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Good Soldier Schweik in Civilian Suit: Pessimist humour and humorous pessimism in Middle European animation

Middle Europe constitutes a complex ethnic mixture, mostly due to frequent migrations, wars and conquests, but most of all, due to the long-term hegemony of the House of Habsburg (1526-1918). Royal House of Habsburg ruled over a great number of nations: Germanic people, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Czech, Croatians, Slovaks, Bosnians, Slovenians, Serbs, Italians, Romanians, and Gipsies, as well as over a number of Jewish communities mostly situated in the big cities of the Empire.

This conglomerate of nations was never peaceful since the constituting nations constantly fought for their independence and equality against the rule of the House of Habsburg and its strict regime. Such a superior empire could not be fought in any other way but at the negotiating table, and sometimes these negotiations continued for years, generation after generation, which produced a strong sense of impotence in the servants of the Empire. This mentality of impotent revolt remained even under the socialist rule when, after the World War II, most of the former Austro-Hungarian territories became socialist countries. Having no control over their lives, people could choose between despair and mockery of their situation.

The cultural sphere chose humour, although their humour did not always produce laughter. Its main characteristics were a total lack of respect for authority and power accompanied by the humorist’s lack of illusions about himself. This type of humour, however, produced one typical character: a simple people’s man who is constantly cracking jokes. Despite all his troubles, this disillusioned joker keeps telling jokes, often sarcastic ones, at his own expense; fooling around he hides his real face from his totally non-humorous surrounding. Each mid-European nation has one such humoristic character in its cultural heritage; however, most certainly the best-known is The Good Soldier Schweik, creation of Czech writer Jaroslav Hasek.

The paper follows basic characteristics of Schweikian humour (in the chapters Schweik — False Insanity, Rebellious Pessimism and Irony). It displays the ways in which revolting pessimism and scepticism manifested themselves in mid-European countries, with Kundera as its most prominent representative (The Main Enemy’ of Socialist Doctrine: pessimism and irony).

However, this ’pessimistic humour’ has been best developed in the animated sphere, i. e. in cartoons, and in the following chapters the author of the paper proceeds by reviewing this aspect: Middle European Cartoons — To Die is Fun; Saul Steinberg and his Influence — a philosophical line; Middle European Animated Films — ’Schweik’ Anomaly; Animation — the Art of Accelerated Metamorphosis; Czech Puppet Films — Images from the Marionette’s Life; Trnka’s Bitter Resignation; Schvankmeier’s Surrealist Pessimism; Two-dimensional ’Puppets’ of Bretislav Pojar; Zagreb School of Animation: Freedom Limited by Self-censorship; Dovniković’s Naive Heroes; First Case Study: One Day of Life by Dovniković; Absolute Losers of Nedjeljko Dragić; Second Case Study: Passing Days by Nedjeljko Dragić. The conclusion of the paper is the chapter: Instead of a Conclusion: Humour Outlives Politics. (Text is the author’s translation from Swedish).

Midhat Ajanović

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Metacommunicational Functions of Stylistic Deviations

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