Session VIII – Panel B

SESSION VIII, March 3, 11:15-12:30PM

Panel B: Intense Laugh: Approaching the Boundaries
Moderator: Janice Zehentbauer
Room: University College 225A

Lindsay Bartkowski (Temple University) – The Revelatory Nature of Hitchcock’s Sexual Violence

The sexual violence of Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972) serves as a self-parody of his early Blackmail (1929) and Psycho (1960). Each of these three films introduces a female character that parodies her predecessor and a situation that ironically inverts the tropes established by the previous film. Each reproduction – each self-parody –problematizes or complicates what the earlier film established through a recapitulation of narrative and formal elements. The dead hand that horrifies and haunts the victim of Blackmail, for example, becomes the humorous and macabre body of a victim in the back of a potato truck in Frenzy. The solemnity of both Blackmail and Psycho become black comedy in Frenzy. Hitchcock recapitulates and alters these representations of sexual violence in order to call attention to the increasingly perverse expectations of the spectator. The rape scene in Blackmail, completely unseen behind a curtain, evolves into the shower scene in Psycho in which the curtain is torn away, which leads to the rape scene in Frenzy that mercilessly leaves nothing unseen. When a naked breast is revealed in Frenzy, and music is omitted to leave only the grotesque sounds of human brutality and agony, the spectator cannot help but know that this is what they have craved to see. Thus, through his use of self-parody, in the narrative and visual connections between the films, and his use of black comedy in Frenzy, Hitchcock is able to implicate his audience as madmen, as complicit in these acts of sexual violence in their passive consumption of the films.

My name is Lindsay Bartkowski. I am a first year PhD student in the English Department at Temple University where I am a Teaching Assistant. I earned a BA and MA in English from the University at Buffalo. My interests include 20th Century American Literature, Modernism, and Women’s Studies.

Claudia de Stefano (University of Guelph) – Laughter as Resistance: Humour in Representations of the Holocaust and the Second World War

Humour in films dealing with the sinister subject matter of the Second World War and the Holocaust, has puzzled both film critics and scholars alike. The ethical violation of associating laughter with genocide has resulted in much criticism regarding humour as ‘inappropriate’ in such contexts. Through the examination of the function of comedy, this paper will not only justify, but encourage and praise the use of humour in representation of the traumas of the Second World War. An analysis of this function and its effects in Roberto Benigni’s 1997 film entitled Life is Beautiful, demonstrates that humour goes beyond the simple elicitation of laughter, and in fact can be seen as an act of resistance, seeking to expose underlying meanings. The inclusion of humour in such films creates a distance that separates the viewer from the reality of the war, which then allows the viewer to see beyond the shock value and be open to the film as an instrument of critique. This use of humour opposes the traditionally accepted norms and expectations regarding the ‘proper’ representation of this sensitive subject matter. It calls for a break in the traditionally accepted and urges a new representation of these traumatic events – one which ultimately allows the viewer a deeper and more emotional experience. Not only does humour resist against the commonly accepted documentary approach to filmic representation, but more importantly, it resists against history itself, in that humour serves as a critique of the absurdity and incomprehensibility of the war. Ultimately, Benigni’s film, as representative of humour in this genre in general, encourages its viewer to obtain something ‘usable’ from this particularly horrific era in history. This is made possible by the strategic and effective use of humour, deeming humour not only acceptable but necessary in addressing the Second World War in film.

I am a graduate student at the University of Guelph, completing the Master of Arts program in European Studies. I completed my undergraduate degree in European Studies at the University of Guelph as well, with a minor in Italian Studies. My current research is focused on twentieth century Italian literature.

Kevin Godbout (Western) – Awkward Laughter Provoked Through Piercing Aphorisms: A Look at the Masters of Exploiting Infanticide

We know many of the masters of the aphorism and its forms, of Heraclitus and his children: we know their many names, La Rochefoucauld, Goethe, Friedrich Schlegel, William Blake, Nietzsche, Walter Benjamin and others. The power of the aphorism is manifold, but it operates at its finest when its reader, by virtue of the aphorism’s parsimonious language and bluntness of expression, laughs out loud, often against their own better judgment and moral taste. At times, the subject matter of the aphorism provokes this laughter at the complete expense of propriety, such as when Blake says he would “sooner strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires” or when Benjamin suggests that critics who practice “[genuine] polemics approach a book as lovingly as a cannibal spices a baby.” Both of these aphorisms are quite funny and approach infanticide in such a manner that they provoke a guilt-stricken laughter, as if to save face, as if the awkwardness states “No, I don’t agree with killing babies!” Jonathan Swift, with his famous essay “A Modest Proposal,” has also treated the fate of babies in a similarly absurdist manner, with great success. For my paper, I would like to provide an aperçu as to how the figure of the child, specifically the infant, has been exploited for comic effect by the aphorism, whether the aphorism stands alone or finds itself embedded in a larger work. This thematic reading and presentation, I contend, might provide a better sense of the aphorism as the catalyst of the greatest guilty pleasures.

Kevin Godbout is a PhD Candidate at Western University in London, Ontario in the department of Modern Languages and Literatures. His interests cover various literatures in the nineteenth centuries and contemporary literary theory. Godbout’s eventual dissertation project “The Auratic Consciousness of the Literary Manuscript” investigates the manuscript texts of Emily Dickinson, Marcel Proust via a lens grounded in the thought of Walter Benjamin.

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