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Chapter 21 - The Last Laughs of Doomsday Humor

from Part III - Varieties of Apocalyptic Experience

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 December 2020

John Hay
Affiliation:
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
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Summary

In his exhaustive cultural history of the atomic bomb, Paul Boyer suggests that the unthinkable scale of nuclear warfare registered in the American consciousness as an aesthetic problem. “How was one to respond imaginatively to Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” he writes, “and, still more, to the prospect of world holocaust?” This chapter sees the decidedly American strain of black humor that emerged in the wake of the Japanese bombings as an attempt to build a new “atomic aesthetics” that would be capable of registering and critiquing nuclear violence. A key feature of these aesthetics is an “atomic laughter”—a shattering strain of laughter that is both interior to and elicited by these darkly comic texts. This essay offers a theory of this atomic laughter—its political and affective dimensions—by way of a close reading of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964).

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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