Laughter in Deleuze

One of my favorite quotations from all of the media studies program—and I can’t put my finger on why, precisely, but I often find its final four words bouncing into my thoughts unannounced—comes from Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment: “The culture industry replaces pain, which is present in ecstasy no less than in asceticism, with jovial denial” (112). Reading Deleuze, I’ve encountered at least two other moments where laughter comes into play, and not the pathetic laughter of the denial of the dominated, but another form of unexpected laugher, bizarre good humor given the circumstances.

In the chapter of Deleuze’s book on Foucault about Discipline and Punish, that seminal and terrifying book on the surveilling Panopticon and the theater of punishment, Deleuze opens nearly sadistically: “The Divine Comedy of punishment means we can retain the basic right to collapse in fits of laughter in the face of a dazzling array of perverse inventions, cynical discourses and meticulous horrors. A whole chain of phenomena, from anti-masturbation machines for children to the mechanics of prison for adults, sets off an unexpected laughter which shame, suffering or death cannot silence” (23). Expressing laughter seems to suggest an interior that may be affected by outside events but that will not be fully subsumed by them. Even darker, though resilient, is how Deleuze calls this laughter “a great joy which is not the ambivalent joy of hatred, but the joy of wanting to destroy whatever mutilates life” (23).

Another example comes in “Nomadic Thought,” in which Deleuze attributes Nietzsche’s unlikely but essential laughter to the unbounded joy of revolution in the face of atrocity. Laughter is positive and creative, an uncontrollable escape from restraints of imposed logic and morality. Laughing at the traumatic, as Deleuze prescribes for readers of Foucault, at least flies in the face of a morality instated by transcendence. There is a war between those who seek to control and those who seek to liberate action and maximize potential for individuals to enter into productive and creative relations that have not been imposed upon them. And on the fighting side there is still a path to happiness, often found in subversiveness of minor literature. The philosophers championed by media studies tend not to fall into despair; no matter how dire their findings on control societies or bodily torture, something keeps them bouncing up. Whether we’re being denied autonomy, as in Adorno, or coming “face to face with something sickening, ignoble, disgusting,” as Deleuze describes the provocation for Nietzsche’s laughter in “Nomadic Thought” (258), there’s always something to laugh about. Isn’t that funny?

-Duncan Cooper

Deleuze, Gilles, and Seán Hand. Foucault. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1988.

Deleuze, Gilles. “Nomadic Thought.” Desert Islands and Other Texts, 1953-1974. Ed. David Lapoujade. Trans. Michael Taormina. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2004.

Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment. New York: Continuum Pub., 1972.
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2 Responses to “Laughter in Deleuze”

  1. immanentterrain2 Says:

    “Expressing laughter seems to suggest an interior that may be affected by outside events but that will not be fully subsumed by them. ” Check-mark.

    This is a great summation for laughter as being the only reaction for some circumstances. To laugh can be a dis-empowering action, especially when as a direct reflex to an authoritative force or a situation out of one’s control. Laughing can disable the seriousness and absoluteness of a message, a system, or an obligation to a system. It gives permission to take a break from the outside world. Your connections between Deleuze, Foucault, and laughter in forms of political resistance makes sense.

    This reminds me of the leftist Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army. This is an inclusive group of people who dress in clown suits to participate in non-violent global protests. The intention is to bring humour, jovial behaviour, and to prompt laughter. There is an underlying intent to diffuse tensions or violence that occurs in such heated protests. The idea is that “clowning around” is contagious and will keep aggressive tendencies at bay. The presence and protest tactics of the CIRCA also subversively bring to light the absurdity of issues. It is to communicate that it is ridiculous that these problems exist in the first place.

    And there is an example of actualization of laughter as political protest.

    || Bria ||

    http://www.clownarmy.org/about/about.html

  2. Thanks in favor of sharing such a good thought, post is fastidious, thats why i have read it fully

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