What are you laughing at? Humor and tricky topics

R1A (Section 2) :  English Composition through French Literature in Translation
Fall 2017
Class No: 14736
C. Stofle


— Rabelais : Pantagruel (1532)

— Voltaire : Candide (1759)

— Mérimée : Tamango (1829)

— Milan Kundera : The Joke (1967)

— Muriel Barbery : The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2006)

— Matthieu Kassovitz : La Haine (1994)

— Roberto Benigni: Life Is Beautiful (1997)

— Lionel Steketee : Case Départ (2011)

— Stand-up shows by Louie CK and Dave Chappelle

A course reader will include essays by Baudelaire, Freud, Bergson, Genette, Ménil and more.

Course Description:

In the millennia-long search for the elusive causes of laughter, scholars have succeeded in agreeing on one thing: There is nothing funny about the study of laughter. As the editor of le Traité sur les causes physiques et morales du rire — an eighteenth-century survey co-authored by Montesquieu — pointed out, manuals on the causes of ire or fever would not be expected to make the reader either angry or feverish; much in the same way, a treatise on humor should not (necessarily) elicit laughter. In this course, we will explore various theories of humor — from the baudelairian construct of laughter as evil to the freudian theory of relief — that will help us decipher and discuss ludic processes in literary texts, films, memes, and stand-up acts. We will focus particularly on humoristic expression that occurs in contexts considered too serious for lightheartedness, such as death, race, and disenfranchisement. Together, we will wonder whether everything can be a laughing matter, if irony is even funny, and what it means anyway. Should laughter occur throughout the semester, its causes will be dutifully analyzed and become the object of full-length papers.

This class will introduce students to approaching textual material critically, and will stress the idea of writing as a process through a variety of assignments and revisions geared to guide the development and clear expression of coherent argumentation.

Additional Information:

French R1A satisfies the first half of the Reading and Composition Requirement. Classes are conducted in ENGLISH.

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes