Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



In Spite of Yourself: The Asignifying Force of Humor and Laughter calls upon the interruptive moments of uncontrollable laughter to challenge rhetoric’s historical treatment of humor and laughter. Anyone who has ever suffered a fit of hysterical laughter at precisely the wrong moment, or has begun to laugh spontaneously at an inappropriate joke before stopping short, can attest to laughter’s uniquely uncontrollable force. Beyond all reason and control, laughter interrupts us and reminds us of the limits of the human subject. Because laughter does not signify meaning in the traditional communicative sense, it exerts an asignifying force irreducible to the questions of truth, understanding, and presence. While rhetoricians like Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian attempt to confine laughter’s force to calculated aspects of persuasion, their approaches simultaneously reveal an understanding that laughter’s effects lie beyond the rational control of the orator. By tracing the often-unintended effects of humor through a range of comedic performances including stand-up comedy, radio, and film, this project ultimately argues that laughter’s rhetorical power resides not in what it means, but in what it does. Ultimately, because laughter is not a signifying language, yet it still produces rhetorical effects, taking up laughter’s asignifying force provides a chance to expand the field of rhetoric in ways beyond the reason, beyond signification, and beyond the human.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Demastes, William