This book offers a theoretically and empirically rich analysis of humour’s relevance to world politics. Drawing on literature from a range of disciplines including International Relations (IR), literary theory, cultural studies and sociology, its central claim is that humour plays an underappreciated role in the making and unmaking of political subjectivities. As such, humour not only provides an illuminating way into debates about identity and the everyday production and reproduction of order, but also opens up hitherto under- or even unstudied sites where this production and reproduction takes place. With reference to the ancient comic figure of the parasite, the book suggests that humour has historically been understood in relation to anxieties about subjectivity, estrangement and the circumscription and protection of the political sphere. It identifies three distinct spaces where humour has informed, enabled or defined ‘parasitic’ engagements with world politics. In the body of artwork produced by detainees in concentration camps, in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and others (LGBTQ+) responses to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and in carnivalesque tactics of contemporary mass protest, one can observe actors engaging through humour in the interrogation, negotiation and contestation of social, political and international relations. Through these detailed studies, the book demonstrates how everyday practices like humour can draw from, feed into, interrupt and potentially transform world politics.
consolidate these ideas by demonstrating their origins in some of the earliest surviving accounts of humour as a field of social and political practice. I draw on the mythical-theoretical discourses through which comedy was first established as an object of critical and philosophical concern in order to develop an account of its complex entanglement with questions and anxieties about political modes of being. Revisiting the earliest surviving account of comedy’s origins that we have – the Megarian theory recounted (and dismissed) by Aristotle in the Poetics ( 2006 ) – I
formation of subjective identity (e.g. Der Derian and Shapiro, 1989 ; Campbell, 1992 ; Hansen, 2006 ). To engage in humour is therefore to participate in processes of social construction that blur the traditional distinction between doer and deed: humour, in short, is performative. To joke and laugh is not just to make a statement about who one is and how one relates to others: it is also a way of inhabiting the very form of life one is asserting ( Butler, 2010 : 155; Brassett, 2016 : 171).
A handful of excellent articles within IR have begun to consider comedy
subjective identity and intersubjective relations. Humour is part of a rich and complex field of everyday practice through which subjects make claims about who they are and how they relate to (or differ from) others, and it contributes to the emotional, affective and rhythmic landscapes that give those claims purchase and weight. Drawing on ancient accounts of comedy, I suggested that humour has historically been understood in these terms – and in particular, as a way of making a claim to political subjectivity from a position of political abjection or disgrace. In Greek
of belonging, and with order’s often violent attempts to maintain control over its own boundaries. These themes will be expanded upon in Chapter 2 with reference to the parasite, a stock character of ancient comedy.
Humour, subjectivity and performativity
IR’s turn towards the everyday can be understood as part of a wider project to ‘reorient … analysis [away] from [a] concern with the intentional acts of pregiven subjects to[wards] the problematic of subjectivity’ itself ( Campbell, 1992 : 8). Underpinning this broad and diverse literature is an ontological
inhabitants: that the flip side of his illegibility is Rosenthal’s abject legibility as a German Jew. Petit Guide à Travers le Camp de Gurs , another of Rosenthal’s strips, takes a different approach to camp life that seeks to reconfigure what detainment means even for Gurs’ human inhabitants.
Petit Guide à Travers le Camp de Gurs
In the 1997 comedy La Vita è Bella ( Life is Beautiful ), an Italian-Jewish waiter called Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni) is sent with his wife Dora (Nicoletta Braschi) and their young son Giosuè (Giorgio Cantarini) to a nameless
Lenin’s own depiction of struggles and
agreements between electricity, oil, shipping and rail monopolies
provides a richer and more nuanced picture of monopoly competition
(as it then existed). In what he calls ‘the comedy of
oil’, Lenin brings together market warfare across different
branches of production, the use of state legal provisions and even
resignification of what it meant to live and die with AIDS. However, it was not humour or the production of laughter that framed or sustained this demand for resignification. In this instance, then, it is possible to see one way in which the parasitic way of operating outlined in Chapter 2 exceeds the category of ‘humour’ or ‘comedy’.
Second, the strategic usefulness of the kind of ‘street theatre’ practised by ACT UP was dependent on many other variables, not all of which were entirely (or even at all) under the control of the participants. The efficacy of the condom
during this era of global conflict. As such, just as politicians were wrestling
with how far the clamour for democratic reform should be accommodated,
a popular class-centric filmmaker like Chaplin was a figure of much discussion in the corridors of power – not least because, his broader implications
aside, MPs were often as amused by Chaplin as their constituents. By
way of example, in 1915 the Liberal MP Thomas Lough told the House
of Commons of a recent trip to the cinema to watch an early comedy:
‘what can be more extraordinary than the film [career] of
artefact’.4 It both informs and is informed
by cultural and ideological assumptions in society that are reproduced by
a range of communicative sources. It is important, therefore, to move
beyond an analysis of news accounts of the conflict in Northern Ireland
and examine a much broader spectrum of media representation – film,
television drama and comedy, public service broadcasting and official
propaganda. This chapter is by no means comprehensive – time and
space do not allow that – but it does highlight the way in which at key
moments, and in important places, the