Modernist Comedy & Humour

Modernist Comedy & Humour

Call for Papers: The Australasian Modernist Studies Network presents AMSN4: Modernist Comedy & Humour

26-28 October 2018, University of Melbourne
Is modernism funny? During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Sigmund Freud theorized jokes and their relation to the unconscious, while Henri Bergson argued that laughter is produced by “something mechanical encrusted on the living.” English literary modernists held Victorian earnestness in contempt, often while taking themselves extremely seriously. Early twentieth-century Dadaists committed themselves to nonsense and irrationality and, in 1940, the surrealist André Breton edited and published an anthology of “black humour.” The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also saw the rise of popular and parodic forms of comedy and humour such as the comic strip, vaudeville, camp, and Buster Keaton’s deadpan acting style. These comic forms and styles were bound up with histories of immigration, gender and sexuality, race, technology, and culture industries.

Humanities scholars are devoting new attention to the aesthetics, politics, and social significance of comedy and humour. For instance, in their 2017 special issue of Critical Inquiry on comedy, Lauren Berlant and Sianne Ngai note competing trajectories of modern social life: on the one hand, “people are increasingly supposed to be funny all the time,” and on the other, “humourlessness is on the rise.” In the same issue, Ngai opposes the labor-saving operations of the “gimmick” to Victor Shklovsky and Bertolt Brecht’s practices of making methods of production visible. These tensions and oppositions suggest the usefulness of attending to comedy and humour in the field of modernist studies, which in recent years has rethought traditional oppositions among popular, high modernist, and avant-garde cultural forms.

We invite papers that engage with comedy and humour across the interdisciplinary field of modernist studies. How do comedy and humour reflect and affect the geographical, temporal, and cultural expansiveness of contemporary modernist studies, and what might Australasian scholarship contribute to this expansion? When are comic genres and styles normative, subversive, or ambivalent? When is laughter a mode of detachment, and when is it a way of being in relation? Who is in on the joke, and why does it matter?
Possible topics might include:

  • Camp, kitsch, taste, judgment
  • Comic performance genres and styles: vaudeville, music hall, variety,
  • minstrelsy, burlesque, standup, the deadpan, slapstick, shtick, gimmicks
  • Humourlessness, earnestness, seriousness, the unfunny
  • Jokes, comic timing, comic tones
  • Comic strips, political cartoons, caricature
  • The ridiculous, the absurd
  • Humour and/of the avant-garde
  • Laughter and audience behavior
  • Ways and theories of reading
  • The mechanical, grotesque, or nonhuman; humourous objects
  • Pleasure, play, fun
  • Comedy as and at work
  • Commodity culture, advertisements
  • Affect and emotion
  • Ethnic, national, or cosmopolitan comic perspectives
  • Queer humour, sexual parody
  • Overstatement and understatement
  • The epigram, the bon mot, the cutting remark
  • Normative and subversive humour, harmlessness, vulgarity, offensiveness
  • Theories and histories of comedy and humour

Please send an abstract of no more than 300 words and a bio of no more than 150 words to [email protected] as an attachment by 30 March 2018.

A link to the full CFP is here:

Confirmed keynote speaker: Professor Nick Salvato (Cornell). This speaker is supported by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

Conference committee:
Dr Sarah Balkin, University of Melbourne
Professor Ronan McDonald, University of Melbourne Elizabeth McLean, University of Melbourne
Jessica Marian, University of Melbourne

Questions may be directed to [email protected].