Cover

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Title Page, Copyright

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Contents

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-viii

It is an irony of authorship that only the person whose name is printed on a book’s cover truly knows how much others have had a hand in its making. I would first of all like to thank all those in the Departments of Comparative Literature and German at New York University whose guidance and...

Abbreviations

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pp. ix-xi

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Introduction: The Comic Ethos

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pp. 3-20

In his 1921 short essay “The Irony of Things” (the first section of the threepart “Three Small Observations”) Hugo von Hofmannsthal leaves no doubt: the era is one of irony.1 More, even, the era is one of irony become comic, of an all-encompassing world-irony for which laughter is the only possible...

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1. Senses of Humor: The Origins of Comic Irony

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pp. 21-56

There is hardly an examination of the phenomenon of irony that does not eventually find itself having to pay heed to the question of the comic, and, by the same token, there is almost no discussion of the comic, comedy, humor, or the joke that manages to avoid using the word “irony.” And yet the affiliation...

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2. The Playgrounds of Literature: Robert Walser

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pp. 57-96

Few authors have thematized the humoristic or comic nature of their own writing more than Robert Walser. Several critics have drawn attention to the phrases from the composition “Profession” in Fritz Kochers Aufsätze, “It would be fun to be a juggler [Gaukler sein wäre schön]” and “Clown? Yes...

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3. Slap Happy: Comic Kafka

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pp. 97-144

Franz Kafka’s The Castle reaches a climax—insofar as the novel can be said to reach a climax—in a scene of the crudest sort of situation comedy. Having just gone through the ordeal of breaking with his fiancée, Frieda, K. stumbles...

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4. Bearing Wit to History: Joseph Roth

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pp. 145-184

In 1914, in the literary journal Zeit-Echo: Ein Kriegstagebuch der Künstler (Time-Echo: An Artists’ Diary of the War), Max Brod publishes a short essay entitled “Gefühl von einer Verwandlung des Staates” (“Feeling of a Transformation of the State”).1 The piece, an impressionistic commentary...

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Conclusion: Last Laughs

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pp. 185-188

What so often appears potentially graspable in certain theories of wit, humor, jokes, and the comic is perhaps only a result of having removed the comic temporarily from its “proper element”: that is—as Hugo von Hofmannsthal once observed and as I have attempted in this book to...

Notes

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pp. 189-228

Works Cited

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pp. 229-246

Index

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pp. 247-257