The Art of Being Human:
Friendship, Humour, Music, and Death
An Inclusive Interdisciplinary Conference
Saturday 7th March 2020 – Sunday 8th March 2020
Prague, Czech Republic
Why are Representations of Leg Amputees Funny?: Considering Newspaper Cartoons of culs-de-jatte in Nineteenth-Century France
Alexandra Courtois de Viçose
Kenyon College, USA
Caricature, satire, print, press, newspaper, disability, amputee, Veber, France, 19th century
Caricature has long preoccupied art historians and critics; just look at Charles Baudelaire’s repeated mobilization of this pictorial genre in his treatise on laughter (“De L’Essence du Rire,” 1855), or Ernst Gombrich’s psychoanalytic reading of its history in his 1938 article. The number of scholarly studies on nineteenth-century French caricature now rivals its abundant production during that era. However, this rich academic engagement has yet to address caricatural representations of physical disability, and ask: “why are they funny to a nineteenth-century French audience?” My paper addresses the surprising number of cartoons staging real or faked impairments in fin-de-siècle Paris. Specifically, I look at cartoons by various draughtsmen, which shows beggars pretending to be deaf or blind fooling the unsuspecting passerby, as well as a surprising number of depictions of leg amputees (culs-de-jatte). One artist in particular, Jean Veber (1864-1928), elicited a particular obsession with lower limbs amputees, whom he systematically staged in gutters and usually engaged in violent behavior, all in the exaggerated language of caricature. At first glance these works serve as cautionary tales, or are simply cruel in ways fitting the ‘superiority theory of laughter’ advanced by many scholars including Simon Critchley. I propose, however, that their callousness may also hide a broader and more insidious societal malaise. Indeed, I argue that this proliferation was actually a manifestation of national trauma resultant from the disastrous Franco-Prussian war (1870-71), its grave injuries due to new artillery, and inadequate social assistance in the years following the conflict. Ultimately, this project, by closely examining select prints and newspaper illustrations from the decades following the war, thinks about the harnessing of humor as a way to therapeutically deal with the fragility of the human body, during a time of anxiety over genetic degeneration in France and the rise of European eugenics.
Marginalised: Comparative Depictions of Irish and Muslim groups in Satirical Caricatures
Université de Lorraine, France
Irish, hooligan, Muslim, Islam, caricatures, cartoon, humour, marginalise, press, satirical
Humour can be a great source of joy, but also a tool to mock and to segregate certain groups from society. Many types of humour are based on the expense of a marginalised group of people and despite different targets, this feature of humour still persists. Visual sources and caricatures have been used throughout history to satire groups seen as “others”, be that in terms of nationality, ethnicity, religion, class or gender. This work takes two examples of such marginalised groups by comparing a short Daily Mail cartoon series parodying the Irish population between 1969-1972, with examples from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which mock the religion of Islam.
Historians such as Lewis P. Curtis and Michael De Nie, focus on the prominent featuring of the Irish population in nineteenth-century cartoons. John Musgrave-Wood’s Daily Mail series is thus noteworthy not only in terms of its recent date, but also the fact that it refers to the Irish as ‘hooligans’, a term, by this point, more widely associated with football fans. It is significant that this link be reinforced, given the tense context of the Troubles at the time of publication. Additionally, historians have analysed the 2005 Danish ‘Muhammed Cartoons’ controversy, yet contemporary Charlie Hebdo publications remain absent from historiography, despite enormous press attention after the 2015 attacks on their headquarters.
This research therefore offers a new perspective via a qualitative analysis of these publications, considering artistic techniques, captions and both political and historical contexts to underline the potentially offensive nature of satirical humour. The comparison between the two publications will offer insight into very different groups, both frequently marginalised both in the past and today. This work will also demonstrate how humour works at the expense of others, and how this has persisted despite targeting different groups during different periods.
Towards a Humorous Architecture: Revisiting Irony in Learning from Las Vegas
University College London
Architecture, building, humour, irony, Venturi, Scott Brown, Izenour, Post-Modernism
Although the word “humour” is not encountered frequently in architectural texts, there has been an extended discussion about “irony” in the field. The term has often been attributed to architectural projects, and an increased interest in it emerge around the middle of the 1960s in Europe and the US, in the context of Post-Modernism. Irony has been considered a key concept of this architectural movement, conceived as an opposition to the rigidity and seriousness of Modernism.
The book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, written in 1966 by the architect Robert Venturi, is usually thought to have initiated the discourse on irony in the Post-Modern context. But it is his later work, titled Learning from Las Vegas and co-authored by Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour in 1972, which refers to the notion more explicitly. It supports irony as a desirable design tool, utilized when a building’s form creates contradicting expectations regarding its actual structure or function.
The paper aims to bring forward an ignored aspect of the latter work, which is a suggestion of irony’s potential to be funny. Using “irony” in parallel with words such as “joke” or “wit”, Venturi, Scott Brown and Izenour reveal that their design tool is not only meant to contradict expectations, but also to be amusing. This attitude is reflected in other aspects of their work as well, such as the writing style, or the use of the visual language or cartoons and caricatures, both connected with humour.
Finally, the claims that the lack of emphasis on this aspect in architectural history and theory, reflects the state of the disciplinary discourse regarding humour in general. Irony, which can be funny, but not necessarily, allows avoiding the subject of humour, which might be less “appropriate” for an elevated discourse.
Kant and Dancing House: The Body, Incongruity, Oscillation, and Why the Building is and is not Funny
Shawn R. Tucker
Elon University, USA
Kant, Dancing House, Incongruity, Oscillation, Embodiment
Between 1992 and 1996, architects Frank Gehry and Vlado Milunić designed and built Prague’s iconic building The Dancing House (Czech: Tančící dům). This building, which Gehry himself for a time called Fred and Ginger, breaks dramatically with the city’s dominant baroque, gothic, and art nouveau styles. It also breaks even more specifically and dramatically with modernist architectural conventions as embodied in Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram building. The contrast, the incongruity, between various architectural expectations and Dancing House gives rise to the wit and humour Gehry and Milunić’s inspires. Incongruity has been at the core of Kant’s theoretical examinations of humour. Kant’s view is that incongruity has both a mental and a physiological impact. Incongruity causes both a mental and a physical oscillation. This presentation examines how Dancing House may and may not precipitate such oscillations. Kant uses the example of jokes to illustrate his ideas about incongruity’s double impact. Jokes are conveyed via language, yet these disembodied ideas cause embodied responses. Architecture is physical, tactile, and visual, yet it may fail to cause a physical response. Kant’s writings give insights into how Dancing House causes and fails to cause laughter’s physical and mental oscillations.
Laughter in Clown Training: Searching in Silences
Klara van Wyk
Stellenbosch University South Africa
Clown, Training, Laughter, Failure, Gaulier, Danger, Provocateur
This paper will critically discuss contemporary clown training approaches that focus on laughter as a marker of success, indicating audience appreciation. Particular attention will be paid to the lineage of clown teaching influenced by practitioners Jacques Lecoq and Phillipe Gaulier who connect laughter to failure.
Based on practice-led methods, the paper will examine the teaching practices and methods of three contemporary clown pedagogues whose workshops I have participated in, hoping to interrogate and shed light on some of the key complexities around laughter production – in particular, the danger of laughter, the ‘flop’, the ‘personal clown’ and the relationship between the Whiteface and Auguste. This discussion falls within a broader PhD study on the relationship between clowning and theatrical practices, and contemporary uses of the term ‘clown theatre’. By critically addressing the multi-faceted approaches to engendering laughter within clown training and performance, this paper will contribute towards uncovering the challenges that lie in translating teachings about clowning into theatre practice.
As the methodology of this broader study is primarily practice-led, this paper will employ qualitative and reflective methods, including an autoethnographic account of the author as clown student, to explore recent practice. Existing literature (Davison 2013, Lecoq 1997, Bouissac 2015) on clown training and pedagogy will provide a foundation for the discussion.
Musical Humour; Debussy; Performance; Clumsiness
In 1907, Debussy wrote to Louis Laloy: “Between ourselves, do you really believe in “humorous” music? For a start, it doesn’t exist on its own; there always has to be a pretext, either words or a situation…”. This statement may be puzzling when one considers the important comic output of this composer (who wrote more than seventy-five works with at least a touch of humour). But in this letter, the composer pointed out an important feature of humor in music: its ambiguity; this is why most of comic works in music rely at least partly on textual devices (title, libretto, program, paratext…).
In his instrumental music, Debussy almost always indicated his humoristic intentions with whimsical titles. In a few cases, he completed the picture by performing himself some of his works. A few were recorded in 1913 on piano rolls (for Welte-Mignon), among which eight can be considered as comic. These documents are a valuable source to understand the meaning of the musical devices employed by the composer to convey humour.
Two of them (“Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” and “Jimbo’s Lullaby”) turn out to be clumsily performed. Since Debussy was a good pianist (if we rely on other recordings of his and on testimonies of his contemporaries), this clumsiness cannot be due to technical failures, but instead seems intentional. As a matter of fact, the paratext in “Jimbo’s lullaby” states “un peu gauche” (a little awkward). But “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” bears no such indication on the score, and instead asks for a very steady playing: the analysis of Debussy’s recording reveals thereby the real signification of the work, which is not deprived of irony.
Finding Alternatives in Liminal Stand-up
Stand-up comedy, Anglo Indian Stand-up, Class/Caste in Stand-up, Gender and Sexuality in Stand-up, Alternative comedy, liminality, liminal stand-up
In India, the caste/class, religion within gender, and sexuality based discriminatory comedy has had been a common place. Also, the intersectionalities specific social and cultural images are transmogrified into jokes to orchestrate laughter.
Stand-up comedy has been viewed and understood from various perspectives, to understand its capability to evoke social change. One of these ideas is of liminality which is explained by Victor Turner as the “mid-transition” abstract space during a rite in which the person going through it is removed, and reintegrated into the society. This time right between the separation and reincorporation is the liminal space where structures are broken. In most of the literature produced this fleeting breaking of the structures is constituted in the language of inverting the hierarchy.
Similarly, alternative comedy has been used in the past to talk about the mainstream culture and its problems but using the same structures which were prevalent in the mainstream culture. Thus the paper tries to converge this commonality between liminality and alternative stand-up comedy, and attempts to explain how stand-up as liminality should be understood as the advanced form of alternative comedy. It can be seen as an abstract concept as well as a concrete performance stage which is fluid in nature, and where the alternative comedy breaks its former mould of reversing the mainstream hierarchy of comedy to create a humorous discourse, but instead creates an inclusive space where even the spectrum of various intersectional identities are broken to become fluid.
It, thus, should not be understood as a genre driven by the patriarchy-oriented aggression and hostility in the form of comedy perpetuated over different groups or identities by mocking or punching them down, instead humorously problematising the idea of negative power ingrained in the mainstream, along with creating a space to allow humorous discourses of various identities about several ideas including mainstream ideas. This, thus, while has the potential to create a completely different definition of funny, also changes the role that the comedy can play in not only making this art form but the society more inclusive and sensitive.
‘I am what I am’: Trumpian Rhetoric in Rob Sears’ The Beautiful Poetry of Donald Trump (2017)
The University of Agronomic Sciences and Veterinary Medicine of Bucharest, Romania
discourse, humour, irony, poetry, politics, rhetoric, Donald Trump
Disappointment with inconstant politics and distrust of inefficient politicians are continuous presences in contemporary poetry as the whole-scale relativity of present-day history gives rise to various forms of direct or oblique critique of power structures and officialdom. Irony, satire and humour are frequently employed to undermine authority and ridicule power structures. One of the most recent successful examples of anti-authoritarian derision is the groundbreaking collection titled The Beautiful Poetry of Donald Trump by the American-born writer Rob Sears. A best seller of Christmas 2017, the book archives some of the most memorable Trumpisms posted on Twitter or delivered in speeches during the presidential mandate.
This paper aims to provide a close reading of the quotes selected and compiled by Sears in the contexts that generated them. The lines encapsulate the philosophy of the 45th president of the United States, comically exposing the narcissism, vanity, arrogance, bigotry, cynicism, misogyny, racism, xenophobia that are typically displayed by the businessman-turned-politician. Sears’ collages suggest that politics is a game, a pastime available to anyone with a little skill for linguistic paraphrase since today’s governing is a matter of personal fulfilment and collective manipulation.
Nevertheless, sharp humour and biting irony save the bitter awareness of a deluded and misguided country that once used to be conceived of as ‘the Promised Land’. The amusing and sometimes absurd verses disclose the American leader and decision-maker’s inclination to self-obsession and politicking that have compromised the credibility of the institutionalised discourse and the solemn portrait of a reliable state authority. At the same time, they sketch a hilarious, somewhat entertaining, side of the statesman’s garrulous and gregarious character, which attracts the reader’s unexpected sympathy for his latent inclination towards the art of high emotions sublimated into perfect language.
Comedy Collides with the Courtroom
University of Rhode Island
Kingston, Rhode Island
Temple University Beasley School of Law
Litigation process, law, aggressive humor, ad hominin humor, sarcasm, affiliative humor
The adversary system of litigation in many common law countries follows the model of a ritualized battle between opponents. Interspersed throughout the litigation process are inflection points where interpersonal conflict becomes particularly prominent. These conflicts are an integral part of the system’s design—with attorneys each acting independently to fulfill their professional obligation to advocate zealously for disputing clients.
How does humor operate in this system? Tracing an overview of key conflict points in the litigation process, this presentation analyzes the effect of different humor types in diffusing or exacerbating those conflicts. The presentation describes real life examples to illustrate how participants in the legal process (lawyers, clients, judges, and jurors) use aggressive humor, ad hominin humor, sarcasm, and affiliative humor. While some humor styles may soften and humanize the interpersonal interactions among the participants, the question arises whether other styles are more effective in achieving the system’s ultimate goal of obtaining legitimate, just, and fair dispute resolution. Questions further emerge about the circumstances that humor back fires and undermines the goals of litigation.
This joint presentation and paper has many interdisciplinary layers. On one hand, Professor Little explores how comedy mixes with legal doctrine and practice. On the other hand, Professor DiCioccio analyzes this mixture through the lens of communications theory and humor concepts.
What It Means to Be Horse: The Cosmic Horror, and Humour, of Gulliver’s Travels
University of Michigan
Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift, H.P. Lovecraft, humour, satire, horror, cosmic horror
Throughout his Travels to Several Remote Nations of the World (1726), Lemuel Gulliver is in constant fear. He is imprisoned, attacked by beasts and pirates, and nearly executed on multiple occasions. Yet, for all this peril, Gulliver’s most profound terror comes when he encounters a race of horses who may be slightly more rational than us. This throws him into existential crisis as he reaches the bleak conclusion that humanity may be of no profound significance. Scholars generally take Swift at his word that Travels means to challenge the notion “that humans, unlike other beasts are rational animals.” However, the humour of an ending in which Gulliver rejects humans and reveres horses can only work for a reader who holds to the conviction that reason really does set us above the beasts. The truly horrifying prospect, which Gulliver may come closer to understanding than his reader, is that we are indeed rational animals, but that fact is a matter of cosmic unimportance.
This paper approaches Travels through the lens of cosmic horror, a genre built on the unsettling notion of a cosmos that is utterly indifferent to us. Reading Swift’s satire alongside the horror stories of H.P. Lovecraft, I discuss an under-theorized connection between related sub-genres of humour and horror. Scholarship on the topic traditionally focuses on humor as it pertains to that which is overtly scary or violent, appealing to some form of incongruity theory. I argue, incongruity is inadequate to explain cosmic satire, which, like cosmic horror, rests on the simple premise that existence has no greater meaning. Why do readers encounter Travels as an uplifting work despite its unrelenting nihilism. I suggest cosmic satire is a fundamentally dissonant mode that simultaneously confronts and denies the possibility of a “World-without-Us.”
An Excursion into the Role of Music in Coping with Grief Associated with Bereavement in Esan, Edo State of Nigeria
Association of Nigerian Musicologists
There is a plethora of proverbs and songs in Esan traditional society which are connected with issues related to death and dying. Some of such apt proverbs are that: death knows no king, death does not know a scanty village to spare, one cannot be sick to the extent of not being able to die, death is no respecter of anybody, death is no problem but it is sickness who is the great destroyer, everything done early in life is good except death, death spoils all things; when death comes, one cannot say one is not ready or death cannot be lobbied to spare one for a while to mention but a few. These opinions held by the people are not only spoken but crafted into songs. That the people have a stupendous collection of songs and proverbs themed around death is indicative of the fact that death itself is a -well –thought- of phenomenon in their cosmology. To elicit data for this study, a mixture of research methods was used and these included library search for relevant literature, interviews and active spectatorship and observation. The study presents some notated dirges and does their textual analysis so as to reveal the people’s construct of death and evaluate the therapeutic potency of their song texts. In the course of this investigation, it was discovered that because death reeks much displeasure in the forms of guilt feeling, emptiness, insecurity, and a high measure of sadness, elegies are never rehearsed but are performed as soon as a neighbor dies. Consequently, it was discovered that the profuse performance of dirges among the Esan is to strengthen those left behind physically, emotionally and spiritually. It is our thinking that this work will be a contribution to the growing body of knowledge relating to death studies in contemporary discourses.
Coping with the Stages of Death: A Personal Memoir and Musical Reflection
Dolores Mildred Batten
University of Central Florida, Text and Technology Phd Program
Grief, Death, Celebration, Music, Mourning, Memory, Critical Theory, Experiential Criticism, Coping
As a young adult, I was divinely tasked with the arduous responsibility of caring for a terminally ill grandparent who had raised me since birth. Her journey towards a dignified death, as well as mine towards an independent life, was painted in a tableau of the beautifully tragic. As a scholar, I came to understand this process as the artistry of death, and we began to process the emotions that we were both experiencing through the umbrella of the term “experiential criticism”, which can be defined as the composite of history, psychology, sociology, and language in the understanding of emotion and the depth by which each individual experiences life, feels pain, and thus understands literature. But what about music as a literary medium? Though this term has not been directly defined into the literary canon of theories, it has been repetitively used throughout academic disciplines and discourses to describe a perspective in which people experience and interpret literature based on what they live through in their lives. Music throughout all the five stages of grief, both pre and postmortem, was our experience, and I would not be alive today without its power to distract, connect, embody, catharcize, and memorialize.
Utilizing this grand healing power of music, I was able to not only make it through this devastating loss, but to give hope to my grandmother—both in life and in death—by not only promoting music as a healing entity and force within our home during her last days, but as a coping mechanism for myself in the unbearable months to come. Finally, after a period of mourning, I was able to see music as a celebration of life after death through the creative process in which I rendered a song that both immortalized her memory and brought me closer than ever to my faith. I will endeavor to recall these moments throughout the death process using both memoir and reflection, and to communicate the connection to music that kept both me and her memory alive after her passing—to shed light on the power of musical therapy in the dying process, as it was personally experienced and thus profoundly affected my life, and to extend my knowledge as a digital humanist into this interdisciplinary field by incorporating my research and expansion of experiential criticism, as an extension of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s unfinished work and Stanley Fish’s ongoing theories in Reader Response and Phenomenology.
The Architecture Of Loss: Responding to and Coping with Death through Interdisciplinary Devised Performance in Music, Theatre, and Dance
Texas Woman’s University, USA
Texas Woman’s University, USA
Texas Woman’s University, USA
Devised Performance, Theatre, Music, Sound Design, Dance, Grief, Death, Interdisciplinary, Artistic Expression
Loss, grief, and death are all part of the human experience. How do we, through artistic expression, attempt to process and overcome loss, grief, and death? The Architecture of Loss, a devised performance integrating theatre, dance, music, and other theatrical elements, attempts to discover how people express their sense of loss and healing as they cope with death and remembrance. Devising performance material is a process by which the production team and cast work collaboratively to create an original piece on a theme or issue—in this case, loss, grief, and death. Professors Lelek and Morgan lead a devised theatre class and The Architecture of Loss cast to collectively contribute to the creation of an original piece exploring ways in which we say goodbye, contemplate our mortality, and process the loss of those we love. Personal narratives, research on death and dying, interviews of those dealing with loss, and songs and music that express feelings of grief were collected and woven together to create the performance. Long Ho (sound designer) and Michael Cleveland (composer) worked in tandem with the production team to choose and create pieces of music and sound that accent text and movement, or at times, serve as a focal point or emotional center in the production. In this panel presentation, presenters will discuss the process of devising, show excerpts of The Architecture of Loss, and articulate the ways in which music and sound were integral in communicating the ways in which we confront loss, grief, and death in this interdisciplinary performance.
Life after Death: Commemorative Perspectives on a Musician’s Death in Ukraine and the USA
Ukrainian Catholic University
The late 20th century was marked by a process that might be outlined as the “celebritization” of death. This trend, following what was called by Philippe Aries “forbidden death”, when the death was pushed out of the public eye to the hospital wards, made death, especially that of public figures, to step back out of the shadows of the private and unnoticed grief. The roots of this process of celebretization were noticed by Aries himself, when he observed that through techniques like embalming death stats to be perceived as a commodity that can be sold and made money on. Even though Tony Walter observes the process which is famously called by him “the revival of death”, he focuses mostly on the new ways of talking about the death of self and the death of the significant others. Catherine Verdery, in her celebrated “Political lives of the dead bodies” examines the body politics in relation to “reordering meaningful worlds”.
Nevertheless, little attempts were done in order to examine the “unintentional” politicas surrounding such “celebritized” deaths. We intend to take a closer look at the politics, which becomes a by-product of the “celebritized” grief, by comparing the Ukrainian and USA music media and community reacting to the deaths of Mac Miller (1992-2018, USA), Cliff Burton (1962-1986, USA, Metallica) Chris Cornell (1964 -2017, USA), Lou Reed ( 1942-2013, USA, Velvet Underground), Kuz’ma Skryabin (1968-2015, UA, Skryabin), Ihor Han’kevych (1962-1990, UA, Bastion), Sergiy Kuzmniskyi (1962 – 2009, Braty Gadiukiny, UA). We propose to do such a comparison because of the drastic differences between a well established music industry in the US and a developing music market of Ukraine. Besides, while the US music industry is global and has the capacity to influence the international arena, Ukrainian musicians are mostly focused on the local markets. We propose to conduct the study through the analysis of the media products of the musicians, their biographies, and reaction to their passing away in everyday life, social media discourse, and audio-visual materials related to memory about artists’ lives.
The sounds of silence: the musical articulation of death
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Death is a profound experience that sits at the boundaries between human experience and the inexpressible uncertainty of the metaphysical unknown. And, for those who have experienced death, silence is the lingering aftermath and words cannot fill the void. As such, death equally lies at the boundaries between that which can be expressed and the inexpressible. This is the frontier where music finds its voice. My paper aims to demonstrate that certain music functions at the limits of human articulation. Drawing upon various examples of music that take over when the human voice and its capacity for articulation fail, I will highlight not only the emotional effect of music but its symbolic and representational capacity for giving voice to those experiences that fall at the limits of human understanding, or as Shakespeare so aptly put it, “puzzles the will.” In this paper I will use both lyrical and non-lyrical music to demonstrate the profoundest articulation of death often comes in the form of the unexpressed, and inexpressible—in sound.
“Remember Me, in Your Stories and in Your Songs”: Irish Celticism as Cultural Remembrance in Tomm Moore’s Song of the Sea
University of Edinburg
Mourning, Celticism, Cultural Grieving, Remembrance, Film Music, Mythology
Tom Moore’s Song of the Sea (2015) tells the story of a family confronting the death of Bronagh, a young mother, who is mourned in different ways by each individual. Intertwining the loss of Bronagh with ‘traditional Ireland’, resulting in mourning and the need for remembrance of a cultural figure as well as the physical character. In this paper I will show how the music in Song of the Sea acts as the visually absent Bronagh’s voice, guiding her children through the grieving process to acceptance. Song of the Sea frames music; culture, death, mourning and acceptance through remembrance in both a personal and a cultural lens.
The construct of Irish celticism began most clearly after the Great Hunger, a famine which devastated Ireland in the years 1845-1849. After the scale of deaths, Irish-Gaelic became seen in Ireland as a nationalistic and cultural signifier. This event also fostered the creation of the early concept of Irish Celticism defined by Edward Hirsch, in The Imaginary Irish Peasant. Making Celticism by its nature, an act of remembrance. Song of the Sea channels this to create a folklore narrative both celebrating and mourning traditional Ireland, as Ben both celebrates and mourns his mother. Nostalgia permeates the film, in imagery, plot and musical representation. Ireland is represented with a sense of fragility and loss. Moore summarises that nostalgia as the magic of the rural Ireland, and the relationship that the Irish have to the physical and emotional landscape; “… folklore and superstitions serve functions beyond entertainment, or quaint stories for tourists. They bind people to the landscape, and that is being lost.” In the film’s climax Bronagh gives voice to a 1 maternal Ireland, asking the same of her sons as Bronagh asks of hers; “remember me, in your stories and in your songs.”
‘A Modest Requiem For Leli’: Playing Music To The Thoughts Of A Dying Man
University of Malta
In 2016 I was commissioned to write a poem about death to be presented during an evening event marking All Souls Day. I wrote a 260 hendecasyllabic lines poem which was eventually transformed into a fully fletched Requiem for chamber orchestra, accompanied by six actors, life-size puppets and visual projections. The poem verbalizes the very last thoughts of a dying man which are composed of images picked from his childhood and the memories of his first amorous intrigues, mingled with moments of tragic lucidity when he realizes that he is actually on his death bed. In the dying man’s confused state of mind, death becomes a short trip by train and boat to the ‘other side’ where his long departed loved ones are waiting eagerly for his coming.
In this presentation, I shall be exposing and discussing the sources which informed the poem. Among these sources, I shall discuss real-life experiences of mourners and how these inspired the thoughts ascribed to the dying man in the project. Another source which I shall refer to is Arnold Böcklin’s series of paintings Die Toteninsel, to which the concluding part of the poem makes explicit reference. I shall also draw attention to folk beliefs and popular games which are related to the theme of death and to which there are references throughout the work.
In my presentation, I shall also be showing excerpts from the Requiem (presented in Maltese but with English subtitles).*
Elegy – chamber orchestra – mourners – Böcklin – death bed
* Since the total performance runs over an hour I shall only show short excerpts. However, should there be people interested in viewing the whole show I have the permission from the producers to show the event. The film is in mpeg format so I would need to connect a laptop to a projector with sound. A teaser can be wathced by clicking here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boypJmfhM-w
Forgiveness and Goodness: An Intertextual Reading of Shakespeare and Nietzsche
As readers, auditors or viewers of Shakespeare’s work we are continually reminded of the tenuous validity of our ethical presuppositions as we note how the intentions and behaviour of his leading characters are expansively open to conflicting interpretations. Nietzsche’s intrepid endeavours to inaugurate a revaluation of our preconceptions about morality are considered to be a seminal development in the history of ideas, underscoring as they do the inherently questionable nature of our most cherished moral convictions. However, in numerous intriguing instances, some of his key insights can be seen to have been prefigured in the writings of Shakespeare. This paper will explore how Nietzsche’s insistence upon the need to define the good as the acquisition and consolidation of power serves to illuminate key aspects of the motivations and behaviour of characters in The Tempest. More specifically, I propose to show that the ambiguities and intricacies of Prospero’s political and personal mastery over his fellow characters serve to challenge our ideas about the apparent benevolence of his rule. Accordingly, this talk will comprise of a detailed interdisciplinary analysis of the essentially contested concepts of mercy, goodness, and forgiveness.
The Third Wheel Theme In Children’s Media Content
Independent Researcher, Israel
friendship, exclusion, jealousy, children’s media, political perceptions
As a universal value, friendship is given a central place in the educational content of present-day children’s television broadcasts.
The children’s media industry targets a broad, globally diverse audience, comprising young children and grown-up gatekeepers. Within such media we might expect to find rather conventional answers to questions like -’what does it mean to be a good friend?’, ‘how should we deal with jealousy?’ -and so forth. However, I performed a comparative analysis on six prosocial educational animation series for children aged 3 to 8, focusing on episodes which dealt with the theme of abandonment among friends. Interestingly I found that aside from a repeating inclusive verbal negation of the jealousy situation in question, each series expressed a unique additional message of its own.
Those messages gave three possible models of solution for a child, who finds himself in the position of ‘third wheel’ leading to social isolation. The first two models seem to contradict each other. The first model encourages the excluded child to accept the new friend joining the duo, and look at the situation as an opportunity rather than a threat, while the second model suggests distancing the new friend whether with explicit or implicit means. Despite their differences, these two models share the same attempt to spare the child from the “sorrow of losing”, and by doing so, they express a common perception that negates the very idea of competition. In complete contrast, the third model enables the distancing of the best friend, and gives a whole new perspective on the situation.
In the presentation, I suggest demonstrating those themes in scenes from popular children’s T.V. series. I aim to point out how global media messages about friendship and its conflicts, might contribute to shaping children’s far broader social and political worldviews.
Notes On A Feminist Posthuman Friendship: A Possible Methodology For Academic Encounters
University of Florence & University of Pisa
location, encounters, assemblages, transdisciplinarity, discomfort, anxiety, exhaustion, difference, privilege
It is the difference between me and my friend that allows meaning.
—Katy Acker, Bodies of Work
With my proposal I would like to present a possible – and certainly perfectible – multipurposed methodology. Helped by Rosi Braidotti’s insights I will suggest a framework usable in academic individual research, in academic encounters, and eventually in our personal relationships as well. The hints presented below originates from the feminist and posthuman methodology proposed by Braidotti, and they are actually in contact with the aim of the conference; the encouragement for «collaborative networking» and «creative conversations».
We will consider Braidotti agenda for the Humanities, and the people in the field. Please, bear in mind my intention to apply these suggestions both on a theoretical/disciplinary and on a personal/(post)human level.
We will present the condition some of us could possibly experience; to be «emotionally and physically drained, over-worked and unable to cope». I will propose possible ways to cope with this feeling of exhaustion; the creation of «transversal assemblages», the «praxis of composing a “we”», but with the firmly intent to avoid a flattening of the differences.
This approach can be transposed also in our rigid disciplinary structure. The «cross-pollination» between disciplines is maybe the only way to exit the fatigue that follows the complexity of our times. This goal can pass through the creations of laboratories in the humanities and in a different idea of University.
I will also take as an example the Summer School in Posthuman Knowledge(s) I have attended at Utrecht University (directed by Prof. Braidotti), during which this agenda has been put to practice.
I will close the paper presentation proposing a list that the other participants can discuss – ten calls that can be useful in every personal encounter and in order to create a liveable Academia.
1) Talk from a specific, embodied, location
2) Do not universalize your assumptions
3) Having good intentions isn’t always enough to recognise your own privilege: let others help you «unlearning» it
4) Stay with your anxiety, fear & discomfort
5) Despite the critical issues, engage yourselves in hard conversations
6) Who is missing in the conversation? Do not speak for them, but acknowledge their absence (e.g. non-humans)
7) Acknowledge the pain in the room, but stay affirmative
8) Be tentacular
9) «Keep complexity in mind»
10) Let different knowledges converge
A Very Short Genealogy of the Pure Relationship in Chinese Literature
Pure relationship, love, sex, friendship, sociability, Giddens, Cavell, Coontz, Kottman, Reddy
Scholars have found it difficult to parse the tangled concepts of love, sex, desire, and friendship in Chinese life and fiction, a task made doubly difficult by the persistent gulf as well as constant traffic between Chinese and Western cultures. In this paper, I aim to cut a path through the tangle with the help of Anthony Giddens’ notion of “pure relationship,” which he defines as a relationship of interpersonal equality. I also make use of related ideas developed by Stanley Cavell, Stephanie Coontz, Paul Kottman, and William Reddy. Notwithstanding their different vocabularies and methodological orientations, these scholars all identify an emerging realm of human relationship that is self-conscious, elective, reciprocal, and egalitarian. It is a realm of freedom associated with romantic love and friendship and standing in opposition to the domain of necessity associated with traditional marriage and patriarchal kinship.
I tell the story of the pure relationship by casting a backward glance at representations of sociability (both heterosocial and homosocial) in the longue durée of Chinese literature, pausing periodically to reflect on texts that stand out as significant nodes in the slow, fitful, and by no means linear unfurling of an alternative, horizontal way of relating to one another in body and spirit, in the face of normative demands and injunctions issuing from kinship and political structures. Texts surveyed include: “Southeast Flies the Peacock,” “The Story of Yingying,” “Song of Everlasting Sorrow,” The Peony Pavilion, “The Rainbow Slippers,” “The Oil Seller,” Dream of the Red Chamber, Six Chapters of a Floating Life, The Sea of Regret, “Separation,” “Mourning the Dead,” “Endless Regret,” “The Marriage of Little Blackie,” “Li Shuangshuang,” and “Brothers.”
I advance a two-fold argument: First, in the early modern era, romantic love broke with sex in order to achieve social reality and respectability; secondly, it re-embraced sex only to be eclipsed by plastic sexuality at the turn of the new millennium. Ultimately, I hope to show that the pure relationship, encompassing both sociability and sexuality, is a more productive concept than friendship, which frequently trips up on the question of sexuality.
Can You Tell Me? On Knowledge and Friendship in Literature and Research.
University of Copenhagen, Denmark
friendship, precarious knowledge, narratology, interdisciplinarity, friendship studies, literature as modelling
Narrative desire, according to philosopher Adriana Cavarero,1 is the desire for one’s own history. What can literature say about friendship and the narrative desire for personal-historical knowledge in friendship, and how is this knowledge different from knowledge achieved by science and scholarship?
As an interpersonal relation, friendship is discussed here from the perspective of precarious knowledge, as a historically contingent relation that can be modelled (represented in a mapping that is cognitively and emotionally convincing) both within fiction literature, and within academic disciplines such as philosophy, anthropology, sociology, psychology and history. I briefly report on a project on the “hidden” interdisciplinarity of friendship studies2, and contrast insights from this with recent discussions on how well a novel can model friendship. The opposite claims of philosopher Alexander Nehamas and literary critic Gregory Jusdanis on the adequacy of the novel for describing friendship are discussed.
By considering ‘the Neapolitan Novels’ by Elena Ferrante,3 depicting a close, difficult, life-long friendship between two women and its concerns with precarious knowledge (and what the two very different friends really know about each other), as well as recent scholarship on Ferrante’s work, I will show how her novels are not just inspired by, but also critically (but indirectly) comment upon, the work on narrative friendship by Cavarero. Friends differ, and some of their differences constitute a challenge for universal models of friendship and narrative desire.
The Value of Animal Friendships
Animal, Friendship, Happiness, Unconditional Love, Well-being
Social media influence, globalization, and technological platforms (e.g., e-schooling and telecommuting) may lead to human disconnection, a lack of structure and consistency in human relationships, and a decreased level of emotional intimacy. While animal friendships provide both a deeper sense of well-being and happiness, research has suggested that animal relationships provide a much greater scale of assistance to humans. The purpose of the paper is to demonstrate how animal friendships offer mental health benefits that are not obtained through human friendships. We suggest that people who have animal friendships benefit greatly through the extended development of key human qualities such as compassion, empathy, and attachment. Animal friendships also confer unconditional love when that might be lacking through other relationships. We examine, through the literature, personal observation, and narratives how animal friendships assist people through distress and foster emotional welfare and personal support. Considerations for future research will be proposed.
The Inner Ring: C. S. Lewis and Ciceronian Friendship
C. S. Lewis wrote more than one important essay on the theme of friendship. This was, in part, a consequence of how large a role the idea of friendship played in the thinking of those late medieval and renaissance humanist thinkers and poets who inhabited Lewis’ academic field, as well as their classical progenitors. Plato, Aristotle and—most importantly perhaps to the renaissance mind—Cicero formed an ongoing conversation across centuries and across texts focused on the primacy of Friendship to a conception of a life well lived. Cicero does more than merely adapt Plato and Aristotle on Friendship for his Latin audience; he massages the Greek view of friendship in ways that, that particularly resonated with humanism of the early modern period. This essay represents an effort to first understand some of the elements that constitute a particularly Ciceronian slant on classical Friendship, specifically in terms of the civic, political and ethical elements of Friendship. It then looks at how this neo-Aristotelian, or Ciceronian, nuance on Friendship influenced Lewis’ own writing on the topic, particularly as Cicero to some degree de-eroticized the Greek conversation about Friendship, and extended the concept outward both in terms of friendship as a social structure establishing ‘circles’ of friendship, and even more significantly, extended those circles across time and space through imagined conversations. Lewis was famous for his own circle of friends, a circle also bounded by textuality. The final section of this essay looks at how Lewis, following the models of Plato, Aristotle and Cicero, theorized friendship in two key essays: the chapter on Friendship in The Four Loves (1961), and his 1949 speech “The Inner Ring.” I argue that both are profoundly influenced by Cicero’s “Laelius,” but that The Four Loves chapter is also haunted by Plato’s Symposium in a way that skews his vision. By taking a specifically ethical and Ciceronian approach in “The Inner Ring,” I argue that this essay offers a view of friendship that more truly aligns with Lewis’ actual practices, and as such provides a more satisfying take on Friendship.