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Thinking Through Tragedy and Comedy A Symposium on Performance Philosophy and the Future of Genre

Julien Alliot

The “uncomely comedy”: celebrating the divided subject in contemporary British drama.

In traditional British drama, well-wrought comedies by Dryden, Congreve, or later Wilde, were characterised by their light and entertaining manner. Peripeteia and good-hearted laughter usually led to a happy and festive ending (more often than not a wedding). The Second World War proved a significant turning point for comedy, as playwrights were confronted with the ethical question of the very possibility of laughter.

Comedy still bears the scars of the Holocaust, as exemplified by festive occasions on stage, which have become mere spectral representations of this light-heartedness that once defined the genre. Now dreary, uncanny and at times bloody, festive reunions no longer bring closure nor renewed equilibrium.

By focusing on a corpus of contemporary British plays staging parties (by Ayckbourn, Churchill, Berkoff and Crimp), I propose to analyse the status of the comic element in these peculiar festivities that verge on utter disruption, whose excess paradoxically celebrates nothingness.

As union transforms into alienation, and the comedy of errors into the comedy of horrors, what is celebrated in the context of what Brigitte Gauthier calls “the cessation of comedy”? Following Zupancic’s analyses of the “odd one in,” I wish to contend that these part-ies highlight the advent of a new, contemporary split subject essentially split. Exposing and celebrating this division allows for new, “uncomely comedies.”

Julien Alliot is a doctoral candidate in English Literature at the Sorbonne, specialising in contemporary drama. His research tries to articulate the representation of parties with the multiplicity of philosophical, sociological, psychoanalytical discourses on this phenomenon. Holder of the Agrégation of English, he currently teaches preparatory classes for admission to the French Grandes Écoles in Paris.