Abject Metamorphosis and Mirthless Laughter: On Human-to-Animal Transitions and the 'Disease of Being Finite'

May, Shaun (2014) Abject Metamorphosis and Mirthless Laughter: On Human-to-Animal Transitions and the 'Disease of Being Finite'. Performance Research, 19 (1). pp. 72-80. ISSN 1352-8165. (doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/13528165.2014.908086) (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided)

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Official URL
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13528165.2014.908086

Abstract

In On Humour, Simon Critchley suggests that ‘when the human becomes animal the effect is disgusting and if we laugh at all then it is what Beckett calls the “mirthless laugh”’ (Critchley 2002:33). In this article, I take seriously Critchley's suggestion that human-to-animal transitions are disgusting, and I seek to critically examine the nature of this disgust and its interplay with this ‘mirthless laughter’. I suggest that there are two fundamental aspects to this phenomenon that need to be disentangled. The first aspect relates to what John Limon (2000) calls the ‘not quite alienable’ aspects of ourselves – feces, urine, corpses, etc. – that social propriety demands that we hide, which can be understood in terms of Kristeva's account of the abject. (Kristeva 1982) The second aspect, I will argue, is the way in which human-animal metamorphoses act as a metaphor for disease. Drawing on Havi Carel's reading of The Fly (dir. David Cronenberg, 1986) to make this argument, I suggest that what one finds in both The Fly and Kafka's Metamorphosis (2000 [1915]) is a disease-like transition in which the protagonists find themselves in a position of fundamental incongruity. They remain ontologically humanlike whilst becoming factically limited by both the physical changes to their body and their social abjection. Importantly, I suggest that this experience of illness and impairment grounds the sort of ‘mirthless’ humour that Critchley identifies. In doing so I will draw out more explicitly Critchley's connection between this type of humour and the tragicomic experience of the impaired characters in Beckett's Endgame (2002 [1957]).

Item Type: Article
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PB Modern European Languages (inc film, TV and radio studies) > PB2994 Film Studies
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1655 Drama
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theatre
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Faculties > Humanities > School of Arts > Drama and Theatre
Depositing User: Shaun May
Date Deposited: 30 Jun 2015 16:21 UTC
Last Modified: 07 Jul 2015 15:17 UTC
Resource URI: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/49199 (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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