In his late unpublished essay “Dionysus in 1992,” Norman O. Brown arrived at the ancient Greek term “spoudaiogeloion” to express his idea of a “serious laughter” that could respond to dialectical tensions without unbalancing them. Brown had, in 1959, converted Freud's Witz book into a serious theory of art. This turned the focus on humor into a focus on art, subtly repressing the place of laughter in art and thinking for Brown and those who took him seriously. His casual conversation was always full of fun, but his formal thought lacked that liberating concept until the last decade of his life. Not even the accusation by Marcuse of “mystification” could bring him out of his idealizations—until he saw the dialectical power of humor's ambivalence. “Spoudaiogeloion,” with room for Joyce's farcical wit and Blake's high visions, gave Brown a useful “way out” of tensions between “high” and “low” art or philosophy.

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