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Annual CompLit Conference Returns For 46th Time April 13-14

Published: April 1, 2011

Continuing the longest-running event on campus, the 46th Annual Comparative Literature Conference hosted by the Department of Comparative World Literature and Classics returns to the Karl Anatol Center on Wednesday and Thursday, April 13-14, with the topic “The Comic Spirit in the Modern Age.”

Comedian Judy Carter, author of “The Comedy Bible,” will be Wednesday’s plenary speaker at 2 p.m. Thursday’s plenary speaker in at 2 p.m. 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” examines the relationship between present-day conventions of humor and comedy and the preceding traditions by which they were inspired,” said Nhora Serrano, a member of the Comparative World Literature and Classics Department since 2006 and a conference organizer.

Topics will include how does humor and/or comedy function within political, social, and economic forces; what is the cultural work that comedy performs; how do we theorize the study and practice of comedy; what is laughter; how is the comic represented in literature, art and film; what are the peculiarities of comedy audiences; and what does it mean to be funny?

“The history of the evolution of comic forms is variegated and complex,” said Serrano, “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, renegotiation and reconfiguration of traditions harking back to Classical, Renaissance and even early 20th century sensibilities. ‘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.”

Previous conference topics included 2010’s “Visual Culture and Global Practices,” “The Ancient and Modern Narrative: Intersections Interactions and Interstices,” “Women, Sexuality and Early Modern Studies,” “Arrivals and Departures” and “Johnny Got his Pen: Artists’ Involvement in Peace and War.”

The Associated Students of Comparative Literature are actively involved, led by majors Omar Zahzah and Mary Sotnick who will receive their Bachelor of Arts degrees in May. “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.”

46th Annual Comparative Literature Conference Set for April 13-14

Zahzah believes this conference is particularly interesting because 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 applauds the department’s long-running class on the comic spirit as one of the most popular. “Even students outside the department take it. 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.”

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.”

At last year’s conference, Sotnick pointed out guests from all over the world. “It was wonderful to meet all these people and it was great learning how a conference like this is put together,” she said. “It’s very complicated but I learned a lot from last year’s conference that I’m putting to use this year. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and hopefully, someday I can help students to do the same.”

Zahzah added, “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 encourages the campus and community to attend the conference. “Every year, 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. This is a chance for students and faculty to co-exist outside a classroom and to see them continue the teaching process in a different venue. What they learn is professionalism which is so important. People should come out. It will be funny.”

–Richard Manly