M/W/F 12:00-01:00 210 Dwinelle Instructor: Sherilyn Hellberg
In this class, we’ll look at a number of works of dark comedy, past and present. Reading humor as a reaction to despair or anxiety, we’ll explore how each of these works use comedy to represent and critique real social and political issues.
Laughing to Tears: Dark Comedy in Literature and Film
“Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that…Yes, yes, it’s the most comical thing in the world.”
—Samuel Beckett, Endgame
“What if everything in the world were a misunderstanding, what if laughter were really tears?”
—Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or
In 1940 the French author, André Breton, coined the term “black humor” to describe a number of texts which dwell in this gap between laughter and tears, which take unhappiness and turn it into a joke. Black humor—also known as dark humor or dark comedy—was, for Breton, a way in which literature, art, and film could bring the sufferings and hardships of daily life to the surface, simultaneously offering relief and provoking discomfort. In contradistinction to its sentimental opposite, texts of this genre attempt to represent the most grotesque and serious subject matters by making light of them. They choose, in short, to laugh rather than cry.
In this class, we’ll look at a number of works of dark comedy, past and present. Reading humor as a reaction to despair or anxiety, we’ll explore how each of these works use comedy to represent and critique real social and political issues. We’ll look at theoretical work on jokes and humor (Breton, Freud) as well as a number of iconic works of dark comedy in literature and film and more recent, contemporary developments. We will also consider the gender and racial politics of the genre, especially in relation to its “mortal enemy”: sentimentality.
As this is an R and C course, its major goals are to improve students’ skills in close reading, critical thinking, and analytical writing, and to explore relationships between these three skills. In addition to participating in class discussion, students will write responses in a variety of forms, including literary analysis essays and creative projects.
Possible texts include:
Samuel Beckett, Endgame
Victor Boy Lindholm, Gold
Yahya Hassan, Yahya Hassan
Chantal Akerman, “Blow Up My Town”
Michael Lehmann, Heathers
Roy Andersson, Songs from the Second Floor
A course reader will include excerpts from André Breton (Anthology of Black Humor), Sigmund Freud (Jokes and the Unconscious, “Humor”), Søren Kierkegaard (Either/Or), Jonathan Swift, Arthur Rimbaud, W.E.B. Dubois, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, and Patricia Lockwood. We’ll also be integrating current pop cultural material into our readings.