Everybody hurts: abjection, pain and laughter in Ivan Vladislavić’s ‘Courage’
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Ivan Vladislavić’s story, ‘Courage’, illustrates how ideology affects individuals’ subjectivity and their physical bodies. No-one has yet noted the uncanny similarities between the bodies of the protagonists, My Old Becker and Kumbuza, or the subtle vicariousness among the characters. Using Kristeva’s exposition of the abject, I show how the village of Lufafa maintains order by relegating the suffering and the unacceptable to society’s periphery. I argue that the similar, abject bodies of the protagonists give physical manifestation to the pain that ideology causes. Yet the presentation of the abject is unusual, as the story’s humour directs the reader’s focus away from the pain. A first reading is likely to leave one snickering, as satire often does. Further investigation of the abject pain renders one’s experience of the humour uncomfortable. I explore the role of the humour in the context of abject bodily pain and suffering. The scene where Becker measures Kumbuza’s body justifies using tickle-torture theories for probing the relationship between pleasure and pain, sympathy and cruelty. I argue that laughter creates a sense of cruelty, implicating the reader of the text, but that the story foregrounds laughter’s propensity to create a sense of community that redeems the reader.