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Saturday, July 05, 2008


Here's another nugget for the comedy project. From comedian-turned-Senate candidate Al Franken (MN), as quoted in the Washington Post, December 17, 2007:
"Let me tell you what a satirist does," he says. "A satirist looks at a situation and sees the inconsistencies and hypocrisies and absurdities, and cuts through the baloney and gets to the truth. And I think that's pretty good training for the U.S. Senate. Don't you?"
Long-time readers may recall my interest in the promotion of public dialogue at the global level. My coauthored book was inspired by the social theory of J├╝rgen Habermas, whose "discourse ethics" aspire to promote consensual truth-seeking and discursive democracy.

Can satire and humor promote truth-seeking in global politics?

I think political theorist Sammy Basu would agree with Franken about the importance of humor, as he has called for acceptance of an "ironic speech situation" (ISS) -- a "speech situation that grants illocutionary validity to humor."
In locating irony under the rubric of humor, I want to split the difference again between Habermas and Rorty. Rorty affirms detailed historical narratives at the expense of Habermasian philosophical meta-narratives. For Rorty, all commitments ought to come unglued privately even as we publicly affirm loyalty to the liberal status quo, whereas with Habermas our parochial private commitments must be abandoned publicly unless they are intersubjectively intelligible and agreeable. The joke, I submit, can fall somewhere in between as a kind of little, public, ironic "shock-narrative."(n73) Humor enables the withholding liberals insist upon, while enriching the public debate democrats affirm. Humorously, one can attempt the self-disclosure of intimate feelings while managing the potential for social disruption.

The ISS is a better regulative ideal inasmuch as it is more likely to result in a just outcome to which the parties involved will feel committed.
Earlier in the paper, Basu writes "Habermas is perhaps the apogee of interlocutory humorlessness."

Put simply, Habermas is skeptical about the discursive value of humor, but Basu and I think that humorists like Franken can make a valuable contribution to political discourse.

I've been thinking about comedy a great deal because satire and farce are integral parts of my film class -- and the next section begins on Monday.

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