Laughing Matter: An Essay on the Comic

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Cornell University Press, 1993 - Literary Criticism - 211 pages
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Why do we laugh? Do we really want to know why? We are torn between desire to understand the joyous human response of laughter and reluctance to expose the secret of our spontaneity to the rigors of intellectualizing, the labors of analysis. Marcel Gutwirth here offers a fresh approach to laughter and the full range of funny occasions - from childish pranks to the artistry of Moliere's Misanthrope, from scatological humor, slapstick, and the complications of mistaken identity to the misadventures of Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers' antics, the absurdities of Monty Python, and beyond.
With the help of theorists in such fields as psychology, anthropology, physiology, sociology, and folklore as well as literary criticism, Gutwirth perceives that writers across history have attempted to explain laughter in one of three ways - focusing on its social or political function, its emotional rationale, or its intellectual dimension. Offering an array of readings of comic texts and incidents, he constructs a general model of laughter which takes into account its causes, immediate effects, and long-range influence on human affairs. In conclusion, he looks at the unique nature of comic wisdom, particularly as reflected in works by Santayana, Cervantes, and Beckett.
This playful, elegantly written book will attract a wide audience of readers who enjoy laughter and are interested in its sources, its pleasures, and its causes.

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