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Laughing Art

The Hugo Friedrich and Erich Köhler prize goes to Niklas Bender for his book on humor in classical modernism

Freiburg, Nov 09, 2018

Laughing Art

Juliane Besters-Dilger, Vice President of Teaching and Learning, prize-winner Niklas Bender, and Judith Frömmer, Executive Director of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures (from left). Photo: Harald Neumann

For his book “Die lachende Kunst. Der Beitrag des Komischen zur klassischen Moderne”, Associate Professor Dr. Niklas Bender has been awarded the Hugo Friedrich and Erich Köhler prize of the University of Freiburg, which is endowed with 5,000 euros. Bender’s study casts light on the processes deployed by humor in classical modernism, what functions they have and why humor is chosen as a form of expression at all. The Romance scholar researches literary works in several languages and draws on examples from painting and films from the period 1900 to 1960. This allows the study to embrace a comprehensive perspective on languages and media, as well as taking up aspects of the philosophy of history.

Wrestling with tradition, critically reflective responses to one’s own work and shaping the present into the future are characteristics of classical modernism, which for Bender form the framework of his research. State, religion and culture represent central authorities in which the author recognizes the preferred targets of the comic, and which he examines in depth. Although humor was normally ascribed to comedy and thus a supposedly lower-grade genre in pre-modern generic thinking, in the art of the 20th century laughter also assumed a positive function in serious texts, Bender emphasizes. Laughter is often mingled with the absurd, grotesque, tragic or macabre, and can have not only a critical function but also an affirmative one. The humor of classical modernism can record the gradual disappearance of old orders as a loss and transform them into a positive through laughter – or celebrate it as something entirely new, as a reformation of tradition. Laughter serves to define oneself in contrast to traditions, but it can also equally preserve them, is his belief.

Niklas Bender studied and gained his PhD at the Free University Berlin and at the University of Paris VIII, France. The Romance scholar and comparatist qualified as a professor in Romance philology, general and comparative literary studies at Tübingen University in 2013 and since then has held chairs at the Universities of Freiburg, Koblenz-Landau and Trier.

Since 2009, the University of Freiburg has awarded the Hugo Friedrich and Erich Köhler prize every three years for an outstanding piece of research in the field of Romance literary studies. The prize is in memory of the many years of work of Hugo Friedrich (1904-1978) and Erich Köhler (1924-1981) in Freiburg.

Associate Professor Dr. Niklas Bender
FB II – Romance studies
University of Trier
Tel.: +49 651 201-2221

Prof. Dr. Judith Frömmer
Department of Romance Languages and Literatures
University of Freiburg
Tel.: +49 761  203-3181