What are you laughing at? Humor and tricky topics
— 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.
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.
French R1A satisfies the first half of the Reading and Composition Requirement. Classes are conducted in ENGLISH.