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Laughing at Nothing

Humor as a Response to Nihilism

John Marmysz

Publication Year: 2003

Disputing the common misconception that nihilism is wholly negative and necessarily damaging to the human spirit, John Marmysz offers a clear and complete definition to argue that it is compatible, and indeed preferably responded to, with an attitude of good humor. He carefully scrutinizes the phenomenon of nihilism as it appears in the works, lives, and actions of key figures in the history of philosophy, literature, politics, and theology, including Nietzsche, Heidegger, Camus, and Mishima. While suggesting that there ultimately is no solution to the problem of nihilism, Marmysz proposes a way of utilizing the anxiety and despair that is associated with the problem as a spur toward liveliness, activity, and the celebration of life.

Published by: State University of New York Press

front matter

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Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-

This work began as a doctoral dissertation written under the guidance of Professors Pablo De Greiff, Carolyn Korsmeyer, Mariam Thalos, and Henry Sussman at the University at Buffalo. Their encouragement, thoughtful comments, and enthusiasm were indispensable in allowing this book to take its present form. I am indebted to Frances Marmysz and Juneko Robinson for their ...

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Introduction. THE PROBLEM OF NIHILISM

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pp. 1-12

The problem of nihilism, as this passage from the Old Testament suggests, is nothing new. It is, in fact, a perennial concern and a source of anxiety that has had an influence upon human life and thought throughout history. A phenomenon that has affected both individuals and whole cultures, nihilism has been likened to a “malaise,” a “cancer,” and a “sickness,” while also having been ...

Part I. SCRUTINIZING NIHILISM

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Chapter One. GERMAN AND RUSSIAN NIHILISM

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pp. 15-20

Given this difficult ambiguity, it is well worth our while to attempt to separate out some of the themes and motifs characterizing things “nihilistic” before grappling with the substance of this abstruse subject. In the process of briefly examining the applications of the term in various contexts and times, we will find that its meanings do tend to converge and gesture ...

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Chapter Two. NIETZSCHEAN NIHILISM

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pp. 21-42

Active and passive nihilism, according to Nietzsche, form a dyad making it overly simplistic to claim that nihilism as a whole is a purely negative or destructive force. Nihilism is a process that lies at the very core of life, and can be observed in the continual struggle of humans to advance and improve themselves and their culture. Since the struggle for progress is only intelligible against the backdrop of ...

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Chapter Three. WORLD-WAR AND POSTWAR NIHILISM

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pp. 43-60

World War I was to be only the first of two world wars that would usher in a new “Age of Anxiety”1 for humankind, and Nietzsche’s name is associated with both of these cataclysms.When World War I began in 1914, though Nietzsche had been dead for fourteen years, his Thus Spoke Zarathustra became an international sensation. In Germany, it was suggested reading for the soldier in the ...

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Chapter Four. NIHILISTIC INCONGRUITY

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pp. 61-88

Nihilism is like a quilt that, having been assembled over many years by many different people and movements, is a patchwork of scraps and hand-me-downs. Though the origins of these patched-together legacies may have been long forgotten by their heirs apparent, an investigation into ancestry reveals a recurrent pattern of related issues and concerns. As with any exploration into ...

Part Two. DECLINE, ASCENT, AND HUMOR

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Chapter Five. DECLINE, DECAY, AND FALLING AWAY

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pp. 91-104

In the previous chapter we uncovered the basic premises that underlie the philosophy of nihilism, distinguishing it from other, related systems of thought. Authentic nihilists, we found, endorse the following three claims: (1) Humans are alienated from such perfections as absolute Being,Truth, Goodness, Justice, Beauty, etc. (2) This circumstance of alienation is other than it ought to be. ...

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Chapter Six. AMBITION, ASPIRATION, AND ASCENT

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pp. 105-122

We have arrived at a point in this investigation where it is now more possible than ever to understand the real dynamics involved in nihilistic thinking. Underlying the nihilist’s frustration and dissatisfaction with the world of actual reality is a sort of sublime respect and admiration for some very abstract ideas. For this reason, it is somewhat inaccurate to claim that the philosophy ...

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Chapter Seven. HUMOR AND INCONGRUITY

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pp. 123-154

There is nothing in either the philosophy of nihilism, or in nihilistic incongruity itself, that implies the necessity of a despairing stance on the part of the nihilist. Quite the contrary, we have in the course of this investigation come to understand that nihilism is even compatible with notions of value and of progress. Though this may seem strange to the mind that is attuned to the conventional ...

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Conclusion. HUMOR AS A RESPONSE TO NIHILISM

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pp. 155-166

The basic presumptions and values that nihilists take for granted are anything but foreign to our contemporary way of thinking, and it is for this reason that the problem of nihilism has, in recent times, become an intense issue of focus. Nihilism is a syndrome that, while neither solely modern nor Western, has gained much attention in the modern West. Though the first use of the term ...

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Postscript

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pp. 167-172

Before closing, I would like to offer a few scattered and brief observations about the relationship of a humorous nihilism to philosophy, education, and to recent terrorist activities in the United States. These remarks are not intended to be exhaustive, or even very extensive. Rather, they are areas of inquiry that I think may warrant further meditation and investigation in the future. ...

Notes

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pp. 173-194

Bibliography

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pp. 195-202

Index

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pp. 203-209


E-ISBN-13: 9780791486283
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791458396
Print-ISBN-10: 0791458393

Page Count: 217
Publication Year: 2003