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30 ans de l'ENS de Lyon
Some of the most hilarious novels of the last decades begin in gravitas (as made clear in the incipit of Martin Amis’s The Information) or generate moments of high punctum (as is the case with the half chapter in Julian Barnes’s A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters), to take but two obvious examples. I would like to investigate the ways in which, in contemporary texts, a specific use of humour reverses the logics of comic relief to generate and intensification of pathos or, at least, poignancy. By taking examples from Amis, Barnes, Winterson, and possibly Coe and Lodge among others, I intend to address the paradoxical obliteration of distance that humour may generate, as it becomes the instrument of the pathetic in moments of exposure that oppose any warding off of affects. Besides, at some elementary level, even when used as distancing, protective strategy, humour is by definition an index of vulnerability for character, narrator and author alike, in so far as it indirectly—metaleptically, in the rhetorical meaning of the term—exposes some hitherto hidden frailty. One step further, it allows for the emergence of alterity since, by putting some distance between the subject and the other, it gets the latter to appear as other, thereby preventing any attempt at identification and totalisation. In all such instances, and as opposed to satire, humour does not work against but along with positive affects. I will suggest that it is a powerful expression and operator of vulnerability in so far as it never manages to hide the wound from which it emerges. The vision of literary humour that I will defend will thus be a relational one, predicated on and unveiling the subject’s inherent dependency, hence vulnerability.

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Vanessa Guignery
Professor of English and Postcolonial Literature at the ENS de Lyon and member of the Institut Universitaire de France in Paris.
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Mise à jour le 2 juillet 2015
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