There’s a comedy writing bit of trade-speak called, depending upon what room you work in “bananas on bananas” or a “hat on a hat”. It’s a bad thing. If you do it, you’ve made a mistake. The idea is that sometimes a joke works but if you add something extra, you will make it worse less well.
It’s counter-intuitive. Hats are funny, why wouldn’t more hats be funnier? Bananas are funnier, why wouldn’t an extra hat be funnier?
To see why, imagine a joke that works really well. For example at the end of “Some Like it Hot” a character who has been pretending to be a woman (in order to escape the Mafia — he is a musician who witnessed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago) has been pursued by an older man who thinks he really is a woman. Frustrated at trying to get the old guy to leave him alone he removes his wig and says more or less “I’m a man.” The old man responds “Nobody’s perfect.”
It’s a funny joke. It would be less funny if the two of them or either of them was on a pogo stick, or slipping on a banana.
I think hat on a hat is an interesting phenomenon because in a certain sense humor is non cognitive. You can’t exactly summarize the message of the joke “Nobody’s perfect”. But on the other hand hat-on-a-hat demonstrates that jokes need to set up thoughts very precisely. If they set up the wrong thoughts or too many, they don’t work.
I think attempts to convey mystical experience have a similar structure. Take the Angel Silesius’s aphorism
“A rose blooms as it blooms without a why.”
It’s not so easy to summarize. But if you add the wrong thing to it, you ruin it.
“A rose blooms as it blooms without a why like a door nobody walks through.”
I think “a rose is a door nobody walks through” is actually pretty good, but if you put the two mystical statements together — mine and Angel Silesius’s — you get a hash. The mystical equivalent of bananas on bananas — rose on a rose.
Which is odd. I thought mystical thoughts were ineffable.