(Book manuscript) Laughter's Fury examines how Black diasporic writers and artists have imagined freedom through laughter. The book advances two major claims: that canonical theories of laughter within Western philosophical and cultural traditions have marginalized Blackness within their arguments, and that laughter’s disruptions contributed to the development of Black radical consciousness and aesthetics from the 1850s through the twentieth century.
Many theories of comedy and laughter rely upon the Aristotelian premise that laughter is “essentially human,” yet from at least the seventeenth century onward, these theories produce schemas that a priori safeguard the stability of the category “Human” as the ideological consequence of western modernity. Universalizing imperatives found in humor studies uncritically associate laughter with positive affects such as joy, overlooking how laughter can often function as mode of refusal, which I show reading works by Charles W. Chesnutt, Langston Hughes, Sylvia Wynter, Nella Larsen, Fran Ross, and Frantz Fanon, among others. By bringing humor studies research together with critical insights from scholars working within Black studies, my book elaborates the context and consequences of laughter’s philosophical treatment by reading the ways Black diasporic writers, thinkers, and artists have mobilized laughter in their work.
Rather than mapping an authentic Black laughter, my research analyzes the underlying structures of laughter that produce the societal conditions in which “Black laughter” provokes all manner of sanctioned disciplinary functions (such as the removal of the Sistahs on the Reading Edge Book Club from a Napa Valley wine tour train car for laughing too loudly, which inspired the hashtag #laughingwhileblack). In short, Laughter’s Fury examines how enduring legacies of racism inform cultural understandings and practices of laughter, thereby generating inroads for discussing how centering Blackness affects laughter’s theorization.
“Wit’s End: Frantz Fanon, Transnationalism, and the Politics of Black Laughter.” Black Transnationalism and the Discourse(s) of Cultural Hybridity, special issue of South Atlantic Review, 82.4 (Winter 2017) (Guest Eds., Kameelah L. Martin and Donald M. Shaffer): 9-30.
Chester Himes. “On the Use of Force” edited with introduction. “Little-Known Documents,” PMLA 132.2 (2017): 471-6.
“Intimacy and Laughter in Nella Larsen’s Passing,” Nella Larsen’s Passing at Ninety, special issue of South Atlantic Review. (Guest Editor, Donavan L. Ramon). (Forthcoming)