Laughing Matters Back

An international Conference – Paris 18-19 January, 2013 – organised by SEAA XVII-XVIII (the French Society for Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Studies in Britain and America). 

Laughing Matters: Discourses on Laughter in 17th and 18th Century England and America
In Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary ‘laughter’ is defined as “a convulsive, merry noise” thus emphasising the sonorous and sensorial quality of laughter while Joseph Addison discusses Hobbes and laughing: “Men laugh at the Follies of themselves past, when they come suddenly to Remembrance, except they bring with them any present Dishonour.” Hutcheson’s refutation of Hobbes in 1725 harks back to Addison only to continue the disquisition on laughter.
This conference aims to explore a large spectrum of issues related to laughter as a subject matter. From Hobbes’ view of laughter as “a sudden glory” to Thackeray’s opinion that “a good laugh is sunshine in the house” laughter appears to have been perceived in a variety of ways, and not always as something advisable or recommended. As laughter is first and foremost a bodily manifestation, physicians like Sydenham or Beattie argued that laughing was healthier than drugs. But in 1774 Lord Chesterfield strongly advised against it and suggested laughter be tempered. Recent criticism such as Simon Dickie’s has endeavoured to highlight how much cruelty was involved in laughing and to what extent jest-books are indicative of who or what was the butt of jokes. Visual representations of laughter echo reflections on Le Brun’s passions and demonstrate the impact of physiognomy and pathognomy.
The contributions aim to chart an epistemology of laughter as well as to discuss theory and criticism of laughter from the early modern period across the long eighteenth century.
Questions which may be addressed are, but not exclusively.
–    Laughter in relation to humour
–    Laughing as opposed to smiling
–    Laughing “at” as opposed to laughing “with”
–    The language used to talk about laughter: description, metaphorical discourse on laughter
–    Laughter and religion: sermons on laughing (or not laughing); the position of the Church on laughing
–    Laughter and politics
–    Laughter and science: the curative effects of laughter; laughter and madness; laughter and studies of the face, mouth and teeth
–    The perception of laughter and print culture: ballad sheets, pamphlets, jest books.
–    The circulation of laughter as a subject matter in the press, essays, philosophical letters ; influential writings on laughter: translation and reception, for instance the dissemination of works like Laurent Joubert’s 1579 Traité du Ris
–    Laughter and women: education, conduct books; family correspondence
–    Laughter and sociability: events (carnivals, popular gatherings) places (clubs, coffee houses, theatre) where laughter is performed and debunked
–    The representations of laughter in art (painting, engraving, sculpture, music)

Further information regarding keynote speaker and precise location in Paris will be updated in due course.

Proposals, plus a selective bibliography and bio-bibliographical CV, may be simultaneously submitted to:
Contact: Laughingmatters1718 [at]
Guyonne LEDUC
Contact: presidence [at]
Contact: secretariat [at]
Deadline for abstract submission: 25 April 2012
Decision of the scientific committee: 30 June 2012