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Michelson argues that to achieve a modernized and less-reductive understanding of the comic mode, conventional ideas must be extended, refreshed, qualified, and ultimately left behind. Revisiting Bergson, Freud, Bakhtin, and other authorities, he develops a new description of literary wit, with an emphasis on brevity, eloquence, and surprise, and gives special attention to the power and provenance of the modern epigram.
To develop this new approach, Michelson explores Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar and Oscar Wilde's "Preface" to The Picture of Dorian Gray. He also offers the first extended discussion of two celebrated recent dramas—Tom Stoppard's Arcadia and Margaret Edson's Pulitzer-winning Wit—as well as insightful readings of major poems by Richard Wilbur. He concludes with a suggestive look at the contemporary revolution in cognitive science and its implications for our understanding of the comic dimension in modern literature.
About the Author:
Bruce Michelson is professor of English and director of the Campus Honors Program at the University of Illinois. His previous books include Mark Twain on the Loose (1995) and Wilbur's Poetry: Music in a Scattering Time (1991), both published by the University of Massachusetts Press.