Humor as Epiphanic Awareness and Attempted Self-Transcendence

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Humor as Epiphanic Awareness and Attempted Self-Transcendence

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Title: Humor as Epiphanic Awareness and Attempted Self-Transcendence
Author: Shonkwiler, Curt
Citation: Shonkwiler, Curt. 2015. Humor as Epiphanic Awareness and Attempted Self-Transcendence. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: The starting premise of this dissertation is that the formal techniques of comedy make the comic novel a distinct form within the category of the novel, not just in terms of content, the way one novelistic genre is distinct from another, but also in terms of form, similar to the way poetry is distinct from prose. The argument is that the formal structures of comedy, such as set-ups, punchlines, and comic rhythm, combine to constitute a formally rigorous, almost rule-bound art form. These techniques are explored through close readings of various 20th century comic novels, in particular Voyage au bout de la nuit by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Le Sabotage amoureux by Amélie Nothomb, Moskva-Pethushki by Venedikt Erofeev and Catch-22 Joseph Heller.
The further extension of this argument is that these formal structures create certain fundamental characteristics the comic novel, which in turn instantiate spiritual and emotional functions of the comedy on a structural level. The most important of these functions are that comedy serves creates a sudden, epiphanic awareness of reality, a sense of self-transcendence, and an instant bond between people. Finally, the dissertation considers the limitations of these functions. For example, comedy creates awareness of that which was previously latently grasped, but rarely substantively new knowledge. The sense of self-transcendence it is real but momentary, fleeting. And the connection it fosters between people is instant but limited by its own basic impersonality.
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