“The Funny Side of Nature: Whitman, Ginsberg and America’s ‘Dark Poet’”

Paul McDonald


Many American writers of the Romantic tradition have seen a unity between humanity, spirituality and nature, and strived to articulate it in language. The notion of Romantic interconnectedness expressed in the work of Transcendentalists such as Emerson and Whitman, for instance, also features in the mid-twentieth century writing of the Beats, most notably Allen Ginsberg. More recently, however, postmodernism/postructuralism has worked to undermine that project. Given the split between signifier and signified, the idea that language can have any kind of unifying function, or put us in touch with transcendent values, seems untenable, even laughable. This paper argues that the American stand-up comedian, Bill Hicks, reveals a passionate awareness of the link between humanity, spirituality and nature, and that he seeks to express it in routines which have strong affinities with American Romanticism. It constructs Hicks as a comedian who exhibits many of the characteristics of a postmodernist, but whose humor manages to transcend relativity in order to reclaim and embody the spirit of Romantic unity.


Bill Hicks; 20th-century humourn U.S.; Transcendentalism; Romanticism; Postmodernism; laughter; performance

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@Journal of Ecocriticism. ISSN 1916-1549