Volume 64, Issue 1, Winter 2020
Marxism and New Materialism
Humor, Contempt, and the Exemption from Sense
Building on the theory of humor advanced by Yves Cusset in his recent book Rire: Tractatus philo-comicus, I argue that we can understand the phenomenon in terms of what Jean-Luc Nancy, following Roland Barthes, has called the exemption from sense. I attempt to show how the humorous sensibility, understood in this way, is entirely incompatible with the experience of others as contemptible. I conclude by developing some of the normative implications of this, focusing specifically on the question as to whether it is ever morally permissible to treat others with contempt.