CONF./CFP- Totalitarian Laughter: Comic Culture under Socialism, Princeton, May
Posted by: Serguei Oushakine <email@example.com>
Call for Papers
Cultures of the Comic under Socialism
May 8-9, 2009
Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures
Throughout its history, socialist mass culture actively relied on
satire, humor, and comedy to foster emotional bonds with its audience.
Orchestrated by the state cultural industry, public laughter released
social and political tension, while leaving intact or buttressing
mechanisms of repression and institutions of power. In turn, late
Soviet irony or the aesthetic of grotesque, developed from below,
became instrumental in solidifying a cultural distance from the values
promoted by the socialist state. Varied in their impact and scope,
these cultures of the comic nonetheless constantly pointed to the
irrationality and ludicrousness of the socialist way of life.
Whether officially approved or censored, totalitarian laughter
relativized existing practices and norms, suggesting different models
of understanding and embodying really existing socialism. Regardless
of their content, these jokes of repression shared the same quality:
they were made, not found. It is precisely this active production of
totalitarian laughter from above and from below that this conference
aims to explore. How did state socialism transform traditional genres
and categories of the comic? How crucial was state censorship in
producing (or suppressing) totalitarian laughter? Through what forms
of displacement and condensation did official and non-official
cultures achieve their comic effect? How did these practices of the
comic correspond and interact with each other? What kinds of
communities were formed in the process of producing jokes of
repression? What were the mechanisms and paths of circulation through
which laughable versions of socialism became available to larger
audiences? Finally, what kinds of pleasure did totalitarian laughter
promise, if not deliver?
We seek to address these questions by bringing together an
interdisciplinary group of scholars interested in reconstructing the
peculiar relationship between repression and laughter under state
socialism. We invite papers that explore forms of socialist grotesque
in the Soviet Union and central and eastern Europe in such diverse
fields as politics, history, literature, arts, music, theater,
television, and film, among others.
Please send an abstract (300 words) of the paper you would like to present
at this conference, along with your CV, by February 10, 2008 to
We may be able to offer a limited number of travel subsidies for foreign
Those selected to give presentations at the conference will be contacted at
the end of February 2008.
Final papers will be due no later than April 20, and they will be posted on
the conference's website.
Serguei Oushakine (Princeton), Petre Petrov (Princeton), Seth Graham (UCL),
Kevin M.F. Platt (Penn) Nancy Ries (Colgate).
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