing can be cultural and transformative within societies. In this sense, it is possible to see that Tunç was able to address the act of laughing from various perspectives. The last two articles in this chapter focus on Bergson’s understanding of laughter. Bergson’s own words: “the comic is due to the unexpected – something we don’t expect happens and so we laugh”[1] summarize these last two articles because Tunç focuses on the mechanization of human behaviour and how laughter changes according to our own perceptions.

The second part of the first chapter include two introductions to Tunç’s book “What is Laughing? At Whom are We Laughing?”  written by Mehmet Emin Erişirgil and Abdulhak Şinasi Hisar. In his introduction to the book, Erişirgil analyses its importance in clarifying the concept of laughter and the comic. He appreciates Tunç’s effort and his use of clear language. Similarly, Hisar, in his introduction to the book, includes Bergson and his philosophy to analyse the missing points of his concept of laughter. He criticises Tunç’s title of the book[2] and proposes that this book is not merely a translation but an adaptation. Most importantly, Hisar mentions that Tunç nationalized the book “Le rire” by accentuating and adapting names from Turkish literature and national life. (p:83)

The second and the last chapter of the book “What is Laughing? At Whom are We Laughing?” is Mustafa Şekip Tunç’s translation(or adaptation) of Bergson’s Le rire. This part of the book is divided into nine parts which clarify the notion of comic, comedy, drama and art. Tunç explains what motivated him to translate Bergson as well as hisconcerns about translating and adapting Bergson’s Le rire for a Turkish audience. These nine excerpts of Tunç clearly exemplify the act of laughing from a variety of perspectives. For example, Tunç talks about how Darwinian thought misunderstood the act of . Thinkers such as Darwin, Aristotle and Hobbes regarded the act of laughing as a cognition of superiority. For example, a successful commander may laugh at the losing soldiers in the battlefield (p: 61) Multiplicity in the act of laughter is clarified by analysing the roots and sources of the comic. Additionally, the way in which the art of comedy is inspired by the comic and which situations feed the concept of laughter is explained. By focusing on a caricaturist’s talent of understanding the element of comic and the occurrence of laughter, Tunç proves his ability to take the matter of laughter in detail. Overall, it can be said that Tunç analyses what causes laughing in our childhood, societies, the use of language, art, and drama by focusing on the relationship between life itself and the act of laughing. 

 “Laughing from Bergson to Mustafa Şekip” reflects Şekip Tunç’s ability and proficiency in understanding Bergson’s thought and transferring Bergson’s ideas into Turkish thought The book is not simply a translation but an adaptation which reflects  Tunç’s cumulative knowledge of philosophy, psychology, religion and literature. In his interview in the Introduction of the book, Bayraktar states that life itself is not comical but that the events that are odd in life create laughter (p:32), in this sense, it goes without saying that the events that cause laughter, the role of culture, language and the notion of comedy within philosophy, psychology and science are explained and discussed throughout the book.

[1] “Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic”. Dover Publications (first published 1900)

[2] For him, the book should have been named after the things we are laughing instead of whom (p:84)


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