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Irony in the Age of Empire

Comic Perspectives on Democracy and Freedom

Cynthia Willett

Publication Year: 2008

Comedy, from social ridicule to the unruly laughter of the carnival, provides effective tools for reinforcing social patterns of domination as well as weapons for emancipation. In Irony in the Age of Empire, Cynthia Willett asks: What could embody liberation better than laughter? Why do the oppressed laugh? What vision does the comic world prescribe? For Willett, the comic trumps standard liberal accounts of freedom by drawing attention to bodies, affects, and intimate relationships, topics which are usually neglected by political philosophy. Willett's philosophical reflection on comedy issues a powerful challenge to standard conceptions of freedom by proposing a new kind of freedom that is unapologetically feminist, queer, and multiracial. This book provides a wide-ranging, original, thoughtful, and expansive discussion of citizenship, social manners, and political freedom in our world today.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: American Philosophy


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pp. vii

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pp. ix

I wrote this book over the years when my children’s tastes in comedy were changing from Rugrats to The Colbert Report and Hollywood romantic comedies. Much of the research for the book owes to Liza and Joe’s collaboration as well as their endless stream of jokes. ...

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Prologue: On Truthiness

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pp. 1-17

On September 11, 2001, the radical Islamist group Al Qaeda largely succeeded in carrying out a plot to destroy the U.S. World Trade Center towers and embarrass a mighty power. The United States responded with two invasions. ...

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One Laughter against Hubris: A Preemptive Strike

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pp. 18-40

For twelve years, the United States had stood alone and uncontested as the sole world superpower. Then came the terror of September 11, the crumbling World Trade towers, the damaged face of the Pentagon, and thousands dead. The deaths and destruction prompted much speculation on the reasons for anti-American sentiments ...

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Two Laughing to Keep from Crying: Cornel West, Pragmatism, and Progressive Comedy

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pp. 41-62

It isn’t easy synthesizing the work of the master synthesizer, Cornel West. Cornel West’s glimpse into life is as wide and deep as his roots in music and religion. His evangelical message of hope, the syncopated rhythms of unexpected joy against the unyielding absurd, have earned him the title of the blues man of philosophy, ...

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Three Authenticity in an Age of Satire: Ellison, Sartre, Bergson, and Spike Lee’s Bamboozled

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pp. 63-91

Could an age riddled by the ironies of postmodern skepticism find a way of grasping anew the ethics of authenticity? In classic existential terms, authenticity entails recuperating a sense of oneself from the threat of absorption into social roles.1 After the demise of the 1960s social movements, and the rise of linguistic philosophy, ...

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Four Engage the Enemy: Cavell, Comedies of Remarriage, and the Politics of Friendship

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pp. 92-115

Life, liberty, and, not property per se, but the pursuit of happiness name our fundamental sense of rights in this country. But are we at all clear on what happiness, or at least its pursuit, entails? Certainly we might say that of all the good things that lead to individual happiness, few are as important as friendship. ...

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Five Three Concepts of Freedom

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pp. 116-148

The practices of comedy provide terribly effective tools, strategies, and tactics for reinforcing social patterns of domination and exclusion. Oppressive communities, for example, may generate internal unity by using ridicule to target social outcasts and threaten any member who dares not conform. ...


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pp. 149-166


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pp. 167-171

E-ISBN-13: 9780253003133
E-ISBN-10: 025300313X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253351661

Page Count: 184
Illustrations: 1 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: American Philosophy