Discovering the Comic

Discovering the Comic

GEORGE McFADDEN
Copyright Date: 1982
Pages: 270
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x0sr2
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  • Book Info
    Discovering the Comic
    Book Description:

    Arguing that the comic is a quality of literary works of art in other forms as well as comedy, George McFadden finds its essence in the maintenance of some literary feature--a situation, a character--as itself despite threats to alter it.

    Originally published in 1982.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5595-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. [ix]-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-9)

    Like most authors who have made the attempt, I have found that writing a book on the comic is no laughing matter. Looked at closely, Bergson’s amusing little bookLaughteris far more serious than it seems, even though it professes to be limited to vaudeville. Rather surprisingly, Freud refuses to venture within the boundaries of the comic itself, after conspicuous success in dealing with jokes and humor. And these two are our most productive inquirers. The topic is in fact notoriously difficult. I think it prudent, therefore, to say right off that I have no intention of explaining the...

  5. 1 THE COMIC AS A LITERARY QUALITY
    (pp. 10-21)

    When we return to a beginning and ask what is the comic, none of the familiar answers proves quite satisfactory. It is not that they are all wrong, but they are inadequate if we intend to form an idea of the comic that will reach its essence. The most natural reply, “the comic is that which causes laughter,” was rejected by Aristotle long ago, and for good reasons. Anyone can see there is only a partial overlap in the appropriate use of the term “laughable” and the proper meaning of our term “comic.” Still, if not laughter, then smiling, or...

  6. 2 DESCRIPTION OF THE COMIC AS A GENERAL FEATURE IN LITERATURE
    (pp. 22-48)

    The comic is an aesthetic value quality of a marked kind: like the sublime, the tragic, the awesome, and the ironic, it is the keynote of many successful works of art. In the theater we call such works comedies, but comic works are to be found in a variety of different art forms.¹ Any effort to describe the comic will bring us face to face with the problems involved in making the transition from an aesthetic quality (“the comic”) to the literary genres (comedy, farce, fabliau, humorous novel) that incorporate it.

    To be comic, something must be seen as itself,...

  7. 3 COMIC ETHOS: THE CLASSICAL VIEW
    (pp. 49-79)

    The term ethos (ἢϴos) is used by Aristotle in thePoeticsto indicate human behavior. It was properly translated for many years by the English word “manners,” then mistranslated by the anachronism “character.” Aristotle, of course, had no concept of modern notions of individual personality. At present, when writers have begun to repudiate the portrayal of closed characters in their fictional texts, the original less determinate Greek form in its modern equivalent “behavior” may well be restored. For the comic, what is needed is a word indicating a mode of behavior common to a group of people, including habits of...

  8. 4 THE ROMANTIC THEORY OF THE COMIC
    (pp. 80-110)

    We have considered the importance of the discussion in bringing out dramatic characters to the full, especially in providing scope for the expression of their freedom, spontaneity, and self-maintenance as part of a comic action. It now remains for us to show that the literary personality, while never real in fiction—being only an intentional objectivity like any other in a play or a novel—is capable of manifesting more power as a literary device than almost any other kind of objectivity. After being highly privileged for a hundred years or more, this power is in abeyance today—at least...

  9. 5 THE MODERN COMIC ETHOS: BERGSON’S LAUGHTER
    (pp. 111-130)

    After Schiller’s presentation of comedy as a new, reflective genre peculiarly associated with the ideal of freedom, and the successive developments of Hegel and Kierkegaard, the latter nineteenth century seems far richer in practice than in theory. Even Meredith’s famous essay offers little that is new in the way of theoretical insight. Except for Nietzsche, whose impact came later, we must wait until the beginning of the twentieth century for a second wave of original thought on the comic. Then, withLaughterin 1900 andJokes and Their Relation to the Unconsciousin 1905, we gain in Bergson and Freud...

  10. 6 MODERN COMIC ETHOS CONTINUED: FREUD
    (pp. 131-151)

    To Sigmund Freud, Bergson’sLe Rirewas doubtless a stimulus in his own studies, already under way, which took shape inJokes and Their Relation to the Unconsciousfive years later (1905). Though Freud attempted throughout his book to be as scientific as possible, he too is lively; and if not so charming, he is a great deal sounder than Bergson on the comic itself. In addition, he presents some ideas on humor that avoid Bergson’s peculiar aberrations and yet have proved equally applicable to the development of comic writing. It was inJokesthat Freud first clearly outlined his...

  11. 7 TWENTIETH-CENTURY THEORISTS: MAURON, CORNFORD, FRYE
    (pp. 152-173)

    The psychological writing of Freud stimulated a great deal of work on the comic, though it was not always of direct literary significance. The outstanding achievement is Charles Mauron’sPsychocritique du genre comique(Paris: Librairie José Corti, 1964). Mauron’s “psychocriticism” is a method of textual analysis that seeks “relations that probably have not been thought and willed in conscious fashion by the author,” by means of “superposition of texts.”¹ The method, of course, exposes much duplication resulting from literary imitation and convention, but this is left to historical criticism, in whose province it belongs; psychocriticism seeks for enigmatic repetitions of...

  12. 8 NIETZSCHE AN VALUES IN COMIC WRITING
    (pp. 174-203)

    Among Nietzsche’s transvaluations of value, one of the most prophetic was his overturning of Aristotle’s original dictum that the comic avoided the “harmful.” Nietzsche coupled delight and destruction; he found them inextricably mingled in the creative behavior of the human who is a producer and a product of modern culture. Written at the start of the movement toward black humor, a passage like this stands as a manifesto:

    Man no longer needs a “justification of ills”; “justification” is precisely what he abhors: he enjoys illspur, cru; he finds senseless ills the most interesting. If he formerly had need of...

  13. 9 AFTER BARTHES: DEATH OF THE COMIC?
    (pp. 204-241)

    In the preceding chapters we have spoken of the romantic movement as essentially a nostalgia for the naive, occurring so far in three waves. We may now tentatively distinguish three forms of the naive. First, the primal natural community and thebel âmeof Rousseau, well suited to the idealistic Hellenism of Winckelmann and Goethe, along with the worship of humanity, the spirit of joy, and the growth of freedom that Schiller celebrated and argued for, Byron fought for, and Hegel justified in speculative thought. After this idealist naive, we may speak of a realist naive, championed by Hugo and...

  14. 10 CONCLUSIONS AND CONTINUING ISSUES
    (pp. 242-254)

    This book is meant to serve literary criticism by offering a discovery technique for the comic along with examples of its operation and theoretical and historical arguments for its validity. I have treated the comic as a quality that is derivable from certain works of literary art in which readers can succeed in objectifying imaginative structures that freely maintain themselves despite threats of alteration, threats that somehow seem to arise out of or to be invited by the comic objectivity itself. This seeming formula is no more than a brief description, aimed at identifying what a reader intuits along with...

  15. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 255-262)
  16. INDEX OF NAMES AND TITLES
    (pp. 263-265)
  17. SUBJECT INDEX
    (pp. 266-268)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 269-269)