Alister Wedderburn
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The parasite
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This chapter examines historical theories of humour. Beginning with the very earliest theory of comic practice that exists – a brief digression within Aristotle’s discussion of tragedy in his Poetics – it argues that humour has historically been understood as a way of speaking when properly political speech is impossible. Its function in this context is as a way of making a performative claim to political subjectivity in a context where political subjectivity is otherwise denied. In ancient Greek comic drama, this function is embodied by the ambiguous figure of the parasite. The chapter maps this account onto the theoretical framework established in Chapter 1, arguing that the parasite’s appeals to humour can be understood as a ‘way of operating’ on political terrain from which s/he is by rights excluded. An analytic focus on ‘parasitic’ appeals to humour, the chapter suggests, can thereby open up insights into the everyday politics of exclusion, struggle and resistance that underpin existing concerns within IR. This ‘parasitic’ understanding of comic-political subjectivity informs the book’s empirical analysis in its second part.

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Humour, subjectivity and world politics

Everyday articulations of identity at the limits of order


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