Session VI – Panel A

SESSION VI, March 2, 2:00-3:30PM

Panel A: Critical, Political, Mystical
Moderator: Karim Abuawad
Room: University College 224A

Rachel McArthur (University of Toronto) – Victorian Comedic Theory: The Progressive Turn

That the Victorian era was neither funny nor interested in comedy is a putative truism. Nevertheless, scholars have attempted to complicate this monolithic view: The Victorian Comic Spirit (2000), for example, contains a selection of essays intended to “illuminate”—a term borrowed from George Meredith–Victorian comedy and humour through literary-theoretical readings. Conversely, I propose to read Victorian comedic theory—and specifically that written by Meredith himself–contextually, both in terms of its own time, and, more crucially, in terms of a larger narrative of the evolution of the political and cultural role assigned to comedy in English literature. In my reading, the Victorian period witnessed a fundamentally important turn in the theorizing of comedy: specifically, the later Victorian era witnessed the emergence of the essentially modern, progressive conception of comedy which was to prove enormously influential in the twentieth century. Rather than attempting to answer the question with which the discussion of comedy in the 1980s and 1990s was preoccupied—i.e. whether comedy is, as a genre, fundamentally progressive or conservative–, my paper will investigate the origin of the former position through an examination of Meredith’s 1877 Essay on Comedy, with its famous contention that “pure comedy flourishes” only “where women are on the road to an equal footing with men.” Meredith’s essay is, however, also very much a product of its time, a fact which is often effaced when it is read purely theoretically. Indeed, Meredith’s is still a very Victorian progressivism: his idea of “the Comic” is essentially tied to one of the most eminently Victorian of concerns–civilization, which finds itself utterly recast in his comedic forge. Meredith’s civilizing mission turns its back on the English comedic tradition, which he finds “unfortunate” (15), and looks towards the—as yet unrealized—progressive future. My paper will explore how this reconceived futurity represented a fundamental shift in the theorizing of comedy in English literature and, subsequently, shaped much of the comedy, and the theoretical discussion surrounding it, that was to follow.

Rachel McArthur is a PhD candidate in the Department of English at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on the intersection of dramatic and novelistic comedy and progressive politics in the Edwardian era.

Tanya Romaniuk (York University) – The Serious Side of Laughter: An Interactional and Critical perspective on Laughter in Politics

Since Jefferson’s (1979) pioneering work on the organization of laughter in social interaction, conversation analytic (CA) studies have investigated its use in various institutional settings. However, laughter in politics, particularly in broadcast news interviews, has not been previously investigated systematically from a CA perspective. Drawing on a large corpus of news interviews, this paper offers an interactional analysis of politicians’ laughter during interviewer questions, generally, and a critical analysis of the recontextualization of laughter by the mainstream media and its implications for the public persona of one politician, namely, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Given the adversarial nature of contemporary news interviews, I argue that laughter is an interactional resource interviewees can deploy in the face of hostile questioning.  Specifically, in the context of ‘serious’ questions, I show that the laughter’s placement indexes what the interviewee disaffiliates from without explicitly going ‘on record’ as disagreeing. The main thrust of this component of my analysis is that laughter is a particularly effective resource for politicians since, as an embodied form of communication, it allows them to display their stance toward tough questions while still technically abiding by the turn-taking norms of news interviews.

Expanding on these findings, I then briefly describe Clinton’s use of laughter in news interviews during the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2007-2008, which became the subject of widespread discussion in the mainstream media and was dubbed, ‘The Clinton Cackle’. Comparing and contrasting Clinton’s use of laughter with that of other interviewees, my analysis reveals that such laughter is deployed in similar ways, and I show that, in spite of such similarities, it was taken up by the media in gendered (arguably, misogynist) ways. Accordingly, my analysis gives empirical substance to claims about the ‘double-bind’ situation that women politicians still face in the public sphere of politics.

Tanya Romaniuk is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Graduate Program in Linguistics & Applied Linguistics at York University in Toronto. Her dissertation investigates politicians’ laughter in broadcast news interviews and the gendered nature of media representations of one politician’s laughter—that of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Pooriya Alimoradi (Concordia University) – Eastern Ritualism and Iranian Mysticism

Iran has been always somewhere in the daily news over the last couple of years. Various social, political, economic and geographical reasons have made it essential for the rest of the world to deal with Iran and Iranians. But aside from different approaches over time, there is a constant observation among the westerners: the strong sense of an eastern ritualism and mysticism among Iranians which make them hard to understand. In the context of religion, this eastern ritualism and mysticism means: to make it complicated, to ritualize the simple religious/ethical rules.

This trend of complication in the broader sense is also visible in different aspects of Iranian lives, in politics, architecture, Persian literature, Cinema and personal characteristics.

Back to the religious context, we can probably trace this ritualism at least back into the Indo-Iranians time. Some high-caste Hindu villagers from Narikot in Nepal, as well as many ancient Iranian Zoroastrians and also some conservative, traditionalist Muslims in modern Iran, share almost the same ritual practices regarding the purity and pollution. Also, similar application of prayers (Mantras among Hindus, Manθras among Zoroastrians and Owrad and Ad’iyeh among Muslims) shows the shared tendency among these geographically and historically remote regions.

In this paper, I discuss different factors in play which lead to Iranian mysticism including geography, political history and psychology. Finally, I pose a suggestion to westerners seeking to deal with Iran and Iranians, to try to see thing from an eastern point of view, acknowledge and respect this mystical ritualism by spending more time to study and understand this dominant characteristic among Iranians to have finally a better understanding.

Pooriya Alimoradi is a student of the history and philosophy of religion at Concordia University. He has an M.A. in ancient Iranian history from University of Tehran. He has also been working on ancient Iranian languages such as Avestan, Old Persian, Middle Persian, Parthian and Manichean since 2000. He is interested in Iranian history, languages and culture in the late antiquity, Religions of ancient Iran including Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism and Mazdakism as well as the study of Zoroastrianism in the early centuries of Islam in Iran. He is a recipient of the “Soudavar Memorial Foundation Travel Grant” (2012), “Houtan Scholarship” (2012), “Concordia University Merit Scholarship” (2011) and “Concordia University International Tuition Fee Remission Award” (2011). Additionally, he is a former editorial and webmaster of the Bulletin of Ancient Iranian History (BAIH), former editorial of the “Donyaye Nooshidaniha” and “Sakht o Taesis” advertising magazines and numerous students’ magazines. As of December 2011, Pooriya Alimoradi is the webmaster of He, alongside a team of programmers, was responsible for overhauling the old version of the ASPS website and re-designed it.

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