Humour as an art of descent and negative dialectics : a deleuzian analysis of the functions of humour in Trevor Griffiths' Comedians

Title: Humour as an art of descent and negative dialectics : a deleuzian analysis of the functions of humour in Trevor Griffiths' Comedians
Source document: Brno studies in English. 2020, vol. 46, iss. 1, pp. 109-132
  • ISSN
    0524-6881 (print)
    1805-0867 (online)
Type: Article
This essay undertakes an exploration of Trevor Griffiths' Comedians to delineate the socio-cultural, moral and psychological functions of humour in it and to scrutinize how Griffiths adopts a negative-dialectical method to assay the socio-political efficacy of a socialist aesthetics by counterpointing various modes of humour against each other in this specific historical period (1970s). Nevertheless, the common thread here, as will be demonstrated, is that the modes of humour permeating Comedians are saliently tainted by various shades of tragedy. Chiefly drawing on Deleuze's distinction between humour and irony, the thrust of the argument here is that, in Comedians, humour features as a means of psychological and ontic-ontological descent (into the sub- or unconscious of personal or national history) and of critical movement between immanent social-historical surfaces. Humour, in its negative-dialectical mode is also argued to feature as a political strategy – where both sadistic irony and masochistic humour are possible strategies. More specifically, humour serves as a catalyst for putting metaphysics into motion. Metaphysics, in Comedians, designates the metaphysical conception of history, to wit, history as a determinate, teleological narrative. To put such a metaphysical history into motion means to expose its immanence and reveal it to be a historical process and a human construct, susceptible to being altered.
[1] Althusser, Louis (1984) Essays on Ideology. Trans. Ben Brewster and Grahame Lock. London: New Left Books.

[2] Aristotle (2006) Poetics. Pearson Education India, India.

[3] Attardo, Salvatore, Maria Wagner Manuela and Eduardo Urios-Aparisi (2013) Prosody and Humour. London: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

[4] Bakhtin, Mikhail (1984) Rabelais and His World. Trans. Helene Islowsky. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

[5] Barreca, R. (1994) Untamed and Unabashed: Essays on Women and Humor in British Literature. Wayne State University Press.

[6] Becker, Howard (1973) Outsiders. New York: The Free Press, Macmillan Publishing Co.

[7] Bergen, Benjamin and Binstead Kim (2015) Cognitive Linguistics and Humour Research. Germany: Walter Gruyter.

[8] Bergson, Henri (1980) Laughter, An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic. New York: John Hopkins University Press.

[9] Bhabha, Homi (2004) The Location of Culture. London, New York: Routledge.

[10] Buse, Peter (2001) Drama and Theory: Critical Approaches to Modern British Drama. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

[11] Clayborough, Arthur (1965) The Grotesque in English Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[12] Coward, Noel (1984) Post-Mortem in Plays Two. London: Methuen.

[13] Critchley, Simon (2002) On Humour Thinking in Action. London: Routledge.

[14] Deleuze, Gilles (1994) Difference and Repetition. Trans. Paul Patton. London: Athlone Press.

[15] Deleuze, Gilles (1995) Logic of Sense Trans. Mark Lester. London: Bloomsbury.

[16] Deleuze, Gilles (1995) Negotiations 1972–1990. Trans. M. Joughin, New York: Columbia University Press.

[17] Demastes, William W. (2008) Comedy Matters, From Shakespeare to Stoppard. London: Palgrave.

[18] DiCenzo, Maria (1996) The Politics of Alternative Theatre in Britain, 1968–1990. The Case of 7:48. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[19] Edwards, Justin D. and Graulund Rune (2013) Grotesque. London: Routledge.

[20] English, James (1994) Comic Transactions: Literature, Humor, and the Politics of Community in Twentieth-Century Britain. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

[21] Esslin, Martin (1978) The Theatre of the Absurd. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

[22] Farfan, Penny (2005) Noel Coward and Sexual Modernism: Private Lives as Queer Comedy. Modern Drama 48(4): 677–688.

[23] Frances, Gray (2006) Always Acting: Noel Coward and the Performing Self. In: A Companion to Modern British and Irish Drama 1880–2008, 225-236.

[24] Freud, Sigmund (1960) Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. Ed. James Strachey. New York: Norton.

[25] Freud, Sigmund (1961) Humour. In: Strachey, James (ed.) The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 21 (1927–31). London: Hogarth.

[26] Frye, Northrop (1990) The Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. London: Harmondsworth: Penguin.

[27] Gilbert, J. R. (2004) Performing Marginality: Humour, Gender, and Cultural Critique. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

[28] Griffiths Trevor (2007) Comedians in Plays One. Nottingham: Spokesman.

[29] Griffiths, Trevor (1976) Transforming the husk of capitalism. Theatre Quarterly 6(22), Summer 46.

[30] Hardin, Nancy Shields (1990) An Interview with Tom Stoppard. In: Tom Stoppard: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Jumpers and Travesties. Macmillan Education Ltd, United Kingdom.

[31] Hinchliffe, Arnold P. (1969) The Absurd. Bristol, UK: J.W. Arrowsmith Ltd. Innes, Christopher (1992) Modern British Drama: 1890–1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[32] Luckhurst, Mary and Moody, Jane (2005) Theatre and Celebrity in Britain, 1660–2000. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

[33] Lyotard, Jean-François (1993) Toward the Postmodern. Trans. Mira Kamdor et al. New Jersey: Humanities Press.

[34] MacGrath, John (1977) TV Drama: The Case against Naturalism. Sight and Sound 46(2): 100–105.

[35] Marx, Karl (1984) The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

[36] Murdock, Graham (1980) Radical Drama Radical Theatre. Media Culture and Society 2(2): 151–168. | DOI 10.1177/016344378000200204

[37] Nahemow, Lucille, McCluskey-Fawcett, Kathleen A. and McGhee, Paul E. (1986) Humour and Aging. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers.

[38] Olson, Kirby (2001) Comedy after Postmodernism: Rereading Comedy from Edward Lear to Charles Willeford. Texas: Texas Tech University Press.

[39] Paulos, John Allen (1980) Mathematics and Humour. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[40] Rabey, David Ian (2003) English Drama since 1940. London: Longman.

[41] Reichl, S. and Mark S., (eds.) (2005) Introduction. In: Reichl, S. and M. Stein (eds.) Cheeky Fictions: Laughter and the Postcolonial.. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

[42] Robb, David (2007) Clowns, Fools and Picaros: Popular forms in Theatre, Fictions and Film. New York: Rodopi.

[43] Scott, Andrew (2005) Comedy. London: Routledge.

[44] Styan, J. L. (2009) The Dark Comedy: The Development of Modern Comic Tragedy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[45] Turvey, Roger and Aman Ysgol Dyffryn (2014) Depression, war and recovery in Wales and England, 1930-1951. Cardiff: WJEC.

[46] Walsh Hokenson, Jan (2006) The Idea of Comedy: History, Theory, Culture. Toronto: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

[47] Williams, James (2013) Gilles Deleuze's Difference and Repetition: A Critical Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

[48] Zwagerman, S. (2010) Wit's End: Women's Humor as Rhetorical & Performative Strategy. In: Composition, Literacy, and Culture. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh.