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The Soul of Wit: Joke Theory from Grimm to Freud

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Overview

Witz first became a burning issue for German intellectuals after 1671 when le Père Dominique Bonhours in his Entretiens d'Artiste et d'Eugène informed them that they didn't have any. According to Bonhours, it wasn't really the Germans' fault that they were a little dim, it is just that they live in a cold climate and tend to be fat. A feud between French bel esprit and German Intellekt erupted that has persisted ever since. Scholarly investigations into the nature of the joke have traditionally been plagued by a bad conscience and invariably begin with an apology to the reader for taking time for such a frivolous subject. In breaking with this tradition, Hill places wit almost at the heart of the universe, tracing it from Genesis to the dawn of themodern age. Even if the reader is reluctant to grant Witz this metaphysical and world-historical status, it must at least be admitted that Witz cannot be dismissed as a just a joke. Witz can serve either builders or destroyers, defenders of the faith or heretics, diplomats or oafs, male chauvinists or radical feminists. Witz shows its volatility in setting up cultural, class, and gender boundaries just to smash them. Hill argues that there is something about Witz that makes it quintessential to the plight of modern culture. He views Witz as an ahistorical subject developing over time and transcending the lifespans and intentions of the authors who have wirtten with or about it. In Der Witz, for instance, Freud thougth he was describing the workings of a historical psychological process, but the material he works with betrays him. His examples twist, mock, and undermine the theories he makes about them. And though Fred wrote dismissively of it, there is a long history of Witztheorie from which his own sprang. It has a long history through which its meaning shifts many times. The very word Witz was fought over, sometimes sluggishly and between buffoons but often with a brilliance that gave it lustre.
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Editorial Reviews

South Atlantic Review
"Hill places great importance on the jest as he traces examples from Genesis to Grimm to Freud, but he never lets his scholarly investigation of the subject grow heavy and dull. His writing style and brilliant observations laced with displays of his own wit propel the reader from start to conclusion of this fascinating study."—South Atlantic Review
Jean Paul
"Freedom begets wit and wit begets freedom."—Jean Paul
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Product Details

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Vorspiel 1
Witz and the Enlightenment 11
Revolutionary Witz 35
The Science of Witz 65
The Economics of Witz 91
Witz, Women, and Jews 129
At Witz End 181
Epilogue: The Polyvalence of Witz 221
Bibliography 231
Index 239
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