Breaking Up (at) Totality: A Rhetoric of Laughter

Breaking Up (at) Totality: A Rhetoric of Laughter

Breaking Up (at) Totality: A Rhetoric of Laughter

Breaking Up (at) Totality: A Rhetoric of Laughter


Rhetoric and composition theory has shown a renewed interest in sophistic countertraditions, as seen in the work of such "postphilosophers" as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Helene Cixous and of such rhetoricians as Susan Jarratt and Steven Mailloux. As D. Diane Davis traces today's theoretical interest to those countertraditions, she also sets her sights beyond them.

Davis takes a "third sophistics" approach, one that focuses on the play of language that perpetually disrupts the "either/or" binary construction of dialectic. She concentrates on the nosequential third -- excess -- that overflows language's dichotomies. In this work, laughter operates as a trope for disruption or breaking up, which is, from Davi's perspective, a joyfully destructive shattering of our confining conceptual frameworks.


We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. and we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh.

--Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Living, there is no happiness in that. Living: carrying one's painful self through the world. But being, being is happiness. Being: becoming like a fountain, a fountain on which the universe falls like warm rain.

--Kundera, Immortality

Woe to those who, to the very end, insist on regulating the movement that exceeds them with the narrow mind of the mechanic who changes a tire.

--Bataille, Accursed Share

In one of my most vivid childhood memories, I am sitting in church, watching a tuft of hair--a twig--at the back of the minister's head bounce up and down as he speaks. I don't remember what he's saying, but I do remember how that twig seems to have a being of its own. the more animated the minister becomes, the more that twig comes to life, and the more I become amused. He obviously believes himself in complete control of his person, but I recognize that this twig is demanding its independence. I see, too, that it's exactly at the back of his head, just out of a frontal view in a morning mirror-check, and I realize that it has no doubt been precisely that mirror-check that has created his illusion of self-mastery in the first place. It's in this instant that my mind grasps the comical; it grasps the distance between that rebellious twig and the minister's illusion of self-unity. It grasps what I would now refer to as . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.