back to

e-flux conversations

Lauren Berlant on the Subversiveness of Comedy



At the New Inquiry, Charlie Markbreiter interviews Lauren Berlant about “non-sovereign relationality” and the subversiveness of comedy. Berlant also reflects on why trans people are so often accused of humorlessness by the political right and mainstream culture. Here’s an excerpt:

I’m curious as to why trans people have, for the right and liberals, emerged as exemplars of humorless p.c. culture (at least according to people like Angela Nagle, Jordan Peterson, Chris Castiglia, and Chris Reed’s recent LARB piece.

… The privileged demand that the less privileged not be humorless. This links my humorlessness argument to Sara Ahmed’s argument about the feminist killjoy. As she says, the person who names the problem becomes the problem. And if the person who names the problem is a kind of subject like a feminist, a person of color, a politicized queer, or/and a trans person, the privileged devalue them because they’re used to being deferred to and not tortured by a refusal of recognition.

So, trans people are cast by some of the people they’re inconvenient to as inappropriately demanding, as in: How dare anyone outside the current settlement of normative social life demand to be the referent and to inconvenience other people’s casual relation to language, nature, taxonomy, gesture, and concept?

Even the smallest claim, such as not to be addressed by one’s state-sanctioned name and the pronoun conventionally attached to it, has been called “too much.” Bah.

Politics exists wherever we’re inconvenient to the reproduction of normative life, the conventions and institutions of that life. A lot is at stake even in the most specific of demands. That’s why the affect around politics-from-below is so high, and why call-out culture is so dramatic. Change is hard, and the recasting of the ordinary—of intuitions, visceral responses, and concepts of life—takes a long and slow time. For the people who don’t want to have to fight for baseline inclusion in the general imaginary, these demands are urgent. They feel like the difference between 0 and 1 of acknowledgment and truth really matter, and thus a certain humorlessness accompanies their claim about other people’s obligations to cultivate a more capacious, antiauthoritarian, revolutionary consciousness.

Image of Laurent Berlant via the Irish Times.