The Crisis of Laughter at the End of the Long Nineteenth Century: Laughter in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain
ClassificationEducation--Language and Literature
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AbstractOver the past decade, laughter has been the focus of significant research in literary and cultural studies, with scholars often concentrating on the period of Modernism (that is, the time around 1900) as a crucial moment in which debates about laughter intensified. However, the studies on laughter in Modernism have not yet paid any attention to one of the decisive novels from this period, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg, 1924), in which laughter features prominently. Additionally, scholarship on Thomas Mann has not critically attended to laughter in The Magic Mountain. To improve our understanding of the period of Modernism and this novel, I analyze the representation of laughter in The Magic Mountain against the background of two recent studies on laughter in Modernism (Parvulescu 2010; Nikopolous 2018) to reveal the extent to which Mann’s novel fits within existing conceptions of Modernist laughter. Anca Parvulescu considers that Modernist laughter challenges seriousness and, by disrupting norms of behaviour, possesses revolutionary potential, while Nikopoulos identifies Modernist laughter as a primarily negative sign, subject to pathological interpretations. The close reading of select laugh episodes (occurrences where laughter is highlighted or commented upon by the narrator or another character) demonstrates that the novel’s representation of laughter deviates from these recent characterizations of Modernist laughter. By drawing attention to the novel’s interest in the absence of laughter, the analysis shows another facet of Modernist laughter, not explained by characterizations of disruption or pathology. Namely, the study finds that the novel represents a crisis of laughter that is connected to a crisis of sociability and, as an extension of this, to a crisis of Bildung. This finding serves to distinguish between different characterizations and moments in the representation of laughter in the novel. The crisis of laughter observed in Mann’s novel could provide a different vantage point of Modernist laughter. Finally, the mentioned crisis could be extrapolated to other Modernist novels, especially German Modernist novels that dialogue with the Bildungsroman tradition.
CitationPrado, D. (2022). The Crisis of Laughter at the End of the Long Nineteenth Century: Laughter in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain (Unpublished master's thesis). University of Calgary, Calgary, AB.
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