15-16 octobre 2015
Special Guest : Jonathan Coe
Partenaires : l'ENS de Lyon, la SEAC, la Villa Gillet, l'IUF
Un numéro d’Études britanniques contemporaines est issu des travaux du colloque. Il s’intéresse aux formes spécifiques du rire, de l’humour, de la comédie et de la satire dans la littérature et les arts britanniques des XXe et XXIe siècles, et étudie la façon dont les écrivains et artistes adoptent, transforment, redéfinissent et subvertissent ces modes tout en gardant à l’esprit leur dimension souvent ambivalente.
Les articles regroupés ici explorent les rapports entre le rire, la satire et la critique politique et montrent qu’en général, les œuvres contemporaines ne reposent plus sur la fonction corrective de la satire ni sur la force d’exclusion du rire, mais privilégient une comédie portée par un élan humaniste.
Un tiers du numéro est plus spécifiquement consacré à l’œuvre de Jonathan Coe.
- Voir la publication : LOL! Comedy, humour and satire in the literature and visual arts of the 20th and 21st centuries in Britain
Études britanniques contemporaines 51 (2016).
Informations sur le colloque
Annual conference of the Société d’Études Anglaises Contemporaines (SEAC)
The conference on “Comedy, humour and satire in the literature and visual arts of the 20th and 21st centuries in Britain” will focus on the various forms and aspects of laughter, humour, comedy, satire, irony, farce and burlesque in the fields of study of the SEAC (fiction, poetry, drama, visual arts, cinema, photography). Bearing in mind the definitions of theoreticians –Northrop Frye on satire or Henri Bergson on laughter, for instance – and the uses of these modes, tones and genres in the literature and the arts of the past, we will try to determine how 20th- and 21st-century British writers and artists managed to adopt, transform, redefine and/or subvert them, while being aware of their often paradoxical, contradictory and unstable dimension.
In line with issue 36 of the journal “Humoresques” (www.humoresques.fr) but also in keeping with the 2014 SEAC conference on the representation of England and Englishness (www.laseac.fr), contributors are invited to analyse whether there is such a thing as a specifically English sense of humour in 20th and 21st-century literary and artistic works (see the fictional works of Evelyn Waugh, Tom Sharpe, P.G. Wodehouse, Julian Barnes or Zadie Smith). For instance, the campus novels of Kingsley Amis, Malcolm Bradbury or David Lodge, mixed with a sense of the carnivalesque and with parody, seem firmly rooted in a well-defined national context.
Contributors could also reflect on the place and legitimacy granted to comedy, laughter and humour in a British cultural context that often contrasts popular arts/mass production/entertainment with noble arts/elitism, and establishes a hierarchy between them. Laughter is sometimes perceived as a synonym for an escape from reality and the comic mode as a minor art, whereas some writers and artists strongly claim their status as entertainers. In the case of literary or artistic works which are famous for their complexity – those belonging to High Modernism, avant-garde drama and poetry, but also to the microcosm of contemporary art – one may wonder whether it is possible to refer to a select type of laughter only meant for the initiated.
The postmodernist aesthetic has often been characterized as playful, and some critics have suggested that this preference for comic forms and structural irony led to an excessive indulgence in formal auto-referential games and to detachment from affects as well as from the tragic reality of daily life and collective traumas. One could argue however that the comic dimension neither annihilates emotions nor precludes an ideological perspective, but provides a roundabout way to explore the ethical dimension of writing. Indeed, since the Renaissance and the “serio ludere” tradition, it has been shown that playfulness often conceals a polemical intention and that a humorous tone can throw light on social issues. A delicate balance is therefore established between levity and seriousness, irony and ideology, humour and melancholy, comedy and ethics.
In line with these blurrings and shifts, the conference could analyse what Laetitia Pasquet has called “laughing at horror”, which can be traced back to Beckett and to the famous sentence in Endgame: “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness”. While Adorno claimed that after the horrors of the Holocaust, “cheerful art” had become impossible, Beckett argued that unhappiness was “the most comical thing in the world”, and that it was possible to (make others) laugh when faced with the worst (see Laughter! by Peter Barnes). Along with the analysis of the destabilizing, aggressive, cynical and bitter laughter of In-Yer-Face drama, contributors could examine the new forms of the absurd (see Far Away by Caryl Churchill), of satire (see The City by Martin Crimp) and of wit – oscillating between tradition and rupture – in contemporary British theatre.
In the field of visual arts, it appears that intericonicity, interpictoriality and intermediality, as well as the recycling of images, can be a source of humour and comedy thanks to the discrepancies thus produced. One thinks of some contemporary artists’ unusual works, such as David Shrigley’s simplistic and humorous drawings, Gilbert and George’s photographs and photomontages, the work of Pop Art artists (Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake, David Hockney) or the various forms of visual satire – for instance caricature – which have a strong mocking, anti-establishment or reforming potential (Yinka Shonibare or the Chapman Brothers).
In poetry, humour is often seen with distrust, as humorous poetry risks being assimilated to light verse (Gavin Ewart, Wendy Cope) and, because of this unbearable lightness, may not be taken seriously. It is arguably in Scotland that the comedic mode has retained its most vigorous presence (Edwin Morgan, Tom Leonard, Liz Lochhead, W.N. Herbert, Don Paterson), though prominent poets elsewhere have also, of course, had recourse to it (Paul Muldoon, Simon Armitage). Recent years have also witnessed a renewed turn to humour within British experimental poetry (Jeff Hilson, Tim Atkins), inspired, in part, by the influences of American poetry and popular culture.
This SEAC conference will also enable us to examine the relationship between laughter, satire and social and political criticism in the 20th and 21st centuries. This connection emanates directly from Jonathan Swift, but was also tackled by Virginia Woolf in her essay “The Value of Laughter” (1905). Lisa Colleta’s work, Dark Humor and Social Satire in the Modern British Novel (2003) and Jonathan Greenberg’s Modernism, Satire and the Novel (2012) clearly demonstrate how much satire is at the heart of the modernist aesthetic.
In the 1950s and the 1960s in Great-Britain, a satirical revival affected popular culture in the form of live entertainment (The Last Laugh and Beyond the Fringe), radio (The Goon Show with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan), television (That Was the Week That Was, the Monty Python series), the press (Private Eye), and illustration, as shown in Humphrey Carpenter’s A Great, Silly Grin. The British Satire Boom of the 1960s (2000). The character of Nigel Molesworth (by Geoffrey Willans, illustrated by Ronald Searle), a classic of graphic satire, was created in the 1950s and was followed by Ralph Steadman’s satirical drawings and caricatures, but also in contemporary times by the work of Steve Bell and Martin Rowson who illustrate and write satirical “graphic novels” (Rowson’s Gulliver’s Travels revisits the Blair years). To use Paul Gilroy’s terms, this “disbelieving, oppositional laughter” uses ridicule and the grotesque against the various expressions of greed, power and injustice. One will need to take into account the issue of reception, since satirical laughter can only be triggered if both author and reader share similar views. Contributors could examine the hypothesis – expressed by Peter Cook, Jonathan Coe and Paul Gilroy – according to which, in the ultra-contemporary political context, satire and laughter, far from being a means of subversive protest or a threat to the established order, enable the status quo to continue: laughter is so unifying and comforting that it overpowers all opposition.
Jonathan Coe, the author of What a Carve Up!, The Rotters’ Club, and The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, will be the guest of honour of the conference. He himself wrote essays on comedy – “Sinking Giggling into the Sea” and “What’s so Funny about Comic Novels” in 2013 – where he established a distinction between several types of laughter – “melancholy laughter, mad laughter, despairing laughter, angry laughter” –, while his novels include a scathing political satire of Thatcherism and “New Labour”, but are also in the tradition of the 1950s and 1960s British comedies (see Expo 58), thus asserting their popular heritage. Contributors are therefore welcome to propose papers focusing on his work and related to the topic of the conference.
All contributions will be in English. Papers from the conference may be published in the peer-reviewed journal Études britanniques contemporaines.
- Catherine Bernard, Professor at University Paris VII, president of the SEAC
- Jean-Michel Ganteau, Professor at University Montpellier 3, publication director of Études britanniques contemporaines
- Vanessa Guignery, Professor at ENS de Lyon – IUF, UMR LIRE
- Catherine Pesso-Miquel, Professor Emeritus at University Lumière Lyon 2
- Lacy Rumsey, Senior Lecturer at ENS de Lyon – UMR LIRE
- Sonia Ferhani, PhD student and lecturer at ENS de Lyon – UMR LIRE
- Vanessa Guignery, Professor at ENS de Lyon – IUF, UMR LIRE
- Mathilde Le Clainche, PhD student and lecturer at ENS de Lyon – UMR LIRE
- Pauline Pilote, PhD student and lecturer at ENS de Lyon – UMR LIRE
- Lacy Rumsey, Senior Lecturer at ENS de Lyon – UMR LIRE
- Diane Gagneret, PhD student and lecturer at ENS de Lyon – UMR LIRE
Thursday 15th October 2015
- 08.45: Registration
- 09.00: Welcome address by Catherine BERNARD, President of the SÉAC
Chair: Catherine BERNARD (University Paris-Diderot)
- 9.15: Alain BLAYAC (Paul Valéry University-Montpellier 3): “Comedy in Evelyn Waugh’s Fiction”
- 9.40: Georges LETISSIER (University of Nantes): “Come(dies) of Ageism: Kingsley Amis’s Barmy, Old Devils”
- 10.05: François GALLIX (Sorbonne University-Paris 4): “Alan Sillitoe: The Long Distance Runner’s Life-Long Sense of Humour”
- 10.30: Discussion
- 10.45: Coffee Break
- 11.10: Françoise DUPEYRON-LAFAY (Paris Est-Créteil University): “The Subversive Use of the Canonical Intertext in P.G. Wodehouse’s Code of the Woosters (1938): a (Woolfian) Defence of Comedy”
- 11.35: Caroline DUVEZIN-CAUBET (University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis): “Elephants and Light Fantasy: Humor in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Series”
- 12.00: Discussion
Afternoon session: Jonathan Coe
Chair: Jean-Michel GANTEAU (Paul Valéry University-Montpellier 3)
- 14.00: Merritt MOSELEY (University of North Carolina at Asheville): “Jonathan Coe’s Painful Comedy, Comic Pain”
- 14.25: José RAMON PRADO (Universitat Jaume I): “The Comic Grotesque as Political Statement in Jonathan Coe”
- 14.50: Christian GUTLEBEN (University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis): “Bleak Humour: Jonathan Coe’s Politeness of Despair in The Rotters’ Club”
- 15.15: Laurent MELLET (University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès): “From Laughing along to Mislaughing oneself away and Coming out in Jonathan Coe’s Fiction”
- 15.40: Discussion
- 16.00: Coffee Break
Chair: Vanessa GUIGNERY (ENS de Lyon, IUF)
- 16.30: David QUANTICK (comedy writer and broadcaster): “The Vicar at the Window Sponging his Aspidistra: Comedy in High and Low British Culture”
- 17.00: A Conversation with Jonathan COE
(with Vanessa Guignery, Laurent Mellet and Catherine Pesso-Miquel)
Friday 16th October
Chair: Lacy RUMSEY (ENS de Lyon)
- 9.15: Aloysia ROUSSEAU (Sorbonne University-Paris 4): “Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party (1958) and The Dumb Waiter (1960) or the Intermingling of Farce and Menace”
- 9.40: Graham WOLFE (National University of Singapore): “Undead Comedy in Caryl Churchill’s A Number (2002)”
- 10.05: Lynn BLIN (Paul Valéry University-Montpellier 3): “The Office – The Mockumentary and the Ethics of Laughter”
- 10.30: Discussion
- 10.45: Coffee Break
Chair: Christian GUTLEBEN (University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis)
- 11.10: Justine GONNEAUD (University of Avignon): “ ‘A Satire at Once Savage and Toothless’: The Politics and Aesthetics of Satire in Will Self’s Works”
- 11.35: Jean-Michel GANTEAU (Paul Valéry University-Montpellier 3): “Exposures: Humour and Vulnerability in some Contemporary British Novels”
- 12.00: Discussion
Chair: Catherine PESSO-MIQUEL (Lumière University-Lyon 2)
- 14.00: Brigitte FRIANT-KESSLER (University of Valenciennes): “Echoing Laughter: Graphic Afterlives, Media and Remediation in Martin Rowson’s Political Satire”
- 14.25: Emilie WALEZAK (Lumière University-Lyon 2): “Satire Revised in Light of Thatcherism in Rose Tremain’s Restoration (1989)”
- 14.50: Valérie MORISSON (University of Burgundy): “Parodistic Fabric: Yinka Shonibare MBE’s Satires”
- 15.15: Discussion
- 15.30: Coffee Break
- 15.45: Round table, chaired by Catherine BERNARD (University Paris-Diderot): “Recent Developments in British Literature”, with Lacy RUMSEY (on poetry), Catherine LANONE (on Iain Sinclair) and Vanessa GUIGNERY (on Taiye Selasi)
- 17.30: End of the conference
José RAMON PRADO
Alain BLAYAC is a former Fulbright-Hays scholar (1972), and, later, a Visiting Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Boston University. He was also a Visiting Fellow at Brasenose College, Oxford (1987). He is the author of Evelyn Waugh, romancier satirique (Presses Universitaires de Lille 3, 1981), Evelyn Waugh and A Handful of Dust (Presses Université Montpellier 3, 1986), and the editor of Evelyn Waugh, New Directions (Macmillan, 1992), and of Richard Aldington, Essays in the Honour of the Centenary of his Birth (Presses Universitaires de l’Université Paul Valéry, 1993). He has published numerous articles on 19th and 20th century British literature (E. Brontë, Joyce, Lawrence, Orwell, Greene, Waugh etc...). A former director of Études britanniques contemporaines (Ebc), he was also the President of the Société d’études anglaises contemporaines (SEAC) and the vice-president of the Evelyn Waugh Newsletter. He is currently Professor Emeritus at the Université Paul Valéry, Montpellier 3.
Lynn BLIN is Senior Lecturer in Linguistics and Translation at Paul-Valéry University, Montpellier 3. Her research is on the link between grammar and style, notably in the works of Alice Munro. She has also written on different uses of Standard English in modern fiction and on the grammar of humour.
Catherine BERNARD is Professor of English literature and art history at Paris Diderot University. Her research has focused both on Modernism and on contemporary fiction and visual culture (Graham Swift, Peter Ackroyd, Martin Amis ; Gillian Wearing, Rachel Whiteread, Sam Taylor-Wood…). She has co-edited several volumes of articles on Woolf among which Woolf as Reader. Woolf as Critic, or, the Art of Reading in the Present (Presses Universitaires de la Méditerranée, 2011). She is the author of a critical study of Mrs Dalloway (Gallimard, 2006), of a translation and critical edition of Flush (Gallimard, coll. La Pléiade, 2012). Her most recent publication is a translation and critical edition of a selection of Woolf’s essays (Gallimard, 2015). She is currently preparing a book on the body politics of contemporary British fiction and visual arts. She is the President of the Société d’Études Anglaises Contemporaines (SEAC).
Françoise DUPEYRON-LAFAY is Professor of 19th century British literature at Université Paris Est Créteil (UPEC, formerly known as Paris 12). She specialises in mainstream Victorian writers such as Dickens or George Eliot, in Gothic and fantastic texts (Le Fanu, H. G. Wells, M. R. James) and in detective fiction (Wilkie Collins, A. Conan Doyle, G. K. Chesterton), highlighting the hybridization and cross-fertilization between genres in the Victorian and Edwardian periods, but also closely focusing on questions of style and poetics as in her papers on humour. She wrote Le Fantastique anglo-saxon (1998), translated George MacDonald’s Lilith (1895) into French in 2007, editing the proceedings of four conferences [Le Livre et l’image dans les œuvres fantastiques et de science-fiction (2003), Détours et hybridations (2005), Les représentations du corps. Figures et fantasmes (2006), and Poétiques de l’espace (2007) and published a monograph on Thomas De Quincey’s autobiographical works entitled L’Autobiographie de Thomas de Quincey. Une Anatomie de la douleur (2010).
Caroline DUVEZIN-CAUBET is a former student from the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, where she studied from 2010 to 2014 and passed the "Agrégation" in English in 2013. She is currently part of the inter-disciplinary research unit LIRCES at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis, where she is also a first-year PhD candidate under the supervision of Professor Christian Gutleben. Her thesis is entitled « Para-, néo-, rétro-, alter-littérature : le décentrement de la fantasy néo-victorienne contemporaine, élaboration d'une poétique » (Towards a poetics of contemporary neo-victorian fantasy as a de-centering : para-, neo-, retro- or simply other-literary ?)
Brigitte FRIANT-KESSLER is senior lecturer at the University of Valenciennes (France) where she teaches visual culture in the English-speaking world from the Renaissance to the 21st century. Her research is on graphic arts in general, ranging from engravings to modern comic book design, as well as caricature. She has given papers on remediation, intermediality, as well as on contemporary British graphic novels (Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds ; Tristram Shandy and Gulliver's Travels by Martin Rowson ; Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot). As a Sterne scholar, she has specialised in word and image studies and visual adaptations. In 2013, she contributed to a collection of essays on Sterne and humour which marked the Tercentenary of the birth of the author. Recent publications cover areas as diverse as eccentricity in Regency satire, the epistemology of laughter in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, film adaptation and Macbeth in manga. She is currently researching a monograph on Mary Darly (fl. 1756-1779) a London printseller, caricaturist, and engraver. In 2014, she contributed to an exhibition of Great War art and worked on Käthe Kollwitz. As a member of EIRIS (Equipe interdisciplinaire de recherche sur l'image satirique), she has launched a one-year project to mark the bicentenary of the death of James Gillray and his legacy (conference early 2016). She is one of the founding members of Illustr4tio, a research group and network of 4 French universities (Dijon, Nancy, Mulhouse) who organise international symposia on various aspects of illustration studies. On the editorial board of Revue de la Société des Etudes Anglo-Américaines des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, she is the picture officer and cover designer for that journal.
François GALLIX is Emeritus Professor of XXth century British Literature at the Sorbonne. He has presented many contemporary British authors, including Alan Sillitoe, Peter Ackroyd, David Lodge, Julian Barnes, Jonathan Coe, Graham Swift, Hanif Kureishi, Will Self and has published several books and articles about them. His reasearch now concentrates on the works of Graham Greene. He has recently discovered and published in The Times and in The Strand a detective novella by Greene. He has edited two volumes on Greene, published by Robert Laffont (2011).
Jean-Michel GANTEAU is Professor of English literature at the University Paul-Valéry, Montpellier. He is the general editor of the journal Etudes britanniques contemporaines. Among his recent publications are Trauma and Romance in Contemporary British Literature (Routledge, 2103) and Contemporary Trauma Narratives: Liminality and the Ethics of Form (Routledge, 2014) co-edited with Susana Onega. His The Aesthetics and Ethics of Vulnerability in Contemporary British Fiction is due to be published in 2015 by Routledge (Contemporary Literature series).
Justine GONNEAUD has completed a Phd on Androgyny in Contemporary British Literature at Paul Valéry, University of Montpellier III, under the supervision of Pr Jean-Michel Ganteau. She currently teaches undergraduate courses in the department of English at the University of Avignon.
Vanessa GUIGNERY is Professor of contemporary English and Postcolonial Literature at the École Normale Supérieure in Lyon and a member of the Institut Universitaire de France. She is the author of several books and essays on the work of Julian Barnes, including The Fiction of Julian Barnes (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). She also published a monograph on B. S. Johnson, This is not Fiction (Sorbonne UP, 2009), and Seeing and Being: Ben Okri’s The Famished Road (PUF, 2012). She edited and co-edited several collections of essays on contemporary British and post-colonial literature. Her recent publications are Novelists in the New Millenium (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) and The B. S. Johnson - Zulfikar Ghose Correspondence in 2015 (CSP). Her monograph on Jonathan Coe for the New British Fiction Series of Palgrave Macmillan will appear in the Fall of 2015. Website: www.vanessaguignery.com
Christian GUTLEBEN is Professor at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis, where he teaches nineteenth-, twentieth- and twenty-third-century British literature and where he directs the journal Cycnos. His research focuses on the links between the Victorian and the postmodernist forms of art, and he is the author of one of the earliest critical surveys of neo-Victorian literature, Nostalgic Postmodernism: The Victorian Tradition and the Contemporary British Novel (Rodopi, 2001, reedited 2013). He has also published books on the English campus novel and Graham Greene, as well as numerous articles on postmodernism in British literature, and is co-editor (with Marie-Luise Kohlke) of Rodopi’s Neo-Victorian Series, including Neo-Victorian Tropes of Trauma: The Politics of Bearing After-Witness to Nineteenth-Century Suffering (Rodopi, 2010), Neo-Victorian Families: Gender, Sexual and Cultural Politics (Rodopi, 2011), Neo-Victorian Gothic: Horror, Violence and Degeneration in the Re-Imagined Nineteenth Century (Rodopi, 2012), and Neo-Victorian Cities: Reassessing Urban Politics and Poetics (Rodopi/Brill 2015). The last two volumes of the Series (Neo-Victorian Humour and Neo-Victorian Biofiction) are due to be published in 2016 and 2017.
Georges LETISSIER is professor of English Literature at Nantes University, France. He has published articles both in French and in English, in France and abroad (Aracne, Palgrave Macmillan, Rodopi, Routledge, Dickens Quarterly) on Victorian literature (C. Dickens, G. Eliot, W. Morris, C. Rossetti) and on contemporary British fiction (P. Ackroyd, A.S. Byatt, A. Gray, A. Hollinghurst, L. Norfolk, I McEwan, W. Self, G. Swift, S. Waters, J. Winterson). He has published a monograph on Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier (Éditions du Temps, 2005). He has edited a volume entitled Rewriting, Reprising: Plural Intertextualities, Cambridge Scholars (December 2009) and co-edited with Michel Prum a book on Darwin’s legacy in European cultures (l’Harmattan 2010). He has worked extensively on Dickens and After Dickens recently whilst keeping a keen interest in the most recent developments in contemporary British fiction-writing. His interest in Ford Madox Ford as a hinge between late Victorianism and Modernism has been unflagging over the years and he has recently submitted a chapter on Dickens read by Ford: “Between the English nuvvle and the Novel of Aloofness: Charles Dickens’s Proto-(High) Modernism” to be pusblished by Ashgate and another one Ford and the cultures of Paris to be published by Rodopi.
Laurent MELLET is Professor of British literature and film at the Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès. His research fields are 20th- and 21st-century British literature, interactions between political ideologies and literary aesthetics, film theory and adaptation. He is the head of ARTLab (Atelier de Recherche Toulousain sur la Littérature et les Arts Britanniques) in the research team CAS (EA 801), in which he is the co-director of the new research programme "Constructing the individual and the collective". He is the co-author with Shannon Wells-Lassagne of Étudier l’adaptation filmique-Cinéma anglais, cinéma américain (PUR, 2010), the co-editor with Sophie Aymes of In and Out: Eccentricity in Britain (CSP, 2012), and the author of L’Œil et la voix dans les romans de E. M. Forster et leur adaptation cinématographique (PULM, 2012). He has written several papers on modernist and contemporary literature, and on film theory and aesthetics. His monograph on Jonathan Coe was published by the PUPS in 2015 (Jonathan Coe. Les politiques de l’intime).
Valérie MORISSON is a lecturer in English at the University of Burgundy, Dijon, France. Her research is on Irish contemporary art and its relation with post-nationalist culture. She investigates how political, social, and cultural evolutions in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are reflected in visual culture (painting, sculpture, installation, performance, video, photography). Her articles focus on a wide range of subjects ranging from feminist art, the issue of memory and the commemoration of history, to post-nationalist revisionism and the Northern-Irish situation as reflected in art. Several of her articles tackle photography and performance art in both an Irish and a European perspective.
Merritt MOSELEY is the editor of four volumes on British and Irish Novelists Since 1960, one on Booker Prize-Winners and one on the academic novel, and the author of monographs on David Lodge, Kingsley Amis, Julian Barnes, Michael Frayn, and Pat Barker. His book Understanding Jonathan Coe will be published by the University of South Carolina Press in 2016. He is a Professor of Literature at the University of North Carolina at Asheville in the US.
Catherine PESSO-MIQUEL is Emeritus Professor of English Literature at the University of Lyon 2. Her research focuses on the contemporary novel and on travel literature, exploring questions of narratology, intertextuality, postcolonialism, and problematics linked to identity and feminism. She has published books and articles on American novelists (Willa Cather and Paul Auster), British novelists (Graham Swift in particular) and Indo-Anglian authors. She published a monography on Paul Auster in 1996 (Toiles trouées et désert lunaires dans Moon Palace de Paul Auster, Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle), Willa Cather in 2001 (Alexander’s Bridge, de Willa Cather, Éditions du Temps), Salman Rushdie in 2007 (Salman Rushdie, l’écriture transportée, Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux) and on Anita Desai in 2008 (In Custody de Anita Desai, Atlande).
David QUANTICK is a comedy writer and broadcaster. For TV, he has written for on the BBC’s The Thick Of It and The Day Today and HBO’s Veep. As a radio writer, he created Radio 4's One and Radio 2's The Blagger's Guide. He also writes short films, comics and e-novels and is the author of How To Write Everything, a book about writing. His novel The Von Fremdenplatz Documents will be printed by Unbound this year.
José RAMON PRADO
José RAMON PRADO specializes in post-war political drama in contemporary British theatre, and has research interests in popular culture and literature. Works include Revisiones críticas del teatro alternativo británico contemporáneo 1968-1990 [Critical Revisions of British Alternative Drama 1968- 1990] (2000) and the co-edited New Literatures of Old: Dialogues of Tradition and Innovation in Anglophone Literature (2008).He is the founder and editor in chief of the Cultural, Language and Representation, a cultural studies journal published by Universitat Jaume I. He was a member of the ‘Estudios sobre intermedialidad como mediación intercultural,’ a three-year research project funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation. He has also participated in ‘Representations of the Precarious in Contemporary British Theatre.’ a project funded by the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD).
Aloysia ROUSSEAU is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Paris-Sorbonne where she teaches British and American Literature. She is the author of several articles on the plays of Martin Crimp and has published a book on Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia (Paris: Atlande, 2011). Her PhD, completed in 2010, aimed at identifying a revival of the comedy of menace in contemporary British theatre and her current research focuses on the various forms of comedy and laughter in 20th and 21st century British theatre as well as on the subversion of popular genres.
Lacy RUMSEY lectures in British and American poetry at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon. His research focuses on the formal aspects of poetry in English, in particular rhythm. He is currently writing a book on the prosody of free verse.
Webpage : http://lire.ish-lyon.cnrs.fr/spip.php?rubrique132&lang=fr
Emilie WALEZAK is a lecturer (MCF) at Université Lumière Lyon 2. A specialist of contemporary British literature, she has devoted several articles to the processes of rewriting in the works of A. S. Byatt, Jeanette Winterson, Rose Tremain and Angela Carter and is the co-editor of A Myriad of Literary Impressions :L’intertextualité dans le roman contemporain de langue anglaise, dir. Jocelyn Dupont et Emilie Walezak, Presses Universitaires de Perpignan, 2010 and Au nom du Père : les réécritures contemporaines de la Passion, dir. Maxime Decout et Emilie Walezak, to be published by Classiques Garnier, coll. « Rencontres ».
Graham WOLFE is an Assistant Professor of Theatre Studies at the National University of Singapore. He holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto, and his articles have appeared in journals such as Mosaic, Modern Drama, Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Theatre Research in Canada and The International Journal of Žižek Studies.
Résumés / Abstracts
Alain Blayac (Paul Valéry University – Montpellier 3, France)
With the advent of the XXth century and the cataclysm of the first World War, new forms of writing appeared: the experimentalists (Conrad, Woolf, Joyce etc…) but also the ‘externalists’ (Firbank, Van Vechten, Gerhardi etc…) in whose footsteps young writers like Evelyn Waugh followed, promoting action and derision and rejecting emotion, introspection and the study of the self. Waugh, the humourist, the LOL advocate, was at first taken as a mere entertainer, but, as soon as 1930, after his conversion to Roman Catholicism, he used comedy to deliver serious messages as he had discovered that “life … was unintelligible and unendurable without God.” Only after the depressing thirties and the tragic second World War did he abandon laughter and comedy to promote seriousness. The butts of laughter vary in time and coincide with the author’s personal experiences and evolution towards maturity: Oxford and its dons and students (1928), Mayfair and the Bright Young Things (1930), Africa, its rulers (native or British) (1934), Fleet Street and its journalists (1938). The major LOL characteristic is the political incorrectness initiating constant laughter from the reader, a basic irreverence and iconoclasm. LOL goes hand in hand with satire and half conceals the personal morals of Waugh based on his conversion. Among the ingredients of laughter are basic, neutral observations that are brutally destroyed, provoking surprise and irrepressible laughter. They rely on a necessary connivance between author and reader: a close relationship is established between the work of art and the reader’s intellectual response, otherwise the novel appears shocking to the unsophisticated public. Among the techniques and devices used by Waugh (that are typical of the externalist movement) are the suppression of descriptive passages (cf. Ms of Decline and Fall), the suppression of emotion (Lord Tangent’s death in Decline and Fall, Prudence’s in Black Mischief, John Andrews in A Handful of Dust) and the precedence of action over reflexion, hence the importance of the cinema both technically and as a theme of the novels and short stories: The Scarlet Woman (1924), ‘The Balance’ (1926), ‘Excursion in Reality’ (1932), Vile Bodies (1930), A Handful of Dust (1934), and of course The Loved One (1948) etc… LOL, the formula can define the early novels, especially Decline and Fall cf. Preface), Vile Bodies (1930), Black Mischief (1932) and Scoop (1938), but after 1938 the tone turns sour, the comedy is abandoned and, in 1945, Brideshead Revisited reveals a truly committed novelist, with a different outlook on life, a new maturity and, from a literary standpoint, abandoning the LOL manner of his youth in favour of a more moral and psychological, at times sentimental, manner. Waugh throws off his mask of indifference or enjoyment of the absurd world he describes and commits himself physically and intellectually to make the world “endurable and intelligible” thanks to the omnipresence of God. Like Charles Ryder, Evelyn Waugh, in 1945, at the end of the war, has matured, even come of age, and can say, like his hero, “Here at the age of 42 I began to be old”. The sheer pleasures of the LOL period have now been superseded by reflexion and conviction.
Lynn Blin (Paul Valéry University – Montpellier 3, France)
The British “mockumentary” The Office, created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, is, as the genre dictates, a combination of a sitcom and a documentary. By parodying a documentary and thus blurring the distinction between the two genres, this new comic genre induces what Richard Kilborn has termed “knowing laughter”. While the characters in the later American version of the series are played with a “passivity, which mingles with rueful hopefulness” the characters in the British office are portrayed as juggling attitudes of resignation and self-loathing (Krocula, 161). Ricky Gervais portrays David Brent, the sleazy middle management director of a nondescript paper company. Brent is a sexist, racist, homophobe, who also considers himself a comedian and a rock star. The mock documentary genre allows David (and the other members of his office staff) to talk directly to the camera, giving him ample opportunity to explain his management philosophy and show his talent as a would-be comedian. Both make us cringe with embarrassment and laugh, often in spite of ourselves. Using elements developed in humour theory, this paper wishes to examine The Office through the specificities of the genre of the “mockumentary” so as to try and establish how the sitcom genre is achieved through the conventions of the documentary genre. It will then look into Kilborn’s concept of “knowing laughter” to try and determine how humor based on such obvious bad taste does indeed make us laugh and the ethical dimension of this laughter. Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan placed laughter in the sphere of human pleasures, but his definition of it as “an individual’s sudden joy in attaining imaginary power” was used in the Restoration to disqualify laughter. Hobbes describes laughter as a “distortion of the countenance” and sees it as an integral part of one’s drive to improve one’s position in society and thus become superior to other human beings. There is no doubt that Brent considers himself a superior human being and his humiliating humor is targeted at everyone, be they overweight or disabled, The only person who is off target is himself. I will examine the malaise, which is so characteristic of the series, and try and show how it is so finely orchestrated. The perception of difference in The Office is constantly magnified but never obviously abated. If it is clear that the show recognizes the Other it is not so clear the mock documentary genre is successful in aiding in the acceptance of the Other.
Françoise Dupeyron-Lafay (Paris Est – Créteil University, France)
Among the numerous comic devices, and types of humour, both verbal and situational, in P. G. Wodehouse’s “Jeeves and Wooster” stories, the subversive use and the proliferation of the “serious” literary and Biblical intertextual references is the most striking and recurrent aspect in the novels, notably in The Code of the Woosters (1938). Bertie Wooster, Jeeves’s aristocratic employer, is a socialite and a confirmed bachelor who appears as lowbrow (or at best “lower” middlebrow) compared with his very learned and highbrow valet. Bertie behaves in the frivolous, vapid way usually ascribed to women, and his only written achievements are the Scripture Knowledge prize he won at school and the paper he wrote for Milady’s Boudoir (his aunt Dahlia’s magazine) on the well-dressed man about town, both of which he often mentions proudly. He is fond of whodunits, for instance The Mystery of the Pink Crayfish and shuns “high” literature, particularly by female intellectual writers (such as Florence Craye). He is the falsely naive, ignorant first-person narrator of the stories, who evinces diffidence about his poor literary and classical knowledge while consistently quoting this daunting and time-hallowed intertext. Each time, he looks up to Jeeves as the highest authority, waiting for his confirmation on the (in)accuracy of the quotes. Indeed, either Bertie misquotes the “Great Tradition”, mostly Shakespearian (distorting it or mixing it with slangy or colloquial words and phrases) or he misapplies it, associating it with the most unlikely and incongruous contexts (usually trite or ludicrous ones). In both cases, the effect achieved is either burlesque or mock-heroic. Through this Candide-like narrator (and character) who unwittingly (it seems) collapses the boundaries between high and low, Wodehouse mischievously and polemically operates a series of iconoclastic (and comic) reversals and redefinitions. The treble-barrelled attack concerns gender (Bertie as no better than a “silly woman” while most of his female friends and relatives are his intellectual superiors), class (the servant as the mastermind of the stories) and the canon. Bertie’s pretended inferiority complex, and reverence for the pedestalized intertext ultimately depedestalizes it through irony, parodic distortion (Cf. Simon Dentith’s Parody), burlesque or mock-heroic debunking. The initial apparent distinction between comic levity and seriousness, popular and “noble” literatures, low and high modes or genres, minor and canonical, spells the death of traditional hierarchies and the birth of hybrid, comic “doubles” of the “Great Tradition”, the value of which is clearly though tacitly asserted throughout Wodehouse’s works. For all its hilariously comic surface, and because of the author’s impressive classical or canonical culture (something shared by his readers), the subtext of the Jeeves stories is more radical than it seems, echoing V. Woolf’s 1905 essay “The Value of Laughter”, and like it, redrawing gender, class and literary boundaries – particularly between the (male) serious voice and its authority and the (female) “voice of folly and frivolity”. There is, in both cases, a rehabilitation, and a legitimization of the “gift” and vital usefulness of laughter against “crude and ponderous knowledge”. Indeed, though “in disrepute” – as it is thought to issue from “the lips of children and silly women” and “gives no message, conveys no information” – as Woolf contends and Wodehouse more implicitly suggests (through Bertie), the comic spirit is undeniably very eloquent, “forever reminding us that we are but human”, and restoring “our sense of proportion”. It is the “bright little mirror” of our society and its values.
Caroline Duvezin-Caubet (University of Nice – Sophia Antipolis, France)
The Discworld is a world shaped like a disc, travelling through space on the backs of four elephants, themselves astride the shell of the great turtle A’Tuin. With such a premiss, two things are obvious: first, that Terry Pratchett’s cult series belongs to the fantasy genre. Second, that its author does not take himself too seriously. In fact, Sir Terry is probably the most famous representative of the light (or comic) fantasy subgenre. As such, his many influences include J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard and William Shakespeare, but also Jerome K. Jerome and the Monty Pythons. The end result consists of forty main novels set in a whimsical, borderline absurd universe, and is written with a very distinctive sense of humor, with tools ranging from slapstick and bad puns to irony, satire and black humor. Rather than take those apart, we will strive to find the common comic streak that unites the series, as the books seem to fit Bergson’s theory of laughter, but also to contradict it. What is the function of laughter in the Discworld series? Since the whole light fantasy genre originated as a parody of high fantasy, laughter is primarily used to deconstruct its rigid tropes, and deflate the heroic tone into burlesque. However, one of Pratchett’s specificities is the sheer length of his series, which would not have attracted such popularity with simple parody. Comedy of repetition is used abundantly but self-reflexively, and from novel to novel, characters and storylines repeat themselves while still expecting a different outcome, until the whole Discworld feels like a lunatic asylum in which the narrator and a few sane characters are playing along to humor the majority, creating a strange community into which the reader is invited. While laughter comes in response to the recognition of “something mechanical encrusted on the living”, it is an inclusive, even affectionate laughter, and one not limited to the happy few. Pratchett will unabashedly juxtapose toilet humor with jokes about quantum physics, and this breakdown of the contrast between low and high culture anchors him in postmodernity. His meta-literary playfulness, referenced in-universe through the law of “narrativium” (which explains the high recurrence of coincidence, anachronisms, and literary allusions inside the Discworld), is not, however, limited to postmodern irony. Behind the satire and the whimsical, Pratchett gleefully resurrects heroes and myths for the postmodern age, in a way that is perhaps only accessible to postmodern light fantasy.
Brigitte Friant-Kessler (University of Valenciennes, France)
This paper investigates how political cartooning migrates from an editorial context into that of graphic novels and how it spreads via social media so as to generate an echoing laughter that rings beyond the original drawing. The latter may occasionally be an homage to famous caricaturists from the past, such as Gillray, whom many view as the grandfather of modern caricature, particularly in the press. This year's bicentenary celebrations across the UK stand as testimony of an enduring aura of Gillray's cartoons in contemporary political satire, not least in Martin Rowson's graphic works. In both his editorial cartoons and his graphic novels, scatology and gut-wringing scenes abound ad nauseam: rudeness, lewdness and offence are at the core of his satire. Under his hand, black bile mixes organically with India ink when he depicts and mocks the antics of political life, whether ultra contemporary or fictionalised. This “vindictive ink,” as Ralph Steadman describes it, comes from the same old well in which satirists like Swift dipped their quill. His drawings often require a strong stomach, though his usual readership will actually expect most of it. Rowson sees himself as a pen-wielder whose mission is to “lower the tone, and who gets away with puns mightier than the sword when he encrypts “fair coffin dye” in an anti-Blair cartoon. But he is also the author of graphic novels which, to put it in Bolter and Grusin's terms, are “pageants of mediation and remediation.” This paper will examine how Rowson's adapted (and updated) version of Swift's Gulliver's Travels echoes of visual motifs reminiscent of revered masters of British satire as well as self-borrowed topoï which resonate across several types of media. Moreover recycling is central to the dystopian plot of his Gulliver's Travels, and so contributes to the originality of this adaptation in which “excess” is writ large. Finally, this talk will address the role of social media connected with contemporary political cartoons. It will be argued that political cartoons trigger a specific “echoing laughter” mainly destined to enlarge the readership via social media. In the process, this mode of circulation creates new parameters in editorial vetting but may equally contribute to a novel integration of readers hitherto neither considered, nor necessarily amused by Rowson's humour in the first place. The aim of the talk will be to discuss what type of agenda is set by the immediacy of social media where L.O.L (Laugh Out Loud) constantly needs to reinvent its love/hate relationship with O.T.T. (Over The Top).
François Gallix (Sorbonne University – Paris 4, France)
Alan Sillitoe was born in 1928 in a Council house in Nottingham: his father was illiterate and violent, his mother sometimes had to take lovers to be able to feed her children. Sillitoe could never quite realize how, in such conditions, he was able to become a very successful novelist, ‘writing with his guts’, as he used to put it. He had to leave school at the age of 14 to work – like Arthur Seaton, the anti-hero of his first novel – at the Raleigh Bicycle factory for the next four years and yet was able to publish two masterpieces: Saturday Night, Sunday Morning in 1958 and The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner the following year, with adaptations that became cult films, the first one by Karel Reisz with Albert Finney, the second by Tony Richardson, with Tom Courtenay and Michael Redgrave, “a splendid soliloquy from an anarchist” as Jacques Cabau put it. Sillitoe wrote both screenplays. He soon became one of the most representative Angry Young Men. The result was that he never took himself very seriously and kept making up humorous stories about the people he met in various places all over the world. He used to say, like Arthur Seaton, a new kind of individual working-class anti-hero hating the Establishment in Saturday Night, Sunday Morning: “I’m me and whatever people think I am or say I am, that’s what I am not, because they don’t know a bloody thing about me!” In France, a whole generation of school children enjoyed reading an extract from The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner included in set textbooks: “The Telly Boys” where the young boys used to cut off the sound while watching politicians, ridiculously gesticulating during their speeches on ‘the box’. Sillitoe soon communicated his joie de vivre and his never-ending sense of fun to his audience in his many talks all over the world, notably several times at the Sorbonne, with his pipe in his mouth, longing for a shot of vodka afterwards! He would always end his talks with a message in morse, promising his audience to give them his collection of inscribed books (more than 30 novels, six theatre plays, a dozen short stories and poems, five books for children), if only they could decipher his message!
Jean-Michel Ganteau (Paul Valéry University – Montpellier 3, France)
Some of the most hilarious novels of the last decades begin in gravitas (as made clear in the incipit of Martin Amis’s The Information) or generate moments of high punctum (as is the case with the half chapter in Julian Barnes’s A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters), to take but two obvious examples. I would like to investigate the ways in which, in contemporary texts, a specific use of humour reverses the logics of comic relief to generate and intensification of pathos or, at least, poignancy. By taking examples from Amis, Barnes, Winterson, and possibly Coe and Lodge among others, I intend to address the paradoxical obliteration of distance that humour may generate, as it becomes the instrument of the pathetic in moments of exposure that oppose any warding off of affects. Besides, at some elementary level, even when used as distancing, protective strategy, humour is by definition an index of vulnerability for character, narrator and author alike, in so far as it indirectly—metaleptically, in the rhetorical meaning of the term—exposes some hitherto hidden frailty. One step further, it allows for the emergence of alterity since, by putting some distance between the subject and the other, it gets the latter to appear as other, thereby preventing any attempt at identification and totalisation. In all such instances, and as opposed to satire, humour does not work against but along with positive affects. I will suggest that it is a powerful expression and operator of vulnerability in so far as it never manages to hide the wound from which it emerges. The vision of literary humour that I will defend will thus be a relational one, predicated on and unveiling the subject’s inherent dependency, hence vulnerability.
Justine Gonneaud (University of Avignon, France)
In the wake of the January killings of French cartoonists in Paris, author and essayist Will Self - often labelled a satirist himself by academic or literary criticism – was compelled to reconsider the nature and purpose of satire. In an opinion piece tellingly entitled “What’s the Point of Satire?” , he explains: “We may like to think of our satirists as still speaking truth fearlessly unto power within a social realm bounded by commonly understood norms […] but such a view is largely delusory. In fact, it’s the managed anomie of our society today […] that allows for a satire at once savage and toothless.” Whereas most definitions of satire underline the indebtedness of the genre to a doxa or to an established social norm that it must expose and deride so that the opposite virtues can be implicitly extolled and ultimately reinforced, Will Self’s postulate prompts a revaluation of the very frame within which we understand satire. In this paper, based on selected fictions by Self - such as Cock and Bull, Great Apes or The Book of Dave - I propose to study the narrative and discursive strategies producing a satirical form able to accommodate a perceived current lack of common moral ground. My purpose will be threefold: I shall first look at various satirical tropes, such as the use of a grotesque aesthetics, the topos of mundus inversus and a telescopic or microscopic vision of the social body, in order to show aspects of the “savage” dimension of Self’s satirical prose. Secondly, working under the assumption that these topoi constitute a coping strategy to “manage the anomie of our society”, I would like to demonstrate that the inherent ambivalence of a hence “toothless” satire allows for an exploration of a deregulated social body rather than for the teleologic reconstruction of an implied moral norm. Finally, in keeping with Griffin’s notion of satire as an exploratory rather than a cautionary tale, I shall assess to what extent the rhetorics of provocation and display underlying Will Self’s bitter sense of humour may (or may not) sting and ultimately spring the reader into action.
Christian Gutleben (University of Nice – Sophia Antipolis, France)
If postmodernist fiction can be defined by its foregrounding “of ontological issues of text and world” (McHale 10), if postmodernist fiction primarily plays with fictional illusions and simulacra, if postmodernist fiction “romps in joyous relativity” because “there is no meaning tucked under [the texts’] surface” (Olsen 30-31), then what seems immediately striking about Jonathan Coe’s humour in The Rotters’ Club (2001) is how different or separate it is from postmodernism’s textual or ontological playfulness. The Rotters’ Club is, among others, a social and historical novel bent on recording the noble and futile battles of the 1970s in England and its humour, far from being reduced to a set of literary games, is then constantly related to a ruthless assessment of the past and to the loss of a series of sustaining illusions. Because the novel combines various tonalities, generic traditions and narrative techniques, its humour fulfills various functions and appears problematically puzzling. Surprisingly, humour seems to function primarily as a narrative red-herring for the light tonality of the opening chapters leaves the reader totally unprepared for one of the characters’ violent death from an IRA bombing. Not black but bleak, Coe’s humour following this tragic incident eases the didacticism of a novel striving to recapture the particular politics, culture and mores of a bygone era. The bitterness of lost illusions, social as well as romantic, may explain the ambiguity of the novel’s humour, a politeness of despair displayed so as to laugh in order to avoid crying. The novel may well evoke the possibility “that to be a bringer of laughter was in fact the holiest, most sacred of callings” (Coe 274), such profane holiness is only one of the aspects of this melancholy narrative. It will be the purpose of this paper then to try and unravel the complexity of The Rotters’ Club’s humour, desperate yet humanist, cynical yet committed.
Georges Letissier (PR, University of Nantes, France)
From Aristophanes’s The Wasps to Plautus’s senex amator, old age has constituted an endless source of comedy and provided a whole array of stock characters. Graeco-Roman antiquity introduced caricatures, from the lecherous, dirty old man to the toothless, ugly old crone, who were much later taken up in the English Restoration comedy. The close link between fiction and drama, which is the hallmark of a writer like Charles Dickens, probably accounts for the spectacular presence of unforgettable wrinklies such as Mr F’ Aunt (Little Dorrit) or the Aged P (Great Expectations) in the realm of the novel; thespian characters may thus migrate from one genre to another, without losing anything of their stylised comicality in the process. However this comedic vision of a humanity “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything” offers no alternative to a reductionist reification of old age. Due to obvious social and demographic factors, ageism has recently become a discipline in its own right and the term ageism not only refers to any discrimination against or stigmatisation of senior citizens but also reflects the changing dynamics of ageing and, among other things, the ways in which it may affect artistic representation. The aim of this paper is therefore to read two novels by Kingsley Amis, Ending up (1974) and the Booker Prize winner The Old Devils (1986), in hindsight, through the lens of ageism, by showing that comedy is achieved by granting agency to old age pensioners, which contributes to complicating and diversifying its treatment, by applying it to a sensitive question. If, indeed, ageism may be seen as a prejudice against our feared future self, then its comic exploitation precludes any exterior, vantage position. By allowing the age theme to come to the fore, both Ending up and The Old Devils could be ranked as black comedies, but actually their gamut is far wider, ranging from ironic comedy and sardonic gloom to lyric tenderness. If anything, both fictions substantiate Yeats’s devastating diagnosis of old age as “This absurdity…this caricature/Decrepit age that has been tied to me/As to a dog’s tail” (The Tower). Amis is not a novelist likely to yield to self-pity though, and the indignities of old age are evoked in a most hilarious way. Bickering, bitching, backstabbing along with a lot drinking (both outside in a pub called the Bible, and in the privacy of kitchens) are indulged in, day in day out. Incontinence (both physiological and verbal) is paralleled by impairment (both of fluids and words) as Amis draws uproarious effects from cackling vignettes, verbal tics and nominal aphasia. Ironically, by hoisting up bad faith, irritation and overall peevishness to the level of artistic representation Amis, more or less wittingly, draws a self-portrait of his public persona as a cantankerous old man, prone to adopt the most reactionary, intolerant and prejudiced positions on nearly every topic, after being once one of the angry young men. So, in the last resort, both Ending up and The Old Devils could be seen as sketching a parodic portrait of the artist as an old, testy codger, enjoying old age as a pose through the liberty it affords.
Laurent Mellet (University of Toulouse – Jean Jaurès, France)
In “Comic’ Novels” Coe evokes the possibility or necessity for contemporary novelists to reconsider their use of humour and comedy in the bleak times we are living in, thereby implying some generic opposition between humour and realism. We know how his own novels are often seen as satirical accounts of contemporary Britain, based on many examples of what foreign audiences like to call “the English sense of humour”. The two most obvious instances of humour in his writing are to be found in his renewal of the satirical genre and in the many jokes made by or at the expense of his characters. Yet humour in these novels is almost systematically associated to either the errors and mistakes at the heart of characterisation, or Coe’s wish to “reconcil[e] humour and melancholy” (“Interview [by Roberto Bertinetti]”). While laughter may still “draw people together” (as in The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim) and create intimacy and connections of sorts, narrative irony, for instance, is a first tool for Coe to isolate the character and break not only the novelistic illusion, but also the laughing community itself (and this from his first novel onwards, The Accidental Woman). Besides, what happens when the joke falls flat and the laughing bond never gets to be actualised (as in The Closed Circle)? Or when we laugh when we are not supposed to? Humour is so frequently metatextual with Coe (for instance in What a Carve up!, The House of Sleep, The Closed Circle and Expo 58), interrogating as it does the limitations of language, that we must question the parts it plays in the narrative tricks Coe is such a master of. My contention will be that it is precisely in these moments when one “mislaughs” that Coe’s protagonists come out and assert themselves, show their own limitations and reveal their humaneness. That the reader should similarly mislaugh may not signal any misinterpretation or mean that the comedy fails. Rather, this is when the (post)humanist drive in Coe’s writing comes to the fore, when the emphasis is first on the individual’s vulnerable intimate hurdles. I will eventually suggest that this must be read as a response to Coe’s own doubts and disillusions regarding satire today. Mislaughing might thus be a guarantee to remain critical and at a distance, endowing the reader with the newly political role that Coe thinks is at the heart of the ethical responsibility of contemporary fiction.
Valérie Morisson (University of Burgundy, France)
Yinka Shonibare, William Morris Album
Born in London but from Nigerian origins, Yinka Shonibare (R.A.) is associated with the Young British Artists. In 2011, he was commissionned Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle for the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square. Widely exhibited worldwide, his artworks are as jokingly seducing as subversive. His carnivalesque mannequins and actors, whether they are dark-skinned dandies, headless black mannequins, or African actors in powdered wigs and 18th century costumes, lay bare power relations in imperial contexts. The excess of decoration on the costumes and in the settings as well as the gaudy colours refer to denial and concealment as their appeal masks the bleak realities of slavery, domestic services, and the drudgery of menial jobs. Costumes and masquerade have long been used in art and black minstrelsy comes to mind when we are faced to Shonibare’s parodistic tableaux. The artist places his practice in visual traditions adding a post-modern flavour to his output nonetheless. Shonibare’s satirical works ranging from photographs, sculptures, or installations have a deliberate post-modern appeal. The artist revisits masterpieces such as Leonardo’s Last Supper, Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progess, or Fragonard’s The Swing. His humourous recycling is at times inspired from literary figures, Dorian Gray among others. The systematic use of African batik fabric –textiles actually produced in Indonesia at a time when it was a Dutch colony—serves a post-colonial discourse and challenges stereotyped identity markers. The humorous discrepancies in his works rely on visually different patterns. In The British Library installation the books are covered with batik. In Party Time, headless protagonists in batik costumes contrast with the Victorian interior decoration of the room in which they are partying. The bright colors of the batik fabric make the colonial subaltern, metonomically present, garishly noticeable. The playfulness of the Victorian Dandy series is plain but the tableau is highly subversive as it hinges on racial reversals. The series has much to do with Hogarth’s moral satires. The great British artist himself featured black people in his satirical works and his anti-colonial stance has been highlighted by some art historians. We intend to further this comparison between Shonibare’s satirical works and Hogarth’s social and moral satires. Shonibare’s Revolution Drawings combine archival photographs of revolutionary events and pieces of batik fabric arranged in decorative pattern. The politicization of aesthetics or the aestheticization of politics, to borrow from Rancière, is at stake in this series. In many works, Shonibare taps into European history and its democratic projects to problematize race relationships. The locations for Shonibare’s interventions are essential to study as they partake of the political message in his work. The insider/ousider, colonized/colonizer, master/servant divides are complexified. Ironically made a Member of Order of the British Empire, Shonibare decided to tie the title to his name in an act of self-parody or, is it an act of self-hybridization? Things never are black or white in his interpretation of history.
Merritt Moseley (University of North Carolina at Asheville, USA)
In a 2013 commentary in The Guardian, “What’s So Funny About Comic Novels,” Jonathan Coe paid generous tribute to the tradition of comic fiction in which he clearly places himself. He declared that “no amount of rationalism or essay-writing can undermine my allegiance to comedy,” which reminds us that he has previously denied any interest in writing books devoid of comedy. And, though he ends with a tribute to the almost pure comedy of P.G. Wodehouse, a more important note is struck when he quotes Flann O’Brien on “humour, the handmaid of sorrow and fear.” A hundred and eighty years ago Charles Dickens, commenting on melodrama, referred to the practice of presenting “the tragic and comic scenes, in as regular alternation, as the layers of red and white in a side of streaky bacon.” American novelist Richard Russo told an interviewer, “in my books . . . I want that which is hilarious and that which is heartbreaking to occupy the same territory . . . because I think they very often occupy the same territory in life, much as we try to separate them.” So the interplay of comedy and tragedy, of humour and melancholy, so far from being a novelty, may be at the heart of British comedy. In this presentation I plan to demonstrate how crucial to Jonathan Coe’s work is the counterpointing of the hilarious and the sad, with particular emphasis on his early novels.
José Ramon Prado (Jaime I University, Spain)
Jonathan Coe’s choice of the comic in his novels becomes a political statement that derives its force from the destabilising power that humour can exert over the representation of reality and dominant narratives. I will argue that his comic approach is indebted to transgressive forms of humour ranging from surrealism to the absurd, and drawing on elements of defamiliarisation and distancing to highlight reflexivity. Coe plays the contradictions of humour against themselves, providing entertainment through the comic, while simultaneously enhancing the grotesque in order to counter any potential numbing efffect. For that matter, Coe’s fictions resemble the convention of the freak show, with the readers transformed into self-aware, uncomfortable voyeurs, who are asked to reevaluate their place in relation to the narrative. This paper will analyse a selection of such grotesque moments in Coe’s novels as the writer’s attempt to present a distorted and deformed reality which becomes itself the standard of normalcy. The political then would emerge from acknowledging that the comic grotesque becomes the norm rather than the exception, allowing for a space of tolerance and ethical response towards otherness.
David Quantick (Comedy Writer and Broadcaster, UK)
In the UK, literary critics and the general public often disagree on what is funny. This disagreement is rooted in cultural and class divides. David Quantick will discuss what constitutes high culture and low culture in 20th and 21st century British comedy, who are the best and worst proponents and how, on occasion (as in the work of Jonathan Coe), the two genres can work together.
(The title comes from a British seaside postcard, a combination of class mockery and sexual innuendo that’s a staple of low comedy.)
Aloysia Rousseau (Sorbonne University – Paris 4, France)
First used by the theatre critic Irving Wardle in a 1958 article, the expression comedy of menace has become a catch-all phrase systematically applied to Harold Pinter’s plays. Yet it is much more than just a hackneyed expression appearing on programmes and posters and referring to the menacing atmosphere of Pinter’s comedies. Wardle has offered a specific semiotic and aesthetic definition of the genre based on the motif of the malevolent intrusion as well as on the paradoxical combination of comedy and menace. This paper will focus on the aesthetic definition of the genre, more precisely on the simultaneousness of farce and menace in Pinter’s The Birthday Party (1958) and The Dumb Waiter (1960). In these two plays, Pinter makes extensive use of nonsense and slapstick yet always endowing these comic devices with a strong sense of menace, arousing both the audience’s laughter and disquiet. As such, these plays can be deemed postmodern since, as we are reminded by Linda Hutcheon, “the postmodern partakes of a logic of ‘both/and,’ not one of ‘either/or’” (A Poetics of Postmodernism, New York: Routledge, 2000, p.49). Goldberg and McCann in The Birthday Party and Ben in The Dumb Waiter are indeed both clowns and oppressors and their use of physical comedy and whimsical language is as entertaining as it is unsettling, bringing to mind rather disquieting images of persecution and torture. This paper will thus throw light on the combination of farce and menace in these two plays, such overlapping being in fact the very definition of black humour. This simultaneousness will however be qualified in terms of production and audience response, the risk being that the comic prevail over the menacing and vice versa. This will be exemplified in the analysis of theatre productions and film adaptations which offer unequivocal interpretations of these two plays, erasing the eminently ambiguous nature of Pinter’s comedies of menace.
Emilie Walezak (Lumière University – Lyon 2, France)
In the 2009 preface to her novel Restoration, Rose Tremain makes clear that the choice of the period was meant as a commentary on the Thatcher years: “Restoration, written over twenty years ago in 1988, was my fictional response to the climate of selfishness and material greed that began to prevail in our society during the Thatcher years, from which we have never recovered and for which we are now beginning to pay a terrifying price”. The Restoration allows her to use the literary traditions of comedy and satire for the portrayal of her truculent narrator, royalist Merivel. A student of anatomy turned courtier and cuckold husband of the King’s mistress, Merrivel is both the fop of Restoration comedy and the traditional satirical alazon. What purpose does the recourse to satire serve regarding Thatcherism? While fool Merivel is a man of his time – to use the title of the 2012 sequel to Restoration – as the representative of a British literary tradition, his career and shortcomings reflect Thatcherist ideals and pitfalls: his is the path of an individual gaining a higher status on account of his talent but life at court has Merivel develop ridiculous materialistic concerns that lead to his downfall. His gullible utterance demonstrating his blind devotion to the King also serves to underline, for a contemporary readership, the leadership crisis of our times emblematized by Thatcher. Tremain’s portrait of Charles II does not match the usual depiction of the King as frivolous and debonair, painting instead a man who values skills, order and self-responsibility, which allows yet again for parallels with Thatcher. The novel thus combines an endorsement of the genre’s conservatism as well as a typically postmodern suspicion of authority, which raises the question of the intent behind the comic impulse of the book.
Graham Wolfe (National University of Singapore, Singapore)
Alenka Zupančič has observed that Henri Bergson’s definition of comedy—“something mechanical encrusted upon the living”—applies almost perfectly to the uncanny: “For what else is the stuff that the genre of the uncanny is made of—machines, automata that come to life, mortifying doubles, living dead?” (The Odd One In 114). The recent writings of psychoanaytic philosopher Slavoj Žižek engage with and extend Zupančič’s analysis, observing a strange undead dimension correlative to comedy: “[T]he immortality in a comedy is not the noble immortality of a spirit triumphing over biological death, but the weird immortality of, for example, those who survive a suicide attempt, who bungle even their effort to die, or, in a more uncanny mode, the obscene immortality of the undead in gothic and horror fiction. The fact that films featuring the undead are always on the verge of turning into comedy is a clear sign of how undeadness oscillates between comedy and horror, between laughter and nightmare.” (Absolute Recoil 336) Drawing on Žižek’s and Zupančič’s theorizations, my paper examines this short circuit between comedy and the uncanny through the lens of Caryl Churchill, who, throughout her half-century career as a playwright, has frequently been praised for both her comic technique and her dramatic explorations of undeadness. The paper focuses on one of Churchill’s most successful 21st-century works, A Number, an often hilarious examination of the horrors and philosophical quandaries of cloning. I argue that this play gives dramatic form to Žižek’s contention that “comedy at its most radical points towards a dimension beyond tragedy, a dimension too terrifying to appear as tragic—a strange negation of the tragic negation itself, the failure of its failure” (336). At the same time, the play’s complex use of doubling compels us to complicate Žižek and Zupančič, who, for all the versatility of their writing, have rarely engaged with the contingency, transience, and bodily co-presence that characterize theatrical performance.