Laughter and Tricky Topics
— Voltaire : Candide (1759)
— Muriel Barbery: The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2008)
— Matthieu Kassovitz : La Haine (1994)
— Roberto Benigni: Life Is Beautiful (1997)
— Lionel Steketee : Case Départ (2011)
A course reader will include:
- Jonathan Swift: “A Modest Proposal” (1729)
- Baudelaire: De l’essence du rire (1855)
- Bergson: Le rire (excerpts) (1900)
- Freud: Appendix to Jokes and their relation to the unconscious (1927)
- Ménil: “Humor: Introduction to 1945” (1945)
- David Sedaris: Essays from Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (2013)
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.
French R1B fulfills the second half of the Reading and Composition Requirement in the College of Letters and Science. Class conducted in ENGLISH.