Cite as: Paul Flaig, ‘Bergson’s Boffo Laugh’, talk presented at the conference The Positive Negative: Cinema and Comedy, ICI Berlin, 5–6 May 2017, video recording, mp4, 48:01 <>
5 – 6 May 2017

Bergson's Boffo Laugh

By Paul Flaig

Video in English

Format: mp4
Length: 00:48:01
First published on:
Rights: © ICI Berlin

Part of the Conference

The Positive Negative: Cinema and Comedy

‘The Odd One in’: In her book on comedy, Alenka Zupančič quotes the following joke from Ernst Lubitsch’s film Ninotchka: ‘A man goes into a cafe and asks the waiter for a cup of coffee, without cream. The waiter goes away, but returns again within a couple of minutes. “I’m so sorry sir” he says. “We don’t have any cream. We have milk though. Would you like your coffee without milk instead?”’

The conference assumes that the insistence of such equally negative and positive, absent and excessive objects is constitutive for the aesthetics of comedy. In the world of comedy, things, bodies, and words develop a stubborn obstinacy: Inanimate things come to life, individual limbs turn against the organic whole of the body, words have quite literal effects. Especially film comedy – from the ‘quasi-bodies’ (Rancière) of slapstick to the odd semantics of screwball comedy, up to the new mutations of comical audio vision in digital media – is an inexhaustible laboratory of such a strange surplus negativity – a ‘disjunctive synthesis’ (Deleuze) of plus and minus, excess and lack. Film comedy adheres to a logic of nonsense in which coffee without cream is precisely non-identical to coffee without milk: the positive negative.

The conference aims to address these paradoxes of film comedy’s positive negativity from a variety of theoretical angles.Programme

Friday 5 May 2017
(Moderation: Drehli Robnik)

10:00 Sulgi Lie

10:30 Paul Flaig
Bergson’s Boffo Laugh

11:45 Coffee Break

12:00 Garrett Stewart
Syntactic Short Circuits, Comic Disjunctures:
Dickens, Bergson, Keaton – and Beyond

13:15 Lunch Break

15:00 Sulgi Lie
The Joys of Alienation. Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights

16.15 Coffee Break

16:30 Alexander García Düttmann
Melodrama and Laughter. On Visconti

17:45 Coffee Break

18:15 Gertrud Koch
The Comical Condition: Visual Strategies in Chris Marker

19:30 Reception

Saturday 6 May 2017
(Moderation: Daniel Eschkötter)

11:00 Christiane Voss
Pre-Cinematographic Objectivity or:
Dioramatic Oddity

12:15 Coffee Break

12:30 Ute Holl
What’s so Funny About Doors? Towards a Theory of Structural Jokes

13:45 Lunch Break

15:30 Lisa Åkervall
The Humor of Auto-Tune: Voice Modulations in Digital Media Ecologies

16:45 Coffee Break

17:00 Damon Young
Zany, Sexy, Funny? Ironic Indeterminacy in Contemporary Media Aesthetics

18:15 Concluding Remarks


ICI Berlin
(Click for further documentation)


Lisa Åkervall
Alexander García Düttmann
Daniel Eschkötter
Paul Flaig
Ute Holl
Gertrud Koch
Sulgi Lie
Eyal Peretz
Drehli Robnik
Garrett Stewart
Christiane Voss
Damon Young

Organized by

Sulgi Lie
With generous support of the Volkswagen Foundation