Box 3

Text 1


P.I. (Parodic Investigations)

SPEAKER 1 (Anthropologist as Hero) threateningly:

The content and the presentation of the box brings to mind three things:

  1. Apple packaging;
  2. A parcel bomb;
  3. MissionImpossible.

This box, with just a few items in it, all so neatly arranged, with no user-manual (just a flyer) looks like a parody of Californian capitalism. It’s like receiving a new Maсbook. Yet, on the other hand, the countdown clock sounds like a deadly warning. So, maybe the “Comedy of Things” is meant as a collective reflection on the predicted collapse of millenial capitalism (in just about 2 days, give or take).

Then again, it might not just be a “reflection”. Conveners seem to imply that we have a mission. And the recording device on top of the parcel announces a special kind of mission. The kind that is impossible. Disappointingly, the device did not self-destruct in a cloud of smoke after delivering the recorded message. The recorded instructions, also, are a bit of an anti-climax. We sort of expected to be requested (should we accept this mission) to blow up (with a time-bomb) the heart of techno-financial capitalism (precisely located in Helenekilde Badehotel, for some reason).

But nothing of the sort. So what is it going to be? Are we just going to read out our conceptions of what the event might be, or is there something else to it? Anyway, what the hell? It’s all paid for, meals and beverages included.


SPEAKER 2 (Structuralist anthropologist) patronizingly:


Comedy: noun

  1. a play, movie, etc., of light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending; a dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion.;
  2. that branch of the drama which concerns itself with this form of composition;
  3. any literary composition dealing with a theme suitable for comedy, or employing the methods of comedy;
  4. any comic or humorous incident or series of incidents.

Of: preposition

  1. used to indicate distance or direction from, separation, deprivation;
  2. used to indicate derivation, origin, or source;
  3. used to indicate cause, motive, occasion, or reason;
  4. used to indicate material, component parts, substance, or contents;
  5. used to indicate apposition or identity;
  6. used to indicate specific identity or a particular item within a category;
  7. used to indicate possession, connection, or association.

Things: noun

  1. a material object without life or consciousness; an inanimate object;
  2. some entity, object, or creature that is not or cannot be specifically designated or precisely described;
  3. anything that is or may become an object of thought;
  4. things, matters; affairs:;
  5. a fact, circumstance, or state of affairs;
  6. an action, deed, event, or performance;
  7. a particular, respect, or detail.


  1. do / find one’s own thing’: (informal) to pursue a lifestyle that expresses one’s self;
  2. make a good thing of’: (informal) to turn (a situation, experience, etc.) to one’s own profit; benefit by;
  3. not to get a thing out of’:
  4. to be unable to obtain information or news from;
  5. to fail to appreciate, understand, or derive aesthetic pleasure from:;
  6. ‘see /hear things’: (informal) to have hallucinations.


SPEAKER 3 (Reflexive anthropologist) reflexively:

A comedy can be a funny performance; one that pits two unequal “societies” against each other, where the weaker one uses humor as a form of subversion; it is in this sense the sinister, literally the left-handed side (inside and outside) to which ethnography can give voice. That “things” might enter into this mix, that they might be one of the societies doing the subverting, can further up-end the order of things.

SPEAKER 4 (Cosmopolitan anthropologist) humanely:

I must assume that ‘comedy’ is not to be taken literarily (Richard Pryor is so unfunny). It must refer to the serendipitous connexion between things, the muddle, and the way that contingencies and coincidences ramify, even into tragedy. Social relations are a muddling-through.

This muddle is the story of the DVD on the Lars von Trier exhibition. Each individual human being is a centre-of-energy driven by its own metabolism, within its own embodiment, along its own biographical course of activity-in-the-world.

These knock-on effects were the DVD, the ‘run of things’. The ‘comedy of things’ also concerns affordances. What does one thing have to possess in order for it to be affected by some thing else. It must possess properties that can be triggered, however inadvertently, by the energetic otherness in its environs. ‘The run of things’ depended on the intricately calculated way in which things had been connected by a chemical or physical or locational affordance.

SPEAKER 3 (Reflexive anthropologist) reflexively:

Comedy, then, not as a performance that is predictable (in a machinic, teleological sense), one whose outcome you know from the outset (that it will end well), But rather a more open-ended risky, and hence potentially creative way of making futures.

SPEAKER 4 (Cosmopolitan anthropologist) humanely:

The question for anthropology is the extent to which this models social relations. There is no engineer or God-figure in society. ‘The run of things’ DVD could have gone on indefinitely if engineered with sufficient patience. But social relations are incoherent and they collapse; there is little social reproduction. In the words of Fernando Pessoa: ‘The only reason we get on together is that we know nothing about one another’; life is a masked ball and every relation a mismatch and a misunderstanding.

SPEAKER 3 (Reflexive anthropologist) reflexively:

One might see the comedic, the humorous, the funny, as a way to juxtapose modes of being that are at once logically temporally and formally incommensurable at the same time that they are, in some respects, tractable.   And here lies the promise of a Comedy of Things: an anthropological method for creating within ourselves and our coming worlds a generative tropism, a tripping, an imbalance, an ‘unsticking’.

SPEAKER 4 (Cosmopolitan anthropologist) humanely:

Anthropology becomes ‘the study of the effects energetic things-in-the-world have upon one another’. The ‘comedy’ of the inadvertent and indirect and miscommunicated effects that each has on the others is our ethnography.


Heroic, Structuralist, Reflexive and Cosmopolitan anthropologist jarringly:

‘The very way in which we come to know each other is a form of unknowing. When two people say “I love you” (or perhaps think or reciprocate the feeling), each one means by that something different, a different life, even, perhaps, a different colour and aroma in the abstract sum of impressions that constitute the activity of the soul’ (Pessoa).


SPEAKER 5 (Comedic anthropologist) seriously:

One reflection on comedy would be that entering social life also means entering a language game. Even though life is not limited to such games, they keep us sane. Our usual task as researchers has been to grasp these games and what they mean. But what about that part of life that exceeds them? And what happens when different games only partially fit one another? We think that ethnographic attention to the comedic –sitting with the logical structure of those things that are funny and using those structures as analytical devices– might serve as an anthropological method to get at this.

Comedy is a mode of comparison that is unlike commensuration (mixing) and translation (whole-to-whole comparison). The often illogical and counter-intuitive combinations made by the skilful comedian or carried by the good joke seem to manifest an intense capacity for bringing together and oscillating between things that are otherwise kept apart—things that both partially fit, and are utterly incommensurable, things that are never fully inside the game. Could it be that the comedian is not at all interested in balancing the things she connects? While wanting to connect otherwise incompatible entities, knowing that there is something generative in seeing how they go together, she is not interested in knowing why, in explaining the fit. For, if the comedian were to decide to make a leap into the realm of explanation, to allow herself to elicit the meaning of the joke, paradox would be resolved, madness, contained, but comedy’s creative potential would also become extinguished.