If some critics are right, Black Humor may be the only new or important development in American fiction since World War II. The important writers are John Barth, William Burroughs, and Thomas Pynchon—but also James Purdy, Joseph Heller, J. P. Donleavy, Bruce Friedman, John Hawkes, and Terry Southern (according to really ambitious critics, there is even a Grand Tradition which includes everybody good from Andy Warhol and Voltaire back to Aristophanes) .
The label fits some of these writers poorly, but generally they do share a new mood and manner. Their view of life is audaciously “black”—subversive, enraged, even apocalyptic. The stage groans with the wreckage of bewildered innocents and sinister megalomaniacs, cannibals, and intellectual rapists. But the Black Humor manner short-circuits any strong response to this. The novels stay coolly “humorous,” murderously farcical, coldly zany, cosmically slapsticky. Black Humor likes nutty plots, mischievo...
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