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Voltaire and Humor

Engraving of Voltaire published as the frontis...

Engraving of Voltaire published as the frontispiece to an 1843 edition of his Dictionnaire philosophique (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Voltaire‘s outrageous sense of humor: what is funny and what is the point?

According to John Iverson’s Introduction, no topic is so serious or so terrible that it cannot be made funny or humorous. Thus, Voltaire presents the world and all of its suffering using humor and ironic wit. Like many contemporary comedians often say, Voltaire states that people must laugh at everything; therefore, no subject or topic is too serious to not joke about. Humor allows Voltaire to point out “the dangers of unyielding, systematic thought” (xiii). Furthermore, it also shows how language (“the ridiculous language of optimism”) can force the readers “to see just how far the Liebnizian theory could be (erroneously) applied in an attempt to make sense of an irrational world” (xiii). Thus, we laugh at “war and butchery” not because they are innately funny but because the scenes are portrayed in such a way that they contradict Liebniz’ philosophy, as preached to Candide by his tutor Pangloss (xiii).

Voltaire. “Candide.”Candide, Zadig and Selected Stories. New York: Signet Classics, 2001. Print.

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