This is part II of a two-part essay on narrative humor. Part I appeared in Poetics Today 31:4; it explained Wright’s (2005) idea that both humor and narrative require audiences/readers to switch between “intentional perspectives,” that is, between the cognitive-emotive states of mind of agents (participants). Second, it distinguished between humor and narrative: while narrative contains minimally two layers of intentionality (oriented to the action and its presentation), humor can but need not involve those two layers; inversely, while humor always requires subjects to perceive incongruity and feel superiority, narrative is not defined by incongruity and superiority, although it can produce them. Third, part I went on to redefine the composite concept “narrative humor,” describing it as the production and/or exploitation of incongruity and superiority relations among the participants (agents, intentional perspectives) of narrative texts: author, narrator, reader/spectator, character. Fourth, it analyzed some types of narrative humor, mainly “metanarrative humor,” “comic narrative suspense,” and “comic narrative surprise.” Part II surveys and compares other approaches to humor in/and narrative. In the philosophical and psychoanalytic study The Odd One In (2008), Zupančič suggests that comedies involving unhappiness deserve more attention than they have received. The idea that comedies are compatible with unhappiness is interesting, yet Zupančič overlooks the central mechanisms behind the idea: perspectival mechanisms, which foster incongruity/superiority between participants in a narrative and thus enable comedies to turn someone’s unhappiness into a funny thing. Also, Zupančič mistakes causal and temporal development for a feature of tragedy as against comedy, rather than identifying such development as a feature of narrative in general; by the standards of serious narrative, comic plots can even unroll “incongruously” many causal-temporal developments (as when farcical plots run wild). More generally, Zupančič shows little awareness of existing research on humor and comedy. Humor Studies may erroneously regard such books as representative of humanist-interpretive analyses of humor in general—and therefore keep excluding cultural and literary studies from their interdisciplinary enterprise. Yet Humor Studies likewise betrays problems in the face of narrative humor. As with Zupančič, those problems (visible in Attardo 2001 and, less so, Ermida 2008) are related to a neglect of intentional perspective, a poor grasp of narrative’s perspectival makeup, and a lack of interest in poetics.
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Jeroen Vandaele; Narrative Humor (II): Exit Perspective. Poetics Today 1 March 2012; 33 (1): 59–126. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-1505540
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