steve martin: you had to be there

Comedian Steve Martin has a piece in the Smithsonian (via BB) in which he discusses the mechanics of humor in terms of the affective tension and (non)release of this tension. He describes what is literally the management (affective modulation) of what Deleuze and Guattari (following Bateson) call a plateau of intensity.

In a college psychology class, I had read a treatise on comedy explaining that a laugh was formed when the storyteller created tension, then, with the punch line, released it. I didn’t quite get this concept, nor do I still, but it stayed with me and eventually sparked my second wave of insights. With conventional joke telling, there’s a moment when the comedian delivers the punch line, and the audience knows it’s the punch line, and their response ranges from polite to uproarious. What bothered me about this formula was the nature of the laugh it inspired, a vocal acknowledgment that a joke had been told, like automatic applause at the end of a song.

A skillful comedian could coax a laugh with tiny indicators such as a vocal tic (Bob Hope’s “But I wanna tell ya”) or even a slight body shift. Jack E. Leonard used to punctuate jokes by slapping his stomach with his hand. One night, watching him on “The Tonight Show,” I noticed that several of his punch lines had been unintelligible, and the audience had actually laughed at nothing but the cue of his hand slap.

These notions stayed with me until they formed an idea that revolutionized my comic direction: What if there were no punch lines? What if there were no indicators? What if I created tension and never released it? What if I headed for a climax, but all I delivered was an anticlimax? What would the audience do with all that tension? Theoretically, it would have to come out sometime. But if I kept denying them the formality of a punch line, the audience would eventually pick their own place to laugh, essentially out of desperation. This type of laugh seemed stronger to me, as they would be laughing at something they chose, rather than being told exactly when to laugh. […]

My goal was to make the audience laugh but leave them unable to describe what it was that had made them laugh. In other words, like the helpless state of giddiness experienced by close friends tuned in to each other’s sense of humor, you had to be there.

Laughter thus becomes immanent, an expression of the release of tension not triggered by some thing ‘outside’, but as a cascade effect of the tension itself. Link to video of Martin’s breakthrough performance on the Jonny Carson Show.

expectations of juno

Jesse Miksic at Pop Politics has a post up on Juno. Towards the end of the post:

It may be worth noting that the pregnancy, and all its attendant issues of birth control, hardship, and stigmatization, was peripheral to the real substance of the film. The feminist question isn’t addressed in terms of womanhood and creation. Rather, it’s addressed in the portrayal of females both mobilizing and undermining their gender roles, and especially in its main character, who is the kind of rounded, admirable female that’s still tragically rare in entertainment media.

The character of Juno is represented as “wise beyond her years” yet the adult responsibility of motherhood is beyond her. This central contradiction of the film is extremely grating for people who have lived through the experience of teen pregnancy. The facile relation between Mark and Vanessa (the adoptive parents) clearly points to the infantilization that underpins their adult subjectivities. Mark was not ‘ready’ to be a father, and set up in the film as a non-adult; yet, how is Vanessa’s excitement about motherhood different to Mark’s excitement about those things he is interested in (but which are banished by the ‘adult’ Vanessa)?

Juno is wise precisely because she does not allow herself to be caught up in the infantilizing processes of subjectification that produce the multiplicity-of-a-person as having the restricted capacities of an ‘adult’. She has not yet learnt or chooses not to fulfill social expectations.

Also, as a sidenote, there is a tendency that I have noticed where so-called American indie films seemingly have 90% of the dialogue constructed for advertising catchphrases and intertexts. Was Joss Whedon (Buffy, etc) the first here? Is this how ‘quirky’ is performed in US cinema, through the reappropriation of language from capitalism (or through the verbal slapstick of capitulation to commodified literacies)?

Fodder Out of the Opportunities

This is another older post draft that I don’t think I’ll have time to finish, so up it goes…

“Obviously, we’ve got to deal with defensiveness about people’s heritage. Many white Australians, of conservative and traditional bearing, are defensive. Many ordinary Australians are defensive about their own heritage, and if we continue to cast a politics that disregards the understandable and natural defensiveness of people about their own identity, about their own history, and about their own self-feeling, then we’re going to continue to galvanise people into a denialist position. Of course the culture wars have made great fodder out of the opportunities here to turn acknowledgement and empathy into an accusation to the politically correct seeking to impose black-armbands on everyone. So the dynamics of the culture was cuts across all of these possibilities and of course there is electoral gain to be made by distorting… by turning empathy and acknowledgement into alleged guilt and so on.”

CSAA President Paul Magee circulated a link to a speech by MP Noel Pearson on the CSAA list. The whole thing is worth listening to. I have transcribed the above extract as it touches on something I am currently thinking about and that is the politics of contingency.

In my dissertation I spend half of a chapter on enthusiasm and ‘know how’ examining what I call the translation of contingency from that of problems into challenges. This doesn’t only happen once but is an ongoing process of a practical knowledge — ‘know how’. The problem with ‘discourse-based’ approaches to knowledge is the incorporation of contingency on a smaller scale than the great historical discontinuities isolated by Foucault and from which he produced ‘discourse events’. Michel de Certeau’s work on the practice of everyday life was concerned with this exact problem. ‘Know how’ is the incorporeal movement between knowledge and bodies that follows the arrangements produced by contingency. ‘Know how’ correlates with a micro-discursive field of possibility for action.

I argue this act of translating contingency is one of the essential masculine acts of modified-car culture (as well as being present in other cultural formations). ‘Challenge’ here is not simply a test of masculinity but the opportunity to reaffirm the conditions of one’s enthusiasm. In translating the contingency of a probelm into the contingency of a challenge the catalyst for action is retained while at the same time valorizing the conditions of possibility (discourse and other structrations) of the enthusiasm. Other contingencies are also translated into challeneges, such as ‘risks’ (hoons and road safety, etc) and entrepreneurial socio-economic ‘opportunities’ (exploiting/supporting new enthusiasms). Both of which I also explore to a certain extent in the diss.

The above extract from Pearson gives some sense of why I think a politics of contingency is necessary. John Howard was a master of opportunity, which I would describe as the capacity to translate socio-political contingencies into the reality of a political resource. The funny thing about contingency is that the ‘singularity’ of contingency is real and to a certain extent ‘neutral’ (in Deleuze’s sense of singualrities being neutral). Therefore the reality propounded by Howard organised by his socio-political contingencies are not simply ideological, but demand a politics of opportunity based around the distribution of possibility and the processual ontology of contingency.

new mobilities

This post is comlpetely overdue. I don’t think I’ll get it finished now. So I’ll post it as is…

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Had the last day of the New Mobilities workshop Saturday and I have been finishing my marking. The workshop was a series of three long days and even longer nights of wonderful engagement with a bunch of people who are all interested in similar or at least congruent sets of problems. The following is a session by session breakdown of the workshop. It is incomplete and this is mainly a result of my extreme tiredness and exhausted capacity for intellectual engagement… which I guess you could call burnout. I am totally drained. I have written these notes up over a week period in the breaks between other jobs and activities.

Continue reading “new mobilities”