Thursday, September 1, 2016

More comments on Purdie's Comedy: Mastery of Discourse

In August, I offered criticism of Purdie's Comedy: Mastery of Discourse. I actually had not finished the book at that time. Now that I am done, I want to comment on the ending.

Purdie laments the heavy influence of the Northrup Frye school of theory on comedy, and the related theories of Frazer's Golden Bough and Samuel Barber's theory of Saturnalia, complaining that many critics accept the paradigm uncritically even though it is unproven. I will not argue with her assessment. I have not studied carefully enough the positions of the critics of Frazer and the Golden Bough to have a sense of whether her criticism is fully warranted.

By the same token, however, her own book accepts the paradigm of Lacan just as uncritically, and Lacan's theories are just as unfalsifiable as Northrup Frye's are. Alas.

My own criticism of Toole's Confederacy of Dunces does use the Saturnalian theory of carnival. However, I do not make claims that the theory is itself a valid way to interpret all carnival events. My claim is that Toole himself was aware of the saturnalian theory and wrote Confederacy with an eye to that theory. So the Saturnalian theme is in the book, whether or not it is a valid way to analyze all comedy. One can make that claim in the same way that one can analyze Eliot's "Waste Land" using Frazer's Golden Bough, without necessarily endorsing Frazer's theory. One can do this because Eliot was so explicit about being influenced by Frazer. Frazer's themes are in the poem, whether or not Frazer's theory validly explains all primitive agricultural rituals and all comedy based on those rituals.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Theory of Humor, Purdie's Discourse Theory

I have been chipping away at a paper on the humor in Confederacy of Dunces. I have not made much headway. However, I can comment on some of the texts which I am studying.

Recently, I have been reading Susan Purdie's book, Comedy: The Mastery of Discourse (University of Toronto, 1993). I find much to like in its examination of disparaging humor. However, she comes to the topic from Lacanian psychoanalysis and theory of language. I find Lacan to be largely bogus, so in her grand gestures toward a philosophy of humor, I find I disagree with her on the most fundamental level (although she might say that this disagreement is a display of my patriarchal discursive power). Still, at the level below the largest scale, I find she makes many good observations and will probably quote her if I ever get this paper written.

Things I like about the book: I like the point that there is a power dynamic in social relationships and that humor can be used with in that dynamic. So she makes a good point that we laugh at someone who is aspiring to an undeserved status. I can even go along with her distinction of the inept-speaker construction versus the low-status-person construction. Her analysis of gender and humor is good.

Things I do not like about the book: Purdie sees all human thought and subjectivity as being mediated by language. So all humor is language-based. I follow Steven Pinker on the division of thought and language. Purdie also brings in Freudian and Marxist ideas that are unnecessary to her immediate arguments and that do not stand up well to scrutiny, even her own scrutiny.

The book's basic thesis is that all joking (all humor folded into language) is a violation of the normal rules of discourse; however, both the Teller and the Audience understand the violation, so the violating language is marked off and acknowledged to be violating. So the Teller proves his or her mastery of language by a controlled violation of its conventions. I much prefer Mulkay's book On Humour (1988). It divides communication (and mental states) into serious mode and humorous mode. The controlled violation in Purdie's book can be seen as humorous mode in Mulkay's construction.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Mr. Bean's theory of the physical comedy hero, never mind

As I mentioned in my blog post in July of 2015, I am working on an article on the humor in A Confederacy of Dunces. In that post, I appealed to anyone who might know the source of a list of qualities articulated in a documentary starring Rowan Atkinson. I was quite taken by the list of qualities of the physical comedy hero.

Since then, I have done a good deal of reading in the theory of comedy, and I have come to the conclusion that the list from the documentary is not correct. That list is an excellent description of characteristics for many heroes of physical comedy, but it does not actually define physical comedy. Many of the items in the list describe humor that is disparaging, which physical comedy often is. However, the basis of physical comedy is physicality, not disparagement.

So for all those of you who wrote in trying to help me with the source of the list .... wait, no one ever wrote in. Oh well, till next time.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

My research cited by other texts

Here are a few texts that cite my JKT research.

MacLauchlin, Cory. (2012). Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces. New York: Da Capo Press. This book cites Evidence of influences on John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces," including Geoffrey Chaucer version 2.0.

Marsh, Leslie. (2013). "Review of: Butterfly in the Typewriter," Journal of Mind and Behavior, v. 34(3-4): 285-298. This article cites both Evidence of influences on John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces," including Geoffrey Chaucer version 2.0, and my "Dialectic of American Humanism" article.

Lickhardt, Maren. (2014). "Zeitgenossische Pikareske als Kulturkritik," Zeitschrift fur Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik v. 44, 92-118. This article cites Evidence of influences on John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces," including Geoffrey Chaucer version 2.0.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Best of John Kennedy Toole Scholarship #13: Zaenker Hrotsvit

As I said in June 2013, I would like to offer an annotated bibliography, one citation at a time, of the best of the scholarship on Toole's Confederacy that is findable via MLA Bibliography (as opposed to obscure). Here is item number thirteen:

Citation: Zaenker, Karl A. “Hrotsvit and the Moderns: Her Impact on John Kennedy Toole and Peter Hacks.” In Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: Rara Avis in Saxonia? Edited by Katharina M. Wilson. Ann Arbor: Marc, 1987, 275-285.

Annotation: Zaenker argues that Ignatius represents the opposite of Hrotsvit’s ascetic ideals. His cloister is a place of masturbation and orgies of junk food. Ignatius’s pamphlet defending Hrotsvit indicates that Toole knew about the Aschbach controversy of the nineteenth century, which claimed that she did not exist. However, the typical Hrotsvit plot is “the holy man descending into the den of iniquity and saving a fallen woman from prostitution” (278), and Confederacy ends with a parody of it. Zaenker concludes that Ignatius’s world is without transcendence, and the parody indicates that the secularization of that world is complete (279). Ignatius’s medievalism is a result of his psychosis. Zaenker's essay ignores Ignatius’s scapegoat role and his Neoplatonism in drag, but it is basically a good article that adds to the list of authors whom Toole references.

Friday, April 1, 2016

John Kennedy Toole Research website now responsive

Thanks to the hard work of Allyson Wehrs, code crafter extraordinaire, my John Kennedy Toole Research website is now responsive for mobile devices. It looks marvelous, simply marvelous.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Google Scholar now links to "Evidence of Influences," 2.0 on Researchgate

In mid-February, Google Scholar finally linked to the Researchgate version of my paper Evidence of influences on John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces," including Geoffrey Chaucer version 2.0. On February 6, the link to the paper (on was still dead, but by February 13, the Researchgate link was up and running. Thanks, Google Scholar.

Findability of texts is a curious problem on the Internet. On February 2, right after I had taken down my course1 copy of Evidences 2.0, a couple of users found my website via search engines, evidently hunting for the 2.0 version of the paper. These users apparently experienced the dead link in Google Scholar and were hunting for the text on the open Internet. Oddly, users could find the webpage for the Researchgate copy of the paper through regular Google, but not through Google Scholar.

The fact that users were looking for the paper when they would have directly downloaded it before confirmed for me why I moved the paper: Back when the only copy of the paper was on the course1 server, I could not tell how many times it was downloaded because I did not have access to the log statistics. Now I have usage statistics.

Researchgate statistics: On January 26, 2016, Evidence had 19 reads on RG, and on February 29, it had 33 reads.