Week 7 of the “Image” section of the U Chicago Humanities Core course “Media Aesthetics” is devoted to Freud’s essay on the uncanny. It’s a tough week: students have to work through the usual trickiness of disentangling Freud’s ideas from the ideas he cites from Ernst Jentsch, and, on top of this, the week has to act as a general introduction to psychoanalysis, which will return in the form of Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” After a tough lecture in the first class meeting of this week, I decided to give my students something that was both more fun, and more hands-on. For the week’s second meeting, I gave them small group work based around Mori Masahiro‘s concept of the uncanny valley.
The following is a lesson plan for a day spent discussing Henri Bergson’s theory of humor in my course “Comedy and the Moving Image.”[i] It’s admittedly unusual, but I found it to be wonderfully productive.
The first third or so of this course was spent discussing some major philosophical theories of humor (Hobbes, Kant, Bergson) and watching silent slapstick comedy shorts. Knowing that devoting a solid block of class to silent cinema came with the danger of alienating students, I also spiced things up by showing a lot of contemporary YouTube videos in class, which kept them engaged. (The “fail video” genre makes a terrific pairing with Hobbes’ theory of humor!) You’ll see some of that back-and-forth in this lesson.