“Sweetness is the Final Word of Skepticism”: Roland Barthes on Skepticism, Sweetness, and Stupidity

When I first ask my students about the meaning of skepticism, they often give me answers that confuse it with pessimism, bitterness, and negativity. Roland Barthes argues the contrary: that skepticism has nothing to do with bitterness. According to Diogenes Laertius, the 3rd century biographer of Greek philosophers, “sweetness is the final word of skepticism.” […]

Too Much…Life: On Eric Santer’s “Psychotheology of Everyday Life” – Part I

Many Continental thinkers discuss “excess.” Besides Friedrich Nietzsche, the most notable exploration of excess can be found in the writings of Georges Bataille. He loves excess and his writings exude what he calls “expenditure” and “waste,” which, to his mind, is what life is all about. His book, Inner Experience is one of the most […]

Progressive Schlemiels: On Dan Miron’s Reading of Sholem Aleichem’s “Motl the Cantor’s Son”

Dan Miron is one of the greatest living critics of Yiddish and Jewish-American literature today.   His books on these bodies of literature have won him critical claim.  What interests me most is how Miron would approach a schlemiel like Motl (the main character of Sholem Aleichem’s Motl the Cantor’s Son: Writings of an Orphan Boy. […]

Somewhere Between Man and Animal: A Note on Bernard Malamud’s Roy Hobbs

One of the most fascinating things Walter Benjamin notes about Franz Kafka’s main characters is that many of them are what he calls “prehistoric.”  Several of these characters are actually animals or insects: they include apes, bugs, and mice.  They exist in a world that is not outside of history, but before it.  Taking another […]

Jerry Lewis’s Animistic Comedy

Many a schlemiel-comedian has made his or her livelihood by way of this or that physical gesture (or series of gestures).  Oftentimes, these gestures are animations of this or that physical feature.  One need only think of the assemblage (to use a word made popular by the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guittari) of Groucho […]

Is Jerry Lewis a Masochistic Comedian or an Unconscious Anarchist?

All anarchists are fully conscious of their will to destroy the law.  The unconscious anarchist would not be; his anarchic “effect” would therefore be an accident. Steven Shaviro calls Jerry Lewis an “unconscious anarchist.”  But what does Lewis’s anarchism consist of?  Before we can answer that question, we need to look at the origin of […]

The Difference Between Sadism and Masochism as the Difference Between Irony and Humor

One of the most interesting distinctions I have come across, regarding comedy, deals with the distinction made by Gilles Deleuze (a French philosopher) between humor and irony.  According to Deleuze, in his book entitled Masochism, we find irony in Sadism and humor in Masochism (I am capitalizing these words for the sake of emphasis).  As […]