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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Humorous tendentious poetics : Bruce Andrews, Marie Annharte Baker, and Dorothy Trujillo Lusk Inniss, Scott


Humorous Tendentious Poetics interrogates tendentious humour as it operates as a textual-political strategy in the poetry of three contemporary poets. The term tendentious humour derives from Freud, who uses it to describe humour that is offensive and obscene—but also at times critical—in its intent and outcome. In the work of these poets, humour is highly fractious, rebarbative, and intransitive, at the level of its formal organization and syntax, as well as in terms of its language and socio-semantics. Typically, it functions by mobilizing, foregrounding, and eliding problematic or unconscious forms of knowing, thinking, or enjoyment, especially as these relate to the underlying “real” of social antagonism and alterity. Drawing on humour theory and poetics scholarship, this dissertation argues that this mode of humour functions differentially in the work of these poets as a means to navigate, circumvent, and intensify the socio-textual complexities and double binds particular to their respective poetic projects. In his work from the 1980s and 1990s, the Language poet Bruce Andrews arrives at a politically and analytically difficult form of humour qua textuality. Emerging within a cultural milieu in which radical feminist, queer, and racialized writers are persuasively contesting dominant discourses, Andrews’ aggressive poetic fragmentation and reconfiguration of “injurious” speech acts is legible at times as a critique of oppressive forms of subjectivization. But it also registers forcefully as a repetition of these oppressive logics, as well as a strategy for absorbing cultural “crisis” into the body of Andrews’ own writing and recoding it as a formal analogy for the (ostensible) superiority of avant-garde transgression and irrecuperability. In texts like Indigena Awry, the Anishinaabe poet Annharte uses contentious humour as a vehicle of anti-colonial struggle, exploiting its logic of misprision and misrecognition to solicit but ultimately refuse colonial enjoinders to reconciliation as these operate within both settler and Indigenous populations. Like Annharte, KSW poet Dorothy Lusk yokes humorous ire and provocation to a recalcitrant politics of difference. Yet here tendentious joking operates as a mechanism for travestying and attacking the classist and anti-maternal ideologies underlying patriarchal capitalist social formations, including that of the “avant-garde” cultural community.

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