Continuing its longest-running event, Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) will host the 46th annual Comparative Literature Conference on Wednesday, April 13 and Thursday, April 14, in the campus’s Karl Anatol Center. This year’s theme is “The Comic Spirit in the Modern Age.”
Presented by CSULB’s Department of Comparative World Literature and Classics, the conference will feature comedian Judy Carter, author of The Comedy Bible, as its 2pm Wednesday plenary speaker. The Thursday plenary speaker at 2pm is retired CSULB Comparative Literature Lecturer Ray Lacoste, who often taught the department’s class on the comic spirit.
“The Comic Spirit in the Modern Age seeks to examine the relationship between present-day conventions of humor and comedy and the preceding traditions by which they were inspired,” said Nhora Serrano, an assistant professor of comparative literature and a conference organizer.
“The history of the evolution of comic forms is variegated and complex,” Serrano explained. “Yet, it is a history that continues to inform the various manifestations and applications of humor within contemporary social discourses. Whether it is delivered in the form of stand-up, on the screen, or in the genre of theater, prose or poetry, the conventions by which modern day comedic practice is established are the result of the refinement, re-negotiation and re-configuration of traditions harking back to Classical, Renaissance and even early 20th century sensibilities.”
Topics under discussion will include: how humor and/or comedy function within political, social, and economic forces; what cultural work comedy performs; how we theorize the study and practice of comedy; what laughter is; how the comic is represented in literature, art and film; what the peculiarities of comedy audiences are; and what it means to be funny.
“This conference theme is organized coming from the idea of one of our more popular courses,” said Serrano. “Not only did we think it was an interesting theme but our students have a personal attachment to it.”
This year’s conference features active involvement by the Associated Students of Comparative Literature, including students Omar Zahzah and Mary Sotnick, both of whom will receive their bachelor’s degrees in comparative world literature and classics in May.
Zahzah believes what is interesting about this conference in particular is that it will feature performances in addition to scholarly presentations. “Visitors can expect the usual papers on topics like Aristophanes and Davis Sedaris, but they also can expect stand-up comedy and improvisation,” he said. “It will run the gamut of presentations.”
Sotnick commented on the conference’s tie to the department’s long-running class on the comic spirit. “Even students outside the department take (the comic spirit course). It is one of the classes by which other students recognize us,” she said. “I’m hoping, especially with this topic, that we’ll get a lot of people to come and see. When most people hear the words ‘literature conference,’ they don’t think about comedy.”
Zahzah concurred, noting: “There’s a stereotype about academics that they spend all their time reading scrolls and parchments. It is events like this that show that isn’t true.”
Serrano believes this year’s conference speakers make a good balance. “There is a performing aspect as well as scholarly and pedagogical aspects,” she said. “Both speakers are knowledgeable about the comic spirit but both approach the topic from different angles. It appeals to everyone.”
She also encourages the campus and community to attend the conference. “Year in and year out, these conferences offer the campus and the community an opportunity for dialogue, intellectual conversation and a time to see the camaraderie of this department and the college,” she said. “It’s a time to come together for a special few days, and people should come out. It will be funny.”