World-Traveling, Double Consciousness, and Laughter

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In this paper I borrow from Maria Lugones’ work on playful “world-traveling” and W.E.B. Du Bois’ notion of “double consciousness” to make the case that humor can facilitate an openness and cooperative attitude among an otherwise closed, even adversarial audience. I focus on what I call “subversive” humor, that which is employed by or on behalf of those who have been continually marginalized. When effectively used, such humor can foster the inclination and even desire to listen to others and, if only for brief moments, adopt their point of view. To be able to see oneself as others see you can also be a desirable capacity, because along with such multidimensional seeing comes an epistemic advantage lacking in those who have no need nor desire to see as others do, especially if the vision of the others happens to be from below where one perceives that the promises of our explicit ideals are constantly being implicitly broken. Such humor is aesthetic, pleasurable in and of itself, and not amenable to scientific dissection. But it is also a skill that can be honed into a powerful tool of persuasion in circumstances where straightforward arguments are less effective. It can raise consciousness about the lived experiences of those suffering under systemic oppression and foster world travelling. Subversive humor encourages audiences, especially those who contribute to what Jean Harvey calls “civilized oppression”, to playfully travel across worlds and “tarry along” with the perspectives of the marginalized.
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Archival date: 2019-08-08
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