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Horizontiver Humor. Humor, Komik und Lachen als künstlerisch-feministische Praxis.

Berenice Pahl
Research Grantee Academy of Fine Arts Vienna | Dissertation Completion Fellowship 2018|19


Using Adriana Cavarero’s deconstruction of the myth of the Thracian maid and her laughter and Mercilee Jenkins definition of a humor of poetic justice, I examine how humor takes effect in queer-feminist arts. In various crucial points, this humor, generally seen as typically female, corresponds with a form of humor I call horizontive humor , which I will elaborate in the course of this project. The main characteristic of this kind of humor is the creative production of a kind of comedy that self-reflectively puts its own weaknesses and contradictions into focus, filters out the perspective of the subjective position, exposes conventional dichotomies and vertical power relations, and elicits non-aggressive but transgressive laughter. I hypothesize that this form of comedy is able to create communities of solidarity, reinforce subversive agency, and strengthen the weak subject. Contrary to the feminist claim that only an aggressive, deprecatory humor that exposes the adversary can be successful, I advocate for the effectiveness of this inclusive and affirmative humor as a tactial means.

Following this assumption, I investigate various theories of humor, comedy, and laughter as to their normative and strategic character. Based on but set apart from these theories, I elaborate the concept of what I call horizontive humor as a possibility of creating comedy. For this, I confront and amend the aforementioned theories with philosophical and feminist positions in order to eventually combine them with sociological theories of humor—with regard to their potential of bringing about sociopolitical change. I thus develop a definition of non-aggressive humor and its possible attributes, before I analyze the uses and benefits of this humor on the threshold of art, life, and feminist activism.

The second part of my project is dedicated to the work of artists whose feminist agendas spring from their own lives and experiences, which is to say concrete cases of discrimination and marginalization. These artists all work in the area of performance art and use humor as a strategy to call attention to feminist concerns. My research aims to find out under which circumstances these artists produce comedy, which kinds of humor they use, how they employ it, which forms of comedy and laughter they create by doing so, and whether their works can be successfully related to feminist movements. Finally, I assess whether the research results correspond with my claim that horizontive humor can be used effectively for feminist purposes.


Berenice Pahl, born in Munich, studied acting, directing, fine arts and artistic teaching at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna in Vienna. After several years as a freelance actress and director, she founded the artist community FREIGEHEGE in 2004 with Peter Hirsch. In 2017/18 she went to New York with the Marietta-Blau scholarship, where she pursued her artistic-scientific research. She works as a writer, teacher, curator and freelance artist with a focus on performance art in transdisciplinary fields.