Essay: WE ARE NOT AMUSED-AND WHY

THE physician and comedian Jonathan Miller once pooled his two professional skills to describe the symptoms of a rare disease called cataplexy. Its victims are physically unable to laugh, though they desperately want to. "As they are about to laugh," Dr. Miller explained, "they are seized by a total paralysis and they slither helpless to the floor." The paralysis ends only when the impulse to laugh leaves them: the price of health is absolute sobriety.

Cataplexy—a sadistic punishment that might have been designed for the ninth circle of Dante's hell—threatens to become a metaphor...

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