Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Lewis, Paul. Comic Effects.

Lewis, Paul. Comic Effects. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1989.

Lewis explicitly situates his critical method within the social-scientific field of ‘humour studies,’ in contrast to classical approaches. In his account modern humour research and criticism rejects any clear distinction between or adherence to these formulae, treating humour as a complex “whole made up of many parts, many variables, many potential topics of inquiry” (6), rather than as a unified abstract entity. Despite his espoused hostility towards systems, Lewis's account of humour is based in notions of incongruity, which he argues is not a sufficient condition, but instead needs to be the subject of emperical research in order to determine the other parameters.

For Lewis, Humour is an exercise of power, with the implication that it is correct, appropriate and ethical to find the posited incongruity amusing (13). He therefore offer sa negative assessment of the politics of contemporary humour in his declaration that while traditional comedy was anarchic and subversive, modern sitcoms function to perpetuate the status quo and are therefore conservative and sterile (65). For Lewis, humour can act as a means to evade reflection, implying value judgements in a “seductive” fashion (67), which recalls Marxist complaints about the function of culture more generally. In a manner that recalls both Freud’s tendentious joke and Bergson’s notion of “social nagging,” Lewis argues that humour can act as a means of socially sanctioned aggression, a struggle for supremacy, which does not liberate, but punishes (34-7). Beyond Bergson and Freud, though, Lewis rejects previous theories based upon unitary explanations and assumptions, which he suggests must be replaced by a critical social scientific method (2-4), and an evaluation of the assumptions that underpin any declaration as to what exactly counts as humour (14).

While beginning with a broad focus, the later sections of Lewis's book are a series of close readings of literary texts, in particular Gothic texts, combined with assertions as to the desirability of neuropsychological cognitive analysis. The literary is put forward as a central means by which to assess this cognitive functions.

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