Rhetoric and composition theory has shown a renewed interest in sophistic countertraditions, as seen in the work of such "postphilosophers" as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Hélène Cixous, and of such rhetoricians as Susan Jarratt and Steven Mailloux. As D. Diane Davis traces today’s theoretical interest to those countertraditions, she also sets her sights beyond them.
Davis takes a “third sophistics” approach, one that focuses on the play of language that perpetually disrupts the “either/or” binary construction of dialectic. She concentrates on the nonsequential third—excess—that overflows language’s dichotomies. In this work, laughter operates as a trope for disruption or breaking up, which is, from Davis’s perspective, a joyfully destructive shattering of our confining conceptual frameworks.
Eighteenth-century British culture is often seen as polite and sentimental—the creation of an emerging middle class. Simon Dickie disputes these assumptions in Cruelty and Laughter, a wildly enjoyable but shocking plunge into the forgotten comic literature of the age. Beneath the surface of Enlightenment civility, Dickie uncovers a rich vein of cruel humor that forces us to recognize just how slowly ordinary human sufferings became worthy of sympathy.
Delving into an enormous archive of comic novels, jestbooks, farces, variety shows, and cartoons, Dickie finds a vast repository of jokes about cripples, blind men, rape, and wife-beating. Epigrams about syphilis and scurvy sit alongside one-act comedies about hunchbacks in love. He shows us that everyone—rich and poor, women as well as men—laughed along. In the process, Dickie also expands our understanding of many of the century’s major authors, including Samuel Richardson, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Tobias Smollett, Frances Burney, and Jane Austen. He devotes particular attention to Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews, a novel that reflects repeatedly on the limits of compassion and the ethical problems of laughter. Cruelty and Laughter is an engaging, far-reaching study of the other side of culture in eighteenth-century Britain.
A comprehensive reader on the Czech literary avant-garde.
In recent years a prominent trend in the study of European modernism and the avant-garde has been increased attention to texts and traditions that have long stood in the shadow of the French, German, and British traditions that dominate the canon. Yet this more expansive view of European modernism and the avant-garde has been hindered by the limited range of texts available outside the original languages. This book addresses that problem by offering a wide-ranging selection of literary, theoretical, and documentary sources from one of the most dynamic and original European avant-garde traditions: that of the first Czechoslovak Republic and of the Bohemian lands. The Czech avant-garde is in many respects the ideal “alternative” avant-garde to present in detail to a wider readership: it tracks Central European developments and was often influential internationally while being deeply embedded in particular cultural dynamics that produced original forms. This volume returns interwar Czech avant-garde writings to their place as a firmly embedded component of the European avant-garde.
For the late Fuad I. Khuri, a distinguished career as an anthropologist began not because of typical concerns like accessibility, money, or status, but because the very idea of an occupation that baffled his countrymen made them—and him—laugh. “When I tell them that ‘anthropology’ is my profession . . . they think I am either speaking a strange language or referring to a new medicine.” This profound appreciation for humor, especially in the contradictions inherent in the study of cultures, is a distinctive theme of An Invitation to Laughter, Khuri’s astute memoir of life as an anthropologist in the Middle East.
A Christian Lebanese, Khuri offers up in this unusual autobiography both an insider’s and an outsider’s perspective on life in Lebanon, elsewhere in the Middle East, and in West Africa. Khuri entertains and informs with clever insights into such issues as the mentality of Arabs toward women, eating habits of the Arab world, the impact of Islam on West Africa, and the extravagant lifestyles of wealthy Arabs, and even offers a vision for a type of democracy that could succeed in the Middle East. In his life and work, as these astonishing essays make evident, Khuri demonstrated how the discipline of anthropology continues to make a difference in bridging dangerous divides.
Filling a major gap in the critical canon, Keaton’s Classic Shorts: Beyond the Laughter chronicles the rapid growth in the filmmaker’s understanding of what makes both comedy and film successful. Keaton developed his major themes in these nineteen silent short films shot between 1920 and 1923, creating his persona “Buster” with his trademark stone face. These short films clearly indicate Keaton’s love of the camera and his concern for composition, symmetry, and images that delight the eye and startle the mind.
Oldham reconstructs each of these rarely seen films to enable the reader to “watch” Keaton’s performance, devoting a separate chapter to each. She analyzes each film’s strengths, weaknesses, and prevalent themes and threads. She also enables readers to plumb the depths of what seems to be surface comedy through philosophical, biographical, historical, and critical commentary, thus linking the shorts together into a cohesive study of Buster Keaton’s growth through his three-year independent venture as a filmmaker. Beyond the laughter and beyond the great stone face, Oldham presents a treasure of cinema comedy and a unique philosophy of life as captured by a great filmmaker.
First published in German in 1940 and widely recognized as a classic of philosophical anthropology, Laughing and Crying is a detailed investigation of these two particularly significant types of expressive behavior, both in themselves and in relation to human nature. Elaborating the philosophical account of human life he developed in Levels of Organic Life and the Human: An Introduction to Philosophical Anthropology, Plessner suggests that laughing and crying are expressions of a crisis brought about in certain situations by the relation of a person to their body.
With a new foreword by J. M. Bernstein that situates the book within the broader framework of Plessner’s philosophical anthropology and his richly suggestive and powerful account of human bodily life, Laughing and Crying is essential reading for anyone interested in the philosophy of the body, emotions, and human behavior.
Emma Gad (1852–1921) was a prolific Danish playwright at the turn of the twentieth century. With sparkling prose and witty dialogue, Gad’s ambitious and sophisticated theatrical productions raised important and still pressing questions about sexuality and morality—including the status of women in marriage, divorce, same‐sex desire, and marital infidelity. Through her plays she engaged with contemporaries like Henrik Ibsen, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw, yet she is primarily remembered for her etiquette book, Takt og Tone.
Laughter and Civility, the first biographical and scholarly volume to examine and contextualize her dramas, deeply explores how and why influential women are so often excluded from the canon. Lynn R. Wilkinson provides insightful readings into all twenty-five of Gad’s plays and demonstrates how writers and intellectuals of the time, including Georg and Edvard Brandes, took her critically acclaimed work seriously. This volume rightfully reinstates Emma Gad’s work into the repertory of European drama and is crucial for scholars interested in turn‐of‐the‐century Scandinavian drama, literature, culture, and politics.
“Christian laughter is a maze: you could easily get snarled up within it.” So says Michael A. Screech in his note to readers preceding this collection of fifty-three elegant and pithy essays. As Screech reveals, the question of whether laughter is acceptable to the god of the Old and New Testaments is a dangerous one.
But we are fortunate in our guide: drawing on his immense knowledge of the classics and of humanists like Erasmus and Rabelais—who used Plato and Aristotle to interpret the Gospels—and incorporating the thoughts of Aesop, Calvin, Lucian of Samosata, Luther, Socrates, and others, Screech shows that Renaissance thinkers revived ancient ideas about what inspires laughter and whether it could ever truly be innocent. As Screech argues, in the minds of Renaissance scholars, laughter was to be taken very seriously. Indeed, in an era obsessed with heresy and reform, this most human of abilities was no laughing matter.
The Laughter of Adam and Eve
Jason Sommer Southern Illinois University Press, 2013 Library of Congress PS3569.O6532L38 2013 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
Near the beginning, just after the fall, was laughter—at least as Jason Sommer imagines it. In the title poem, Eve catches Adam’s hilarity over what passes for a tree outside of Eden, their laughter a heady combination of longing, defiance, and perhaps even relief, through which they find they now possess “a knowledge of evil that is good,” an understanding that will carry them through life after paradise. Through settings mythical, historical and biblical, through characters that range from Gunga Din to St. Kevin of Glendalough, the poems in this book often search out meaning in the tracing of origins: of a bird’s song, of laughter, of a word, of language itself. Poems explore the source of the word brouhaha, the song of the “resignation bird,” and the dangerous way a poem of Anna Akhmatova enters the world, under the eyes and ears of Stalin’s secret police, escaping the house arrest its author must endure.
In The Laughter of Adam and Eve, Sommer speaks from a multitude of voices and perspectives, in short, formal lyrics as well as longer free-verse narratives. From the archetypal parents of us all, down through anonymous voices, throughout these pages, women and men speak to—and of—each other, in many roles and relations—as lover and beloved, as child and parent, as dreamer and dreamt of. The poems attempt to travel beyond the traditional binary in search of the common thread that binds us to one another. Perhaps chief among them is story: whether recasting myth so that Pygmalion and Narcissus become a single figure or using an Appalachian tale retold as a message, lover to lover, these poems narrate, while engaging deeply with those special properties that poetry can bring to story.
Lessons in Laughter
Bernard Bragg Gallaudet University Press, 1989 Library of Congress PN2287.B6827A3 1989 | Dewey Decimal 792.028092
To succeed as an actor is a rare feat. To succeed as a deaf actor is nothing short of amazing. Lessons in Laughter is the story of Bernard Bragg and his astonishing lifelong achievements in the performing arts.
Born deaf of deaf parents, Bernard Bragg has won international renown as an actor, director, playwright, and lecturer. Lessons in Laughter recounts in stories that are humorous, painful, touching, and outrageous, the growth of his dream of using the beauty of sign language to act. He starred in his own television show “The Quiet Man,” helped found The National Theatre of the Deaf, and traveled worldwide to teach his acting methods.
The role of the fool is to provoke the powerful to question their convictions, preferably while avoiding a beating. Fools accomplish this not by hectoring their audience, but by broaching sensitive topics indirectly, often disguising their message in a joke or a tale. Writers and thinkers throughout history have adopted the fool’s approach, and here Ralph Lerner turns to six of them—Thomas More, Francis Bacon, Robert Burton, Pierre Bayle, Benjamin Franklin, and Edward Gibbon—to elucidate the strategies these men employed to persuade the heedless, the zealous, and the overly confident to pause and reconsider.
As Playing the Fool makes plain, all these men lived through periods marked by fanaticism, particularly with regard to religion and its relation to the state. In such a troubled context, advocating on behalf of skepticism and against tyranny could easily lead to censure, or even, as in More’s case, execution. And so, Lerner reveals, these serious thinkers relied on humor to move their readers toward a more reasoned understanding of the world and our place in it. At once erudite and entertaining, Playing the Fool is an eloquently thought-provoking look at the lives and writings of these masterly authors.
In The Sovereign Trickster Vicente L. Rafael offers a prismatic view of the age of Rodrigo Duterte in the contemporary Philippines. Framing Duterte as a trickster figure who boasts, jokes, terrorizes, plays the victim, and instills terror, Rafael weaves together topics ranging from the drug war, policing, and extrajudicial killings to neoliberal citizenship, intimacy, and photojournalism. He is less concerned with defining Duterte as a fascist, populist, warlord, and traditional politician than he is with examining what Duterte does: how he rules, the rhetoric of his humor, his use of obscenity to stoke fear, and his projection of masculinity and misogyny. Locating Duterte's rise within the context of counterinsurgency, neoliberalism, and the history of electoral violence, while drawing on Foucault’s biopower and Mbembe’s necropolitics, Rafael outlines how Duterte weaponizes death to control life. By diagnosing the symptoms of the authoritarian imaginary as it circulates in the Philippines, Rafael provides a complex account of Duterte’s regime and the social conditions that allow him to enjoy continued support.
Treatise On Laughter
Laurent Joubert, Translated by Gregory David de Rocher University of Alabama Press, 1980 Library of Congress BF575.L3J6513 1980 | Dewey Decimal 152.4
Translation from French of an essay on the nature and character of human laughter
Until its translation, Treatise on Laughter remained accessible solely to readers of French for nearly four centuries. Joubert’s treatise offers a curious and stimulating experience: the sensation of moving through another epistemology.
His theory was composed during a period of great turmoil in the history of France when the human race was becoming much more aware of the organic structure of man and nature. He begins with the immediately observable phenomena before penetrating into the more hidden aspects of one of the most admirable of human acts, amirables accions de l’homme, laughter. Joubert is keenly aware of the difficulty of his subject matter. Rather than discouraging him, however, this becomes an incentive, making the study of such a formidable mystery more enticing.
His ideas can appear quaint, and many of his beliefs can make us smile. Yet our smile may well disappear when we wonder which of today’s accepted ideas might seem laughable half a millennium hence.
Unruly women have been making a spectacle of themselves in film and on television from Mae West to Roseanne Arnold. In this groundbreaking work, Kathleen Rowe explores how the unruly woman—often a voluptuous, noisy, joke-making rebel or "woman on top"—uses humor and excess to undermine patriarchal norms and authority.
At the heart of the book are detailed analyses of two highly successful unruly women—the comedian Roseanne Arnold and the Muppet Miss Piggy. Putting these two figures in a deeper cultural perspective, Rowe also examines the evolution of romantic film comedy from the classical Hollywood period to the present, showing how the comedic roles of actresses such as Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, and Marilyn Monroe offered an alternative, empowered image of women that differed sharply from the "suffering heroine" portrayed in classical melodramas.
Exploring literary representations of women's laughter from the thirteenth through the sixteenth centuries, this volume offers an intriguing look into a culture of women's laughter, illustrating the many contexts that shaped the way women told jokes, as well as the ways their joking reflected their limited position in a society dominated by men. The book also considers the uses male authors made of the laughter of their fictional creations and the pleasures offered to both male and female audiences.
This study is the first to investigate women's laughter as a particular kind of "talking back" to medieval discourse on women, the subject of recent feminist medievalist studies. Female characters openly embrace women's laughter, associated with the body and castigated for its unruliness in conduct literature. Acknowledging that comic works were grounded in antifeminist traditions and that their female characters were in fact targets of laughter for male authors, this study argues that female characters who laugh and tell jokes also offer traces of how women might have used their laughter to respond to negative pronouncements about women in medieval culture. Both laughable and laughing, the female protagonists studied in this book will engage modern readers with their witty, sometimes bawdy jokes, allowing us to imagine the pleasures that medieval comic literature, so often labeled misogynous, offered to women as well as to men.
Lisa Perfetti is Assistant Professor of French, Muhlenberg College.