The Odd One In
240 pp., 5 x 8 in, 3 figures
- Published: February 8, 2008
- Publisher: The MIT Press
A Lacanian look at how comedy might come to philosophy's rescue, with examples ranging from Hegel and Molière to George W. Bush and Borat.
Why philosophize about comedy? What is the use of investigating the comical from philosophical and psychoanalytic perspectives? In The Odd One In, Alenka Zupančič considers how philosophy and psychoanalysis can help us understand the movement and the logic involved in the practice of comedy, and how comedy can help philosophy and psychoanalysis recognize some of the crucial mechanisms and vicissitudes of what is called humanity.
Comedy by its nature is difficult to pin down with concepts and definitions, but as artistic form and social practice comedy is a mode of tarrying with a foreign object—of including the exception. Philosophy's relationship to comedy, Zupančič writes, is not exactly a simple story (and indeed includes some elements of comedy). It could begin with the lost book of Aristotle's Poetics, which discussed comedy and laughter (and was made famous by Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose). But Zupančič draws on a whole range of philosophers and exemplars of comedy, from Aristophanes, Molière, Hegel, Freud, and Lacan to George W. Bush and Borat. She distinguishes incisively between comedy and ideologically imposed, “naturalized” cheerfulness. Real, subversive comedy thrives on the short circuits that establish an immediate connection between heterogeneous orders. Zupančič examines the mechanisms and processes by which comedy lets the odd one in.
In The Gay Science, Nietzsche proclaims 'long live physics!' as the motto of his new, post-metaphysical thinking, suggesting that only the careful study of 'everything that is lawful and necessary in the world' allows for genuine creativity in the sphere of human values. It is only with Alenka Zupancic's new philosophical study of comedy, The Odd One In, that it finally becomes possible to understand Nietzsche's paradoxical claim. For as Zupancic compellingly and beautifully argues, the physics at issue here is precisely a comedic physics of the infinite—the true fröhliche Wissenschaft—a physics, that is, that attends to the strange carnality of human subjects who not so much fail at achieving transcendence as keep tripping over the hole in their own finitude. This shift of emphasis from the 'tragic' to the 'comic flaw' in human existence opens up a world of new possibilities for thinking about politics, religion, ethics, and everyday life.
Eric Santner, author of On the Psychotheology of Everyday Life
Arguing that our current 'feel good' society has cheapened the value of comedy, Alenka Zupancic brilliantly restores the genre's subversive edge—that edge whose glint we glimpse in Brecht's insistence that 'If it's not funny, it's not true,' and in Lacan's statement, 'Communication makes you laugh.' Full of delightful surprises and profound observation, The Odd One In is itself odd in the best sense: unique, without peer.
Joan Copjec, author of Imagine There's No Woman
The publication of Alenka Zupancic's new book gives us reason to be consoled for the discussion of comedy that is missing from Aristotle's Poetics. Zupancic has written a book that presents a major new theory of comedy from a philosophical and psychoanalytic perspective: her ideas are both a contribution to the great tradition of comic discourse and a remarkably original intervention, with exceptionally powerful interpretive implications. This is the great theory of comedy that we have been waiting for, one that can make sense of Hegel and the Marx Brothers, Aristophanes and Borat. It is elegantly written, and spangled with extraordinary philosophical thinking and cultural insights.
Kennet Reinhard, University of California, Los Angeles