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Humour in Slovenian, Bosnian and Herzegovinian and Croatian novel in the period of transition


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Zagoda, Tomislav. (2014). Humour in Slovenian, Bosnian and Herzegovinian and Croatian novel in the period of transition. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of South Slavic Languages and Literature. [mentor Kovač, Zvonko].

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This dissertation addresses the subject of humour in the Slovenian, Bosnian and Herzegovinian and Croatian novel in the period of post-socialist / post-communist (post)transition. The aim is to explore the similarities and differences of humour strategies(contents and forms) in the context of the neighbouring South Slavic literatures, in novels written by authors of the younger generation, with a special emphasis on the social function of humour. The first part offers a short overview of general theories of humour, with the most influential theorists, from Aristotle to Freud to Salvatore Attard, with an overview of humorous forms: satire, irony, parody and grotesque. The second part engages in an analysis and interpretation of a body of texts consisting of the following novels: 1) from the Slovenian literature: Popkorn by Andrej Skubic; Pseći tango Aleša Čara; Čefurji raus! by Goran Vojnović; 2) from the Bosnian and Herzegovinian literature: Soliter Titanic by Almir Alić; Sahib – impresije iz depresije and Konačari by Nenad Veličković; Tajna dolina piramida by Emir Imamović Pirkea; 3) from the Croatian literature: Što je muškarac bez brkova by Ante Tomić; Jebo sad hiljadu dinara by Boris Dežulović; Putovanje u srce hrvatskog sna by Vlado Bulića and Sloboština Barbie by Maša Kolanović. This dissertation focuses on authors of the younger generation, for the intention is to explore specific generational and subcultural characteristics of humour in a (re)presentation of reference points of post-socialist reality. It is important to note that this research approaches humour through a janusian correlation of comic and tragic. The methodology for the research is based on comparative and intercultural paradigms (Ďurišin, Kovač) and to a large degree on the theory of cultural memory. The main topics covered in this dissertation include humour in relation to history, identity, ideology and culture. The objective is to demonstrate that resistance to ideologization of history and all forms of cultural and political oppression is the common quality of humour in the young authors, while comic catharsis is its foremost function. Studying of the post-socialist reality has been gaining an increasing momentum in socio-humanistic scientific circles. There is a growing number of works from the areas of anthropology, ethnology, sociology, political science, history and literature that aim to describe, each from its own perspective, the most important cultural and historical changes, processes and characteristics of societies born after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Scientific literature covered in this dissertation examines the issue of the post-socialist transition from different angles – from sociological and anthropological to cultural and literary. The authors observe changes at different social levels and groups, changes in ethnic and interethnic relations, in cultural spheres (high – popular – folk) and historical issues. These efforts, on the whole, add to a better understanding of the present-day life and its recent past. However, the subject of humour is explored only to some extent. The studied literature demonstrates an ironic relationship to the present and the socialist past and describes historical events by using a tragicomic irony of fate, but there has not been any comparative research set out to explore humour and its cultural and historical particularities in the South Slavic literatures of the postsocialist age. In her book Udarnik! Buntovnik? Potrošač..., which is an extension of her doctoral dissertation, Maša Kolanović makes a series of interesting observations about the correlation and intertwining of popular culture and text in the contemporary Croatian novel, by using the theoretical and methodological model of cultural studies. The most important for this work are her theses about resistance to the post-socialist ideology of the “newly articulated national identity and market”. Notions of identity and resistance are the common features of the generally heterogeneous novels and they form the largest part of humorous content in the young post-socialist writers. Admittedly, the subject of humour has not remained completely unexplored by the contemporary Croatian literary historians and theorists. Boris Škvorc, whose research has produced two interesting books: Ironija i roman: u Krležinim labirintima, ponovno iščitavanje ironijskih žarišta u romanima Miroslava Krleže (2003) and Gorak okus prešućenog: ironično u tekstovima, kontekstu i intertekstualnim konotacijama suvremene hrvatske proze (2005), is particularly worth mentioning. Jasna Gržinić also writes about humour, in Zoran Kompanjet – smijeh kao književna (o)poruka (2008). The research in this dissertation differs from the two above-mentioned by its South Slavic comparative structure and theoretical approach. This research is not concerned only with irony or individual authors. It deals with various contents and forms of humour in young writers from the Bosnian and Herzegovinian, Slovenian and Croatian literature, with an attempt to define the meaning and function of humour in the above said novels. The assumption in this research is that the current number of scientific studies does not correspond to the significance of the subject. To be more specific, this work relates to Kundera’s viewpoint that humour is an invention bound up with the birth of the novel. The two key novels of the Western literature, Don Quixote and Ulysses, are suffice to support such viewpoint, not to mention somewhat more complex humorous forms in the works of Shakespeare or Dostoevsky, of whom R. L. Busch wrote about in his book Humor in the novels of F. M. Dostoevsky. The history of Croatian literature offers a variety of examples that support our assumption, stating from short satirical lines in the first centuries of the Croatian literature and the medieval poems (Svit se konča i Sliši vsaki človik ovo) to Kovačić's travesty Smrt babe Čengićkinje, Kolar's humorism, Marinković's irony and Menippean carnivalism, Slamnig’s linguistic playfullness, all the way to humorous aspects in the works of the presentday writers such as Tomić, Ferić, Kolanović, Dežulović, Baretić etc. Of the rare scientific works dealing with the subject, Zavođenje ironijom (1996) by Gordana Slabinac certainly deserves to be mentioned. The author does not focus only on irony, as may be presumed from the title, but her interest is significantly wider; she explores the theme of grotesque in the avant-garde, metatextual aspects of humour, parody etc. It is important to emphasize that the author herself recognizes that there has not been enough research on the subject of humor in the Croatian theory and history of literature, with an exception of Darko Novaković’s interest in the ancient grotesque. Unfortunately, twenty years since Gordana Slabinac published her work, the situation has not significantly changed. Dunja Fališevac made an interesting study on humor in her book Smiješno i ozbiljno u staroj hrvatskoj književnosti (1995); Lahorka Plejić Ploje wrote about the history of satire in Croatia, while Darko Gašparović analyzed the elements of absurd and grotesque in the work of J. P. Kamov. One must not omit to mention Marica Čunčić, who examined linguistic and stylistic dimensions of Kolar’s humor. Nevertheless, even with the efforts of the abovementioned authors, it seems that the subject of humour, not only in the national context and the context of the relationship with the neighboring literatures, but also as a universal problem, has remained insufficiently explored. For that reason, this work offers a new comparative view on the three culturally close, yet again, distinct South Slavic literatures, and it also provides an elaborate research of humor, based on a wide theoretical and methodological experience of studying humour from Aristotle to Attard. Therefore, this research is important not only for its re-introduction of humour as a topic in comparative literature, but also for its useful insights on the theory of humor and the methodology of studying humor. Hopefully, it would spark a deeper interest in the prolific area of literature and culture, particularly in the South Slavic comparative context, which would mean that the aim of this dissertation was achieved. The comparative paradigm that consists of “studying works from different literatures in their mutual relations” is the methodological foundation of this research, while its analytical approach rests on the practice that interprets the selected novels “in the same terms as used to interpret the real world”. Milivoj Solar claims that such an analysis has a cognitive nature, for “the world of a literary work is always brought into relationship with that which is understood as the genuine and true in life and the world”. Such form of analysis pays greater attention to logos than mythos (story analysis) as the constituents of explanation; therefore, “Plato’s understating of art, rather than Aristotle’s poetics, is the chosen paradigm.”. Comparative examination in this research draws on Dionýz Ďurišin’s theory of interliterary communities. For Ďurišin, examples of such interliterary communities are the Eastern European literatures, the groups of Swiss literature, South Slavic literatures, English and American literatures etc. He describes them in the following words: While speaking of interliterary communities, we stressed that there was a totality of literatures characterized by more or less close forms of co-existence, a more or less full extent of developmental reciprocity, the result of which is a more or less pronounced measure of correlation. This is determined by development and growth of interliterary communities. All constituents of the unity, to a certain extent, fall under these determinants. However, these components, i.e., national or other individual literatures, also have their own inherent developmental orientation. They result in originality and incomparable distinctness of each literature. It is enough just to mention the “cases” of Jergović, Horozović and Mlakić to uphold the opinion that the Croatian and Bosnian and Herzegovinian literature are closely connected, and thus confirm their status as an interliterary community. Their relation to the Slovenian literature is somewhat weaker (especially the relationship between the Slovene and the Bosnian and Herzegovinian literature). It is therefore most appropriate to use the term “the neighbouring literatures”, as suggested by Zvonko Kovač, who relates the Slovene literature with the Croatian and that of Bosnia and Herzegovina according to the principle of belonging to the same geographical and historical neighbourhood. Kovač defines historical neighbourhood by the existence of a common multinational state. It is precisely the historical neighbourhood (the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) that this dissertation uses as a starting point in its examination of similarities in humorous strategies, primarily with respect to mockery. The terms interliterary communities and neighbouring literatures are parts of a larger methodological system that this research, which relates to an intercultural scientific paradigm, draws upon. The aim here is to replace a mononational framework with a multinational, thus allowing for an approach that illustrates its subject in a differentiated context; in our case, the context of the South Slavic cultures. The objective in the process is not to unify matters; on the contrary, the purpose is to demonstrate an intercultural distinctiveness of national literatures. This research addresses the Slovenian, Bosnian and Herzegovinian and Croatian novels as a situation of cross-cultures, which unveils “the possibility of a better understanding, even self-understanding…” Interculturalism and comparatistics are in this research brought into connection with the study conducted by the American germanist Jill Twark, on the subject of humour in the East German literature after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Notwithstanding the linguistic and socio-historical differences between the East German and post-Yugoslavian transitional context, Twark’s analysis is going to be the methodological model that this research is will rely upon. The questions that Twark raises, such as those on humorous topics, humour and identity, aesthetical and political dimensions of humour and function and purpose of humour, run through this work in each of its segments. There are several more authors whose work had an impact on the approach to studying humour in this thesis. In addition to The Anatomy of Criticism by Northrop Frye, this research was most strongly influenced by Bakhtin’s concept of carnival. Bakhtin’s paradigm is used here as a counterpoint to formalism and structuralism, opening the interpretation of texts to reality, history and society. According to Zoran Konstantinović, the dialogue that Bakhtin describes in his work does not take place only between an author and a reader, but it flows as a “dialogue between an author’s individual consciousness and the collective consciousness of his or her time, with all the qualities of their surroundings and, above all, with all the values he or she adopted reading other authors…”. Humour as a social phenomenon, its democratic nature that manifests in subversion of authority and all forms of power, this is the model that this research rests upon. Motives of the upside down world, regardless of how realistic the image could be, street language, jargon, vulgarisms and obscenities, these are all elements by which humorous strategies of the younger generation authors proceed from Bakhtin’s interpretations of menippean satire, grotesque realism and the material bodily principle. Bakhtin’s influence on this work can also be recognized in the use of the term chronotope, which will form the basis for interpretation of socio-cultural aspects of the selected novels. Not only that the chronotope of a city, its streets and squares, coffee bars and flats mirrors the scenery for the stories of transition, but it serves as an “ontemic” figure frequently used by writers. It is a naturalistic substance of the post-socialist social contradictions, and an inexhaustible source of satirical mockery/criticism. This dissertation is also going to consider literary procedures, style and artistic forms, but from the angle of anthropological and pragmatic issues, in an attempt to define the function of humour in the novels of the young generation authors of the transition period. Gordana Ljuboja, Serbian folklorist and theorist of humour, believes that anthropological and sociological orientation, especially in studying ethnic humour, is more prevalent than the formal aesthetic analysis. The reason for that lies in the fact that humour is primarily a social phenomenon, an indicator and a symptom of a socio historical reality. An emphasis should therefore be placed on studying the pragmatic function of humour, its objectives and purpose, since humour has a “completely utilitarian nature and it serves people to satisfy their own or the general, social ego”. By and large, studying of contents is inherent to sociological examination of literature and it consists of “bringing the structure of a literary work in connection to structures of each social group defining the work in a given historical moment”. The analysis of the novels selected for this dissertation is divided into three parts: 1. humour vs. history and identity, 2. humour vs. ideology and (sub)culture; 3. humour vs. war. The first part concerns with humorous aspects with regard to historical issues and, in a tight connection to that, with regard to issues of personal, group and national identity, for the notion of identity is inseparable from perceptions of history and (re)constructions of memory. This part will draw on the theory of memory, particularly Assmann’s, Halbwachs’ and Nora’s concepts. Is memory an individual or a collective phenomenon? What is the relationship between individual and collective mechanisms and forms of memory? These concepts arising from the theory of cultural memory will form the basis for examination of “the transitional” humour in this part of dissertation. Contrary to individualistic concepts put forward by Freud and Bergson, the French philosopher and sociologist Maurice Halbwachs claims that memory is a social phenomenon. Even though Halbwachs had developed the thesis at the beginning of the 20th century, it did not come into focus of a wider scientific interest before the 1970s, when, supported by Assman, began its advancement to the contemporary literary theory and literary history. This is well described by Sanjin Kodrić in his doctoral dissertation, which was subsequently published in Književnost sjećanja: Kulturalno pamćenje i reprezentacija prošlosti u novijoj bošnjačkoj književnosti. The new approach to historical topics stems from the realization that it is not only the official history that creates meanings, but meanings develop in all segments of society, starting from the state archives to a studio flat of a punk rocker. Accordingly, this work will observe humorous aspects of individualized and marginalized voices in their bottom-up deconstruction of the Great History. “Everymen” and “no-men”, common people and people from the fringes of society standing against the great history and ideology, this is the framework in which this work explores the mechanisms of humorous transformation of imposed meanings and dominant ideologies. Such methodological strategy links the theory of cultural memory with cultural studies, especially with Williams’ description of culture as a particular way of life, and the structure of feeling as the key term in his theory. This structure of feeling “is the culture of a period: it is the particular, living result of all the elements in the general organization“. History from the bottom up is built from subjective forms that motivate us, forms that contain aesthetical and emotional issues. These forms are not essential, but produced, according to Richard Johnson. This dissertation will use the word forms in the same way as used by cultural studies: as the forms of life and creation of consciousness and subjectivity. These forms will serve as the frame for the analysis of contrary and contradictory elements among which creative antagonisms produce satirical and tragicomic effects. Speaking of cultural memory, one must not omit to mention Jan Assman, whose conception of cultural memory, in methodological sense, has a privileged position in this research. Memory (or the relationship with the past), identity (or political imagination) and cultural duration (or forming of tradition), are the main themes discussed in this work. The focus will also be placed on the relationship to history and tradition, but also to the present, in accordance with Assmann’s opinion that the space of memory “comes into conflict with social and political reality”. Assmann calls the conflict “counter-present memory” and “anachronistic structures”. In this work, the conflict will be called “counter-memory”, and its authenticity lies in the oppositional stance towards official and shared memory created by the media, forged in the furnace of the dominant national ideologies. Finally, this work aims to show that features of humour shared by the observed novels belong to the post-modern, existentialist tradition and they manifest through resignation, nihilism and rebellion. Čar’s Viktor Viskas, Imamović’s Dino or Bulić’s Denis Lalić are typical examples of resigned individuals who lost all faith in metastories (ideological, metaphysical, sociological, art, etc.). These individuals are merely observers whose purpose in life is reduced to a neoliberal, Darwinian struggle for survival. Another profile is a disappointed existentialist, a shattered loner who, from his or her dislocated position, comments about the tragicomic irony of life. Elija and the post-avant garde group from Čar’s novel, Skubic’s Valter Koren, Alić’s allegorical mosaic figure of tenants and their destinies or Dežulović’s war imbroglio speak from the same angle of ethic nihilism rooted in the thesis that more or less everything is permitted and that there is nothing worth fighting for. The character of Denis Lalić, in fact, brings together all of the three models of resistance: he is a resigned observer, a destructive nihilist and a rebel against the culture in which he was born, against the domineering national ideology. Goran Vojnović’s Marko Đorđić is also a rebel. His obscene and vulgar discourse annihilates patriarchism, high culture and ethnic structures of identity. Čar’s post avant garde characters rise up in a carnivalesque rebellion against all forms of traditional values, moving the text in the direction of a disintegrating grotesque. The moment of rebellion is absent only in the Bosnian novel, which makes it specific. However, instead of rebellion, the Bosnian novel contains self-irony, which becomes its dominant quality. The self-irony here is not merely a stylistic figure; it is a universal symbol of a psycho-social state marked by the feeling of helplessness. The fatum of the past, the „little man put through the wringer of history”, political submission, the absurdity of social reality, these are the topics that produce humour in the Bosnian novel. History from the bottom-up is the national perspective taken by the Bosnian writers. It is the humour of the victim, humour of helplessness in which the authors, by mocking themselves, mock the domestic ethnic nationalism and foreign imperialism. This is what makes Bosnian and Herzegovinian humour of the post-socialist transition so specific. There is even a nostalgic dimension of humour with regards to the period of the Yugoslavian socialism that is more pronounced than in Slovenian and Croatian novel. The dominant feature of Slovenian humour is a post-modern skepticism formally manifested as cynicism. Unlike in Bosnian humour, where the disappointment over the collapse of socialism has some characteristics of nostalgia, Slovenian humour keeps itself at a full emotional distance. Slovenian humour of the post-socialist transition develops in an epistemological horizon made of relativism and agnosticism. It is a humour emanating from the opinion that many important questions forever remain unanswered. These are questions that render science, philosophy and theology helpless; an absolute truth simply does not exist. What undoubtedly deserves mentioning as the particularity of the Slovenian novel is the phenomenon of an immigrant, ex-Yugoslavian humour, which is described in this research by Vojnović’s Čefuri raus! In conclusion, Croatian humour differs from Slovenian and Bosnian and Herzegovinian by its infatuated struggle with the notion of national identity and mythological reconstruction of the national past and by a strong subcultural resistance to ruralisation of socio-cultural scene. The contemporary Croatian novel is largely determined by stereotypes of socialism, ethnicity and patriarchy, as well as trans-semiotic parodies of reality presented by the media and show business. In that sense, the character of Thompson in Bulić’s novel is a paradigmatic figure of subcultural mockery. What the novels of the young authors from Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia have in common, regardless of their differences in humour strategies, contents and forms, is defiance of the ideologization of history and cultural and political tyranny, while the main purpose of humour is to achieve a comical catharsis.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: humour, Slovenian – Bosnian and Herzegovinian – Croatian novel, satire, irony, parody, grotesque, tragicomedy, comic catharsis, post-socialism, (post)transition, history, identity, subculture, ideology, resistance
Subjects: Slavic languages and literatures > South Slavic languages and literatures - Bosnian
Slavic languages and literatures > South Slavic languages and literatures - Slovenian
Slavic languages and literatures > Croatian language and literature
Slavic languages and literatures
Departments: Department of South Slavic Languages and Literature
Supervisor: Kovač, Zvonko
Date Deposited: 13 May 2015 11:26
Last Modified: 13 May 2015 11:26

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