Session IV – Panel A

SESSION IV, March 2, 9:00-10:30AM

Panel A: Classic(al) Jokes
Moderator: Katarzyna (Kasia) Jasinski
Room: University College 224A

 Jared Babin (University of Ottawa) – Comedy and Freedom in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

To those without a thorough knowledge of Hegel’s oeuvre, it may come as a surprise that the notion of comedy plays a central in his magnum opus, The Phenomenology of Spirit. For example, Hegel’s treatment of Greek religion, specifically, his interpretation of Aristophanes’ play The Clouds, is meant to explain how the historical spirit of the Greek world represents itself, to itself, in the form of comedic performance. In other words, Greek comedy is salient for Hegel, because it exemplifies how human beings displace the Gods as the central characters in Greek plays – and by doing so, gaining a sense of selfhood – which is a departure from both Epic poetry and Dramatic poetry where the Gods play such a conspicuous role. It is my contention, however, that what Hegel is really trying to argue reverberates beyond an esoteric interpretation of Greek art and religion.  Comedy allows us to see human beings at the height of their humanness – the height of their freedom.

In my paper, I will argue that not only does comedy play an important role in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, but also, we can use his analysis of comedy to give a broad phenomenology of the role that humour plays in everyday experience, one that demonstrates the strong tie between comedy, freedom, and the fragility of human identity and self-formation. My paper unfolds in three parts. First, I will explain the different ways in which Hegel introduces the theme of comedy in the Phenomenology: Aristophanes’ Clouds in a discussion on Greek religion, his interpretation of Diderot’s satire Rameau’s Nephew in a discussion of romantic irony, and Hegel’s own use of jokes in his discussion of Gall’s pseudo-science of phrenology. Second, I will focus on the historical development of abstract individuality, that is, abstract freedom, in history, and the role that comedy plays in bringing such a reality to fruition.  Comedy is important, because it allows us to see the full power of human beings to breathe energy into communal life, but, also, conversely, to humiliate, alienate, and tear apart both her own individuality and the social fabric of the community. Third, I will argue that the Hegel’s interpretation of comedy is novel because it demonstrates how the free, rational development of human beings must included humour. However, I will argue that the integration of comic moment within the domain of freedom, freedom is always fragile, fleeting, and in there always remains a danger of wit outwitting itself in comedic expression.

My name is Jared Babin. I am Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of Ottawa. I am writing a dissertation on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Specifically, I am trying to draw out the ethical consequences of Hegel’s claim that the real is the rational.  My presentation will require no technical requirements, other than lights, a lectern, and an audience.

Sarbani Banerjee (Western) – Laughing it over inside-out: How comedy casts its spell in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata

In this paper I analyze comedy as a genre, basing my readings on Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata. I demonstrate how the dynamics of class and gender play a key role in the understanding of time-worn concepts such as war, peace and democracy, and how the two sexes fundamentally perceive these concepts with difference. I discuss how economic and sexual hierarchies form the basis of heteronormative gender allocations both within and without the domesticity. Subsequently, the body of woman, which is also an allegory for geographical territorialization, becomes a core point of reference while trying to elucidate the notions of agency, power and control. Because the ontological unity of woman has repetitively undergone violence of classification and objectification under patriarchal diktats, I evince that hilarious excess can be a significant way of outdoing licence.

I briefly draw upon the Aristotelian concept of tragedy and refer to comedy as not a disparate but rather a parallel genre whose cause of being cannot be grasped apart from tragedy. With the dilution of compartments between these two genres, I argue that any such austerity as associated with strict polarizations is unknown in comedy. Subsequently, I study how comedy entails borders between the traditionally opposing entities like hetaerae and house-wife, marriage and prostitution, home and war-front, acropolis and market-place to fall apart. I explain how the dialogic spirit between any two given categories constitutes the key sustaining force of comedy.

My paper examines the import of Lysistrata as a satirical play that not only offers comic relief amid the tension of war but also has an oblique and ludicrous way of commenting on the grave issues of patriarchal authority and polity as was prevalent in Aristophanes’ contemporary time. This in turn helps to posit history outside its official garb. My arguments are corroborated with relevant criticisms.

I have completed my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in India, and am currently a PhD candidate in the Western University, Canada. The topic of my PhD thesis is “Post-Partition Indian Woman and her Metamorphosis Inside and Outside the Family”. My other interest areas include Postcolonial Literatures and Canadian Literature.

Marin Laufenberg (University of Wisconsin-Madison) – Spectatorship on the Stage of Human Rights: Antigona furiosa by Griselda Gambaro

While the story of Antigone is not new, there is something undeniably different about Griselda Gambaro’s version, told in 1986.  Gambaro’s focus on the quality of spectatorship to violence instead of violence itself, offers a unique new entrance into viewing and responding to violence and trauma.  The audience is not the only spectator to Gambaro’s Antígona furiosa.  Two characters, Antinoo and Corifeo, are active spectators to Antígona’s trauma also.  The audience seated around the stage watches these other more immediate spectators in addition to watching Antígona.  I will examine how this work of theatre addresses viewing trauma, especially via the complication provided by the multiple layers of witnessing.

Antinoo and Corifeo are the victimizers of Antígona- they prolong her suffering and psychologically deepen her pain, belittling and making light of her situation.  They act as buffoons, however twisted and grotesque.  Between the stage notes which indicate their mockery through smiles, laughter, and cruelly mimicking tones, we recognize these two characters as the fools, albeit cruel, unlikable fools. These two add a humor scattered throughout the play that ranges from truly dark, to absurd, or even light and off the cuff.  The audience is meant to laugh, and join in with Antinoo and Corifeo.  However, unlike the two buffoons on stage, as the “outer-spectators”, the audience is meant to reflect on their own laughter, and experience another emotional layer- a questioning of having indulged in this humor.

By inspiring intense emotions, Antígona furiosa works via this affective access point to allow an understanding of an already familiar situation through a new filter.  Through watching the watchers (Antinoo and Corifeo) that both humorously and cruelly watch Antígona deal with pain, the “inner spectator” informs the “outer spectators” (the audience), and heightens the importance of the audience or witness’s role in this powerful work.

Marin Laufenberg is a PhD student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She studies contemporary Latin American literature and researches post dictatorship literature that deals with residual trauma. She is especially interested in developing the importance of the role of humor in dealing with trauma and violence.

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