The Animal That Laughs at Itself: False False Alarms about the End of 'Man'

Burton, James. 2022. The Animal That Laughs at Itself: False False Alarms about the End of 'Man'. In: Christoph F.E. Holzhey and Arnd Wedemeyer, eds. Errans: Going Astray, Being Adrift, Coming to Nothing. 24 Berlin: ICI Berlin Press, pp. 49-74. ISBN 9783965580350 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

A trio of themes recur across prominent Western theories of laughter: violence, the human/nonhuman, and error. The paper traces this trio through a series of frequently cited paradigms for understanding laughter, including superiority, incongruity and relief theories, Henri Bergson’s theory of laughter and V. S. Ramachandran’s false alarm theory; and argues that it reflects a shared, if partially submerged concern with the instability and demise of a particular figure of the human, one that is circumscribed by the culturally specific (if globally influential) values of Eurocentric/Western thought, largely corresponding to Sylvia Wynter’s ‘Man’. This suggests that laughter has an ambiguous immanent potential for both undermining and/or reasserting, de- and/or restabilising the illusion of Man’s universalizing drive to identify itself with the human per se.

Item Type:

Book Section

Identification Number (DOI):


Laughter; Anthropology; Violence; Error; Humour; Laughter in motion pictures; Laughter in literature; Posthumanism; Henri Bergson

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Centre for Cultural Studies (1998-2017)
Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


July 2022Accepted
20 September 2022Published

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Date Deposited:

08 Nov 2022 16:43

Last Modified:

08 Nov 2022 16:50


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