Is Laughter an affect? And what would it mean for feminist theory to conceive of it as such? This article pursues laughter as an affect that bridges the gap between feminist comedy studies and feminist affect theory. Laughter has widely missed the mark of feminist theory’s sourcing of collective activist potential and intellectual invigoration in the exploration of affect. Likewise, affect has not been a central concern for humor scholars. But what about those feminist laughing affects that do not assume their own affirmative value or knowable effects? They provoke disproportionate, off-cue, and unstable instances of laughter wherein nervous excess consumes the laughing subject and threatens to transform into something else entirely. The feminist killjoy, the laughing hysteric, and the humorless capitalist all choke on their laughs, though each in different ways. Their unrealized laughter, this article argues, opens the floodgates for its transmutation into a new collective body politics.
Affect Theory in the Throat of Laughter: Feminist Killjoys, Humorless Capitalists, and Contagious Hysterics
Maggie Hennefeld is an associate professor of cultural studies and comparative literature and McKnight Presidential Fellow at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Her research focuses on comedy, feminist theory, and silent film archival history. She is the author of the award-winning book Specters of Slapstick and Silent Film Comediennes (Columbia University Press, 2018), coeditor of the journal Cultural Critique, and coeditor of two volumes: Unwatchable (Rutgers University Press, 2019) and Abjection Incorporated: Mediating the Politics of Pleasure and Violence (Duke University Press, 2020). She is currently co-curating a DVD/Blu-ray set on “Cinema's First Nasty Women” and writing a second monograph about the history of women who allegedly died from laughing too hard.
Maggie Hennefeld; Affect Theory in the Throat of Laughter: Feminist Killjoys, Humorless Capitalists, and Contagious Hysterics. Feminist Media Histories 1 April 2021; 7 (2): 110–144. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2021.7.2.110
Download citation file: