Laughter and madness in post-war American fiction
Two philosophical positions seem evident in post-war American fiction: one realist, one anti-realist. Using the terms 'revelation' and 'apocalypse' to reflect the former, and 'entropy' the latter, this thesis proposes that distinctions between the two can be made by analysis of a text's treatment of the nexus between laughter and madness. After an Overview that identifies and defines key terms, the Introduction considers various theoretical treatments of laughter from which its function can be ascertained as being both to reinforce stability within social groups and to explore new alternatives to existing modes of thought. Madness being defined as an inability to balance the opposing forces of system and anti-system, laughter is therefore vital to maintain sanity. The Fool emerges as a crucial figure in this process. Chapter One explores, with reference to Heller's Catch-22, Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Kerouac's On The Road, the Laughter of Revelation: a laughing relationship between a Protagonist who is trapped within the system of an Institution and a Fool who communicates to the Protagonist (through laughter) a means of escape. Chapter Two then discusses, with reference to Blatty's The Exorcist, King's It, Morrison's Sula, and Nabokov's Lolita, the Laughter of Apocalypse: a laughing relationship in which the Fool's laughter (as mockery) is potentially destructive of both the Protagonist's sanity and the stability of the Institution. Chapter Three explores, with reference to Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-5, Ellis's American Psycho, and Heller's Closing Time, the Laughter of Entropy: the failure of the laughing relationship that obtains when the dialectic between Institution (as system) and Fool (as anti-system) collapses. The concluding remarks reflect the metafictional implications of the foregoing analyses. It is suggested that, with the collapse of this dialectic (expressed by the Laughter of Entropy), the traditional relationship between Author and Reader becomes problematic.