Talking Before the Dead


“I would define humor as the ability to recognize oneself as a product of that very history through which one tries to pursue the construction of history, and this conception of humor is thus distinguished in the first place from irony (…). Humor is an art of immanence”

(Stengers, L’Invention 79).

In her book La Vierge et le Neutrino [The Virgin and Neutrino], Isabelle Stengers uses ferocious humor to challenge the practitioners of the humanities: “We are confident that the Virgin [who appears to Medjugorje pilgrims] can be reduced to a product of human subjectivity. The only question is which of the social sciences will emerge as most qualified to do the job” (192). The Pilgrims Stengers refers to are the ones the French sociologist Elisabeth Claverie follows on their pilgrimage to Medjugorje. In her book, Les guerres de la Vierge, Claverie mentions the fact that her research often raises suspicion or may even generate propositions of ironic complicity: “Of course, for sure, for you and for me, we know this is nonsense; that which you are talking about is, no doubt, unacceptable and even dangerous” (351). These are the typical reactions one can hear from social scientists, and these reactions are what lead Stengers to state further: “The distinction between what really exists, what really can claim to be able to explain; and what can be undone, dismembered and reduced to something else, on the other hand, is a powerful weapon.”

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