Edgar Allan. Poe and H. L. Mencken’s Uses of Humor in Negative Reviews

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Both Edgar Allan Poe and H. L. Mencken can write reviews bursting at the seams with sarcasm and humor. These pieces of criticism speak novels about their judgment of these works that don’t “make the cut” of perceived greatness, and of the types of people who would indulge themselves with them. However, Noël Carrol does not speak about the use of humor in arts criticism, for good or for bad. If we are to use Carrol’s definition of arts criticism, then we can’t judge the effectiveness of Poe and Mencken’s use of humor in criticism, or whether it belongs at all. The question, then, is if humor has a place in the world of arts criticism, and how effective it is at conveying the critic’s judgment and evaluation of the work. As Poe and Mencken demonstrate in negative reviews, but less so in their positive reviews, the use of comedy can strengthen their evaluation and analysis of a work of art by allowing the audience to laugh at aspects of the work (and the environment the work is in) that detract from their evaluation, drawing their attention to particularly weak moments. This use merits comedy a place in arts criticism, even if Carrol has left it out of his definition.
Carrol’s definition of arts criticism boils down to a few concepts: evaluation and judgment, the six utilities of criticism (contextualization, elucidation, etc.), and respect of the artist’s intent. On the surface, comedy for sarcastic or satiric use does not seem to have a place in any of Carrol’s concepts…

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