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Mining the Comic Verse

The project Mining the Comic Verse, led by Anne-Sophie Bories at the University of Basel, enjoys a PRIMA Grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation.

How does humour impact verse, how does verse impact humour, and what do the two mean together ?

Through the exploration, analysis and interpretation of humour and versification features respectively in a digital corpus of 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries, through the description of how their interactions produce layered meanings, this project aims for a precise insight into the functions within poetry of humour and neighbouring devices. It also intends to situate the postures and forms of versified humour in a historical and cultural perspective.

Despite humour’s conventionally low status within the hierarchy of literary genres, poets have always produced humorous and sometimes outrageous pieces, and humorous devices are often used within serious poetry, with or without a comical intent. Hunour and poetry share a number of formal and functional traits, starting with their violation of Grice’s maxims. Stepping aside from a bona fide communication, they often rely on a slippery, ambiguous meaning, harnessing the very imperfection of language. Mastering the moment, rhythm, contextual and intertextual complexities, serves a play on monotony, predictability, and the unexpected. Exploring versification offers an optimal insight into the interactions of forms and meanings, and the digital humanities path makes it possible to gather in a thorough study these many aspects of text.

This project brings in computational stylistics to serve text interpretation: (1) data collection: tagging and precise description of verse features alongside that of humorous occurrences and neighbouring phenomena; (2) distant reading through data analysis and visualisation; (3) close reading, statistical analysis of versification and humour patterns; (4) interpretation of poems' forms and meanings in a multifocal perspective.

The period of the target corpus stretches from romanticism and modernity to the present, to provide a view of the considerable changes in formal and genre norms undergone by French Literature since the 19th Century.

Poets chosen for the main project (Anne-Sophie Bories) share a concern for versification, make use of humorous devices, and can for the most part be found in the Frantext (ATILF) and Anamètre (CRISCO) databases: Hugo (spanning a large part of the time period), Musset, Gautier, Banville, Cros, Corbière, Laforgue, Apollinaire, Prévert, Queneau and Prigent (temporary list).

Lara Nugues’ doctoral thesis and Nils Couturier’s postdoctoral project, conceived so as to complement each other, also revolve around issues of versification and stylistics, with a focus on two genres linked to humour and to a specific performative dimension: respectively vaudeville and song.

This project falls within the realm of digital humanities and particularly the field of computational stylistics; its aim is to bring together and enrich versification and poetics studies, through a focus on text interpretation, as well as humour studies, through the modest exploration of a so-far left-aside support: verse.