NeMLA 2020: "Psychoanalysis and Laughter: Unconscious Meanings and Political Subversions"
In his famous study on “Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious," Freud argues that jokes, and the laughter they elicit, allow a kind of access to the unconscious. They permit, among other things, the fulfillment of repressed desires, the channeling of aggression into an acceptable social form, and polysemic satisfaction. As the structure of a joke operates similarly to the structure of a dream (by condensation and displacement, metaphor and metonymy), it also enables the revelation of contemporary ideology and its ambiguities. Further, for Lacan, with the child’s “jubilant assumption of his [sic] specular image” in the mirror, laughter coincides with the ego's coming-into-being. Laughter is also connected to the phallus—and therefore castration—which easily produces laughter, for instance in the constant failure of male courting and adultery in the French Vaudeville, or in the laughter by which we cope with the failure of the sexual relation. Laughter is both imaginary and symbolic, and for Lacan it is also linked to jouissance and thus the Real. The outburst of excessive laughter without reason, the repeated failure of pronouncing a word correctly or the constant incapability of controlling one’s own body—for instance in slapstick—move beyond the socially accepted and hence produce an ambivalent laughter. They reveal the presence of the Real in everyday life alongside the stubborn ambiguity of signifiers and the limits of meaning. Furthermore, both satire and black comedy allow us to ironically approach difficult political and moral questions. Laughter and comedy therefore permeate, reveal, and subvert our identities and social existences.
This seminar seeks papers that deal with the relationship between psychoanalysis and laughter. Questions for consideration could include:
What are the connections between laughter, psychoanalysis, ideology, and politics today? Is a joke still a joke if it loses the capability of playing around freely, even (or especially) with “master signifiers”? Is laughter nowadays "free" or censored, and what does laughter at (or proscription of) the vulgar, distasteful, or “offensive” reveal about our unconscious? Our jouissance? (Why) is sex funny? Does satire work? Is contemporary mass media just a naïve (or even sadistic) pastime as Adorno and Horkheimer claim or is, to the contrary, comedy a preferred medium of acting out (hidden) social criticism in post-postmodernist times?
The NeMLA will be held from March 5-8, 2020, in Boston, MA. To submit an abstract, please do so here: https://www.cfplist.com/nemla/Home/S/18121.