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Title: The enchantment of laughter : comic effect in fiction and critical discourse
Author: Wheller, Lois.
ISNI:       0000 0001 3566 6695
Awarding Body: University of Sussex
Current Institution: University of Sussex
Date of Award: 2003
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This thesis pursues the narrative codes and effects through which we sense, and make sense of, instances of comedy in fiction. Its broad scope of authorship - from Chaucer to Bret Easton Ellis - probes the contextual dependency of comedy and 'senses of humour' as well as a seemingly transcultural value of laughter. It draws on critical accounts of comedy, most notably by Georges Bataille, Henri Bergson, Simon Critchley, Sigmund Freud, Arthur Koestler and Julia Kristeva, exploring the ways in which our experiences of reading comic narratives are shaped by such cultural constructions of 'the comic'. It finds that genre and context specific studies hinge as much on concerns of social and critical responsibility - the factors that make the comic dimension of fiction valuable as opposed to frivolous - as general theorisations of 'the comic'. This thesis is no exception. It aims to counter criticism that, often armed with the phrase 'postmodern play', interprets comic forces of destabilisation as dangerously annulling serious social concerns. The first half of this study takes in turn three comic modes that have come under critical fire: parody, irony and cynicism. The latter half explores the consolidation and subversion of communal identities in comic fiction through the subjects of Czech humour, translation and regional accents. Throughout, it challenges conventional criticism that posits comedy as a tool of social discrimination and laughter as an assertion of superiority_ Instead, it finds in comic narratives precisely the collapse of fixed critical 'standpoints' and the relativity of evaluations. Following Bataille, it proposes that the 'enchantment' of laughter stems neither from an inflated sense of self nor an escape from seriousness that leaves us spellbound, but from an unsettling and comforting communication of the instability of cultural values and identities that puts ethical, social and political codes into play.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available