Sunday, February 28, 2010

Gulag Humor

Michael Idov's new article, "Gulag Humor" among The New Republic's February book reviews does an able take-down of Karen L Ryan's new book Stalin in Russian Satire. 

While the topic is definitely intriguing and worthwhile, Idov's leading complaint is that through the lens of academia, one of the bravest acts of the cold war, mocking the despotic tyranny of Stalin, is tantamount to an act of cowardice. Artists, writers and others who wrote against their leaders could easily find themselves arrested, tortured and executed, along with their entire families and erased from history, as we've seen in texts such as The Commissar Vanishes.

Idov does note that the way the text was organized is interesting, classifying sections by literary and aesthetic device rather than by era or genre. Still, what could have been an intriguing and insightful book remains hampered by academic language and a postgrad fetish for terms like alterity and otherness. Idov contends that while Ryan has some terrific insights, she negates them to make them fit within the framing thesis she'd chosen.

His closing line is fitting:
"Reaching for Lacan to connect Stalin to a cat through the latter’s unknowable alterity is a classic case of forest-for-the-trees hyperacademism. The man looked like a cat. Every person living in his hell knew that."

No comments: