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

Konrad Bach

Laughter as a Phenomenon of Presence

Murmel Murmel and other plays impressively demonstrate that the pleasure of funny theatre performances cannot be found only in the realm of comic. As Bergson, Freud, Plessner and many other scholars have described, decoding a comic connection of incongruous ideas provides us with a certain delight. This delight is increased the more unusual, sophisticated and at the same time subversive the connection of ideas appears. Such an approach however reduces the comic process to a production and overlapping of meanings, laughter then becomes only an indicator of having found what was supposed to be found.

Yet Murmel Murmel and other performances which do not present sophisticated comic but nevertheless arouse excessive laughter let us experience a less intellectual but so much more immediate pleasure. This pleasure does not produce any meanings but, as I want to show in my paper, it provides “moments of intensity” (Gumbrecht). According to Plessner, who describes laughter as the giving up of “having a body” (die Aufgabe des Körperhabens), and Fischer-Lichte, who strongly links the theatrical term of presence to the actor’s phenomenal body, laughter can be understood as a phenomenon of presence. This way it connects both Fischer-Lichte’s definition of presence and Gumbrecht’s distinction between cultures of meaning and cultures of presence. By describing laughter in this way I want to accommodate its decisive role in experiencing a theatrical performance.

Konrad Bogusław Bach, born 1984 in Poland, has studied Theater Studies, Theology and Classical Philology in Berlin, Krakow and Rome. Since 2012 he has been holder of a Ph.D scholarship from Interart at the Freie Universität Berlin, and is focusing his researches on Laughter in Theatrical Performances.