Contemporary Black Humor Criticism: Overviews And General Studies - Essay

Stanley Trachtenberg (essay date spring 1973)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Trachtenberg, Stanley. “Counterhumor: Comedy in Contemporary American Fiction.” Georgia Review 27, no. 1 (spring 1973): 33-48.

[In the following essay, Trachtenberg discusses the emergence of a dark comic mode in American fiction during the 1960s and 1970s, focusing on common themes in the works of Thomas Pynchon and Kurt Vonnegut.]

“Look,” an exasperated Ralph Ellison once demanded of an interviewer whose questions about Invisible Man concentrated on significance, “didn't you find the book at all funny?” Considering what happens in the novel, the question itself seems comic. Real or symbolic episodes of incest, murder, an attempted lobotomy,...

(The entire section is 6192 words.)

Mathew Winston (essay date winter 1976)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Winston, Mathew. “The Ethics of Contemporary Black Humor.” Colorado Quarterly 24, no. 3 (winter 1976): 275-88.

[In the following essay, Winston briefly defines black humor, identifies its major themes and techniques, and addresses charges by literary and cultural critics that works of black humor are “both an image and a cause of decadence and degeneration.”]

Philip Roth's novel The Breast features a professor of comparative literature, David Alan Kepesh, who wakes up one morning to find he has mysteriously metamorphosed into a female breast. Trying to find a rational explanation for this mammary phenomenon, he tentatively concludes that he has...

(The entire section is 5840 words.)

Steven Weisenburger (essay date summer 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Weisenburger, Steven. “Barth and Black Humor.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 10, no. 2 (summer 1990): 50-5.

[In the following essay, Weisenburger provides a history of black humor, comparing it to and differentiating it from conventional satire.]

In his 1988 essay “Postmodernism Revisited,” John Barth assents to the critics' identification of his early work—or at least his second novel, The End of the Road—with Black Humor. To Barth, Black Humor was just an early phase of postmodernism as it convulsed aborning. So his real business lies further on, in attempting to define a literary postmodernism that might be more than just an omnium...

(The entire section is 2571 words.)