Comedy Begins with Our Simplest Gestures: Levinas, Ethics, and Humor

Comedy Begins with Our Simplest Gestures: Levinas, Ethics, and Humor

Ed. by Brian Bergen-Aurand $35.00

May 2017 | paper | ISBN 978-0-8207-0703-7 | 264 pages

Book Information:

“The comedy begins with our simplest gestures,” writes Emmanuel Levinas in Entre Nous, as he goes on to describe how our human “inevitable awkwardness” proves comedic. And yet, he says, “the comedy may take a tragic turn. When the awkwardness of the act is turned against the goal pursued, we are in the midst of tragedy.”

While Levinas touched directly on the idea of comedy very little in his writings, examples such as this one illustrate the seriousness of the topic and its philosophical import. While comedic theory has been a burgeoning field for analytic philosophy in recent years, engagement with continental philosophy — and thinkers such as Levinas — has received less attention. In this volume, nine scholars from diverse academic fields take up various texts, passages, and remarks from Levinas to discuss a range of related topics: subjectivity, critical theory, enjoyment, laughter, clowns, and even knock-knock jokes.

To think about issues and theories of comedy through the lens of Levinasian thought, admittedly, might itself sound like a joke. Levinas’s commitment to “ethics as first philosophy” in light of the horrors of the Holocaust hardly seems compatible with jokes and laughter. But far from trivializing the gravity of Levinas’s ethical thought, these meaningful essays aim to take comedy seriously, exploring the ethical encounter opened up in humor, laughter, and joking, as well the comedic aspects of various types of human interaction.

Brian Bergen-Aurand currently teaches at Bellevue College in Washington and was previously assistant professor of English and film at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He is the coeditor of Transnational Chinese Cinema: Corporeality, Desire, and Ethics of Failure, author of the forthcoming book Cinematic Provocations: Ethics, Justice, Embodiment, and Global Film, and founding editor of the journal Screen Bodies.        


Duquesne University Press

600 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15282