The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 3, No 2/3 (2015)

“It’s not a joke!” Bio-art and the aesthetics of humour

Isabel de Sena Cortabitarte


An analysis of the rhetoric and aesthetics of humour in Adam Zaretsky’s oeuvre will attest to bio-art’s capacity to open up a new critical space within the life sciences debate – one of the most pertinent and conflicted fields of polemic today. In this paper I assert that in bio-art, the use of humour as a rhetorical tool holds the potential to bring ambiguous, non-normative perspectives into ethical questions that arise from developments in the life sciences (that field concerned with the study of living organisms and the advancement of life-altering interventions, such as bio-engineering and genetic manipulation). Departing from Henri Bergson and Arthur Schopenhauer’s Incongruity Theories, as well as John Morreall’s Play Theory, I analyze the performative force of humour in the artistic practice of self-proclaimed mad scientist and misbehaving ethicist Adam Zaretsky. Through this case study I argue that the disengaged mode of engagement evoked by aesthetic humour – the kind of humour that is not instrumentalized for practical concerns, but rather of intrinsic value, inciting imagination, insight, and reflection in the person experiencing it – is crucial in allowing art to move beyond the more normative, rationalized moralism of academic discourse and embody multiple, or even paradoxical perspectives simultaneously.



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