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Volume 2, Issue 2 (Winter 2006)


EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION: MODERNISM'S LAUGHTER, PP. 80-86

Justus Nieland

Justus Nieland (guest editor) is Professor of English at the Michigan State University


RIDICULOUSLY MODERN MARSDEN: TRAGICOMIC FORM AND QUEER MODERNITY, PP. 87-101

Tyrus Miller

In “Ridiculously Modern Marsden”, Tyrus Miller (University of California, Santa Cruz) explores the peculiar comic register of ‘the ridiculous’ and its modernity through the self-directed laughter of modernist painter and poet Marsden Hartley. A marginal figure of the Stieglitz circle, Hartley found his homosexuality too often the butt of the joke amongst his friends, and so chose to turn himself into an object of comedy. Tracing the play of this ostentatious self-ridicule, Miller shows how Hartley twins comedy and tragedy, turning laughter into a sign of ridiculous authenticity, a strange mode of gay affirmation.


TO CRIE ALARME SPIRITUAL: EVELYN WAUGH AND THE IRONIC COMMUNITY, PP. 102-114

Alan Dale

Alan Dale accounts for the spiritual dimensions of Waugh’s satire in the early, ultra-modern novels, “Vile Bodies” (1930) and “A Handful of Dust” (1934). Behind Waugh’s façade of hyper-drollery, Dale suggests, are the convictions of a spiritual absolutist whose comic fury is all the more intense because the position of religious faith from which it issues remains unveiled. Placing Waugh’s novels in the decidedly non-modern ambit of medieval Catholic satire, Dale argues that the modernity of Waugh’s novels inheres in their post-consensus context, in which a stable theological ground can no longer be taken for granted.


CANNIBALS AND CATHOLICS: READING THE READING OF EVELYN WAUGH'S 'BLACK MISCHIEF', PP. 115-137

Jonathan Greenberg

Jonathan Greenberg (Montclair State University) explores satire’s unstable dynamic of enjoyment and identification, one always threatening to careen out of the author’s control. As an example of this instability, Greenberg offers the messy public debate in which Waugh attempted to defend himself from the Catholic press’s charge that his novel “Black Mischief” was an immoral book, and Greenberg uses this debate as a point of departure to explore satire’s dialectical nature: the structural inextricability of morality and sadistic pleasure, outrage and amusement, anger and blasé indifference.


A CERTAIN LAUGHTER: SHERWOOD ANDERSON'S EXPERIMENT IN FORM, PP. 138-152

Judith Brown

Judith Brown (Indiana University - Bloomington) reads Sherwood Anderson’s 1925 novel “Dark Laughter” in the context of the explosion of theoretical treatments of laughter that emerge in the early 1920s in the traumatic wake of the Great War. Recuperating the disruptive potential of modernist laughter, Brown reads the novel through the scene of redemptive collective laughter that concludes Preston Sturges’ film “Sullivan’s Travels” (1941). Whereas Sturges offers the salve of a collective laughter as a fantasy of nondifferentiation from laughing others, Andersons dark laughter preserves the uncertain play of difference, undermining the alleged superiority of the laughter.


GARBO LAUGHS!, PP. 153-169

Paul Morrison

Through a witty close reading of Ernst Lubitsch’s film “Ninotchka” (1939) – a Greta Garbo comedy explicitly marketed through the promise that in it the infamously impassive ‘face of the century’ would, in fact, laugh – Paul Morrison (Brandeis University) reads Lubitsch’s film as a parable of the descent of Garbo’s gestural excess to bourgeois intelligibility, and thus, of the domestication of her very modernism.


SLAPSTICK MODERNISM: CHARLEY BOWERS AND INDUSTRIAL MODERNITY, PP. 170-188

William Solomon

William Solomon (SUNY-Buffalo) asks us how vernacular and avant-garde comic practice might function as twinned responses to standardised mass-production and the rationalisation of the workplace. Returning us to the recently rediscovered comic films of Charley Bowers – a pioneer of animated silent film and a proto-surrealist bricoleur lionised by André Breton, Solomon demonstrates how Bowers’ absurd machinic assemblages “generate laughter at the expense of the ethos of productive rationalism, in the process of opening up an alternative understanding of machinery as the locus of exuberantly unsettling bursts of joy”.


KILLING TIME: CHARLIE CHAPLIN AND THE COMIC PASSION OF 'MONSIEUR VERDOUX', PP. 189-208

Justus Nieland

Justus Nieland (Michigan State University) offers a reading of the domestication and death of Chaplin’s silent persona in his 1947 sound comedy, “Monsieur Verdoux”, and its consequent refashioning of comic feeling. In the film, the Tramp, modernity’s most public person, is killed by satire, polished smooth and supplanted by an inhuman character – both a dandy and a serial killer of women. Nieland offers a reading of the transition between the silent, universal Tramp and noisy and particular Verdoux.