Laugh so you don't cry? Contemporary Encounters of the Tragic and the Comic

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Department of Germanic and Romance Studies University of Delhi

Tragedy and Comedy, the two classical literary forms, on the one hand continue to capture the imagination of readers and audiences across the world even today, and on the other, have generated a lot of critical debates around them. From Aristotle's classical distinction between tragedy as a higher form and comedy as an ugly, distorted, and lowly one, not to be taken seriously, to Nietzsche's notion of tragedy, and call for its rebirth, as a joyous affirmation of life against the terror and absurdity of existence and then to Milan Kundera's assertion that "the art of the novel came into the world as an echo of God's laughter," our notions of the tragic and the comic have certainly undergone a dramatic shift. Concepts such as Antonin Artaud's "humor as anarchy and destruction", Bertolt Brecht's "distancing effects" and Charlie Chaplin's Tramp as the antithesis of the tragic hero, played on opposition to provoke critical reactions in the audience by allowing them to recognize social injustice and exploitation rather than surrender to a complacent emotional identification. The hybridization of the two genres also produced black humor where the comic is used to highlight the tragic. Contemporary writers have also increasingly focused on language rather than human actions as the medium of representing and communicating about human conditions. Many women and post-colonial authors play with linguistic elements in order to explore the dramatic possibilities of language to liberate itself from its hegemonic appropriation by the powerful. Laughter through puns, neologisms and tautological utterances and articulations, is used to ridicule the conventions and methods of so called ordered, meaningful discourse of the mainstream as well as to expose its tragic vacuity. Does this mean the end of the tragic sensibility or is there a return as some have argued?
The conference invites interdisciplinary explorations of the conjuncture of the tragic and the comic in contemporary debates. How are the tragic and the comic deployed, with what textual and other artistic strategies, and to what purpose. It seeks to examine both their production and reception in literature, theatre, cinema and other media forms, including popular cultural forms embedded in mass marketing.
[Deadline for submission of abstracts (200-300 words): 30 January 2012]