At least from the times of Jesuit, Maciej K. Sarbiewski and his work: De acuto et arguto (1619 – 20), jokes have been the subject of detailed investigations and progressive aesthetic valorization. It was only Freud who tried to comprehend wit against the paradigm of former aesthetics. Making use of Jean Paul’s, Theodor Vischer’s, Kuno Fischer’s and Theodor Lipps’s thoughts, he regretted at the same time that although the above-mentioned aestheticians devoted a lot of attention to the subject of jokes, still it had been pushed aside as their research concerned a more thorough and appealing issue – the problem of humour. (ibidem). Reading their works, one may assume that treating jokes not taking into consideration humour is absolutely unacceptable. Whereas Freud strived to prove otherwise, for comedy and ridiculousness constitute a mere aesthetic fasade of jokes – a ransom as it were that it has to pay to culture for satisfying opposing needs – libido and death. Following this train of thought, similarly I’d like to avoid aesthetic reduction in this mobile exhibition entitled: Jokes and Authority (Asteism in Poland), gathering for the first time in the Centre for Contemporary Art and Program Gallery in Warsaw (26/07 – 2/09/2007) works of over 80 artists . It doesn’t mean I’m a follower of Freudism (whose theory is criticized by wit experts). One just needs to find in jokes a due deeper meaning, referring to Polish research among which there’s an unrivalled study, The Comical (A Philosophical Analysis) (1967) by Bohdan Dziemidok , a Gdansk citizen by choice. A joke –seen as a form of comedy – yet cannot be reduced to comedy only as years ago it was compreheded as a form of cognition, invention, expression and social communication performing various functions, the grandiest of which was attributed by Freud. Raising the issue of asteism (Greek: asteidzomai – to be witty) as a mental process in the Polish art starting with the end of the 50, looking for asteisms that is jokes devoid of uncouthness, we have to make use of a model of asteic intelligence, therefore we should reach as far as the rooots of ancient culture and its ideal of bringing the idiots up to wit. We need to direct our attention towards investigations concerning wit (ingenium comparans, ingenium argutum, acutum ingenium, wit, der Witz etc.), and in particular present in the theory of mind and Hobbes’s, Locke’s, Wolff’s, Baumgarten’s and Kant’s anthropology, in the Romantic and Nietzsche’s discussion on wisdom and divinity, as well as in the theory of avant-garde of a Prussian general– Carl von Clausewitz, or in the 20th century Helmuth Plessner, who examined  wit between laughter and cry.

Kant’s thought, who makes a distinction between two types of wit in his Anthropologie in pragmatischen Hinsicht (1798)  are particularly inspiring here.
They are: comparative wit (ingenium comparans, vergleichender Witz) and argumentative wit (ingenium argutum, vernünftelnder Witz). In the chapter On Productive Wit [Von dem productiven Witze] he wrote that:

(...) it is pleasant (...) to discover similarities among dissimilar things and so wit provides material to the understanding (Verstand) to make its concepts more general. Judggment, on the other hand, which limits concepts and contributes more to correcting than enlarging them, is indeed praised and recommended; but it is serious, rigorous and limiting with regard to freedom of thought, and just for this reason it is unpopular. The activity of comparative wit is more like play; but that of judgment is more like business. (...)
Wit snatches at sudden inspiration; the power of judgment strives for insight. (...)
Argumentative wit strives to prevent this antagonism as it mediates between comparative wit and judgment.
(...) He who unites both to a high degree in a product of the mind is perspicacious (perspicax). 
Which means he is witty and rational in a deeper sense.

We can see, according to Kant’s anthropology, that in the conflict between wit and judgment there is an opportunity and a need for astetism, which is a manifestation of higher culture as a creation of argumentative wit that is assigned to the natural sphere of reason. (Mutterwitz).

Today we experience hypertrophy of wit and cracking jokes has become common, often trivial and at the same time annoying as it occupies not only contemptible tabloids but also more serious mass media. Artists are under pressure, too. The exhibition provides insight into manifestations of this peculiar way of life, acting and thinking, etc., whose first manifestation is what Kant would call logical and aesthetic egoism. The exhibition suggests to the audience that they evaluate jokes and sometimes, if it is necessary, justify in an instant their own argumentative wit. Wit may be manifested in the innocent and abstract ingeniousness back in the animations from the 50s as well as tendentious, ideologically motivated and allusive. Focusing on the Polish art after the Second World War we together with the artists pass from the dialectic of a good-natured and witty man (greek. asteíos – urbane, educated, sociable, witty), through the absurdities of the PRL (People’s Republic of Poland) up to the present moment, when one spits on people’s heads in the name of the highest art, just like the Azorro group.

Everyone of us – at least those spat at- has to reflect upon the level of contemporary wit, using Nietzsche’s measure: The wittiest authors evoke a barely perceptible smile. Thus the audience will find numerous examples of both innocent and aggresive wit, which – if we are to believe Freud – can release various inhibitions... For wit, fortified at all possible barricades, can attack from all directions as ein bunter Gesell, einem Possenreißer gleich. And –despite judgment – remain inexhaustible.

Kurator: Kazimierz Piotrowski.
Municipal Institution of Culture