Middlebury
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FREN6617

Reading Laughter

Section A - Methodology; Section B - Literature

"Laughter is a power God gave to men to make up for their intelligence" according to Marcel Pagnol. This power has been attested to for two thousand years in collections of humorous tales and methods of which Greeks and Romans were already masters. But are we allowed to laugh at anything ? Democritus whose disillusioned humor was amazingly modern, says yes. Ciceron does too, and cataloged a thousand ways to elicit laughter. On the contrary, say the fathers of the Church, for whom laughter is a diabolical phenomen, an insult to divine creation, proof of man’s arrogance. Their arguments carry little weight in the Middle Ages : kings surround themselves with jesters and their subjects love skillful mockery during processions on feast days.

With Rabelais another way to laugh appears, an ambiguous laugh which perplexes {shakes certainties} and will persist even after the Renaissance, encompassing in turn the picaresque, the grotesque, the burlesque. Absolute monarchy longs to rein in the humorists, deciding in the seventeenth century to expulse the Italian buffoons. Is laughter subject to domestication? Transformed into caustic humor, it corrodes little by little the foundations of power and society. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it will find fertile grounds in political satire, while the philosophers analyse its powers, at times to deplore them, and Baudelaire searches for the « comic absolute ». Irony becomes a way for man and the world to relate. The nineteenth century « Zutistes », « Fumistes », and even « J’menfoutistes » end the century with the apotheosis of nonsensical humor. The world hereafter will make fun of everything, its gods and its demons.
« Laughter is what defines man ». Is that true throughout history ? And may we laugh at everything ? Thoughtful laughter, contemplative laughter, cathartic laughter, diabolical laughter, laughter of superiority or of connivance, carnivalesque or learned laughter. Socio-cultural conditions and mentalities do indeed prevent the universalisation of the famous expression whose pertinence requires historic context. For that reason we will examine how literature writes laughter, at different periods, through the sociology of « laughters », permissiveness or censorship of the form and content of laughter, as well as the relationship between the style and reception of comic expression and the different genre and type of texts that put it into words, to better examine its literary grounding, in the joyous spirit of a « gay science » renewed.

This literature class proposes two directions, the methodological one (A), and the literary (B). Choice A offers to literature students and social science students the opportunity to master analytical methods and textual commentary which will allow them to construct for themselves a way to read and understand in depth the various texts, along with deepening and exercising written analytical skills, through the use of various methodological exercises, such as the abstract, the synthesis of documents, techniques of critical analysis, written commentary, the dialectical debate essay, index cards, or thematic oral presentations.
Option B offers extended historical literary, cultural, philosophical, and social examination of the literature from the sixteenth through the twentieth century.

N.B. Students who choose section A can validate their credits in methodology (equivalent to 6525) or they can choose standard evaluation without validating the
methodolgy unit.

Required books:
1) Molière, Les Fourberies de Scapin, ISBN-13: 978-2070449996, Folio classique, 2013
2) Feydeau, Tailleurs pour dames, ISBN-13: 978-2734905196 Librairie théâtrale, 2012
3) collectif, Le rire en poésie, ISBN-13: 978-2070515875, Folio Junior Poésie, 1998
4) René de Obaldia,Fantasmes de Demoiselles, femmes faites ou défaites cherchant l'âme sœur, ISBN-13: 978-2246707813, Grasset et Fasquelle, 2006
Coursepacks: 1) A coursepack comprised of diverse theoretical texts : Baudelaire (« De l’essence du rire), Stendhal (Racine et Shakespeare, chap. II « Le rire »), Henri Bergson (Le rire), Beckett (Watt), etc.
2) A coursepack comprised of diverse texts : ( Gargantua (Rabelais), Farces et questions (Tabarin), Le médecin volant (Molière), Candide (Voltaire), L’homme qui rit (Hugo), La Cantatrice chauve (Ionesco), Marius (la partie de cartes, Pagnol), La Télévision (Jean-Philippe Toussaint).
Subject:
French
Department:
French
Division:
Language School
Requirements Fulfilled:
Literature Methodology

Sections

Summer 2013

FREN6617A-L13 Lecture (Requemora-Gros)
FREN6617B-L13 Lecture (Requemora-Gros)