"This is a work of vast reading and considered judgment. Some of the notes are really exquisite little essays—provocative and intelligent in and of themselves. . . . As for the literary analysis, which constitutes the major portion of the book, it is lucid, acute, and compelling."—Tom Quirk, author of Coming to Grips with Huckleberry Finn
and Mark Twain: A Study of the Short Fiction.
"A great read—clever, engaging, and extremely valuable to my own thinking about wit and humor as critical tools for understanding major writers."—David E. Sloane, editor of American Humor:
New Studies, New Directions
"In our historical moment flush with Seinfeldian irony, wit seems a perfect antidote to resigned cynicism or sclerotic habits of thought. Michelson (English, Univ. of Illinois), the author of books on Mark Twain and Richard Wilbur, hopes to give a boost to wit as a way of seeing things newly. He proposes to mothball the theories of humor and laughter developed by Freud, Bergson, and Bakhtin to cast wit as the "life-saving affirmation of the certainty that we know nothing for certain." Once Michelson has unmoored wit from its allegedly stodgy explications, however, he yields to naively premodernist assertions that wit "can keep us spiritually alive." When he reduces Wilde's, Twain's, and Stoppard's wit to such vague and starry-eyed jingles, however, he overlooks the capacity of wit to pierce precisely the empty celebration of human potential with which Michelson concludes his book."—Library Journal