Machine-Age Comedy

Machine-Age Comedy

Machine-Age Comedy

Machine-Age Comedy

Synopsis

In this latest addition to Oxford's Modernist Literature and Culture series, renowned modernist scholar Michael North poses fundamental questions about the relationship between modernity and comic form in film, animation, the visual arts, and literature. Machine-Age Comedy vividly constructs a cultural history that spans the entire twentieth century, showing how changes wrought by industrialization have forever altered the comic mode. With keen analyses, North examines the work of a wide range of artists - including Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney, Marcel Duchamp, Samuel Beckett, and David Foster Wallace - to show the creative and unconventional ways the routinization of industrial society has been explored in a broad array of cultural forms. Throughout, North argues that modern writers and artists found something inherently comic in new experiences of repetition associated with, enforced by, and made inevitable by the machine age.Ultimately, this rich, tightly focused study offers a new lens for understanding the devlopment of comedic structures during periods of massive social, political, and cultural change to reveal how the original promise of modern life can be extracted from its practical disappointment.

Excerpt

Michael North’s founding insight in Machine-Age Comedy is simple yet potentially transformative: new forms of comedy emerging in the twentieth century suggest that artists found technological modernity intrinsically comic. North analyzes a broad array of cultural forms—fiction, drama, essays, cartoons, readymades, and films—to construct a cultural history that takes in Buster Keaton and Dziga Vertov, Wyndham Lewis and Samuel Beckett, Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat, Henri Bergson and Walter Benjamin, Charlie Chaplin and David Foster Wallace. The breadth of Machine-Age Comedy is dazzling; at the same time, it is tightly focused, rendering the argument both remarkably lucid and extremely suggestive.

Given the unprecedented mass violence experienced throughout the world over the past century, one might hypothesize that machine-age comedy was intended as some kind of desperate defense, or perhaps, as Robert Polhemus has put it, comprised a form of “comic faith” that either supplemented or substituted for the consolations of religion. But North argues that modern writers and artists found something inherently comic in new experiences of repetition associated with— enforced and made inevitable by —industrial mass production, mechanical reproduction, and a growing suspicion of the fundamentally machinic nature of human beings. North is therefore interested not only in the representation of machines and how recording technologies created new forms of representation. He also explores how the mass production of everyday consumer goods created new kinds of aesthetic objects that were recognized as such by artists highly attuned to cultural transformations wrought by the machine age.

North returns to classic accounts of aesthetic modernism to show how the comic, typically slighted, is fundamental in hitherto unrecognized ways. Marcel . . .

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