So strong is the cultural desire for an independent and original theory of comedy that Aristotle is imagined to have penned, aside from his glancing treatments of comedy in the Poetics, a critical assessment of the genre, now lost. The symbolic absence of this presumed Aristotelian treatise speaks volumes for the near unattainability of such a critical endeavor. Comedy is at times conceptualized as a generative “umbrella” genre that subsumes other adjoining modes of literary figuration—satire, parody, romance, irony, joke, word play, farce, and stand-up—all while being routinely subject to cultural and theoretical conflation with humor, laughter, amusement, wit, and other physiological as well as intellectual triggers or responses to the comic. The generic contours of comedy are ever-expanding and helplessly slippery. Comedy embodies divergences and dualities. Its anthropological association with fertility rituals at its generic inception suggests privilege and respectability, but Plato’s prejudice against comedy as fit for slaves and outcasts, together with Aristotle’s identification of comedy with lowliness and ugliness, conditions the perception of the genre as relatively vulgar, inferior, and base when examined alongside its nobler counterpart, tragedy. Comedy’s capacity to channel expressions for behavioral deviation in the Feasts of Fools qualifies the genre as a social subversive, but that comedy is conducive to societal stability as a safety valve for discontentedness and insurgence proves that the genre wields the potential of a social fixative. Comedy is said to be grounded on malice and superiority, but playwrights throughout the ages have used it to advance virtue. It is in and between these seemingly irreconcilable contradictions that theoretical abstractions of this elusive genre may be attempted.
Since the 1960s, film theory has undergone rapid development as an academic discipline—to such an extent that students new to the subject are quickly overwhelmed by the extensive and complex research published under its rubric. “Film Theory in the United States and Europe” presents a broad overview of guides to and anthologies of film theory, followed by a longer section that presents an historical account of film theory’s development—from classical film theory of the 1930s–1950s (focused around film as an art), the modern (or contemporary) film theory of the 1960s–1970s (premised on semiotics, Marxism, feminism, and psychoanalysis), to current developments, including the New Lacanians and cognitive film theory. The second section ends with a very brief overview of film and/as philosophy. The article covers the key figures and fundamental concepts that have contributed to film theory as an autonomous discipline within the university. These concepts include ontology of film, realism/the reality effect, formalism, adaptation, signification, voyeurism, patriarchy, ideology, mainstream cinema, the avant-garde, suture, the cinematic apparatus, auteur-structuralism, the imaginary, the symbolic, the real, film and emotion, and embodied cognition.