He is about forty, and has an ordinary job. He does not make much money, but he has enough to pay for the rent, treat himself with an occasional pair of sausages and a bear before finally ending in bed. That is all he wants from life, but everything that is happening around him – wars, assassinations, political conspiracies, nationalism, revolutions, communism, socialism, constant upheavals and alarms – simply will not let him be.
He can not comprehend the turbulences surrounding him, despises change and unrest, and confusions of any kind. He can be defined in a single word – antirevolutionary. He is a fighter for ordinary life, hero of everyday, advocate of the average and normal. What makes him happy is repetition, monotony, and things that never change.
He wants to be nothing more than an average citizen and a simple tax payer. Traditions, customs, habits and conventions represent the world he feels at home with. He has no interest in politics; his ambition in life is – to live. He is the character we usually call the ‘little man’.
Nevertheless, although against his will, he still became a hero.
When exterior circumstances endanger his ordinariness, he is forced to fight. But he is not a true fighter, and his fight is different from what we normally understand as ‘fighting’. Under occupation, during wars or revolutions, his only shelter and shield is a special kind of humor, full of pessimism, absurd and surrealism. Pessimism is his way of refusing to submit to political lies, military idiotism, and ideological fogs. Absurd space of his humor is a sanctuary in which he hides from reality.
Despite his ‘unheroic heroism’, this character became the national hero. While many nations take pride in their warriors, conquerors, winners, saviors, and knights, one little, plain man named Schweik became the greatest Czech hero. And not just Czech. Such a hero, more precisely, pessimist antihero, is one of the central figures of the whole middle European literature, oral literature, visual art, theatre, film and film animation.
Tradition of pessimist humor, which stems primarily from the territory that was for a long time known as the Austrian empire, and later on Austro-Hungarian, is a reflection of a hundred years longing of small nations for freedom, equality, right to publicly use their language and be autonomous in culture. Even after the fall of Austro-Hungarian empire after World War I, middle European pessimist humor or humoristic pessimism, remained vital and often functioned as an irreplaceable spice to many forms of artistic expression and important works made in this field.
In the area we call middle Europe, the term itself has much more cultural than geographical meaning, between 1950 and 1980, worked a significant number of animated film studios. Many successful films, regardless of their origins, be it Prague, Budapest or Zagreb, relied precisely on the tradition of humor whose main character was a plain man whose main feature was pessimism.
Little Schweikian character with an ironical smile, a character whose humor is his means of survival, is the leitmotif of middle European animated film, the phenomenon to which film history has not yet paid sufficient attention.
Middle European humor: auto irony and absurd
It is often the case that the notions of eastern and middle Europe are perceived as one and the same thing, although these are two different things that have common features, but are by no means the same. The first notion implies primarily a political term, dating from the end of 1940s and mostly referring to the countries included in the former Warsaw pact, while middle Europe is defined by its spiritual and cultural content. Geographically, the area cannot be outlined with exact borders, it is rather defined with common mental features and cultural legacy of its population. On the map, middle Europe figures as a vibrant blob, as from some animated film, continually moving across history. Still, it can be approximately outlined, the ‘blob’ spreads from Krakow to Sarajevo.
Middle Europe presents a complicated ethnical mix, as the consequence of great movements of the peoples, wars and conquests, and the longevity of the Hapsburg Empire. The Hapsburgs, which ruled Austria and parts of Bohemia, formed a union with Hungary and Croatia at the turn of 1526, which was considered the beginning of the empire that would fall apart only after World War I, in 1918. Imperial family Hapsburg ruled over a great number of nations: Germans, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Czechs, Croats, Slovenes, Bosnians, Serbians, Italians, Romanians, Gypsies, including Jewish communities situated in most of larger towns of the empire.
For centuries, these small nations dreamed of freedom, independence and a right to create their culture in their own language. One of the characteristics of their battle for freedom was that it was fought with peaceful methods: negotiating table was a much more frequent choice than rebellious barricades. With political strategies, compromises, and occasional protesting, small nations gradually acquired their rights. However, every portion of freedom demanded a lot of time and patience. For example, after many years of persistent Hungarian maneuvering, the empire was formally divided (in 1866, when the empire was officially renamed Austro-Hungarian), although Franz Josef remained sovereign on both territories. This encouraged the Czechs to demand their sovereignty, while Croats, on the other hand, developed the idea of Yugoslavia as a way of freeing from the Austro-Hungarian hegemony . Neither the Czechs, nor the Croats succeeded at first, but they won some other privileges. For example, Zagreb got the independent university in 1874, and Prague in 1882.
The constant fighting for independence and equality in respect of the Hapsburgs and their strict regime was the basic characteristic of the almost four hundred years long empire, and as such has defined political and cultural history of the nations constituting the Empire.
This conglomerate consisting of many mixed nations, which applied the politics of small steps with more or less success, developed authentic regional traditions, way of life and surviving. A superior state that could not be defeated by other means than negotiation, which regularly extended over whole generations, produced a strong sense of impotence in the subjects of the Empire. Unable to control their own lives, people could choose between despair and laughter at their own expense. Of course, they chose humor. Of course, the result of this humor was not necessarily laughter.
With a risk to oversimplify, satire can be defined as humor whose object is the government – i.e. those with social power or advocates of the ruling dogmas. Humor, however, is possible only if its creator, humorist, is prepared to laugh at his own expense (too). Of course, humor can be an artistic activity, healing therapy, entertainment, and many other things. Still, the basic assumption that has to be satisfied in order for something to be called humor is that the subject of the joke has to be ready to become its object. Otherwise, the result is mocking, prejudice, provocation, or insult; anything but humor, one of the most sublime qualities and abilities of human being. Humor and satire are directly related to the social position of their creator. A poor man can easily make a good joke at the expense of the rich, however, it is not so the other way around. Sense of humor and satire is most frequently found among the poor, humiliated, and oppressed victims of all kinds of injustices and repressions.
In middle European humorist tradition, object and subject of humor are often one and the same, while the line between humor and satire is practically inexistent. Since he cannot change his life by rebelling against the government, the man mocks his own situation. Humor has the power to transform impotence to superiority, while at the same time the humorist is perfectly aware of the situation he is in: he is not living in the society of his choice, he serves in the army of the state he does not care about, he pays the taxes to someone he considers his oppressor, he is forced to read and learn in foreign language, while his mother tongue and cultural heritage are, if not forbidden , than at least unwanted. Already by birth, owing to his name and nationality, the man finds himself on the other side of law; he is suppose to hide, or at least keep quite about his proper culture, customs and language. For a member of a particular national or linguistic group, living itself becomes, in a way, a subversive, underground activity.
‘Let’s be Czechs, but keep it a secret’, said one of the characters from the novel The Good Soldier Schweik (Hasek, 1998: 142).
However, this metaphorical underground is usually the most fertile ground for humor.
Middle European humor always simultaneously refers to the rulers, its proper origins, and the reason for humor. Humorist from middle Europe never puts himself above or outside of his work, but is instead its active part. He gravely mocks the big and the powerful, but with the same irony displays his own oppression and impotence to change his situation.
There is a replica in the Scottish film Trainspotting which sounds as if it were taken from some middle European humorist text:
What kind of blockhead are we, Scots, when we let those confused Englishmen to occupy us?
Since he does not respect the government and power, middle European humorist has no illusions about himself. This type of humor produced one typical figure of the little people’s man who is constantly joking. Despite the troubles that never cease, this disillusioned kidder often makes sarcastic jokes at his expense; his laughter hides his real face from his not very humoristic surrounding. Every middle European national community has in its cultural legacy one such humoristic character, but by far the most famous of them all is Good Soldier Schweik, creation of the Czech writer Jaroslav Hasek.
In the last hours of the Hapsburgs, the Austro-Hungarian Empire evolved into a modern state with ever growing bureaucracy, which appeared almighty, making people, especially in the big cities, feel even more impotent, fearful and desperate. Humor became the imprint of (un)reality ruled by the absurd. In real life, nothing was possible, so to counter that, humor created the world in which everything was possible. Jews, which were a minority in a double sense (in the Empire as a whole, and in every town and quarter they inhabited), gave a significant contribution to the development of the element of absurd and surrealism in middle European spiritual heritage. The classic of the literature of absurd was undoubtedly Franz Kafka, writer of Jewish origin from Prague.
As the historian Hermann summarized in the following citation, the relationship between small, impotent man and mighty bureaucratic or military system is common denominator of the tradition personified by both Kafka and Hasek.
Jews belonging to the German cultural circle of Prague were minority in a double sense and this perhaps more than anything explains the extraordinary sensitivity, which they displayed. In Franz Kafka they were the first to express, in surrealistic form, the anguish of modern man. But it was not long before - in the early twenties - the same theme of the small man facing a soulless power was treated in Czech and in a quite different style (and with greater contemporary impact) by Jaroslav Hašek, in The Good Soldier Švejk. (Hermann, 1975: 242).
After World War I, Austro-Hungarian Empire vanished from the political and geographical map of the world. Poland became independent in 1919, in the Czechoslovak Republic, legendary opposition leader in emigration Tomas Masaryk became first democratically elected president, while Yugoslavia was founded in 1918. All this accompanied by other events signaled the definite ending of the four century long empire. However, as the future would show, this did not mean that nations in the region were any closer to happier and more prosperous existence. Humor heavily characterized by absurd, auto irony and pessimism continued to dominate middle European life. Middle European man still had many reasons to change the world he was living in.
With humor at least, if there was no other way.
Schweik – a phony lunatic
Good Soldier Schweik is probably the most famous unfinished novel in the history. The book’s author, Hasek, died in 1923, before having finished the manuscript. He managed to write three chapters of the book entitled In the background, Road to the Battlefield and Glorious decline. His obvious intention, however, was to write the fourth chapter in which he would describe the hero’s return from the war.
Despite the novel’s mosaic structure constructed of interconnected anecdotes with Schweik as their main protagonist, and the fact that the writer did not get to write ‘the end’, Good Soldier Schweik can be read as a whole. Literary worth of the book is still questionable, and there is significant controversy among the critics as to the real literary worth of Hasek’s prose. While some think that the work deserves status of the classic of world literature as one of the best humoristic novels ever, others claim that it is nothing but pure propaganda.
In the book Essays on Czech Literature, Rene Wellek wrote the following:
Jaroslav Hasek (1883-1923) has given a grotesque picture of the Austrian Empire in dissolution in his Good Soldier Svejk. The book is not much of a work of art, as it is full of low humour and cheap propaganda; but the type of the foolish, smiling, cowardly Czech Sancho Panza who goes unscathed through the military machine of the Empire is difficult to forget, however unheroic and uninspiring he may be. (Wellek, 1963: 41)
What was definitely not questionable was the nature of humor and characterization of the hero, but both had many qualities typical of the cultural milieu the book was created in.
Hitchcock said that excitement is produced when ordinary man finds himself in an unusual situation. A possible paraphrase of this definition could be that a characteristic type of humor is created from normal, everyday behavior in an utterly abnormal situation.
There is hardly any situation more abnormal than war. The war we are faced with is World War I, which caught Schweik in its net, a nice Czech man, plain little bear lover from Prague, decisive to stay independent despite the horrors of war. Nobody knows, and the reader cannot say for certain, who Schweik really was. The writer put him among historical figures, whose greatness surpassed many of famous historical personalities (Napoleon, Alexander… ). At first sight, however, Schweik is not the type that would inspire such human qualities as bravery and heroism. He is not even a soldier – he was forcefully mobilized to go to a war he could not care less about. Moreover, he did not even satisfy minimal physical demands for a soldier: he suffered from rheumatism. In addition to this, he was once already freed from serving in the army after having been certified by an army medical board as an imbecile. Finally, he was spending his warring days as batman to Austrian officers.
Schweik’s civil job is also not very impressive. He lived by selling dogs ‘ugly, mongrel monstrosities whose pedigrees he forged’, spending his free time visiting beer pubs in his beloved Prague. When the Emperor calls him into war, he seems more like a saboteur and simulator, than a hero. Yet, that is precisely his main heroic deed.
The book starts with great news brought to Schweik by the cleaning lady, Mrs. Miller: ‘And so they’ve killed our Ferdinand, back there in Sarajevo! Instead of being alerted by the assassination, Schweik comments on the late Archduke’s weight: ‘Although, between you and me, Mrs Müller, a fat archduke’s a better mark than a thin one’. In this scene, the author already introduces typical ‘Schweikian’ irony: talking about something totally out of context or simply said: talking gibberish in most critical moments.
In the next chapter – anecdote, we see Schweik in a pub in his quarter, discussing the event with other guests, of which one was a police snitch. Due to silly bar talk, Schweik is arrested and charged with high treason, which triggered a series of misunderstandings between him and hyper bureaucratic Austro-Hungarian state. Schweik is not at all excited or scared because of his arrest. Moreover, he almost looks pleased.
‘What is the use of police if not to punish us who are talking too much?’ he comments on his own situation. He confuses his prosecutors by admitting to whatever they accuse him of. Even that he assassinated Ferdinand by his own hand and thus caused the outbreak of war between the Empire and Serbia, and consequently the outbreak of World War I.
‘I am a certifiable imbecile. I admit to everything!’, was his motto during the whole novel.
After the investigation, the police send Schweik to a mental hospital where he enjoys himself even more.
‘I honestly do not understand why lunatics get mad when closed in the nuthouse. One can crawl naked on the floor, howl like a jackal, scream and bite. If man would do such a thing in the street, others would be amazed. This is clear as day! Even socialists cannot dream of such a freedom.’ (Page 32)
As the war is expanding, the state, needing ‘fresh cannon fodder’, addresses all nations of the Empire and drafted all men, including the incompetent Schweik. Many of them sympathize with the Serbs and Russians much more than with their own country. Those were the soldiers that were going to ‘battle’ with the Russians yelling:
‘Hello, Russian brothers, my brothers are Czechs, not Austrians!’
Despite the bloody war and the fact that he is wearing Austro-Hungarian uniform, Schweik is having tons of fun. His sanctuary is joking, best cure for human stupidity and madness, and all it carries with it. Pretending to be a fool, Schweik is pulling the leg of the whole Empire, and especially its military section.
He performs every order to the letter and literally transfers the messages from officer to officer (‘Colonel sends you his regards and says you are an ass’), he is proud and erect even when saying the utmost stupidities, for example, when he pulls the handle on the train to check whether the brake is functioning properly, or when he is singing patriotic songs in most inappropriate places, or when he starts talking gibberish while the outcome of war is being decided.
‘There was this doctor in the pub Špirk…’ starts Schweik his usual gibberish every time the Imperial army finds itself in a critical situation, driving his superiors nuts. His infantile behavior and nonsense talk, his ‘philosophy’ and ‘deep’ conclusions turn the battlefield in the theatre of nonsense, the theatre of absurd. Lines between geniality and stupidity in Schweik’s case simply do not exist.
He passes through the inferno of war wearing the jester’s mask that helps him escape from reality. We laugh at his ability to keep his usual civil behavior even amidst the most inhuman situation such as war. Laughter breaks any link between his actual situation and his acts: a rheumatic is forced to fight for his oppressor, and his behavior is still perfectly casual.
Actually, the more ordinary his behavior, the more pointless is his situation. The result is humor.
Still, we should not forget that Schweik has no other choice. As was the case with many people of that region, history gave him only two choices: to accept the situation, however hopeless, totally serious, or to mock everyone and everything, and particularly himself, or in other words, to survive.
Of course, there are many examples in the book where Hasek reminds the reader whom his hero is representing.
- Listen, Schweik, are you really such a fool?
- Yessir, replied Schweik proudly. – Yes, I am! Ever since I was little I had no luck with myself. (Hasek, 1998: 148)
An interesting curiosity connected with the book were the vignettes made by Josef Lada used as illustrations for the first issue of the novel. The illustrations integrated with the content of the book so strongly that it is simply unimaginable to publish Schweik in any time and any language with any other illustrations. Lada visualized Schweik for eternity: clumsy and staunch beer lover dressed in a uniform one size too large, whose face always wears a good natured smile. Lada’s perfect visual interpretation of Schweik and other characters showed immediately after the publishing, how much the novel was pliable material for other media apart from literature.
Pessimism and irony as form of rebellion
Schweik is making fools out of his military bosses although he is aware that he could easily end up in jail or even dead. However, he has nothing to lose – living in his situation, being a soldier of the army he despises is not worth lamenting over. If he cannot live his life as he would like to, the only thing left to do is to turn despair to fun, no matter the cost. Still, this nonchalant nihilism is simply a façade. His foolishnesses are, according to Herman, much more frightening than Kafkian absurd labyrinth of reality.
The conflict between bureaucratic machinery and the conscience was treated differently by Jaroslav Hasek, whose way of life was pub-crawling. His Svejk has no need of conscience because he cannot decide anything anyway, and cannot afford the luxury of truthfulness and decency if he wants to survive. The foul-mouthed joviality of Svejk, who says "Yessir" to his officers and kicks them in the pants every time they turn away, contrasts sharply with the suspense of Mr K's ghostly trial. But there is less hope in Hasek's nihilism than in Kafka's soul-searching, and the ready acceptance of Svejk as a national prototype was a terrifying experience. (Hermann, 1975: 244)
The inch of hope and joy that can still be found in Schweik are actually a result of great expectations of the future that Hasek must have felt when he was writing his book, when his country and people were set from centuries-long occupation. The time that came, however, clouded the optimistic visions, while with the arrival of ‘little moustache’ and ‘big moustache’, Hitler and Stalin, they completely vanished. The region was the first and most difficult victim of Nazi Germany, while as the outcome of World War II, whole middle Europe found itself in the grasp of another imperialist government, situated in Moscow. New Empire, the so-called communist block, made of the Soviet Union and its vassals, turned out to be more brutal than the Hapsburgs ever were. On the smallest sign of rebellion and openly expressed wish for freedom and independence, ‘comrade’ Stalin sent punishing expeditions in the form of tanks of the mightiest Army of the world, as was the case in Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968.
Characteristically middle European humor, product of not very joyful pessimist telling jokes, continued existing in the modern times. Man forced to live his life under the dark sky, used humor to reveal the invisible chains that prevented him from walking freely. The message of this humor is black: our world is anything but a beautiful place and life is a lost bet. We are only actors in supporting roles and have little chance of influencing our faith. The whole civilization is actually one sophisticated jungle trotted by helpless human beings. That is the reason why a person wants so little out of life, still even that is often unattainable.
All that a person does is more or less pointless, and there is almost no joy in life. Even work, which often turns out to be a futile activity, does not make one happy.
In his analysis of east European (basically middle European) film comedy, Charles Eidsvik singled out the example of character from Kieslowski’s Short film about love and formed a conclusion applicable to a much wider area than was just the film.
The characters are beyond protest; there is nothing that can be changed nothing to complain about. The world of Kieslowski's characters has been crushed by history. And so Tomek, Magda, and landlady do not resent work even though they do not work for reasons of ambition. They work because work can help people to reach, however clumsily, toward each other. Work is an excuse for contact between ludicrous and funny but suffering human beings. (Charles Eidsvik, 1991: 78)
Still, despite everything, little middle European man is not fatalist. Pessimism, materialized in his humor, became his rebellion. Existence seen from the viewpoint of a looser, life as a complete nonsense and confusion, person’s impossibility to understand the reality in which idyllic picture from the media and political rhetoric constantly collide with the everyday hell, are a fertile source of humor. ‘Surrealist irony or ironical black humor expressing absurd and irrational in human existence’ (Roth-Lindberg, 1995: 185) are to the largest degree characteristic of humoristic works of this region. Whole phony picture created by the police and one party state was unmasked with the help of bitter humor and irony, as defined by Roth-Lindberg:
Irony regularly questions identity. Whether verbal or visual, particularity of irony is that it questions the existence itself, presenting it as apparition and illusion, just like our knowledge of ourselves and others. (Eidsvik, 1991: 59)
‘The greatest enemy’ of socialist doctrine
‘Orwellian’ system that called itself socialism developed gigantic propaganda machinery whose task was to persuade the population that they were living in the best society there is. Newspapers, magazines, film and television controlled by the regime, featured photographies of smiling workers by their machines, radiant smiles also graced the faces of farmers on tractors, metal workers in steel factories, even miners were ‘happy’ in reportages showing them coming out of dark mines. The biggest lie consisted in the claim that working class had won the battle against exploiters and that workers were ruling the country. Figure of worker dressed in a typical suit became a falsified icon, while work itself became a cult. In some of the so-called ‘socialist’ countries, the official greeting was ‘long live work’. Work was actually celebrated by the bureaucratic nomenclature, the class of the worse slackers in the history, those who unscrupulously robbed the poor who officially ‘ruled’ the society.
The party was at the helm of the society which was allegedly moving towards a brighter future – communism – where all were going to be equally valued. Everyone was supposed to give according to their abilities, and take according to their needs. To prevent the people to go astray, the party had to rule with iron discipline and the utmost seriousness. This seriousness, however, demanded the citizens to smile. Their faces had to radiate optimism and faith that they were on the way to the best social system possible and the final phase of history – communism. Milan Kundera, Kafka’s and Hasek’s spiritual son, described it in his landmark work Joke with the following words:
The strangest thing concerning this seriousness was that it did not have a dark face, instead it looked like a smile; yes, these years were proclaimed the happiest of them all, and those who were not happy immediately became suspicious as someone who did not rejoice in the victory of the working class or (which was no smaller sin) for the individualist drowning in the inner sadness. (Kundera, 1987: 35)
Ludvik, the hero of Joke, encountered troubles after having written a humorous postcard to Marketa, girl he met in work camp, with the following lines: ‘Optimism is opium for the masses! Sense reeks of idiotism. Long live Trocki! Ludvik.’ After this, he had to undergo a hearing before the party committee, and was accused of having betrayed the revolution and ‘historical optimism of the working class’. Finally, due to his pessimism, Ludvik was forbidden to go to college and was sentenced to ‘reforming’, in other words, slavery in a mine, and life in a work camp.
What was called pessimism – in other words, skepticism and openly expressed disbelief in official happiness – was labeled as the greatest threat to the so-called socialist doctrine and many subjects of socialist countries went through the same ordeal as Kundera’s literary hero. Artists were particularly stricken by this, because of ‘pessimism’ they lost the possibility to present themselves to the public, they were imprisoned or forced to continue their careers in emigration.
Middle European humorist tradition with its bitter points and bleak representation of reality continued to flourish across the region, defying difficult political climate and the attempts of political heads to harness creativity. A good illustration of the circumstances in which artists created was effectively summarized in the famous political caricature by Fritz Behrendt showing a political official sitting in his armchair telling a writer, already dressed in striped prisoner’s suit: ‘We give you ten years to rewrite your book in optimistic-realistic spirit.’
Small demands of little people for an ordinary life eventually tore down the huge statue raised to the honor of those who symbolized dogmatism, state terror, and other perversions resulting from totalitarian interpretation of freedom. Skeptical artists who refused to believe political and ideological lies, and reflected in their works their disbelief and hopelessness were the first saboteurs of the steel construction of the so-called realistic socialism. Among them, creators of animated humor played one of the most prominent roles.
Middle European animated humor – it is fun to die
Another characteristic of Middle European humor was its totally nonchalant relationship to death. Middle European art in general, and humor in particular, relate to death as to a close relative. This approach greatly differs from Western humoristic tradition . Western European humorists are trying to forget the grim fact that death is the only certain thing in life. While western civilizations often encourage the naïve belief that death is something far away (and happening to others), Middle European spiritual heritage considers death, physical and mental, as an everyday event. Happy end is rarely seen in Middle European art works. There is no good ending, there is only naked truth: the only epilogue of life is death. From birth, man is sentenced to die, and that is the only firm knowledge we have. No other. Time never stands still; even when something resembling a happy end occurs in one moment, it is inevitably followed by death.
The notion of death is rarely understood in its religious sense, as the beginning of new, spiritual life, be it in heaven or hell. Death is nothing more than a huge black spot signifying a more or less welcomed end to life sufferings. It is not something we should be afraid of; on the contrary, dieing can even be fun! If there is some life after death, it would be welcome. Even hell could not be as horrifying as everyday life.
Dark nuances of death always painted middle European humor, including the drawn satire; means of expression with great tradition in the region. Drawings featuring suicide as the only real answer of the little, ordinary man to the world evil, could regularly be found in middle European newspapers and magazines, exhibition catalogues and posters. Such drawings elicited laughter, but the one that gave you cramps in the stomach, because their motives mostly included things like guillotine, gallows, prisons, firing squads, coffins, handcuffs, cemeteries, etc.
Posters, design, caricature and graphic with humoristic content were successfully produced in the region since the nineteenth century. However, the golden age of creation came after World War II, mainly in the sixties and the seventies. Middle European graphic art stood out with its expressiveness, originality, and the ability to transfer messages in original manner. Although they followed national trends such as surrealism and pop-art, regional graphics always managed to keep their own original visions, passion for experimenting, and their authentic subtle black humor.
It seems that a rule can be created according to which production of caricature or graphical aphorism is in direct opposition of democratic development in the particular surrounding. Such conclusion is inevitable after a review of catalogues of the most important festivals and caricature exhibitions during the last ten years of the last century; caricature, both qualitatively and quantitatively, flourishes in Iran, while caricaturist profession is on the verge of being extinct in Sweden, in the same way another similar profession disappeared – that of a clown. There are numerous other examples supporting the claim that dictatorship is fertile ground for drawn satire, art that seems to grow best as forbidden fruit.
In the countries of the so-called socialist block, large numbers of humoristic magazines were published with the state support and blessing. The most famous of them were Szpilki in Poland, Eulenspiegel in East Germany, Dikobraz in Czechoslovakia, Ludas Matyi in Hungary, Jež (Serbia) and Kerempuh (Croatia) in Yugoslavia, etc. The purpose of these magazines was to serve as some sort of safety valve for the people and to be a surrogate for real critical debate in the society. Humor was not allowed to question the doctrine, but it was desirable to criticize (or even better, mock) rivaling political and ideological block, which turned humor and satire to plain propaganda or, as Roth-Lindberg put it, visual sarcasm:
Caricature in daily papers historically acted as visual entertainment and satirical commentary. Caricaturist images were often seen as form of visual humor. However, if they are mixed with agitational, forceful simplification with a clear intent to insult and humiliate the other side, than it has little to do with humor. It becomes visual sarcasm; in accordance with its verbal equivalent, a form of pseudo humor, intended to camouflage the attack. (Roth-Lindberg, 1995: 269)
Most of humoristic artists found it frustrating to work within strict, state-defined limitations imposed on humor. Working with satire assumed great risks, so that those who drew funny caricatures were always facing possible imprisonment. For that reason, best caricaturists, instead of balancing on thin line between allowed and forbidden, resorted to abstraction. Their polysemic line included much more than simple interpretation of the actual situation. In the shadow of everyday life filled with agitation, propaganda, and humor in the service of ideology and regime, intelligent visual aphorism started to develop, whose grim and absurd ideas hit the great political lie right between the eyes. Absurd and abstract camouflaged the real intention of the drawings: unmasking of social mechanisms in the political system whose official ideology proclaimed bright eternity, but in reality created short suffering in the darkness.
Pessimistic artists mocked false optimism. Their hero became confused little man who pretended not to understand the lack of logical connection between everyday horror he was exposed to and the overall success and happiness party controlled media and socialist realist art were full of.
Schweik was no longer a soldier, dressed in a civil suit he started asking tricky questions which had nothing to do with revolutions and bright perspectives, but with the poor state of his pocket, plate and soul. The answers he got were illogical, absurd and disjointed. He stood in the midst of ideological fog and parodied the situation, himself, and the proclaimed notion of man as the society’s ‘greatest treasure’, while in reality this ‘treasure was no more than a punching bag for insatiable and fast-growing bureaucratic machinery.
Abstract caricatures painted ‘socialist realism’ as the theatre of absurd where nothing was possible and everything was impossible. All that a man could see was a frame for the grand illusion invented to deceive the people. Little ordinary man thus became a rebel against political and economic power-holders, by showing on his own example all the pessimism, hopelessness and nonsense created in the ‘best and historically final social system’. Generalized in caricature, this man, whose only ideal was plainness and normality, became the prototype of counterrevolutionary in the society of ‘permanent revolution’.
He had a noose tied around his neck, and an ironical grin on his face.
Pessimistic view of life transmitted in the form of middle European black humor turned out to be extremely effective for enabling individual voices to be heard, to make it known that they protest and disagree with the terror of bureaucracy and domination of stupidity. Occupied, ideologically and territorially, if they could not free themselves, they could at least refuse to accept the situation. Official system was seen as total chaos, while reality with allegedly all the answers concerning human existence, was depicted as a nightmare.
In the society that proclaimed itself the place of the utmost freedom, Dragić drew a caricature called Existence in which a person’s life from cradle to the grave was represented in the shape of a paragraph surveyed by the police. Despite the ruling ideology which ‘made people happy’, in drawings death was featured as the only and final place of human freedom: the face of a convict about to be guillotined is horrified and in tears, but when his head is cut off, the expression on the face changes into a smile. On one Bartak’s drawing, made with his typical broken line, there are numerous signposts pointing nowhere and the little man, although at first glance it appears nonsensical, shakes hands with them. On another drawing by the same author, we see the newspapers which exclusively publish ideological fairytales, in other words nothing, make their reader invisible, in other words, nothing. Hungarian caricaturist Jelensky drew a man standing behind a corner, waiting for a potential victim to rob. Behind him stood his hungry family waiting for the catch. On another drawing we discover homeless people even on another planet, which is exaggeration characteristic of caricature, signaling the chronical lack of flats, one of the typical problems socialist fortune makers were never able to solve.
Satirical drawings showed fully developed brain, the obvious symbol of knowledge, as a big handicap for his owner: It was better to know less, life was simpler. Books, another symbol of learning and science, on Kosobukin’s drawing are made of glass; ‘the truth’ coming out of them is something extremely fragile.
And so on and so forth. There are piles of drawings representing the world as something rotten, inhabited by tortured and haunted people; drawings that transparently illustrated the only success of the deviation called real-socialism – the making of overall darkness, depression; people so desperate that death was their close friend.
Saul Steinberg – philosophical line
With the exception of former Yugoslavia, mostly due to ideological reasons, comic strip very rarely appeared in the countries of the socialist block. The medium was always viewed as something ‘capitalistic’ so that drawn humor in the press was mostly expressed in the form of caricature. However, a cartoonist who lived in the ‘heart of capitalism’, New York, was the main role model to the colleagues from socialist countries.
At the turn of the 20th century, started another great emigration from middle Europe to America. Many middle Europeans, especially Jews, came to the new world with their worries and fears, but their baggage also included an original sense of humor. The encounter with American humoristic tradition resulted with a special ‘nuanced alloy consisting of Jewish narrative tradition, ironical approach and black jidish-humor.’ (Roth-Lindberg, 1995: 72). Billy Wilder and Woody Allen are the examples of humorist mixture in film medium, while early animated films by Dave and Max Fleischer, whose humor was completely based on absurd, are a good example of the same in film animation.
One of the emigrants was Steinberg. He improved the drawing procedure to the extent that some experts consider him to be the father of modern comprehension of visual media in general.
Steinberg mostly drew for New Yorker, famous magazine that was first published in 1925 and was radically different than classical American magazines of the same type. One of New Yorker’s original characteristics was that it published humoristic drawings that were much closer to European than the dominating tradition in contemporary American caricature.
Verbal humor illustrated with drawings made with strong line, almost realistic shading with thick layers of ink, Steinberg replaced with clarity and simplicity in his drawings expressing sublime philosophical thoughts and views. His geniality primarily relied on the ability to subtly simplify and put the idea and performance in a harmonious relationship. His drawings had no dark surfaces, they were made with a consistently thick line, which was following the artist’s intuition and subconscious. ‘Line is like thought’ (Munitić, 1982: 237), said one of Steinberg’s most faithful followers, famous Croatian animator and caricaturist Nedjeljko Dragić.
Combining strong doses of absurd with sketch-like drawing style, Steinberg managed to express the cold distance characteristical of the contemporary way of life. These totally reduced drawings with surrealist content painted human mental landscapes, emotional states, neurosis and fears in an increasingly mechanized, urbanized and synthesized milieu. His typical figure was always amazed, it was an anonymous slave exposed to media pressure, placed in the jungle of geometrical forms and figures: buildings similar to one another, cities with piles of big letters signifying nothing and signposts leading nowhere. Life depicted as nightmare in the world where urbanization, mechanization and modernization has changed human surrounding so quickly and radically that it has surpassed human power of understanding. When watching his drawings, it is hard to discern whether it carries one or more differing humoristic messages. A person laughs at everything and nothing, what is understandable, but also at what is only foreshadowed. Mostly, one laughs at himself, the nonsense in life, so easily recognizable in Steinberg’s philosophical lines.
Owing to planetary cultural domination of America, Steinberg’s drawings reached all the corners of the world and were particularly favored in the part of the world he originally came from. In middle Europe appeared many Steinberg’s followers who inherited his way of drawing and thinking. Besides Nedjeljko Dragić, one of such author’s was also Czech caricaturist Miroslav Bartak who became famous for his simple, cold line and a high level of abstraction in his humor. ‘Steinberg’ method proved to be highly suitable for describing ideological and cultural milieu, along with inner, intimate experience of ‘realist socialism’ so that many middle European artists used it.
Humans perceive sound as a much more abstract phenomenon than picture. For that reason we embrace music much more easily, and we rarely look for some concrete meanings in musical accent, phrase, or a symphony. Visual abstraction, however, often causes confusion because our sense of sight gives us much more concrete information about the world around us. Man instinctively searches for some recognizable meaning, a ‘translation’ to some understandable, everyday language even in the most abstract of pictures. Despite its abstract nature, caricature is rarely seen as something abstract, but instead as a satirical reflection of reality, of the world we know and recognize. ‘Caricature is not just a way of drawing, but is also a way of looking. (McCloud, 1995: 31), wrote Scot McCloud in the book Strip, invisible art and continued:
Abstraction in caricature does not imply disposing of unimportant details, but focusing on the important ones. After reducing a scene to its ‘basic meaning’, the artist can widen its meaning in a way impossible in realistic art. (McCloud, 1995: 31)
Everyone and everything resembles itself more when presented in a caricature. Life in the society that turned Marxism upside down and pulled it out of the historical context was no exception to that rule. Consequently, caricaturist drawings were unusually realistic portrayals of horrors the so-called socialism was producing. Strong pessimist feelings emitted by these works pictured something very real, something that was hidden deep in the people trapped in the ideological castle in the clouds. It was not unusual that in the ‘classless society’ it was the lowest class that intuitively understood the message in caricatures far better than bureaucratic nomenclature. In absurd, paradoxal, black world, the oppressed recognized themselves.
The esthetics and way of thinking pioneered by Saul Steinberg adjusted with unusual success to another medium that had much in common with caricature, namely animation.
Middle European film animation – ‘Schweikian’ anomaly
Already in the course of the first decades of the twentieth century, film animation appeared in almost all middle European countries. Still, the golden age of this medium in this region lasted from the 1950s to the end of 1970s. After World War II, a significant number of animated film studios were founded in the region. Animated film was not considered ‘dangerous’ for the system and the regime, so that censorship was much more frequent in other medias, like literature, theatre, or feature film. Indeed, innovative and fresh art of animation was state funded, especially when at international film festivals animators from socialist countries stood out as superior to their western colleagues, thus ‘proving’ the advantages of living and creating in socialism.
However, animated films came out as utterly subversive. In best works of animated film, reality was painted in colors and tones quite the opposite of those socialist bureaucrats wanted.
In the focus of interest of middle European animated film artists was maximally generalized individual, little man surrounded by absurd, trapped in the world where even most ordinary was often turned into something totally mystifying and incomprehensible. Everything the man sees or experiences, represents an incomprehensible metamorphosis with no beginning and no end.
There was no middle European equivalent of Popeye or Superman. Much like in regional literature and drawn humor, in animation too there were heroes who were not heroes. Leading characters in middle European animation were often characterized by the ‘Schweikian’ anomaly: little man, who felt like a looser, bearing no illusions towards the presence or the future, was forced to live unfree in the ideological casemate. Therefore, he was not afraid of death, but instead saw it as a way to trick the torture and absurd of his ordinary life by escaping from it.
Animation – art of accelerated metamorphosis
Film director builds an artistic reality by connecting longer or shorter temporally separated details of life. In practice, it is more than a curiosity when film time is of identical length as the reality represented, as was the case in Andy Warhol’s film Sleep. Contrary to director of feature film or documentary who are basing their storytelling on chosen, isolated shots and sequences, namely film sentences, animator deals with the molecules of film expression: 24th fragment of a second. Life in a film can be presented with the help of few consecutive shots of our face in the mirror. One day we see a child’s face, the next, the face is mature and finally, it is old covered with white beard. The following day we do not wake up. Animator can represent the same thing in a single shot, in which our aging will be a continual process, unbroken movement lasting only several minutes. The whole life is represented as an accelerated metamorphosis; man grows, ages, his surrounding constantly changes. The medium of animation condenses time and allows for the invisible to be seen. It is capable to reduce the notion of life to a visual aphorism. Owing to the animation method, which can be defined as accelerated metamorphosis, in several short seconds we see a series of changes of our face, which normally spread throughout our whole life. In the same way it is possible that our face, in one continuous movement, transforms from old to young or becomes a female face, some animal’s muzzle, an object, or anything else. There is nothing impossible, unnatural or illogical for animation metamorphosis. In an animated film, literaly anything can be made alive or represented as such.
In his book Understanding Animation, Paul Wells emphasized the importance of metamorphosis in animation saying that:
Metamorphosis also legitimises the process of connecting apparently unrelated images, forging original relationships between lines, objects etc., and disrupting established notions of classical story-telling. Metamorphosis can resist logical developments and determine unpredictable linearities (both temporal and spatial) that constitute different kinds of narrative construction. It can also achieve transformations in figures and objects, which essentially narrate those figures, and objects, detailing, by implication, their intrinsic capacities. (Wells, 1998: 69)
As the art of metamorphosis, film animation is almost an ideal medium for transferring absurd, surreal and black humored ideas, in other words, all that was for centuries integral to middle European cultural heritage. The whole opus of the father of absurd in literature, Franz Kafka, especially the famous story Metamorphosis with its endlessly recited introductory sentence (‘Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand Er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt’) quite logically, was always greatly cherished inspiration to the world’s most famous animators. The pair Marks and Jutriša from Zagreb dedicated most of their creative energy to making animations dealing with human existence as a nightmare (one of their films was called precisely that Nightmare, Mora, 1977) filled with Kafkian feelings of anxiety and discomfort. Something similar can be found in the most renowned work by the Pole Piotr Dumala, film Franz Kafka (1992), while the idea about a certain Gregor Samsa waking up transformed into a cockroach also attracted the ingenious American-Canadian author Caroline Leaf, who made the film Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa in 1977, that is to say at the very beginning of her career.
As early as 1931, Berthold Bartosh, Slovak artist of left orientation who also worked in Germany and France, made his anthological animated film Idea. The film featured a man who came up with an idea in the shape of a beautiful naked girl. A group of people whose looks reveal that they are members of the ruling social classes, are trying to dress the girl and hide her naked body, the symbol of her purity. They are trying to turn the idea against the workers and its creator. When the idea refuses to succumb, its creator is shot, while the idea leaves this world. Bartosh’s pessimism and skepticism (even concerning the utmost the human being can offer: an idea) greatly differed from contemporary American animated films founded on gags and jolly rides of anthropomorphic animals. His visual language, relying on contemporary trends in graphics, was completely different from the style overtaken from comic strip, which was the main characteristic of American animation from its very beginning. Until today, American (and western films in general) and middle European animated films continued to evolve, traveling different paths, as far as the expressive form and the content transferred was concerned.
Wells shed some light on the phenomenon by comparing animated illustrations by Terry Gilliam made for Monthy Python’s Flying Circus with the film Bartakiada (1985) by Czech animator Oldrich Haberle, which consisted of animated and functionally connected abstract caricatures drawn by Miroslav Bartak. He found many similarities between the western animator and his middle European colleague, but also pointed out one crucial difference:
When two ideas that do not seem to naturally relate, meet, and indeed, fundamentally conflict, this can create a comic event. The joke comes out of a resistance to logical continuity (…) Incongruity follows incongruity but, unlike Gilliam's work, this is played out slowly, and consequently, Haberly creates a different atmosphere and tone. The speed and zany insanity of Gilliam's animation possesses the spirit of comic anarchy and violation whilst Haberle's jokes are essentially recognition of the absurdity of humankind's attempts to bring logical order to the world. Eastern European humour like this may be viewed as black irony - the surreality is a philosophic and political statement as well as the vehicle for humour. The incongruity is used for different comic purposes - Gilliam's to shock, Haberle's to reveal. One is the comedy of revolution, the other, the comedy of resignation. (Wells, 1998: 160)
It is not difficult to agree with Wells that precisely in this resignation or humoristic pessimism lies the essential difference between ‘socialist’ and western European animated films. Political and ideological fog in which middle European animators worked significantly defined the content and form of their films, which were often clouded with abstraction, illogicalities and dilemmas.
Or, as Wells stressed it in another place in the book:
Working in oppressive, often authoritarian regimes, animators needed their work to represent their point of view but remain ambiguous enough not to incur the wrath and intervention of the authorities. (Wells, 1998: 64)
Little man enclosed in incomprehensible and unclear surrounding was the hero of many middle European films. Pessimist humour or humoristic pessimism was a feature of most important middle European animated films, whose authors were Poles Jerzy Kucia, Daniel Szczechura, Jan Lenica, Walerian Borowczyk, Miroslaw Kijowicz, Zdzislaw Kudla or Witold Giersz, Hungarians Attila Dargay, Marcell Jankovics and Joseph Nepp (together they created successful animated series Gusztav, featuring another typically ‘Schweikian’ character) or Croats Zlatko Bourek, Zlatko Grgić, Vladimir Jutriša, Aleksandar Marks, and others. Same characteristics can be found in puppet-film, animation genre to which Czech and Slovak animators definitely made the greatest contribution.
Puppet-film – images from life of marionettes
Apart from visual humour, humoristic oral and written literature, there was another art, that is to say, puppet-theatre, which significantly influenced the development of middle European animation. This was particularly true of Czechoslovakia, which was for a long time world leader in the production of puppet films. Czechoslovakia, the country of quantitatively and qualitatively exquisite production, had a long and rich tradition of puppet theatre (theatre animation), which played a special role in the history of that country. Puppet theatre was a substitute for ordinary theatre, and one of the forms of resistance to germanisation during the long years under Austrian rule, which was also observed by Ralph Stephenson:
In Czechoslovakia from the 17th and 16th centuries, puppet shows were particularly popular. They belonged to the people for the first kind of entertainment to be given in the Czech language, and the creations of Josef Skupa - Speilbl and Hurvinek - were national heroes. (Stephenson, 1967: 119)
Another strong impulse for the appearance of puppet-film came from another great writer, Karol Chapek, who worked after World War I. He was also a skilful illustrator, which was an important fact for his literature. It was Chapek who coined the word ‘robot’ in his influential drama R. U. R. about the revolt of slaves in a factory of the future. For Chapek, robots were unpaid workers without emotions which represented the process of working as something totally dehumanised.
The idea about a movable, humanlike object emerged several decades later, in animated film, medium that was technically far more advanced than puppet theatre ever was. With the help of animation, the illusion of ‘living’ object was even more credible, so as to fully reflect the modern man who had lost his humane identity. According to Sigmund Freud, there was something essentially horrifying (‘unheimlisch’) in the process of assigning life to nonliving creatures due to our innate fear of the dilemma: ‘…whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or conversely, whether a lifeless object might not be in fact animate.’ (cited from Sandler, Kevin, 1988)
Even when formal language of puppet films was balanced with the ‘tractor esthetics’ and its content was ideological flawless, the Freudian ‘essential horror’ emanated form puppet-films made in the ‘best and most humane’ social system as a clear testimony of the feelings and spiritual state of their creators.
‘Realist socialist’ ideology treated the society as a mechanism basically similar to a machine in which everything, including art, functioned in accordance with strict rules and preconceived plans. Such a system did not allow for much space for individualism and creativity, and humans had a lot in common with marionettes. Man moved and made things, but his activities depended on those who pulled invisible strings at their own will. Puppet-films depicted the irrational nightmare they called life and perverted world inhabited by wandering creatures without souls, live marionettes. At the same time, puppet-films transferred spiritual lethargy, feelings of helplessness and impotence, which the viewer kept in himself for a long time after having seen the film.
In his analysis of puppet-film in former socialist countries, Wells wrote:
The language of animation, therefore, works as a system of images, which interrogate social conditions, and resist the fiction of reported fact, and the selective representations of reality available through the state-controlled systems of mass-communication. Wells, 1998: 88)
(…) Three-dimensional animation is directly concerned with the expression of materiality, and, as such, the creation of a certain meta-reality, which has the same physical property as the real world. (Wells, 1998: 90)
Trnka’s bitter resignation
Despite a great number of important Czech and Slovak puppet-animators such as were Karel Zeman, Jiři Brdečka, Bretislav Pojar or Jan Švankmajer, Jiři Trnka is still the greatest master of the genre. He started his artistic career as director in a puppet-theatre and, although he was educated painter and artist, he remained faithful to puppets even later when he became head of the state studio for animated film. He explained his love for puppets and the advantages of the genre over classic animated film, by the following words: ‘cartoons are limiting, their characters have to be constantly in movement. Marionettes have more presence’ (Stephenson, 1967: 120).
Trnka did not resist the temptation to make a film about the most popular hero of his homeland, Schweik. Visual style of his feature length puppet-film Good Soldier Schweik is in complete harmony with Josef Lada’s illustrations, each puppet was made after Lada’s drawings. Film dealt with three stories from Hasek’s book. Faithful to his idea of animated film, Trnka represented those parts that were showing Schweik’ foolish gibberish, in other words, escape from reality, in the animated film technique, while those parts that were dealing with material, visible world were represented with puppets. The difference between real world and fantasy, between the harsh reality Schweik was living in and the abstraction created with his gibberish, was expressed with a strong contrast between two animation procedures.
Like many other middle European artists, Trnka also started displaying in his films a growing sense of hopelessness and pessimism as his career was proceeding. With time, the author lost all faith that man could create a better world. He did not even believe in youth as a force capable to change things for the better. In one of his later films, Passion, he displayed his disbelief showing young generation’s cold indifference towards great ideals of humanity. Bendazzi described this film as ‘the bitter story of a youngster who is totally insensitive to the humanistic ideals of resistance artists, and whose only interest is motorcycle’ (Bendazzi, 1994: 169).
Finally, Trnka’s pessimism transformed to bitter resignation. His next and last film was Fist, in which ‘Trnka's gloominess culminated’ (Wells, 1998: 90). The center of the story was the artist and his impossible position in the present social order. Main character was a potter – the artist dressed as a harlequin who was making his vases in peace until one day he got an order from a gigantic fist. The fist wanted vases different than he was making them. When he refused to follow the fist’s requests, the fist first tried to humor him with compliments and ingratiation, but soon resorted to force in order to make him change and produce the art it wanted. Finally, the fist locked him into a golden cage. The only way out was to yield and do as the fist wanted. The artist, however, found another way out: death. The bitter point of the film came at the end when amoral power, clearly symbolized by the almighty fist, organized a luxurious funeral for the gifted artist for whose death it was responsible.
Despite everything, the artist’s death is not seen as his defeat, but precisely the opposite:
His weakness and capitulation become the sources of his strength (…) His endeavours to barricade himself further result, however, in Harlequin knocking himself out and breaking the pot-plant himself. This may be read as an elaborate act of suicide or an ironic accident caused by the absurdity of his situation and inevitability of further state oppression. (Wells, 1998: 87)
Švankmajer: surrealist pessimism
A bit on the side from the group of Czechoslovak animators stood Jan Švankmajer, versatile artist who always refused to be ‘limited to just being an animator’. Still, Švankmajer owed a lot to Trnka and other great puppet-animators who had built technical resources and educated skilful masters, animators who helped him realize his wonderful ideas.
Although he was making films since 1964, Švankmajer became internationally renowned in 1982, owing to the fame of the film The Possibility of Dialogue (Možnosti dialogu, 1982), a masterpiece in the technique of model animation, talking about basic human need to speak, to express himself, and be understood by the others. Film was very sceptical towards the possibility that people could start a dialogue and understand each other, which was precisely the reason why in the author’s homeland it got stuck in the bunker due to its ‘sick and negativist pessimism’. As many times before, once an artist found himself on the black list in the East, he was immediately buying a one-way ticket to the West. Švankmajer continued his career in the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and Switzerland where he made two feature length puppet-films Something about Alice (Nêco z Alenky, 1987), adapted from the famous Lewis Carroll’s book and A Lecture on Faust (Lekce Faust, 1994), which definitely established his cult-status in modern world animation and film.
Švankmajer was born in 1934, in Prague, ‘magical capital’ (Appollinaire), so that he lived through six different political regimes in one country. He spent his childhood in the house formerly owned by famous Czech alchemist, and this fact had an exclusive symbolic meaning in his later life and art. In the 1950s, he started off as a sculptor, painter and director in puppet-theatre. Soon he found himself moving his marionettes in front of the film camera. ‘Unlike the theatre, film is a medium that can wait for its public’, which was, according to Švankmajer, its main advantage in relation to theatre. Something similar happened to him in real life: some of his films (he actually made almost thirty films) were not screened on Czech television or in the official theatre before November of 1989.
The main feature of his works was their extremely surrealist texture – all his films looked like Salvador Dali’s pictures made three-dimensional and brought to life. Švankmajer made his puppets of wood, vegetables, flowers, rocks, food, old toys, even the symbol of death, bones taken out of a skeleton, as was the case in the film Ossuary (Kostnice, 1970), or of guts and giblets as in The End of Stalinism in Czech (Konec stalinismu v Čechách, 1990). His marionettes usually walked through real space, while instead of conventional film music, he always used natural sound. This method enabled him to objectify man’s deepest feelings. His films were some sort of fantastic reportage about the world hidden deep in human being, the creature surrounded by absurd, chained by the ideological lie making the most usual, everyday things seem like unsolvable puzzles. Pessimism pouring out of his films launched him directly in the group of ‘dangerous’ rebels against the system that called itself socialism.
Bretislav Pojar’s two-dimensional ‘puppets’
Another interesting example of middle European humoristic pessimism can also be found in the famous film E, by Bretislav Pojar, disciple and associate of Jiři Trnka, which was made in a milieu completely different than was his place of origin. This funny musical anecdote was produced in the studio of the National Film Bord.
Over the fairytale landscape with green hills and castles flies a modern helicopter transporting a huge stone letter ‘E’. Helicopter reaches the park and places the letter on the base, revealing that it is yet another sculpture of a letter, of which the park is full. Two passers-by are watching the monument. One of them sings ‘E’ (as a Czech person would pronounce it: ‘eeeeeeee’), the other sings ‘B’ (pronounced as ‘beeee’). They start arguing, and soon other witnesses join in the fierce argument. Everyone is singing ‘eeee’, however one of them stubbornly continues to sing ‘beeee’. Finally, an ambulance arrives, and a singing doctor opens the man’s scull revealing that reality in his head is reflected into something false. The doctor solves the problem by giving the man a pair of glasses and he is cured. Now he sees clearly too and joins the other singing ‘eeee’.
The problem arises when king joins the crowd. He also sees the monument and sings ‘E’ as ‘beeee’. The doctor politely bows and offers the king a pair of glasses so that he too could clearly see ‘E’. The king thanks him, puts the glasses on, but the reality he sees now does not please him. He whispers something in his assistant’s ear and a minute later the park is full of policemen with modern equipment who are now brutally beating the crowd until the situation in their heads gets reversed. At the end everyone sees ‘E’, but singing ‘beee’, just like their king. There is only one ‘Schweikian’ parrot who sings ‘eeee’, only to change the song to ‘beee’ as soon as the policemen approach him.
In this film, Pojar combined different traditions. E was constructed so as to evoke musical cabaret in which ‘actors’ communicated by singing. The opening credits were designed as a curtain going up and down, as in the theatre. Film was made in collage, technique half way between puppet and animated film, because it implied the use of two-dimensional puppets made of paper. What we see, looks like a drawing, but in Trnka’s interpretation of animation, these characters had ‘more material presence’ than figures in an ordinary animated film.
Apart from Czech puppet film tradition, structure and expression of the film E also had much in common with another middle European animation style, the one that developed in the Zagreb School of Animation.
Zagreb School: freedom limited by auto-censorship
Yugoslavia was a great exception among the socialist countries. It could be said that it was the most democratic country of the East block, or the least democratic country of the West. The country was independent in relation to the blocks, ruling communist ideology was significantly reformed, and the society was liberal enough: life there had much more in common with the western way of living than the east. Yugoslavia parted early with the ideology of social realism in art so that censorship was much less strict than in other countries of the so-called socialist system. Instead of censorship, Yugoslavia developed a sort of auto-censorship; in practice, this meant that the authors more or less knew how large their maneuvering space was. More importantly, they mostly accepted those limitations. This was also true of the leading animating studio in the country, Zagreb film. One of the leaders of the Zagreb school of animation, Borivoj Dovniković , explained it in the following way:
We had no problem with censorship in Zagreb Film or with the Government. However, you must know that we had "a policeman in our brains", as we've described it, and that we knew what subject matter should be avoided, which included anything against politicians, the Communist Party and the Federal State of Yugoslavia. (Furniss, 1998: 170)
Another important difference between Zagreb and other animation centers of middle Europe was an obvious American influence on the esthetics that formed in the Studio. Graphical language typical of caricature and strip defined the visual style of American animated film, whether it was gigantic Disney studio or Disney’s rivals such as Warner Brothers, the UPA, or others.
Owing to an important tradition of comic strips in Croatia, it happened that caricaturists and cartoonists founded a production of animated film in Zagreb. The founders were mostly artists whose main role models were Americans. Puppet-film did not develop in Zagreb, just as it did not develop on the other side of the Atlantic, while collage animations were quite rare.
Nevertheless, Yugoslav social system was still based on Marxist theory. Besides, former Yugoslav federal state Croatia was a middle European country with long history as an integral part of the Hapsburg Empire. Content of the films made in Zagreb thus much more resembled that of the films produced in the neighboring middle European countries, and much less followed the clichés which developed in American animated comedies with anthropomorphic characters in main roles. Humoristic pessimism was the common denominator of all middle European animated film, including the works of the ‘Americanized’ Zagreb studio.
Dovniković’s naïve heroes
Most of Dovniković’s films belonged to the typical middle European tradition. In one of his early films, Ceremony, Dovniković already presented himself as a typical middle European humorist with an inclination towards black humor. For the most part of the film, we are looking at a group of people enthusiastically assuming different poses as if they were going to be photographed. At the end, we see that they are standing in front of the firing squad, posing for their executioners.
Dovniković was and remained caricaturist as far as the content and form of his films were concerned. As we have already said, caricature is an abstract art, but not an abstraction itself. Abstraction excludes human figure and humor, two most important features of caricature. Besides, caricature is apparently a very pliable medium for ironical narration:
The art of caricature is partly personified in the form of specific caricaturist irony. Similar to other forms of irony, caricature plays with our expectations, habits and experiences. It uses denial as an absolute turnabout – negative ups and downs, when something is overvalued; one firm knowledge is put into question, one contract is broken, one expectation taken for granted is destroyed. (Roth-Lindberg, 1995: 270)
Dovniković’s characters were little, everyday, naïve heroes. As far as figure design and drawing technique in general were concerned, Dovniković, like Grgić and Dragić, was strongly influenced by Steinberg’s purity and simplicity. Dovniković was somewhat older than his colleagues so his drawing style kept plasticity and volume, and the softness of line placing his graphics half way between Disney and Steinberg. As animator, he was relaxed, his drawings were copied from the paper on the cel with unequally thick line which constantly pulsated on the screen creating lively and irresistible film image. All his films were drawn pantomimes whose humor was somewhat melancholic and bluish. Instead of dialogues, he used caricatured sound mostly authored by Miljenko Dörr, genius sound technician whose opus was more than comparable to the opus created by Warner-Brothers’ sound technicians Mel Blanc and Dawes Butler. Dovniković’s stories always revolved around goodhearted, affectionate and naïve ‘little man’ who would find himself in trouble because of something totally unnatural and illogical, or due to human wickedness. Drawn figures proved to be perfect ‘actors’ which transferred with great precision the author’s vision of an ordinary little man and his ‘struggle to live an ordinary life’ (Wells, 1998: 122).
In some of Dovniković’s most important films his characters actually did not give up that easily. After having undergone molestation in the first part of the film, the character would experience a catharsis and transform into a real fighter who refused to be terrorized any longer.
His ordinary man would become totally extraordinary.
In Curiosity, a man is sleeping on a bench in a park. Out of white, inconstant and unpredictable background, which is at the same time all and nothing, come out all kinds of troubles disturbing the little man’s slumber: soldiers, rebels, tourists, groups of children, and many others who are trying to see, at all cost, what is hidden in the bag lying next to the bench and the sleeper. Finally, little man escapes to a deserted area, only to make fun of his torturers by showing in an ironical closing scene that the bag was empty.
In Learning to Walk, the focus is placed on an innocent and naïve figure of a man. He wants to please all those who are trying to teach him how to walk ‘properly’. However, in the end he gets tired of following stupid rules imposed by others, bigger and stronger, and transforms from a peaceful dork to a mighty fighter who chases away his tiresome advisors.
In Passenger of the Second Class, perhaps Dovniković’s most important work, we see his usual little man in a train compartment where all kinds of irrational events take place. All that he wants is to travel in peace, however, he is terrorized by the conductor, police, postman with bad news, newspaper vendor shouting headlines, man from the next compartment who is suffering from insomnia, a dog drinking brandy, a smoker which turns the compartment to a gas chamber, and many other strange characters. His compartment becomes the battlefield of war between cowboys and Indians, he is even visited by the aliens. ‘Specific caricaturist irony’ is revealed in the end when the Little Man, who seemed the only normal person in the compartment, reaches his station. We see that his luggage is full of alien animals, while the landscape surrounding his house corresponds a scene from a horror film: dark gothic castle, cemetery, full moon, illustrated by an ominous soundtrack.
The most typical film in this context was Krek, anti-militarist anecdote ironically dedicated to all the world’s corporals. Little recruit is coming to the barracks to serve his term. He encounters a ruthless corporal who tortures him with steel military drill. In the recruit’s bag, under his civil clothes, lies hidden a cheerful frog, an obvious ‘Schweikian’ symbol of civil life joy and freedom. The recruit is forced to obey the corporal’s senseless orders: physical training, rifle practice, marching, digging trenches, cleaning toilets, and other demeaning tasks. However, as soon as the frog appears in the shot, the corporal vanishes. Instead of saddening military ambience, the recruit and the frog travel to another reality, world of freedom that Dovniković represented by attaching clips of postcards of western cities and tourist catalogues, which did not represent a mere counterpoint to the drawn reality, but also carried clearly understandable symbolism. The frog appears in the most unexpected places: under the recruit’s cap, in corporal’s boots, on the training course. Corporal hits it and kicks it, even shoots it, but the symbol of freedom is unusually tenacious. In the end, corporal throws the frog into a deep well, fills it with bombs and then proceeds to slander his victim. The recruit’s troubles continue until the end of his term, when the indestructible frog reappears. Frog’s legs are plastered, but it is still full of life’s joy, just like the recruit who finally leaves the barracks and returns to freedom.
Special study (1): One Day of Life
In all Dovniković’s films from the ‘60s and the ‘70s there was a certain degree of optimism and hope for the little man. However, it has vanished from his later works. One Day of Life was the film in which optimism overtook. It was made in 1982, when the author was on the peak of his creative maturity.
Film opening scenes are irritatingly boring: in several consecutive scenes we are watching the same thing, following the life of a man going to work and coming home. Nothing else is happening. He goes to the factory, performs a meaningless job, and furtively looks at his beautiful colleague for which his boss yells at him. Boredom is the only content of his life, which Dovniković emphasized using only several cold colors and accompanying it with depressive music.
One day, while tottering home, the hero unexpectedly runs into a man, much bigger and heavier than him. With the help of brilliantly devised language of drawn pantomime used by the characters, we realize that they are old acquaintances, probably school buddies. The little man’s daily routine unexpectedly and radically changes because the friend literally takes him to the pub. The two of them enter a typical Balkan pub full of cigarette smoke, men and women leaning heavily over their glasses. At that moment, colors and soundtrack change, both turning into something brighter. Friends sit at the bar and start downing rounds or drinks. Soon a drunken bum joins them, and they become a drinking threesome.
With every new round of drinks, Dovniković’ adds some warm tones, both in the background and foreground. Animation rhythm quickens, while musical illustration starts to resemble popular folk music usually heard in Balkan pubs. The film’s atmosphere assumes a wild stance, just like the one beating in the little man’s head. The drunker he gets, the wilder is the atmosphere in the pub. Little man starts traveling with great speed between reality and fantasy owing to the apparent freedom procured by the alcohol. In a series of effective scenes, Dovniković combined situations in which we see reality, the little man drinking with two other drunken brothers and imaginary scenes illustrating his hidden desires. Suddenly he sees his boss. In his malignant hallucination he hits him, but in reality it is a small bum who gets hit on the nose. He also sees his colleague. She is naked and he takes off his pants intending to sleep with her. In reality, he is standing in the middle of the pub with his pants down, as the laughing stock of other guests.
He is making a full of himself, which is the only way to be free. ‘Schweikian’ substance of absurd was reached with the help of alcohol, as is often the case in real life…
In this context, there is an interesting testimony about the role of alcohol in the so-called socialist society left by Andrej Tarkovski, whom we usually do not connect with humor.
Yesterday I got drunk. And shaved off my moustache. I only realized this morning. And on all my document photographs I've got a moustache. I'll have to grow it again.
I do love my Larochka, she is wonderful. Why, when I love her, do I go on the booze… presumably because what is missing is that notorious thing, freedom. (Tarkovski, 1994: 6)
At the end of the film we see the little man dead drunk: he is driving an expensive car, swimming in the sea of naked women’s breasts (which is an obvious pastiche from an earlier Dragić’s film), the whole town dances in the rhythm of folk music, the little man, in the size of King Kong, roams around the town. From above, we see a picturesque landscape, endless open space, fields and rivers. Above all that little man is flying in the sky painted in screaming colors.
Here, Dovniković makes a sudden cut: again we see the little man on his routine walk from his home to work, same dull rhythm, and same depressing colors from the beginning of the film. The return to cruel reality is achieved with a sharp cut: yesterday’s short lasting happiness was an illusion created with alcohol. It was yet another day in which nothing had happened, and nothing can happen or change anyway.
Little man returned to his empty, doleful life.
Dragić’s total losers
Nedjeljko Dragić was self taught animator whose expression was heavily influenced by Saul Steinberg. Dragić’s visual vocabulary was rich despite the simplicity of the drawing. He used the line completely freely, almost without any obligation, the pen seemed like touching the paper only lightly, recording the most important and disregarding less important details. Dragić’s drawing foreshadowed much more than it displayed. He was the master of fast drawing and easygoing moves. Despite the fact that it was heavily reduced, his drawing managed to mediate whole flocks of various emotions and messages. He successfully portrayed the character of his characters with several lightning speed moves. Owing to his intuition and ability to combine, Dragić instilled new life in Steinberg’s tense, sharp line. Simple drawn forms and figures were given volume and movement with the help of animation. In complete harmony with his drawing style, Dragić’s animation was primarily characterized by spontaneity and relaxedness. Still, Dragić had under complete control all lines and forms, every 24th particle of a second of his films.
Contrary to Dovniković, who often let his characters overcome the difficult situation, Dragić’s heroes were regularly total losers. His heroes inhabited one rotten, corrupted, utterly cruel world in which people were unimportant and apathetic puppets. With time, they accepted their position in the world and stopped resisting, which was practically their greatest defeat. This pessimistic view of the world, skepticism and cynicism concerning human ability to influence his/her own life and relationships with others, was a constant feature of Dragić’s films. This also stands for one-minute, the so-called mini-films that he introduced in the Zagreb School tradition.
In a mini film Per aspera ad astra (1969), we see a toilet bowl while the sound illustration, toilsome moaning and groaning, suggests the efforts made by some man climbing steep hill. Finally, a figure resurfaces from the bowl, but only to pull the chain and flush the toilet with water that would take him back to the sewer.
Trip to the Neighbour (1970) features a figure showering, washing the teeth, applying perfume and deodorant, dressing in a white tie and tails, tying the bow-tie and putting on a cylinder hat as if he were going to an opening ceremony. Finally, we see him starting a tank with which he intends to ‘visit’ his neighbor.
Special study (2): Passing Days
One of Dragić’s film that could function as the prototype of middle European pessimistic humor is Passing Days, made in ‘rebellious’ 1968. Little man whose life this films depicts is everything but rebellious. As is always the case with Dragić, here too we observe caricature drawn with utter simplicity, on which only several details stand out. In this case, this detail is slippers, clearly expressing the hero’s only ambition in life: to live and ordinary, normal family life. However, he is prevented from doing so. Little man’s life is full of misery and suffering, he is molested by the police, politicians, has problems with money, even his love and sex life elicit only disgust.
Dragić used an animation solution which proved effective in Dovniković’s films: white desert where everything simultaneously exists and does not exist, a space abstract in the same way as time. White background is first flat and formless; however, in the next instant changes into a deep, hollow, cave-like space. Contrary to Dovniković who perceived this whiteness as abstract and absurd reality surrounding his characters, in Dragić’s film this ‘all-nothing space’ was something very subjective. In this case, it was a philosophical view. Our absolutely most important contact with our surrounding is made with our sight. We see only what exists, nothing else. The only thing we can know with the utmost certainty is what we are seeing, and only in the moment we are watching it. That is the only reality we can state as a fact, everything else can only be assumed. We only assume that the big whiteness hides the people, objects and nature we know. ‘Life is more than what we are seeing’, wrote McCloud in his book (McCloud, 1995) many years after the premiere of Passing Days.
Even when time was concerned, Dragić had his own viewpoint. The only time that existed was the time we had in our memory. Life lasted as long as did the memories (later on Dragić made a film called Pictures from Memory). Film’s narrative procedure was built on associations, whole story was a summary of time consisting of pictures from the memory of the main character, which do not necessarily correspond to their chronological order.
In the opening scene we see the little man sitting next to his wife Matilda. She pulls a drawer out of white ‘all-nothing space’, takes from it her hidden lover and eats him. Little man blows on the bulb which turns black. His chair suddenly transforms into a pool and he almost drowns in it. Policemen come to the door that appear all by themselves on the white surface and beat him with the sticks. Soon after, another door opens, and two secret agents enter and give him a good slapping. A closet opens with a skeleton in it, a lover Matilda had forgotten about. Little man tries to read, but is disturbed by a motorcycle buzzing through the room. A door bell rings. He opens previously invisible door and a swimmer enters, swimming in his floor. Little man wants to swim to, so he jumps in the ‘water’, but physical laws still apply to him and he only manages to break his nose. Swimming in the floor is forbidden so policemen swarm in again and give him another beating.
At this moment a figure resembling an angel appears flying over him, offering him a red apple. He refuses the gift.
As soon as the angel disappears, another agent bursts into the room and tears the little man’s book. Reading is forbidden. His wife Matilda enters shaking her hips, takes the agent under his arm and leaves with him. Out of the off-space we hear sounds typical of sexual activity. Suddenly, the agent runs through the shot, trying to escape lascivious Matilda. Desperate little man is watching all this, pulls a cord out of white ‘all-nothing’, and tries to hang himself. Unexpectedly, a public appears before him clapping at his attempt of suicide. When he changes his mind, the public starts whistling and try to lynch him. The cord breaks and the little man falls to the ground when a salesman appears offering him better quality ties. Little man calls Matilda, but she is busy riding her new lover. He continues to call her but he is heard by the policemen who come back and silence him with another set of beatings.
The angel flies in again offering him an apple. Again, he refuses.
The little man tries to calm down with the help of music, but a politician interrupts him with his boring speech. He attempts to escape to the politicians babble, but policemen catch him and force him to listen. A whole series of seemingly pointless and unrelated events follows, directed against the little man, as if the whole world had set out to get him: TV-face from the commercial for toothpaste ‘Puf’ molests him violently brushing his teeth, a rock and roll musician comes out of the lamp on the ceiling bursting his eardrums with electric guitar, a war pours down out of the television screen in his living room, bombs are exploding, tanks firing, rockets whizzing…
He falls unconscious.
The war disappears all by itself, and it starts raining in the little man’s room. He wakes up and sees the little angel hovering over him offering him the apple. He refuses. Just then Matilda appears with her new lover and his numerous children. She pulls another drawer out of the whiteness and takes another lover. The little man opens another drawer and crawls inside hoping that next time she would pull him out. However, this produces the most absurd moment in the film. A king enters the room, opens his mouth and we see a word balloon saying: ‘A kingdom for a horse!. The king opens the drawer, takes his ‘horse’, our little man, and leaves riding on his back. Immediately afterwards, the little man finds himself in a whole new set of troubles coming out of the white background: two groups of demonstrators appear, green and pink (in a short insert we see one green demonstrator joining the pink ones), which are pulling the little man to both sides, until they tear him apart.
He falls unconscious again.
Little angel wakes him up. He refuses the apple. He wants to listen to the radio, but the policemen burst in and snatch the radio from his hands and start searching their favorite radio station. They find one playing Yugoslav folk music. Although they are dressed in western uniforms, their true identity is revealed. After the policemen, an artist comes into the room, sells the little man a painting, rips him of all of his money and kicks him in the rear. Little man hangs the painting on the wall. The painting is not hanging straight, and that is forbidden. Because of this ‘misdemeanor’ his house is bombarded by an army. A tank enters his demolished room and a soldier comes out waving his finger, warning the little man: ‘No, no!’ Little man is trying to escape, but the angel stops him.
He takes the apple.
However, even this apparently surreal ‘Schweikian’ sanctuary for the little man, turns out to be only false hope. The apple is a grenade in disguise, which explodes when the little man bites it. His teeth break and fall on the floor. A cleaner appears, wipes away the teeth while spitting on the little man for polluting the surrounding. Totally desperate, little man starts calling Matilda again. She finally comes and they make love. Their intercourse takes no more than a few seconds and for that time we see only Matilda’s hair, which looks like some hairy dog wagging its tail. Matilda is soon done with him and leaves.
He falls unconscious again.
When he wakes up, he sees a pliant skyscraper falling into his room, and when the night falls, the sky and the stars come pouring down his window. He escapes, runs like hell, but a marathon runner runs past him showing us how the little man is actually slow and exhausted, and how his running is taking him nowhere. There is no ‘Schweikian’ sanctuary for the little man: his reality is twisted to the utmost limits of absurd. He opens the door, and a graveyard appears. He opens another door and sees the graveyard again, behind another door he sees another graveyard, and every new door leads him to the graveyard. All that he is left with is the graveyard.
In one, when compared to the previous dynamics of the film, unusually long scene without any movement, the little man stares at us, the viewers. ‘Direct ironical correspondence between the picture and the public’ (Roth-Lindberg, 1995: 148) takes place and we perfectly understand Dragić’s hero. Soundtrack of this ‘frozen’ scene is the sound of train leaving. There is no hope. The little man has been hopelessly trying to pick up the pieces of his life. The last train departed, all days have passed.
He did not get to live.
At the end, a dark wave of rage overcomes the little man. Leaving this world, he is a totally broken down person.
In the whole history of the medium, it is hard to find an animated film with such pessimistic view of reality as was the case with Nedjeljko Dragić’s masterpiece Passing Days.
Instead of a conclusion: humor is more lasting than politics
The eternal question why man actually laughs remains unanswered. Or as Portuguese art historian, Osvaldo de Sousa said in the introduction of his publication Communication and humor:
Everyone knows what humor is, but can rarely define it. As idea, humor is abstract so that we hesitate around his meaning. It is a word with less expressive meaning so that theoreticians have been wandering between different concrete definitions constantly crossing the borders between comedy, grotesque, irony, satire, joke…(Comunicar Com Humor, 2000: 29)
My ambition was not to give a firm answer to this question. Just like love, humor remains an unsolvable mystery. We do not know why we love someone, just as we do not know what the source of humor is. Man does not know why he loves someone. Man does not know why he laughs at something or someone. And that is a good thing. Life without secrets would be infinitely boring.
Still, if not humor itself, we can identify what humor carries in itself. Humor, just like art (and art and humor are often united), presents a vision of the world, one view of life.
Nations which were forced to spend most of their history between one big and one huge nation, Germany and Russia, have developed a special humoristic tradition in accordance with their mental heritage. Middle European peoples conglomerate had lived through too much of history and too little freedom, which has reflected in its humor. The essential feature of that humor was pessimism. In this type of humor, the humorist was joking at his own expense, cracking jokes about his insupportable situation. The humor was painted with all nuances of black, it mocked human existence treating it as anything but sublime, and featuring death as a desirable escape from the tragedy called life. This was particularly true of the people of the ‘wrong’ nation whose mother tongue, culture and nationality were the reason they were treated as the lowest class. Main hero of this tradition was the ordinary man, born loser who was running away from the cruel reality to absurd, paradoxical, and impossible, a hero who was dieing with a smile on his face. Apart from literature, theatre, and visual humor, pessimistic humor and humoristic pessimism marked to a great degree middle European animated film. This unique phenomenon experienced its golden era between the 1950s and 1980s, in other words, in the time when ideological dictatorship called socialism molested middle European souls most fiercely.
In his brilliant book Shadow of a Smile Örjan Roth-Lindberg wrote:
It is said that famous Czech irony and satire (with such various idioms created in Kafka’s, Chapek’s and Hasek’s works) vanished over night after the 1989 revolution; it disappeared from the streets and pub tables, in other words, from everyday speech, where forbidden stories found their sanctuary. (Roth-Lindberg, 1995: 76)
That is hardly the truth. The strength of humor of one culture usually lasts much longer than political circumstances that caused its birth and influenced its form. Situation in middle Europe changed significantly after 1990. The hope remains that future will bring much less reasons for pessimism than was the case before. Humor, including pessimist humor too, is never preserved in a mausoleum; it moves and spreads over geographical, mental or temporal borders. It is highly probable that little ‘Schweikian’ man will continue his victorious stroll not just within the borders of this region, but all around the ‘global village’, carrying the ability to laugh at the impossible in his luggage. Today, little man lives in the ‘Empire’ called planet Earth, which in our times, owing to electronic media, functions as a unique and compact whole.
|< Prev||Next >|