Using Lacanian psychoanalysis, as well as its pre-history and afterlives, In the Event of Laughter argues for a new framework for discussing laughter. Responding to a tradition of 'comedy studies' that has been interested only in the causes of laughter (in why we laugh), it proposes a different relationship between laughter and causality. Ultimately it argues that laughter is both cause and effect, troubling chronological time and asking for a more nuanced way of conceiving the relationship between subjects and their laughter than existing theories have accounted for.
Making this visible via psychoanalytic ideas of retroactivity, Alfie Bown explores how laughter – far from being a mere response to a stimulus – changes the relationship between the present, the past and the future. Bown then investigates this hypothesis in relation to a range of comic texts from the 'history of laughter,' discussing Chaucer, Shakespeare, Kafka and Chaplin, as well as lesser-known but vital figures from the comic genre.
Table of contents:
List of Figures
Preface and Acknowledgments
Note on the Text
Introduction: Laughter's Doubleness
1. Laughter as Liberation
2. Laughter and Control
3. Laughter as Event
4. Laughter and Anxiety
“I read In the Event of Laughter with real pleasure. It is smart and confident, but also ruminative and genuinely philosophical, and balances a distinct central thesis with many diverse case studies. The notion that there is something penny-pinching and parsimonious about existing accounts of 'the event' ('a rare and unusual occurrence, something that occasionally interrupts the trajectory of things'), and that rather, wouldn't we be better off thinking about how it happens all the time?, is a very sympathetic one; and it's an inspired twist to locate it in the act of laughter. The book will certainly have readers in the growing area of comedy and laughter studies, as it is a combative (though courteous) shakeup of that field.” – James Smith, Lecturer in English Literature, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK, and author of Samuel Richardson and the Theory of Tragedy: Clarissa's Caesuras (2016)
About the Author:
Alfie Bown is Assistant Professor of Literature at HSMC Hong Kong and is co-editor of the Hong Kong Review of Books. He is author of Enjoying It: Candy Crush and Capitalism (2015) and The Playstation Dreamworld (2017).