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A Philosophy of Satire. Critique, Entertainment, Therapy.

Declercq, Dieter (2017) A Philosophy of Satire. Critique, Entertainment, Therapy. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:64125)

Language: English
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What is satire, what can it do and what not, and why should we care about it? Since its introduction as a classification of artworks in Roman times, these fundamental questions about satire have been continually addressed by satirists themselves, their fans, their detractors, political and moral authorities, art-critics, and, not in the least, scholars. These longstanding debates about the fundamental issues of satire have often been fruitful and enlightening. Still, the fundamental questions about satire's nature, its function and its significance have remained unanswered. In this thesis, I aim to resolve these issues by engaging with satire throughout the ages in various media, with a specific focus on contemporary moving images. While satire was traditionally a literary phenomenon, it is nowadays most widespread on the screen, especially due to commercial success on American television (Gray, Jones and Thompson 2009, 19). For this reason, although I do not ignore debates in literary studies and other disciplines, I primarily engage with recent scholarship in film, television and media studies (e.g. Day 2012; McClennen 2011; Jones 2010; Baym 2010). Apart from moving images, I also discuss a variety of comics, because I argue that satire is characterised by similar storytelling techniques as cartoons and caricatures.

My investigation aims to clarify fundamental, general and abstract questions about the nature, function and significance of satire. In order to realise these aims, I introduce and develop methodological frameworks from analytic aesthetics and philosophy. I draw mostly on methodologies in philosophy of art to address my research questions and clarify closely related concepts to satire, including irony (Wilson and Sperber 2012), humour (Carroll 2014), fiction (Friend 2012), genre (Abell 2014), aesthetic experiences (Stecker 2010), entertainment (Shusterman 2003) and narrative interpretation (Currie 2004). I also engage with scholarship which has sought to appraise the nature, function and significance of satire by comparing it to philosophy (Gray 2005; Higgie 2014). On the one hand, such comparisons are problematically vague and, under scrutiny, the differences between satire and philosophy quickly become apparent (see Diehl 2013). On the other hand, these comparisons are valuable because they rightfully highlight that satirists and philosophers share a moral concern for truth, which situates them in a similar existential framework. Still, concepts like 'truth' and 'ethics' have remained problematically vague in recent debates about satire, especially in the wake of postmodernism. In order to redress this situation and introduce greater clarity to the debates, I develop a meta-ethical investigation rooted in the quasi-realism of Simon Blackburn (1998).

In the first chapter, I challenge the idea that satire is a spirit or mode which can only be characterised by a cluster account (Condren 2012). Instead, I define satire as a genre with the purpose to critique and entertain. This definition highlights a fundamental tension in satire between a broadly moral purpose to critique and a broadly aesthetic purpose to entertain, which explains the ambiguous reception of satire: hailed for its truthful moral interventions (Gray 2005), enjoyed for its aesthetic pleasures (Griffin 1994), but also dismissed as frivolous pastime that cultivates cynicism (Webber 2011). In the second chapter, I frame the significance of satire's definitive tension as corresponding to a fundamental conflict in ethical life between the demands of critique and its limits. Although I acknowledge that satire's purpose to entertain limits its political impact as critique (Holbert 2013), I revalue entertainment in satire as therapy to cope with the limits of critique. In the third chapter, I investigate the cognitive contributions of satire as critique, even if they are moderate. Acknowledging that fictions are epistemically risky (Currie and Levinson 2017), I acknowledge that satire can deceive, but I also defend that good satire can teach non-trivial truths, including moral truths. Nonetheless, I advocate a careful cognitivism which acknowledges that satire's cognitive contributions need to be complemented with further inquiry. In the fourth chapter, I explain that satirists often cultivate a humorous irony to cope with the limits of critique. In dialogue with psychological research on the therapeutic function of narratives (Roberts and Holmes 1999) and the correlation between humour and wellbeing (Martin 2007; Ruch and Heintz 2016), I conceptually clarify the therapeutic dimension of humorous irony in satire as a narrative strategy to cope with the absurd gap between the demands of critique and its limits. I conclude that further research about satire should focus less on proving that satire changes the world and more on how it copes with it.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Wood, Aylish
Thesis advisor: Maes, Hans
Uncontrolled keywords: Satire Comedy Irony Cartoons Aesthetics
Subjects: N Visual Arts
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 23 Oct 2017 16:10 UTC
Last Modified: 09 Dec 2022 17:58 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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