top of page
  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

A Special Kind of Laughter

The laughter of George, Uncle Albert, and the Elder Mr. Dawes is what Davis (2000) would call “kairotic” or “shattering” laughter, that is the kind of laughter that we cannot help.  Kairotic laughter is irrepressible, we laugh it in spite of ourselves, and often against our will, or more accurately we are laughed by it.  Kairotic laughter is “the co(s)mic ‘rhythm that laughs you,’ " which Davis describes it as “an affirmative laughter, arising out of the overflow, the excess, and capable of momentarily and instantaneously catapulting us out of negative dialectics by negating negation itself.”  This is an allusion to Nietzsche’s “‘great sweep of life’ which never cease to overflows our categories” (p. 2). Irrepressible laughter, Davis relates, causes us to “crack up” although we do not want to: 

The instability of irrepressible laughter is an affront to our humanist sensibilities: we do not want to crack up.  And we don’t want to deal with a world that is cracking up and that cracks us up—often without our consent.  Fluidity ssscaares us . . . . In some sense or another we are breaking up, in every instant, whether we choose to affirm or deny it” (Davis, 2000, p. 3) 

When we are laughed in this way, Davis (2000) notes, “meaning/logic exceeds itself in a burst of laughter, and the boundaries of the ego crack up” (p 18).  This laughter shatters our illusion of free will and fixed identity as well, for we laugh and at the same time are laughed, seized by outside forces.  Davis calls this kairotic laughter, because at this “opportune moment” (a la Gorgias) kairos seizes time and overrules human logic:

The kairotic moment names that instant when our meaning making is, in a flash, exposed as an operation inscribed in rather than opposed to play . . . . Kairos in other words, is linked to divine law (nonrational) rather than human law (rational).  It operates as a “rhythm” that arises not from negation (a process of reason) but from excess (which is non- or extra-rational), from the free-play of an unmasterable physis… kairos becomes “something living, a prompting which continually by means of irrationality overcomes recurring opposites.” . . . The force of kairos swoops in at the moment reason yields to a dissoi logoi to over come the impasse by imposing its own decision . . . . this kairos possesses the subject/speaker and wills its “decision” making the speaking subject (also) the spoken subject, that is, making the subject also an object . . . . When kairos intervenes and “makes something new, irrational, Itanza notes, “ 'things' fly apart. The binaries are exploded.”   (Davis, pp. 27-28)


bottom of page