Session I – Panel A

SESSION I, March 1, 9:00-10:30AM

Panel A: Revolutionary Laughter
Moderator: Andrea Avila Becerril
Room: University College 224A

Seth Adema (Wilfrid Laurier University) – “Why are you laughing? There is absolutely nothing funny about any of this”: Laughter and the Fall of Bukharin

Nikolai Bukharin was the victim of one of histories greatest show trials that ultimately led to his execution on 15 March, 1937. What is fascinating is the multiple uses of laughter both by Bukharin and by the Soviet state during his trial. The system that destroyed Bukharin was the product of a carnivalesque folk culture adopted by the regime, and laughter was fundamentally important to that folk culture.  By analyzing the carnival culture, and the laughter that was a part of that culture, the historian comes to a more nuanced understanding of the fall of Bukharin, and the role that laughter played in his demise.  Laughter is a complex social phenomenon.  The Soviet State was a complex entity.  Study of the conjunction of the two is by necessity multifaceted, and one can only interpret the collision of the two with utmost caution.  One such occasion where the mechanisms of the state and the social functions of laughter converged was the fall of Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin.

This paper considers a number of theories of laughter and how they help reach conclusions about the nature of trials and Bukharin’s fall. Key questions historians must ask regarding the function of laughter in the trials of Bukharin are: What are the jokes?  Who is laughing?  Who initiated the laughter?  Why did Bukharin tell jokes?  Whom does the laughter build up? Whom does the laughter tear down?  Finally, what does the above questions reveal about the Soviet culture? This is a gripping account of the meanings behind laughter and the human loss that came at the hands of the laughing throngs.

I am a second year PhD student at WLU, focusing on Native spirituality in Canadian Penitentiaries. My BA and MA were both completed at McMaster University.

Zora Kadyrbekova (McGill University) – Failed Union of Satire and Realism in Ilf and Petrov’s The Twelve Chairs and The Golden Calf

It is interesting to note how serious and light (comic) genres/modes, initially completely separated in antiquity, gradually merged, and now modern, post-modern and other contemporary works, especially, novels often mix and match all modes. Such merging of modes is reflected especially well in realism. Thus, realistic novels include comedy, satire, tragic elements and so on. Especially interesting is the relationship between realism and satire.

On the one hand, some scholars maintain that realism is essentially non-satirical tradition (Marz x) and should not contain comic elements (Auerbach); on the other hand, there is satirical realism of Saltykov-Shchedrin, and such scholars as Marz argue that realism and satire share deep kinship.

So, can realism and satire coexist in the same work? To what extent can conventions of realism be stretched through the inclusion of the elements of satire before it stops being “realism”? To even attempt to answer these questions exhaustively will require a much more extensive research and format than this paper could accommodate. However, it is possible within the format of this paper to look, at least, at some examples of how satire and realism do, or do not work together that could open up venues for future research. In this paper I would like to argue that the Zora Kadyrbekova relationship of satire and realism is a precarious one. Using the well-known novels The Twelve Chairs and The Golden Calf by Ilf and Petrov, I will demonstrate how satirical laughter negates realism.

I will first present working definitions/descriptions of realism and satire. Then, I will show how both novels fit into the description of realism very well. After that, I will proceed to analyze how these nascent essential features of realism get negated by the overall satirical mode of the novels. I will illustrate that even within some of the most common and basic features of satire and realism it can be seen that, although, both satire and realism claim to reflect reality, they often do it so differently that become incompatible. Satire overpowers and, literally, “kills” realism.

MA – 2nd year, Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures – Russian. Current interests are 19th c. Russian literature and animal studies/literary animal studies. Current project: MA Thesis focuses on animal representations in Russian folk tales.

Megan Russell (New York University) – The Last Laugh: Coming to Revolutionary Conclusions in Jean Vigo’s Avant-Garde documentary film A Propos de Nice (1929)

In the conclusion of Jean Vigo’s 1929 film A propos de Nice, the grotesque “head” of the bourgeoisie is metaphorically decapitated by a factory chimney-turned-canon. This is followed by sequence of close ups showing factory workers laughing excitedly, and the film closes with a final shot of smoking factory chimney.

Using what he referred to as a “documented point of view”, Jean Vigo, the son of the infamous French Catalonian anarchist Miguel Almereyda, takes footage from the Carnival celebrations held in Nice, and creates a film with a subversive critical view of the social order at the time.

While the Carnival celebrations are the film’s central motif, the whole city and the way of life there are put into question as they are depicted as a type of carnival themselves. Vigo scholar P.E. Salles Gomes writes that the film eventually evolved into “An all-pervasive carnival which turned everything into a carnival: the architecture of the hotels, the people on the Promenade, the army, the navy, the clergy, the cemetery, love, and death.  A carnival which sometimes makes one laugh, but more creates a sense of unease.”

This paper will discuss how Vigo’s depiction of the celebrations in Nice through rhythmic editing shows the bourgeois social order in crisis. Through Vigo’s lens, the carnival is no longer a convivial municipal event created for entertainment- it presents an alternative political possibility in which the proletariat realizes its revolutionary potential. As the bourgeois celebrants are ridiculed, the viewer is enticed to take sides with the workers to have the last laugh. Vigo’s avant-garde film presents a subversive social message though the cinematic embodiment of the adage he who laughs last, laughs best.

I am currently working on a dissertation on “Jean Vigo and Documentary in Avant-garde French cinema of the 1920s”, discussing how certain avant-garde filmmakers challenge the widely accepted idea of a cinematic documentary as being a transparent, unmanipulated representation of reality, and propose instead, a seemingly paradoxical notion that reality is best revealed through obvious cinematic transformations of footage of reality.

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