True wit and mere vulgarity, or the art of being the student in Paul Fussell's Class

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Although ostensively about class, Paul Fussell's Class is a satire mocking the American faith in upward mobility which implies simultaneously the presence of class categories (in order to measure that mobility) and the absence of class categories (so as not to impede it). As with all satires, its humor resides in its putting the reader in the uncomfortable position of having to abandon a cherished prejudice or embrace the most extreme example of that prejudice. By pretending to “educate” the reader at the same time as he asserts that the education cannot be applied, Fussell satirizes bogus education in myriad forms, including self-help manuals, advice columns, self-scoring questionnaires, and American universities. In so doing, however, he reveals the limitations of satire as a comic genre, because placing the reader in an uncomfortable position requires a stable point of reference from which to view that position. But such a perspective requires exactly the idea of hierarchy and classification that the book consistently and necessarily undermines, and it suggests the ways in which satiric humor presumes a human being centered in a humanist tradition. But this notion loses its authority once the marks of class and the acts of classification become, as they do in Fussell's book, arbitrary.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-42
Number of pages12
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


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