Between Silliness and Satire: On Black Humor Fiction
During the 1960s, one of the strains of American fiction prompting many readers and critics to believe that novelists were beginning to shed themselves of the lingering constraints of realism still influencing many postwar writers was referred to as "black humor." At first mostly used interchangeably with other terms to describe this new mode of "absolute" comedy, such as "absurdist" or "grotesque," or sometimes regarded as a more radical form of satire, "black humor" was clarified and established as the term of choice to identify this particular literary phenomenon in a 1966 anthology, edited by Bruce Jay Friedman, himself one of the prominent practitioners of the form, entitled, simply, Black Humor.
Between Silliness and Satire is a selection of essays on black humor and black humorists that takes Friedman's anthology as the touchstone in defining black humor and examines the work of writers who exemplify the approach to comedy Friedman outlines in that book, among them Joseph Heller, Terry Southern, and Kurt Vonnegut, as well as writers more tangential to the movement whose fiction nevertheless accentuates or highlights important features of black humor fiction, such as James Purdy and Joshua Ferris. The essays attempt to delineate the identifiable characteristics of this fiction as manifested in the work of these writers, and they as well implicitly maintain both that the comic and aesthetic perspective informing black humor was shared by a remarkable number of comedically skilled writers who transformed the role of "humor" in "serious" fiction and that this perspective is by no means simply an artifact of a specific era but remains available to writers able to appreciate it.
WHAT IS (WAS) BLACK HUMOR?
Catch-22 and the Humor of Black Humor
The Comedy of Mishap and Misfortune: Bruce Jay Friedman
James Purdy and Black Humor
WHAT’S HUMOROUS ABOUT BLACK HUMOR?
Top of the Bill: Stanley Elkin
On Joshua Ferris