On Radical Comedy

Sheehan, Martin Patrick, Department of Germanic Languages and Literature, University of Virginia
Voris, Renate, Department of Germanic Languages and Literature, University of Virginia

The purpose of this study is to investigate the phenomena of incomplete, problematic, or disruptive mimesis and resolution as they function in German dramatic comedies and current television situational comedies which draw attention to and question the genre's boundaries, structure, and traditionally normative function in society. Specifically, this study analyzes the effects of the exaggerated resolution of Lenz's Der Hofmeister, the open ending of Hauptmann's Der Biberpelz, the dense dialogue of Sternheim's Die Kassette, and the camera work of the BBC2 situation comedy The Office. These works are interpreted within the context of two modes of comedy based on the presence, nature, and clarity of the dramatic mimesis and comedic resolution-the conventional and radical forms, wherein the complete, structured, and stabilizing form of the former serves as the base from which the latter deviates. The analysis suggests that these radical comedies represent a movement away from the conventional foundations of comedy and toward the decentering or rupture of postmodernism by exaggerating, aborting, obscuring, or otherwise problematizing both the resolution and the dynamic between the audience and the mimesis. Extending the scholarship of critics such as Arntzen, Mauser, and Haida, this study describes how radical comedy demonstrates the problematic nature of representation (aesthetic, epistemological, moral, or political) overlooked by rationalist proscriptions of art which assume that all artistic production-especially, dramatic comedycan entertain, instruct, and normalize its audience. By subverting the traditions of comedic structure, representation, and reception, the works analyzed in this study appear to challenge the boundaries between the audience and comedy.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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