Archive for laughter

Laughter in Deleuze

Posted in Body and Affect, Deleuze, Foucault, Nietzsche with tags , , , , , , on May 17, 2012 by immanentterrain2

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.