The Stability of Laughter in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, or Quis est in malo humore… ego aut vos?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Taking its cue from recent work on the social and psychological dimensions of laughter, this article argues that a true understanding of the comic element in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man requires that we consider laughter from a real-world perspective. I.e., as a social signal evolved to communicate positive affect. This study makes use of work in psychology, neuroscience, and anthropology in order to establish a baseline significance to laughter across subjects and contexts.

The fact that laughter is, primarily, a marker of joy, is of paramount importance. Fluctuations of Stephen’s understanding of laughter as a social signal mirror the fluctuations of the novel’s structure. However, this parallel loses coherence if laughter is considered independently of joy. This is not to say that joy is always the dominant message every time a laugh appears on the face of Stephen and his classmates. The conflict that arises between the understanding that laughter always relates to joy, and the reality that joy is not always the dominant signified in contexts inspiring laughter, is what plays such an important role in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-74
JournalJames Joyce Quarterly
Volume52
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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