Session III – Panel A

SESSION III, March 1, 2:00-3:30PM

Panel A: The Naked Laugh
Moderator: Andrea Privitera
Room: University College 224A

Troy Bordun (Trent University) – Georges Bataille, Philosopher of Laughter

Why is it that when we laugh – not at jokes or to patronize – but when we laugh ecstatically and drift away from the self that seemed to constitute the majority of waking life, we feel free, at ease? And why is it, asked Georges Bataille, that after this ecstatic moment we come back to the mundane everyday with the feeling of a new and ineffable knowledge about human existence?

In this paper I present Bataille on laughter and its merits as a philosophical project. Laughter is an experience to be theorized and a praxis aiding in our pursuit of truth and an ethical life. At its limits a body produces laughter – the rollercoaster ride, high-risk rescue, la petite mort – and the threshold of existence is torn asunder to reveal the absurdity of serious behaviour and thinking. Seriousness: planned futures, workdays, major and minor worries, fear of self-harm in helping others, any element that composes our stable identity. The seriousness in our lives disappears during fits of laughter, an exhaustive experience linked to death, and because of its proximity to destruction, in laughter Bataille finds knowledge of what we are as human bodies: beings composed of finite matter brought into existence by chance and as chance existences no more valuable than another human life. I will discuss and extend Bataille’s work which describes laughter and philosophical thinking as the same, the former held in higher regard for its ability to provide a richer understanding of what the copula to be entails: an affirmation of life through giving ourselves to others.

Troy Bordun is a Ph.D candidate in Cultural Studies at Trent University. His M.A. Was in Continental Philosophy from Brock University. Troy is currently working on New Extreme film and ethics. He has previously presented papers on Early Soviet Cinema, Bataille, Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze, and Beauvoir. In the past he has also published short stories online.

Marco Piana (McGill University) – The Bodily Utopia. Italo Calvino, Bakhtin and the Upside Down World

For many years the critics, conscious of the uniqueness and innovation of Italo Calvino’s works, has always stressed his continuous ability for renewal implying an almost linear evolution. A voyage, that of the Ligurian author, in continuous progress, marked by the great works of his neorealismo favoloso to the last semio-linguistic experiments. There are times, however, in which Calvino confronts the new, the unsaid, in search of a renewed literary stimulus. In these moments of crisis the author is tempted to abandon the safe shores of the limit to face chaos and diversity.

The aim of this research is, therefore, to identify the relationship between Calvino and the world of disorder, that in the bodily utopia of Mikhail Bakhtin finds its most reliable model. It is my intention, in fact, to posit the Russian philosopher as a key element to understand the concept of bodily otherness in the late Calvino: starting from Cottolengo’s deformed patients in La giornata d’uno scrutatore to the gecko’s “hellish” stomach in Palomar, bodies are, in fact, entities capable of opening the doors of a different reality, akin to carnivalistic life and the upside down world. Bearer of the values ​of eternal renewal, Bakhtin’s colorful utopia appears to Calvino as a solution to the decline of the Marxist intellectual after WWII. This new discovery, together with the disenchantment with European socialism and USSR, will lead the author to the idea of ​​the novel La decapitazione dei capi: a twisted Russian Revolution, where socialism is replaced with a “carnivalistic soviet” in which the leaders are dismembered piece by piece until the public beheading, Calvino’s apex in reinterpreting Mikhail Bakhtin.

Before his admission at McGill University, Marco Piana graduated in Lettere Moderne at the Università di Genova and in Italian Language and Culture for Foreigners at the Università per Stranieri di Perugia.  He is currently researching on Italo Calvino, but his interests range from Italian literature to intertextuality and intermediality.

Anna Amelia Raff (New York University) – Turkish Shadow Puppetry and the Carnivalesque

One of the most popular forms of entertainment in Turkey between the 16th and 20th centuries was shadow puppetry, or “Karagöz”, a sexually explicit and scatological theatre. Considering that Turkish culture in these periods involved segregation of men and women and a fairly rigid class structure, it is quite surprising to learn that Karagöz performances were attended by a highly mixed crowd. What is even more surprising is that they, as a temporarily integrated community, found the Karagöz stories hilarious rather than offensive or scandalous. We know from the writings of European travelers that the Eastern appreciation for Karagöz was culturally acquired, since many of the Europeans who wrote about it describe Karagöz as so vulgar that they refuse to document it, “not even in Greek, let alone [in] Latin”. This paper will present some of the theories on the origin of Karagöz theatre, the materiality of the puppets, the structure of the performances, and a close reading of three specific episodes from the Karagöz repertoire. It will then show how this theatre form embodies Bakhtin’s concept of the carnivalesque in the content of the plays and how the language used during the representation of the plays would have been exemplary of Bakhtin’s concept of the “marketplace speech”. Finally, this paper will argue that through the carnivalesque turning upside-down of the world of daily-life, Karagöz reminds the audience, through laughter, of the relativity of their conceptions of the world.

I hold a B.A. from Vassar College and a Masters degree from Magdalen College (University of Oxford), both in French literature. While my primary focus is 20th century French theatre, I decided to branch out this fall and research a non-Western theatrical form found in the Mediterranean and Middle East (shadow puppetry).

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