Session VII – Panel B

SESSION VII, March 3, 9:45-11:00AM

Panel B: Funny Beat: Rhythm of Laugh
Moderator: David Brown
Room: University College 225A

Abigail Droge (Stanford University) – “The Joking Voice”: The Ethos and Eros of Elizabeth Bishop’s Poetic Comedy

By all accounts, Elizabeth Bishop told a good joke.  Her prose and personal letters are full of hilarious moments, which earned her a reputation as a comedienne among her peers.  She is not often regarded as a funny poet, however, perhaps because her poetic humor takes on a more subdued tone.  I argue in this paper that Bishop’s poetic comedy is crucial to any understanding of her work. Bishop situates her humor at the unsteady crux between surface and depth; her comedic moments can often signal submerged emotional layers exploding through the careful mosaic of the poetic shell. A reader can follow “the joking voice” (as she writes in her famous villanelle “One Art”) throughout Bishop’s career and find new ways of negotiating the fine line between desire and restraint. This paper traces two separate but intertwined trajectories of Bishopian humor: the first explores the laugh as a form of elegy, and the second examines the relationship between the macabre and a code of erotic morality.  I examine poems that span Bishop’s life but I focus on her early poem “At the Fishhouses” and on her late poem “Pink Dog” as touchstones for an exploration of the carnivalesque, the camp, the bizarre, the zany, the absurd, and the funny in the Bishopian canon.  I argue for the epiphanic importance of comedy in Bishop’s work: the laugh becomes an emotional currency that can open channels of communication between reader and poet, material and spiritual, lover and beloved.

Abigail Droge received her B.A. in English Literature from Yale University in 2012. She is currently an English PhD student at Stanford University with a focus on Victorian and Modern British novels.

Andrea Privitera (Western) – Pasolini’s Laugh: Joyful Ignorance in the Decameron

The fifth novella in the sixth day of Giovanni Boccaccio’s the Decameron ends with the witty reply of Giotto to his travel mate, Messer Forese da Rabatta. The two men are forced to take cover from heavy rain with old and shabby cloaks. Messer Forese, looking at Giotto, breaks into a laugh and says: “Giotto, would e’er a stranger that met us, and had not seen thee before, believe, thinkst thou, that thou wert, as thou art, the greatest painter in the world”. To which the artist replies: “Methinks, Sir, he might, if, scanning you, he gave you credit for knowing the A B C” [1]. The same episode is also portrayed in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1971 film version of the Decameron, but with a few important changes: the protagonist of the story, played by Pasolini himself, is a student of Giotto, and the insult of Messer Forese is not followed by any witty reply, but only by Pasolini’s genuine and joyful laugh.

My presentation will focus on these two different reactions, which can be seen as the key to understanding the two similar, but at the same time distinct world views of Boccaccio and Pasolini. Boccaccio’s aim is in fact to build a lively and contingent encyclopedia of the world in the Late Middle Ages, featuring different environments, social classes, and beliefs. On the other hand, Pasolini reshapes the Decameron into an authentic, almost neorealist, but still merry representation of folkish Neapolitan life. As a consequence, Pasolini’s laugh is not mediated by several narrators like Boccaccio’s one, but it proves that ignorance is an eminent form of simplicity for the author. Ignorance is not seen as a shameful characteristic anymore, but it becomes a perk which Pasolini desires to acquire directly, possibly with a laugh.

Andrea Privitera is a PhD student in Comparative Literature at Western University. He received both his BA in Humanities and his MA in Literary theory from the University of Padua (Italy), and completed part of his Master’s studies at Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic). His research interests include literature in Italian, English and Spanish, literary theory, film and media theory, the relationship between textual and audiovisual media, and transmedia storytelling. 

Janice Zehentbauer (Western) – Our Lady of Whiskey: Mauricia la Dura, Within the Micaelas, in Galdós’ Fortunata y Jacinta

Benito Pérez Galdós’ Fortunata y Jacinta (1886-7) is a novel bursting with irony and laughter. One of the most amusing episodes involves the rebellious Mauricia la Dura’s vision of the Virgin Mary, while perched upon a pile of manure, in the Micaelas convent. This paper proposes to examine Mauricia’s sacred and profane disruption of the Micaelas’ institutional agenda from at least two theoretical trajectories: the carnivalesque and the feminist. In Rabelais and His World, Mikhail Bakhtin argues that laughter, particularly the festive laughter of the carnival, carries within it a simultaneous structure: while it “degrades and materializes,” (20), it also “revives and renews” (10-11). But for Bakhtin laughter is ambivalent (24); while it liberates people by subverting prevailing power structures, it carries within it a reminder of those structures. The paper will question, then, to what extent can Mauricia metamorphosize herself into Cixous’ laughing Medusa.

A related facet of this paper will examine the collisions between laughter, noise, and silence. Stephen Gilman, in his article “The Spoken Word and Fortunata y Jacinta,” asks, “What are the boundaries of speech, and where are they located? One possible and obvious answer is that its boundaries lie in noise” (65). Gilman argues that characters’ desires to listen or speak are frequently thwarted by a noise which limits or even prevents discourse.  The paper will revise the question to, What are the boundaries of laughter, and where are they located? Is laughter subversive and transgressive, or does it act as a form of “noise?” If it does act as noise, how so—and is it possible that laughter limits in the way that Gilman notes about noise? Again, instances of laughter, noise, and silence will be examined in relation to Mauricia’s incarceration and miraculous vision in the Micaelas convent.

Janice Zehentbauer is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature at Western. Her dissertation examines neurological conditions, particularly migraines, and perception as interrogated in later nineteenth century European literature, particularly in the novels of Émile Zola and Benito Pérez Galdós.

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