The heart-shaped cookie knife : Miss Lonelyhearts as accelerated Bergsonian comedy



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This report provides a new examination of the nature and function of laughter in Nathanael West's novel Miss Lonelyhearts, using Bergson's theory of comedy as a critical lens. This approach allows us to understand the close connection between mechanization and comedy in West's novel, and also to recognize the text's hitherto untold significance for post-industrial American literature. Building on Bergson in original ways, and incorporating the work of twentieth-century theorists such as Fredric Jameson, I argue that Miss Lonelyhearts illuminates a proto-postmodern cityscape where comedy is governed by the mechanizing logic of capital and media. West's characters, figured as comedic machines, are pushed to their biological, psychological and mechanical limits in this world, and laughter marks the moments of their breakage. Synthesizing several disparate strands of criticism on comedy, irony and media, my reading accounts for the ways in which laughter functions and malfunctions in this text, and the means by which West produces comedy from such profound tragedy.