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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Comedy After Postmodernism: Rereading Comedy from Edward Lear to Charles Willeford by Kirby Olson (Texas Tech University Press)  Author note: I wrote about six authors who I think should be reevaluated after the advent of postmodernism. Before this, Lear, Gregory Corso, Philippe Soupault, P.G. Wodehouse, Stewart Home, and Charles Willeford, were thought to be throwaway lightweights. Now, thanks to Gilles Deleuze and J.-F. Lyotard, I believe these authors can be reevaluated.

The spirit of comedy is very close to the spirit of postmodernism. In my introduction, I wrote, "Laughter has escaped every means of rational description by philosophers and other writers during the whole history of our civilization, despite thousands of valiant tries, from Cicero to Hobbes to Freud."`Along with poetry, laughter was one of the things that Plato sought to banish from the Republic, precisely because of its a-rationality.

In this sense, too, I consider laughter to be a major element of surrealism, which inspired Corso, Soupault, and Willeford directly, and for whom Lear was a cardinal inspiration.  My other aim in writing the book was to discuss how after Darwin and Nietzsche, tragedy is no longer the central aesthetic of western civilization. Comedy has taken its place. Throughout the book, I discuss why this is so, and the pleasures and dangers of the new world ahead.

Comedy is getting more and more academic recognition. There are several important academic journals devoted to comedy (Humor, Studies in American Humor, Thalia, are probably the big three), and increasingly scholars are turning to it as a new kind of wisdom. My book is meant to study this trend and also to promote it.

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