Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Michel Briand, Sandrine Dubel, Arianne Eissen (ed.), Rire et dialogue. La Licorne, 126. Rennes: PU Rennes, 2017. Pp. 210. ISBN 9782753554962. €22,00.

Reviewed by Michele Solitario, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

This volume is the result of a collaboration between the French universities of Clermont Auvergne and Poitiers in an interdisciplinary research project into the literary genre of dialogue. This is examined in a diachronic perspective from its ancient manifestations in Socratic circles, to humanistic, modern and contemporary receptions and adaptations.1

This work collects the proceedings of a conference held in Poitiers (17-18 November 2014) with the aim of scrutinizing the meaning and function of laughter within the verbal interaction of a written dialogue. Dialogue and laughter have often been examined as distinct topics in academic studies, but this is the first attempt to consider their interplay within a common frame, whether comic, satiric or poetic. After a general introduction, which sets out the conceptual background of the subsequent contributions, the first part examines the manifestation of dialogue in antiquity ("Modèles antiques"), chiefly focusing on Lucian's texts. The second part focuses on playwrights from the Renaissance to the present variously engaged with the reception of Lucian's texts ("Le «fils» de Lucien"), whereas the third part is centred on the sociological implications of dialogical laughter in French educational literature of the 18th century ("Rire et sociabilité").

After a short introduction, in which the editors of the volume attempt to highlight the fil rouge running through the papers and introduce each in turn, the first article, by G. Col, outlines the theoretical frame of the book. Dialogical laughter is the result of specific cognitive mechanisms, which take place in the course of verbal exchange among interlocutors, contributing to the meaning, or giving a specific impression to the conversation. Even though a certain number of concepts and technicalities are taken for granted and not sufficiently explained, the scrutiny of three concrete examples makes clear the significance of the work. Dialogue consists not only in the words uttered by the interlocutors, but also in a complex interaction among significant factors: the linguistic and formal frame (especially the employment of specific formulas and styles); the pragmatic character of the communication, and the cognitive apprehension of the discussion by its recipients. Laughter arises when, in the expected flow of the conversation, the shifting of a frame provokes reinterpretation and a new "co-costruction du sens" of the verbal exchange within and outside the text (p. 22).

Kossaifi employs a psychological approach, not neglecting the poetological meaning of dialogic laughter arising in Theocritus' poems. In Idyll VII, Lycidas' smile is elusory, since it sums up the sardonic mien towards his rival Simichidas with a smooth countenance, given by the "dimension esthétique et philosophique du καλόν" of the poetry. This appeases even Demeter, who raises a smile at the end of the poem. In Idyll I, Thyrsis sings about the sufferings of Daphnis, whose new pastoral poetry exhibits a not always balanced combination of bucolic bonheur and the woes of love brought by Aphrodite. The goddess appreciates the predominant role given to love within this new poetic genre, with a smile that is concerned about the uncertain fate looming over the shepherd, and consequently over his literary invention.

A.-M. Favreau-Linder scrutinizes the meaning of a smile in Lucian's Dialogues of the Dead, building on Halliwell to point out Lucian's place in the ancient representation of Hades.2 Here, laughter is the prerogative of Cynic philosophers, marking their paradoxical approach to death. Menippus and Diogenes respond to the moans of the dead with a laughter that displays a clear scorn toward their vacuous desires. Laughter does not solely possess a moralizing function, however, since it also highlights the choral exchange between Cynics and the dead, enhancing the comic character of each drama. Comic laughter produces a new perspective on the underworld, shaping death not only as the utmost evil, but as a good, since it reveals the inconsistency characterizing each human category (politicians; philosophers; poets; athletes, etc.). As such, Cynic laughter is not an invitation to the dead, but a memento mori, which aims to elicit readers / spectators' reflections on their own lifestyle.

M. Briand's analysis is not immediately focused on the subject of the volume. An extended introduction outlines the well-known features of the Bis Accusatus (fictional, metadiscursive, transgeneric).3 Laughter appears as a simple ingredient in the satiric melting-pot assembled by the poet, strictly connected with Menippean satire,4 but not as a concrete instrument for assessing dialogue. The analysis continues with labored comparisons (p. 73: "Le dialogue lucianesque est dialogique, comme un roman bakhtinien, et donc dialectique et comique à la fois, etc.") and banal descriptions (p. 74 : "La satire passe ainsi par l'argumentation rhétorique, elle-même fondée sur des images sensibles et diverses figures comme la métaphore filée ou non, la comparaison, la fable, l'allegorie, etc."), neglecting the relationship between laughter and dialogue in Bis Accusatus — if there really is any truly significant connection to be made.

The second part of the book deals with Lucian's followers from the Renaissance up to the Age of Enlightenment in France. J. Lecointe traces back several concepts of the Humanistic poetic to Lucian's oeuvre. The serio ludere and, consequently, the "rire de bon ton" deriving from Erasmus' work was allegedly inherited from Lucian's spudaiogeloion through the mediation of Horace's poetics. Unfortunately, the analysis does not proceed along this promising track, but loses focus in the overhasty exploration of other concepts (decorum personarum and evidentia) and a detailed enquiry into a particular dialogic technique ("la replique para ten doxan"). Rather than making generalizations ("Folie se présente ainsi comme une veritable incarnation allégorique de l'effet comique lucianique"), the author should have taken into consideration similar "éloges paradoxals" in Lucian's work (e.g. De Parasito), which would demonstrate more concretely the presence and the consequence of Lucian's laughter in Erasmus' imitation.

B. Renner's article fits in well with the subject of the book. He demonstrates the influence and the independent reworking of Lucian's mixture of philosophical dialogue and comedy in Rabelais. Although a trenchant distinction is made between the "message «clair» de la satire de Lucien" and "l'ambigüité des cibles que vise le texte de Rabelais" (p. 100),5 the parallel examination of several texts brings out the distinctive features of Rabelais' laughter. It is more aggressive than Lucian's moralizing smile, since it aims to assault sociopolitical and religious depravities by increasing the satiric effect. There ensues a new kind of tragic farce "par le biais d'un masque comique choquant ou d'un sens littéral osé, donc d'un rire d'une autre nature, voire par l'évacuation du rire" (p. 110).

D. Bertrand explores the interesting reception of Lucian's dialogic laughter in Voltaire's "Conversation de Lucien avec Érasme et Rabelais aux Enfers". Lucian here holds a discussion with two imitators of the Renaissance who appear to be uninformed about the fanaticism to be criticized in the 18th century. The cautious satire and ludicrous laughter employed by Erasmus fit in better with Lucian's urbanitas, reflecting also on the limits of his ironic freedom of speech. Rabelais, in contrast, exhibits an extravagant and excessive laughter, which becomes a weapon against any kind of extremism. Voltaire encapsulates all these tendencies, exploiting the social benefit produced by laughter, "qui se veut stratégie de démasquage des ridicules en même temps que masque pour déjouer la censure, sans céder à l'innocuité ludique du badinage" (p. 127).

A. Eissen studies a particular case of kinship with Lucian, by examining a paradoxical dialogue between Giorgio Manganelli and Phaedrus, conceived for a successful radio programme transmitted in the 1970s by RAI. The conversation, more precisely an interview by the modern author of his ancient counterpart, fails because of the sharp difference between the interlocutors' sociocultural backgrounds. In this case, the laughter under consideration is not explicitly mentioned within the text but imagined as being evoked during public reception. Phaedrus exhibits a noticeable detachment from his work and a kind of indifference toward its resonance in the real world, preventing any celebration of his own name. This nihilistic behaviour, which is already present in Lucian's Dialogi mortuorum, provokes an iconoclastic laughter, revealing the highly auto-ironic level attained by the two ancient authors.

The third part of the book deals with different kind of works and authors from the 17th century onwards. P. Gauthier considers the strategies of comedy in C. Sorel's novel, Le Berger extravagant, where laughter plays an important role. It is distinctive not only for the dialogic exchange among its characters, but also for the explicit commentary of the author. Thus, the reader is prompted to catch the comic effect of rire not only within the text (intradiegetic), but also outside of it (extradiegetic), evoking a certain empathy with the addressee. This "joyeuse complicité" between author and reader regulates the reception of the comic novel, which, through the laughter generated or communicated by the text, is transformed into a pleasant conversation.

F. Le Borgne very convincingly highlights the relevance of laughter in the (anti-)philosophical interaction between C. Palissot de Montenoy's comic satire Les Philosophes and D. Diderot's work Le Neveu de Rameau. Palissot's laughter is an instrument of corrosive criticism against contemporary philosophers, while Diderot tries to make it a facet of his reaction towards this anti-philosophical trend. He attempts to reconcile comedy with philosophical dialogue, since it deploys all the positive charge of laughter in the service of philosophy. Consequently, "le choix d'un dialogue hybride, inspiré de Lucien . . . permet à Diderot de conserver du rire le pouvoir fécondant sans sacrifier en rien sa réflexion critique".

J. Chiron explores the presence of laughter within the educational dialogues of the French Enlightenment. Although in the contemporary "traités de civilité" laughter is deemed the manifestation of the lowest instincts, in these dialogues it is not only a sign of negative behaviours to avoid, but also of a certain "valorization de la joie qui parcourt ces textes qui se veulent novateurs" (p. 182). Thus, laughter bolsters the realism of the scenes depicted, instilling a kind of dynamism in the dialogic exchange among the characters and in the transmission of the moral contents. Consequently, the dramatic representation of laughter allows the establishment of a "pédagogie du sourire . . . qui signale l'importance de l'humour pour rendre compte de la singularité de l'enfance et de son intelligence propre" (p. 188).

B. Faivre closes the volume with a study which shares almost nothing with the main subject of laughter in dialogue. It examines the presence and the evaluation of monologue from d'Aubignac (17th century) up to several examples in the contemporary theatre scene. Unfortunately, the role played by laughter in these "dialogues à une voix" and in the implicit or explicit connivance between an actor and his public remains overlooked, although there are two brief hints at it (pp. 195 and 197), which would have been worth developing in greater detail.

In conclusion, this volume contains thirteen papers that are not an entirely homogeneous exploration of its subject: dialogical laughter. Some authors offer new avenues for research (especially Kossaifi, Favreau-Linder and Chiron), whereas others divert our attention to subsidiary matters. The book is well edited,6 even though the absence of a general bibliography or index hampers efficient and easy consultation. In addition, thematic indices would have highlighted interesting cross-references between the pieces, revealing the common thread running through different papers which, as it is, is only displayed theoretically, in the introduction.

Table of Contents

Ariane Eissen, Michel Briand, "Avant-propos. Rire et dialogue : modèles, paradoxes, normes, critiques", pp. 7-14
Gilles Col, "Dialogue, rire, cognition: quelques pistes", pp. 15-30.
Part 1: Modèles Antiques
Christine Kossaifi, "Rire et dialogue en miroir. L'exemple des idylles VII et I de Théocrite", pp. 33-46;
Anne-Marie Favreau-Linder, "«Ici tu pourras rire sans fin… » : Lucien et le rire des morts (Dialogues des morts)", pp. 47-64;
Michel Briand, "Tel un hippocentaure… Méta-dialogue et satire dans La Double Accusation ou les tribunaux de Lucien", pp. 65-77.
Part 2: Les " Fils " De Lucien
Jean Lecointe, " « L'homme est le propre du rire ». Le dialogue lucianique au prisme de l'humanisme renaissant", pp. 81-95;
Bernd Renner, " « Vous jà ne m'en ferez rire » : rire, ironie et dialogue de Lucien à Rabelais et Béroalde de Verville", pp. 97-110;
Dominique Bertrand, "Rire avec les morts : un dialogue auctorial de Voltaire avec Lucien", pp. 111-128;
Ariane Eissen, "Rire d'un dialogue impossible avec Giorgio Manganelli", pp. 129-139.
Part 3: Rire et Sociabilité
Patricia Gauthier, "Rire dans les dialogues de romans comiques", pp. 143-156;
Françoise Le Borgne, "De la scène comique au dialogue philosophique : la question du rire dans Le Neveu de Rameau", pp. 157-170;
Jeanne Chiron, "Du rire de consensus à l'éloge de la gaieté dans les dialogues éducatifs des Lumières", pp. 171-190;
Bernard Faivre, "Le dialogue à une voix", pp. 191-198.
Note sur les auteurs.e.s., pp. 199-203.


1.   For an overview of the activities and publications of this équipe see:
2.   S. Halliwell, Greek Laughter. A Study of Cultural Psychology from Homer to Early Christianity (Cambridge, 2008), pp. 429-70.
3.   See most recently M. Baumbach and P. von Möllendorff, Ein literarischer Prometheus. Lukian aus Samosata und die Zweite Sophistik (Heidelberg, 2017), pp. 179-84.
4.   See p. 70: "Et finalement c'est un certain Ménippe . . . un véritable chien, à la morsure traîtresse, d'autant qu'il riait en mordant (κάρχαρον ἀνορύξας)". But the corresponding Greek text is in fact: γελῶν ἅμα ἔδακνεν.
5.   Nevertheless, the author at p. 107 seems to recognize an "ironie ambigüe" in Lucian's satire, by approving the conclusion of an article by Briand on Lucian's Dialogues of the Dead (M. Briand, "Les Dialogues des morts de Lucien, entre dialectique et satire: une hybridité générique", in A. Eissen, Dialogue de morts, Otrante 22, 2007, pp. 61-72).
6.   There are only a few typing errors: p. 14 (Ssociopoétique); p. 196 repetition of "si bien"; pp. 66, n. 2 and 157 missing spaces.

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