Owning, Despising, Joking: The Art of the Political Insult (Panel)


Special Session
Send in the Clowns / Cultural, Historical, and Political Studies

Judith Paltin (University of British Columbia)
judi@****.com (Log-in to reveal)

The insult is essentially political. Trump supporters today profess to love what they call Trump’s “jokes” to own the libs, but the art of the insult has a long history as a technology of domination and social discipline, as well as sometimes functioning to undermine those in power. This panel explores the range of types who work by insult in fictional and/or nonfictional political contexts, gauges their success, and analyzes the cognitive and affective states which insults produce in their targets and audiences, in order to come to some conclusions about how the insult as a technology of power generates a set of relations between individuals and local or national communities.
Some political actors (both in fiction and in the actual world) have embraced the insult, and others express concern over its degrading effects on the quality of political conversation in democracies. This panel is interested in a range of case studies in the art of the insult and in its peculiar efficacy whether in arenas of domination or of critical resistance. The contemporary US political moment on Twitter is an obvious contemporary archive, but the insult functions as a technology of domination and rebelliousness across many genres and libraries. For example, Leopold Bloom's day in Ulysses largely consists of enduring a long series of insults and provocations, some deliberate, and some unthinking. The insulting and sometimes supposedly humorous historical descriptions of colonial and Indigenous populations are a crucial matter of concern for many postcolonial and world literary works. Why insults are such a staple of political life in so many contexts deserves sustained attention and careful theorization.