Anxious laughter: Mauron’s Renversement and Gogol’s Overcoat

Abstract

Inside and outside of psychoanalysis, laughter has often been thought of as relating to anxiety, with the usual line being that laughter can be a response to anxiety or a way of dealing with it. This article argues that laughter cannot be said to eradicate or ‘deal with’ anxiety and that laughter is always unsettling precisely because it contains anxiety and indicates its continuing threat. The article discusses Freud and Lacan on anxiety, as well as Charles Mauron, an understudied writer whose Psychocritique du Genre Comique was the only sustained study of psychoanalysis and comedy until very recently. I argue here that Mauron’s idea of renversement holds a key to understanding the relationship between laughter and anxiety. Rather than using a collection of isolated examples to illustrate individual points, in the second half of the article I provide a more sustained discussion of these ideas in relation to Nicolai Gogol’s short story “The Overcoat.”

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Correspondence to Alfie Bown.

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Address correspondence to Dr. Alfie Bown, Assistant Professor, Department of English, HSMC, Hang Shin Link, Siu Lek Yuen, Shatin, N.T., Hong Kong. E-mail: alfredbown@hsmc.edu.hk.

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Bown, A. Anxious laughter: Mauron’s Renversement and Gogol’s Overcoat. Am J Psychoanal 77, 163–176 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/s11231-017-9085-6

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Keywords

  • anxiety
  • laughter
  • Freud Lacan
  • Mauron
  • Gogol
  • overcoat