Laughter and Tricky Topics

R1B (Section 2) :  English Composition through French Literature in Translation
Spring 2018
Class No: 24379
C. Stofle


— 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)

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.


Additional Information:

French R1B fulfills the second half of the Reading and Composition Requirement in the College of Letters and Science. Class conducted in ENGLISH.

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes