"Laughing to Keep from Crying" Modern Language Association Convention: 3-6 Jan 2013
This panel will explore the complex relationships between pain and humor. Productive readings that avoid reductive binaries or discuss the topic in relation to specific cultural/ethnic/racial groups are particularly encouraged. Theoretical submissions are encouraged so long as they are thoroughly grounded in primary texts or performances.
Some possible questions to explore: How does humor function in regard to the painful topic? Does finding humor in a painful situation confer any sort of responsibility on the part of the humorist? Is it possible to go too far, and how do we draw those lines? Does laughter generated in this way make us part of a community of shared experience or mark our distance from it? Is it an act of hopelessness or aggression or a defense mechanism against these? Do we, as a Robert Heinlein character once asserted, "laugh . . . because it's the only thing that will make it stop hurting?" Or is this a naïve perspective? Does explaining the joke, or delineating the pain behind it, spoil the joke or make it more powerful? Are there productive ways to avoid binaries when thinking about pain and humor?