Slapstick Modernism

From Charlie Chaplin to Iggy Pop

Aug. 9, 2016
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What link could exist between Charlie Chaplin and Iggy Pop? Don’t forget: Pop gained prominence in a band called The Stooges, which suggests a chain of cause and effect. In Slapstick Modernism: Chaplin to Kerouac to Iggy Pop (published by University of Illinois Press), William Solomon elucidates the parallel development of slapstick and high modernism in the 1920s and ‘30s and their unanticipated convergence in the post-World War II avant-garde.

Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, much less Theodor Adorno, would have been loathe to accept kinship between their projects and Max Sennett, but maybe they should have spent more time at the cinema. As Solomon notes, Marshal McLuhan, already identified “slapstick film as a reaction to the anguish of everyday life” in the machine age. Sennett, responsible for directing the madcap assaults on social order of the Keystone Cops and Chaplin’s Little Tramp, is a central figure in Slapstick Modernism. While his influence on Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 has already been explored, Solomon goes farther and reads the refuseniks of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road as characters out of a Sennett comedy.

Slapstick Modernism is a study of little remarked aesthetic influences, fascinating for articulating tendencies that should have been obvious (but were not), and marred only slightly by the academic jargon that has encumbered a generation of English professors writing cultural studies. Solomon teaches at the University of Buffalo.


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