Laughing Bodies, Bodies in Pain: How Humour Approaches Torture in Two Works by Eduardo Rovner


  • Marin Laufenberg University of Wisconsin-Madison



Torture is a uniquely difficult experience to represent accurately. Nevertheless, we continually struggle to understand, deal with, and preserve the memory of torture. It is paramount to our human societies that the voices of those who were tortured are heard. The transmission of affect in theatre pieces that deal with torture deserves closer attention, in particular in order to understand how dark humour can communicate trauma and torture. Ultimately, laughter and torture are both bound up in the languages of the body and implicate the physical as well as the psychological. As J.M. Bernstein notes, extreme pain and other limit conditions, like laughter, imply our recognition of the instinctual, out of control body. In the theatre, we experience these affective transmissions as a temporary community, which allows for an inquiry into the role of the group, or those who witness torture as an ephemeral community and who also take part in laughter together. Both Concierto de aniversario [Birthday Concert] (1983) and ¿Una foto…? [A Photo?] (1977) by Eduardo Rovner expose and explore this intersection between the laughing body and the tortured body. These works, which deal with both physical torture and psychological manipulation of Argentine citizens during the military dictatorship (1976-83), employ strong applications of the grotesque and absurd which rely on humour. The Argentine tradition of the grotesco criollo places enjoyment and displeasure in direct contact, a process which creates emotional knowledge. This article aims at establishing the value of emotional knowledge when recording the event and aftermath of torture.

Author Biography

  • Marin Laufenberg, University of Wisconsin-Madison
    PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, lecturer