Category Archives: humor

The Cultural History of the Smile

We’re excited to launch a new digital exhibit as part of Literature and the Face.

In 2021 we collaborated with two PhD candidates in the Faculty of Arts to build a digital exhibition titled Bittersweet: A Cultural History of the Smile.

In the University of Melbourne Digital Studio Internships Program, Catherine Gay and Xingcheng Wang worked with Dr Tyne Sumner to create an interactive digital humanities project that tells the literary, artistic, and cultural history of the smile.

You can take a look at their incredible work here!

Kinesic Humor: Literature, Embodied Cognition, and the Dynamics of Gesture

Our project team member, Professor Guillemette Bolens, has recently published a new book with Oxford University Press –  Kinesic Humor: Literature, Embodied Cognition, and the Dynamics of Gesture.

The triggers of laughter in spoken language or conversation can often be very simple, such as a change in gesture, or in vocal tone or tempo. Speakers and listeners understand these dynamics of gesture through motor cognition and use them to great effect. The causes of laughter and the experience of humor in written texts, however, are less well understood. Kinesic Humor offers a cognitive poetics-based study of triggers of laughter in texts, focusing in particular on tonic shifts and gesture in plot and narrative.

Bolens shows how literary texts from a variety of periods provide remarkably precise information concerning kinesthesia, the role of tonicity in communication, and the impact of momentum, timing, and tempo on the way in which gestures are processed in human exchanges. She investigates the narrative use of such parameters and how they prompt laughter in a wide-ranging corpus of major authors that includes Chrétien de Troyes, Cervantes, Milton, Saint-Simon, Rousseau, Sterne, and Stendhal. Using the theory of embodied cognition, Bolens shows how thwarted perceptions and expectations of movements and sensations produce the cognitive shifts typical of humor. Bringing together narratology, cognitive studies, gesture studies, humor studies, and historical context, this book offers original perspectives on important artworks and represents a major contribution to cognitive poetics.

Originally published in French as L’Humour et le savoir des corps in 2016, this volume not only brings the work to an English-speaking audience for the first time but expands significantly on the original by analyzing a new corpus of texts and engaging with recent advances in the field to develop a cutting-edge theory of kinesic humor.

You can find Guillemette’s new book here!