Powerhouse books is releasing a new book You Had to Be There: Rape Jokes which is a text version of artist/poet/writer Vanessa Place‘s live performance in which she recited rape jokes for 45 minutes to a seated audience in a gallery.
And yes, you would be correct if you think that sounds completely wrong and inappropriate and aneurysm-inducing, BUT, explains Slavoj Žižek in the forward:
It may appear as an act of madness to publish a collection of jokes on rape in our politically correct atmosphere—but it is the right gesture, theoretically and politically. Vanessa Place demonstrates that, when things get really horrible, every gesture of dignity and compassion is a fake, and only humor works: humor which does not make fun of its object but bears witness to our impotence and failure to deal with the object appropriately. No wonder the best films about holocaust are also comedies; sometimes, laughter is the most authentic way to admit our perplexity and despair. Place’s book is for everyone who has the courage to confront the horror of rape without the easy escape into comfortable compassion.”
Powerhouse goes on to explain in the press release:
It is art performance, not stand-up comedy. Many of the jokes were found on various English-language websites dedicated to offensive jokes; inspired by the form, the artist has improved some of the jokes, and written some herself.
Place decided to work with rape jokes several years ago after various stand-up comics were rebuked for making rape jokes on and off-stage; the gist of the criticism being that “rape jokes aren’t funny,” and that a rape joke is tantamount to rape itself. But Place’s work shows that rape jokes aren’t rape and considers why rape jokes are very funny to very many people, and persistently so. As Place’s audiences have demonstrated, those categorically opposed to the rape joke tend to find themselves straining not to laugh, just as those usually thrilled by such raw language find themselves gagging on something hard to swallow. What then proves interesting is the activation of art: the when, why, and how of such charged words being funny, being revolting, becoming sound, fashioning suspense. To experience this language that hangs thick in the air; to see where, in each of us, the joke sticks.
I’m still not convinced this isn’t incredibly triggering and being shocking for being shocking’s sake, but they make a compelling argument. What do YOU think?
You can pre-order a copy if you so desire at Amazon.