Humor is a nearly universal human trait, yet it remains strangely difficult to define, or explain. Looking askance at any attempt to make sense of it, E.B. White wrote that “humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.” Fraught with contradiction, it is at once intimate and public, cerebral and emotional, serious and whimsical. It has a place in nearly every form of art and thought, ranging from the rowdy comic plays of classical Greece through the punning crosstalk dialogues of Qing-dynasty China, to Freud’s meditations on jokes and Richard Pryor’s sharply pointed examination of American racism. Humor can be subversive and liberating, as we see in the ancient traditions of carnival, but also cruel and abusive, as when it’s used to bully others or reinforce degrading stereotypes. Plato’s Republic urged the guardians of the ideal state to refrain from humor, while Nietzsche crafted a “gay science” that imagined laughter as a pathway to freedom. And now, emerging research in medicine, neuroscience, and other fields has begun to help us understand how integral humor might be to the structure of the human brain and to see possible roles for it in a variety of therapeutic settings.
Student Application for the 2015-2016 Research Seminar
The theme for the 2015-2016 seminar will be Humor. You are encouraged to interpret this topic broadly and in ways that are appropriate to your own fields of expertise
For more information or to apply, view this PDF
Humor, in short, is an integral part of our human existence, yet it remains a shifting and unstable concept that varies across time and between cultures. Is it any wonder that it’s then so difficult to define? Throughout the 2015-16 academic year, the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities will explore this compelling if complicated concept through a diverse array of programs including concerts, performances, film screenings, exhibitions, discussions, lectures, and even stand-up acts. We will consider topics like racial and ethnic humor, comedy as a social or political practice, and the history of different comic genres like satire, slapstick, farce, and parody. We’ll ask why jokes often don’t translate across cultures and why, as Will Rogers said, “everything is funny, as long as it’s happening to someone else.”
In order to support this work, the OCH invites applications from all TU students for the Interdisciplinary Humanities Seminar. The seminar will convene once a week through the fall 2015 semester and will build around the expertise of each participant to launch an intensive investigation of humor, assisted by visiting speakers, artists, and performers. In the spring, participants will share their work with the larger community through talks, performances, colloquia, debates, and other events. The Center encourages interdisciplinary work and welcomes a broad interpretation of the theme that will carry our investigations across intellectual, critical, experimental, and aesthetic domains. All TU students are eligible and welcome to apply.