Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Laughing Matters: Conversations on Humor

In Laughing Matters (special edition)Ilan Stavans and Frederick Luis Aldama explore the meanings of laughter and humor through a series of funny, insightful conversations. The conversations focus on how laughter functions as a social tool. They also explore what laughter represents in different social situations. As it states in the preface, “our inability to tickle ourselves tells us about the psycho-social-implications of laughter.” Meaning that humor is not the only source for laughter. We laugh for various reasons. Many have to do with the social situations where humor might not even be present. Why do we want to laugh when social interactions become awkward? Why do we internalize our humor instead of saying all the jokes that come to mind?  

The book consists of five different chapters—the chapters function as shifts between the conversations dealing with different views on what laughter represents and what humor represents. The book opens with a clear summary to their themes and main points. The first chapter consists of funny exchanges between Aldama and Stavans on the sources of humor. They discuss the way humor is represented in media, art, and philosophy. The second chapter discusses ridicule—this chapter weaves their ideas of ridicule through religion, death, Cervantes, Plato, and several other subject matter. They dissect what they personally find funny as an attempt to understand why they laugh. Stavans then proves his expertise on Don Quixote of La Mancha. In this chapter, they discuss the issues with translating humor between cultures, race, and language. Chapter four introduces several ideas about jokes and why we laugh at them. They discuss the issues of racism  and prejudices found in jokes. Do we always have to be politically correct when it comes to jokes? Not always… especially, if you do a good job with the joke. They discuss what humor does to film and, again, talk about the issues with humor translating between languages and cultures. They provide concrete, relevant examples for the translation of humor. An informative discussion occurs on films like Casa de mi padre and Machete. Why was it so hard for people to find Casa de mi padre funny? Because its humor didn’t translate to the American audience. As Aldama argues, unless you are familiar with telenovelas or Mexploitation, then many of the jokes are going to go over your head (Video Clip of Aldama discussing Mexican filmmakers in the U.S. on MSNBC). The closing chapter dives into of taboo subjects and what might just be too offensive.They contemplate these issues and consider the consequences from offensive humor.

“Humor is a breather. It interrupts life as routine.”

If you are anything like me, you might have a hard time internalizing your laughter. I find myself laughing constantly making a joke out of pretty much anything. This book shed some light on what the laughter might represent. For me, the more uncomfortable the situation, the more I joke around. The more stress I have in my life, the more I find myself laughing with other people. Laughter is a social activity. It feels best around others. The conversations in Laughing Matters are loaded with different views on humor and laughter. Stavans and Aldama don’t leave any funny stone unturned. If you are curious how humor and laughter function in art, literature, and media, this book will answer all your questions. You will laugh and not cry… well, maybe tears of laughter. 

Ilan Stavans is Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. 

Frederick Luis Aldama is Arts and Humanities Distinguished Professor of English and University Distinguished Scholar at the Ohio State University. 

There are two editions to Laughing Matters:

Special Limited Edition Volume

Regular Trade Edition 

John Steinbeck's Enduring Voice for California

When considering the canon, which American author comes to mind? For most Californians, this is author is John Steinbeck. He captured an image of California that is still completely relevant today. When considering why Steinbeck is a voice for California, we must think of Salinas, CA. Salinas represents all the hard labour that is found in California’s agriculture industry. This labour ripples through generations for Californians—it represents the issues with culture and race. 

Homer from Salinas is a wonderful collection of lectures, screenings, debates, discussions, and visual artifacts from incredibly insightful people. This celebration for Steinbeck's work was held from April to May in 2007 at SDSU. The book is organized into four parts—each part with several pieces that are on different themes dealing with issues such as labour, race, and class.  Most of Steinbeck’s work is covered in this collection. What is most important, is that this collection explores the relevancy of his work and what it means for Californian culture. Part Two of the book has discussions about Mexican-American culture. Hernán Moreno-Hinojosa describes his challenges with Steinbeck, but also praises him for writing about all minorities, not just Mexicans or people displaced by the dustbowl. He also discusses the parallels between his own writing to Steinbeck’s. It is discussions like this one that are found in this collection that illustrate the impact of Steinbeck’s writing to all minorities. What these discussions provide, are new insights from a set of diverse thinkers. This diversity is explored in Part Three, “Watching Steinbeck’s Ethnic Eye.” Different scholars raise different points about the ethnicity in Steinbeck’s work. The collections ends with a presentation on an exhibition that includes Horace Bristol’s photography. The exhibition documents California’s farm labor experience. The presentation goes into great detail about the migrant laborers of California. 

I, personally, come from a family of immigrants and I have family members that worked in agriculture. They traveled constantly up and down the California coast: Salinas, Monterey, Guadalupe, etc. When I read Steinbeck, I consider everything my family went through once they got to California. Whether you’re a Mexican-American or a Californian, Steinbeck’s work is more than worth reading. This collection proves that Steinbeck is still completely relevant when talking about present-day issues. So if you’re a Steinbeck scholar or want a new perspective into Steinbeck’s work, get your hands on this wonderful collection. 

This collection includes pieces by Jeffery Charles, Charles Wollenberg, William Deverell, Francisco X. Alarcón, Hernán Moreno-Honjosa, plus many more. 

The book can be found for purchase here