Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Zupančič, Alenka. The Odd One In: On Comedy.

Zupančič, Alenka. The Odd One In: On Comedy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008.

A pupil of Zizek, Zupančič offers a philosophically dense and complex interpretation of humour as transcendant incongruity taken up in the context of contemporary examples such as Borat and George Bush Jr jokes.

For Zupančič, Comedy is not a simplistic liberation: irony and laughter can function well in conditions of true ideology wherein the subject feels profoundly free – freedom and humour constitute an important aspect of the contemporary dominant ideology (4). The subversion of humour is not to be found in its intellectual resistance, indeed currently all that is negative must be seen as positive, happiness is a virtue (6). Contemporary ideology biologises difference in a form of inverse racism (6). The current ideology celebrates the absence of ideology which is replaced with happiness and comedy (7).

In dense Hegelian and Lacanian language, Zupančič argues that “true comedy” constitutes a split between the actual and abstract realisation of an Universal ideal thereby revealing the gaps in the implied finitude of the social order (30-52).Taking up the Freudian notion of the tendentious, Zupančič argues that comedy allows us to realise, and thereby laugh at, the paradoxical functioning of our symbolic and contingent universe (142-7). This is carnival on a transcendent, rather than social level.

Zupančič suggests that humour acts to question the sanctity of what Hegel dubs the symbolic Universal by revealing how it emerges out of the concrete Particular (27-9) or, in other words, how seemingly eternal unquestionable aspects of existence are really products of the transient everyday. This occurs because humour reveals how the Universal arises out of concrete forms, a process that creates a short-circuit between the lofty nature of the Universal and the “obscene other side” that emerges from its materialist consequences (32), the two aspects stitched together in a comic contradiction. Humour, in Zupančič’s conception, can therefore accommodate the existence of two mutually exclusive frames of reference that are compelled to co-exist, which leads to a perceptual break-down of the symbolic order and allows us to draw nearer to the Lacanian kernel of the Real (142). In this scheme, comic characters are funny because they embody a single universal notion, be it piety or cleanliness, for example, to the detriment of their particular existence as an embodied subject – they put the universal desire of their self before their actual existence which creates comic consequences wherein the Universal, which is revealed to only exist in the Particular, comes into conflict with it (Zupančič 49-51). The comic character is thus not subversive because they challenge the dominant ideology or what Zupančič refers to as the Universal, but because they reveal how that ideology emerges out of the material and how it must therefore always exist within a particularity even as it feigns an essential nature.

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