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Dr Stephanie Bird represents UCL in Beijing

29 October 2012

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Dr Stephanie Bird (German Department) is currently in Beijing as a visiting lecturer at Peking University. On 25 October she also lectured at The Bookworm Beijing on ‘Representing Trauma and the Possibility of Comedy’ which provided a unique opportunity to consider the relationship between trauma and comedy in literature and film.

In this lecture Dr Bird explored how comic devices can play a role in the representation of suffering and trauma, and what this relationship contributes to the ethical debates around the cultural portrayals of suffering and trauma.

Extreme events, including traumatic historical events such as the Holocaust, often exert a particular fascination. Yet the spectatorship of extreme events is fraught, because it raises the question of what exactly it is we take pleasure in when we watch people suffering. She questioned whether this pleasure is the one of knowing oneself to be the survivor, is it the satisfaction of morbid curiosity, or is it what the Germans describe as Schadenfreude, the pleasure in someone else’s misfortune?

Comedy is particularly interesting in this respect precisely because it forces the potentially disturbing bond between the depiction of extreme events and emotions on the one hand, and the often unacknowledged pleasure they elicit on the other, into stark relief.

At this unique UCL / British Council event in Beijing, Dr Bird discussed the relationship of comedy and the representation of trauma with reference to the work of writers and directors responding to the historical trauma of the Second World War, including W. G. Sebald, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Jonathan Littell.

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Page last modified on 29 oct 12 18:02