March 16-17, 2012
York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The discipline of the humanities has included from its beginnings a large helping of humour, and major scholars and critics from Ancient times onwards, within the Western tradition and outside of it, have taken full advantage of its capacity to engage, persuade, and amuse audiences. Yet humour is also often ignored, and occasionally denigrated, as a rhetorical and educational technique in much of the scholarly world. This conference is dedicated to bringing to light and exploring where, how, and to what effect humour is used in and around the humanities, both in primary texts and performances and in the works that comment on and elucidate them. We invite submissions from graduate students working in the Humanities, as well as Interdisciplinary Studies, English, History, Philosophy, Theatre Studies, Comparative Literature, Education, Anthropology, Classics, Fine Arts, Psychology, Linguistics, Queer and Gender Studies, Art History, and other fields.
Possible panel and paper topics include but are not limited to:
1) Humour and the human condition. How does humour's “universal” character relate to the projects of the humanities? Does humour itself change through the centuries and millennia and across (or between) linguistic, ethnic, national, and cultural borders, or only our attitudes and approaches to it? What about humour in animals or in imagined non-human beings? Is humour as “human” a feature as it is often claimed to be?
2) Humour and aesthetics. Humour is a major element of numerous artworks, but only rarely touched upon in “serious” discussions of aesthetics. Does it have a place in theories of art? If so, what sort of place? How do mockery, parody, and farce relate or correspond to beauty, craftsmanship, and art in the works in which they appear? Is irony any different? What about other kinds of humour?
3) Anti-humorists. What does humour damage or destroy? Do those who advocate the dismissal of humour from “serious” academic discussion have a point? Are there “objective” objections to humour, or is it only ever an issue of style or taste? Who benefits from the presence or absence of humour in the humanities?
4) Humour, performance, and spontaneity. Humour and laughter are often associated with spontaneity, perhaps one of the chief reasons that they are is often deemed unsuitable for serious, planned discussion. Yet some of the most widespread and successful (and ostensibly spontaneous) humour is minutely planned, rehearsed, and scripted - as, for example, in vaudeville, stand-up comics, film, radio, etc. What is the relation of spontaneity and performance to humour and to the social, academic, and political interactions in which it appears?
5) Humour and health. Humour is often connected with mental and/or physical well-being: it is used as a barometer to evaluate health and state of mind, and we are deeply disconcerted by either a complete absence or a notable excess of humour. What are our assumptions about how humour relates to well-being? What is the range of “allowable” variation in humour, and where is the border between “healthy” and “unhealthy” laughter? What changes do we expect in humour when a person’s physical or mental state is permanently altered?
6) Humour in academic articles, book reviews, textbooks, and other scholarly materials. What sorts of humour appear in scholarly work, and who writes it? With what goals? What can be learned about academia and the humanities through humour that cannot be learned any other way, and what can be accomplished that would otherwise be left undone? Is humour used in the same ways and for the same purposes by the parvenus and the triumphantly tenured, the cultural theorists and the classical philologists? How is the humour of the humanities different from that of other fields?
7) Humour as a vehicle of critique. Voltaire’s Candide is only one of the many attempts to use humour to create a sustained argument for or against a philosophy, approach, or academic school. What are the characteristics and techniques of this kind of humour? Does it vary by discipline or region or over time? What has caused it to come into or fall out of favour?
Other possible paper topics include:
-Multicultural and multiethnic humour in the humanities
-Translation and humour, cross-cultural exchanges of humour
-Jokes as self-positioning
-Censorship and humour
-Linguistics/language and humour
-Knowledge/epistemologies of the funny
Creative submissions, in the form of text, visual art, or performance will also be considered. All participants will be invited to join the organizers at a comedy event in Toronto on the evening of the 17th.
1) Prof. David McGimpsey, Creative Writing, Concordia University, Montreal
The Proposals Committee invites submissions of 200-300 word abstracts to firstname.lastname@example.org by Jan. 15, 2011. Submissions in English and French are welcome. Abstracts may be in Word or RTF format and should include, along with the abstract, a title, the author’s name, affiliation, email address, and a short biographical statement (max 50 words). Proposals for panels will also be considered: the proposal should include a tentative title, short description, and list of proposed participants and the titles of their submissions. Notification of acceptance or rejection by the Committee will be provided by Feb. 5, 2012.
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