Synopses & Reviews
This reprint from 2009 (which has a new introduction) views comedy inliterature as a way of understanding and that it can provide insight into the world and everyday experiences. The author argues thatcomedy can be understood as a mode of thought that brings a specific state of affairs to some kind of unscrupulous irresolution, and thatit is a mode of meaning by itself, not in need of analysis through other discourses or merely a literary or theatrical genre. Heconsiders critical and cultural assumptions that limit the understanding of comedy, questioning its trivialization. Usingexamples of texts and films, he discusses the obsession with the question of power in literary criticism and how it affects theoriesof and traditional approaches to comic forms, with discussion of Elisabeth Cohen's "Kids Who Died in My High School Last Year"; howthe social expression of laughter can be understood in more open and indeterminate ways, including in terms of suffering, as seen inSchindler's List; Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of "reduced laughter," particularly in works by Henry James; comedy's place in the world ofmoral reflection and philosophical perception, with discussion of the writings of Stanley Cavell; how modern readers share culturallyconstructed assumptions about comic plots, with the example of Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers; and the liberatory possibilities ofcomedy, looking at the definitions of the grotesque in terms of the work of Franz Kafka.Annotation ©2014 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Much writing about comedy tends to begin and end with Aristotle's claim that comedy is inferior to tragedy, trivializing comedy as cheap or as a temporary distraction from things that "really matter." Such writing either presents exhaustive taxonomies of kinds of humor--like wit, puns, jokes, humor, satire, irony--or engages in pointless political endgames, moral dialogues, or philosophical perceptions. Comedy is rarely presented as a mode of thought in its own right, as a way of understanding, not something to be understood.
John Bruns' guiding assumption is that comedy is not simply a literary or theatrical genre, to be differentiated from tragedy or from romance, but a certain way of disclosing, perhaps undoing, the way the world is organized. When we view the world in terms of what is incompatible, we are reading comically. In this sense, comedy exists outside the alternatives of tragic and comic.
Loopholes argues that trivialization of comedy comes from fear that it will address our anxieties with honesty--and it is this truth that scares us. John Bruns discusses comedy as a mode of thought with a cognitive function. It is a domain of human understanding, a domain far more troubling and accessible than we care to acknowledge. To "read comically" we must accept our fears. If we do so, we will realize what Bruns refers to as the most neglected premise of comedy, that the world itself is a loophole--both incomplete and limitless.