Chair: Dr Bryan Radley
Modern genealogies tend to associate laughter with the act of critical judgment, most often in the form of ridicule, as well as to traditions of aesthetic philosophy. And yet laughter's manifestation as a convulsive mimicry, a body punctuating thought, means the taint of pathology is never far removed from its discursive history. Somewhere inside every laugh lies the material acknowledgment that we cannot simply mean what we say. Which means we never quite laugh in our own voices. This paper considers the Irish literary tradition as one unusually committed to laughter, most specifically as a bodily means of subtracting the self from cultural meaning. It will ponder the significance of a joke without laughter in John McGahern’s novel The Dark (1965), and then of laugher without a joke in Anna Burns’s novel Milkman (2018), before tracing a telling correspondence between laughter and hunger strike in modern Irish writing more generally.
Barry Sheils is Associate Professor of English Literature at Durham University and Associate Director of Durham’s Centre for Culture and Ecology. His books include W.B. Yeats and World Literature and Shame and Modern Writing. Currently, he is completing a monograph on the poetics of weather forecasting in literary modernism and co-editing a journal special issue on ‘the problem of contemporary style’.