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Žert [La plaisanterie]

Milan Kundera, Žert [La plaisanterie], Praha, Československý spisovatel, 1968, 282 p.

«Oui, j’y voyais clair soudain : la plupart des gens s’adonnent au mirage d’une double croyance : ils croient à la pérennité de la mémoire (des hommes, des choses, des actes, des nations) et à la possibilité de réparer (des actes, des erreurs, des péchés, des torts). L’une est aussi fausse que l’autre. La vérité se situe juste à l’opposé : tout sera oublié et rien ne sera réparé. Le rôle de la réparation (et par la vengeance et par le pardon) sera tenu par l’oubli. Personne ne réparera les torts commis, mais tous les torts seront oubliés.»
(Quatrième de couverture)

Documentation critique

THIROUIN, Marie-Odile, « Romans de la dévastation: Le Premier Cercle d’Alexandre Soljenitsyne et La Plaisanterie de Milan Kundera », Recherches et Travaux, n° 80 (2012), p. 33-48. +++ Article de revue

### Thirouin, 2012, HTML ###

PENALTA CATALÁN, Rocío, « Las ciudades checas desde el exilio: Milan Kundera », dans Eugenia POPEANGA CHELAR, Angel CLEMENTE ESCOBAR et Garrido Alarcón, Edmundo GARRIDO ALACÓN et Rocío PENALTA CATALÁN (dir.), Escrituras del exilio, Madrid, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 2011, p. 339-352. +++ Article de revue

### Porte aussi sur Le livre du rire et de l’oubli. ###

HOWELL, Yvonne, « Baring the Brain as Well as the Soul: Milan Kundera’s The Joke », Philosophy and Literature, vol. 34, n° 1 (avril 2010), p. 201-217. +++ Article de revue

### Abstract
Are we innately superstitious? Is it possible for even the most hardened atheist-existentialist not see the hand of destiny, traffic deities, or other disembodied psychological agents when a fortuitous parking spot transforms his life? Maybe our adaptive ability to infer intentionality to other people’s behavior evolved at some point into an innate drive to infer intentionality to the gestures of the universe? Kundera’s Czech novel The Joke (1965) can be read as prescient obsession with our insistence on deciphering existential meanings. I explore Bering’s “Existential Theory of Mind” hypothesis to re-examine The Joke in a post-Cold War context.

Howell, 2010, PDF ###

CHRISTOFFEL, David, « Mélos, roman et remélos », dans Marie-Odile THIROUIN et Martine BOYER-WEINMANN (dir.), Désaccords parfaits: La Réception paradoxale de l’œuvre de Milan Kundera, Grenoble, ELLUG, 2009, p. 279-289. +++ Chapitre de collectif

CRAVENS, Craig, « Faulty Consciousnesses: Milan Kundera’s The Joke », Slavic and East European Journal, vol. 44, n° 1 (printemps 2000), p. 92-108. +++ Article de revue

### Cravens, 2000, PDF ###

JONES, Helen L., « ‘Real Existing Socialism’ and Its Misogynistic Consequences: The Male Protagonist in Literary Texts by Christoph Hein, Milan Kundera and Richard Wagner », dans Graham JACKMAN (dir.), Christoph Hein in Perspective, Amsterdam, Rodopi, 2000, p. 137-148. +++ Chapitre de collectif

MELIC, Katarina, « Quand la muse de l’histoire entre en scène. L’histoire ou les stratégies fictionnelles de Milan Kundera », thèse de doctorat, département de Français, Queen’s University, 1999, 261 f. +++ Thèse de doctorat / mémoire de maîtrise

### Abstract
Dissident writer since 1979, French citizen since 1981, Milan Kundera is often seen as a political writer. He has often raised his voice against this qualification although his novels represent the reality of the Czech history.
In this thesis, we would like to explore the place of History in Kundera’s novels and the differents angles he uses to represent History–its official writing and its deconstruction et fictional rewriting.
In the first chapter, we shall examine the status of History in the postmodern literature. We shall see how the place and the role of History is questioned within the fiction; and how History is deconstructed and relativised on the example of one historical postmodern novel– Un tombeau pour Boris Davidovitch written by Danilo Kis.
In the second chapter, we shall focus on Milan Kundera’s reflexions on the novel and on History.
In the third chapter, the representation of History and its different forms of rewriting in Milan Kundera’s novel, La plaisanterie, will be the subject of our analysis.
In the fourth chapter, our attention will be focused on the analysis of the representation of History as variations on different themes in Kundera’s book, Le livre du rire et de l’oubli.

La version PDF de la thèse est disponible pour les membres de communautés universitaires qui ont un abonnement institutionnel auprès de UMI - Proquest ###

DOLEŽEL, Lubomír, « ‘Narrative Symposium’ in Milan Kundera », dans Peter PETRO (dir.), Critical Essays on Milan Kundera, New York, G. K. Hall, 1999, p. 125-136. +++ Chapitre de collectif

MONYE, Laurent P., « L’individu et ses masques dans Le Tambour de Günter Grass et La Plaisanterie de Milan Kundera », CLA Journal, vol. 41, n° 2 (décembre 1997), p. 213-220. +++ Article de revue

STEINER, Peter, « Ironies of History: The Joke of Milan Kundera », dans Calin-Andrei MIHAILESCU et Walid HAMARNEH (dir.), Fiction Updated: Theories of Fictionality, Narratology, and Poetics, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1996, p. 197-212. +++ Chapitre de collectif

AJI, Aron, « Lucie Sebetka: The Phenomenon of Abandonment in Milan Kundera’s The Joke », dans Marlies KRONEGGER (dir.), Phenomenology and Aesthetics: Approaches to Comparative Literature and the Other Arts, Dordrecht, Kluwer Acad., under Auspices of World Inst. for Advanced Phenomenological Research & Learning, 1991, p. 165-177. +++ Chapitre de collectif

RESTUCCIA, Frances L., « Homo Homini Lupus: Milan Kundera’s The Joke », Contemporary Literature, vol. 31, n° 3 (automne 1990), p. 281-299. +++ Article de revue

### Restuccia, 1990, PDF ###

CALDWELL, Ann Stewart, « The Intrusive Narrative Voice of Milan Kundera », The Review of Contemporary Fiction, vol. 9, n° 2 (été 1989), p. 46-52. +++ Article de revue

### Porte également sur Le livre du rire et de l’oubli.

La version PDF de l’article est disponible pour les membres de communautés universitaires qui ont un abonnement institutionnel auprès de UMI - Proquest ###

FEINTUCH, Burt, « The Joke, Folk Culture, and Milan Kundera’s The Joke », Western Folklore , vol. 46, n° 1 (janvier 1987), p. 21-35. +++ Article de revue

### Feintuch, 1987, PDF ###

PORTER, Robert, « Milan Kundera and His Novel The Joke », Trivium, n° 8 (1973), p. 1-10. +++ Article de revue

### Abstract
A detailed review of Žert based primarily on the Czech text and reviews in Czech publications is presented. The article deals with the hero’s character, his self-deception in human relationships, his three love affairs, and his inappropriate desire for revenge. His resultant skepticism is not the real key to his character, for he returns to traditional values to find a future modus vivendi. The Joke‘s criticism of Stalinism goes further than simple social protest. Kundera sees excessive zeal in the revolutionary era as the cause of cultural distortions and consequently distortions in people’s values and behavior. The passages on folk music and jazz provide one concrete example of this. Finally, the article examines the question of the generation gap. Youth is doomed to play-act and the young people in The Joke are subtly mocked. The Joke, though highly relevant to all nations, possesses a peculiarly Czech quality-the transformation of a historical tragedy into a literary comedy. ###

ZEKULIN, Gleb, « The Intellectual’s Dilemma: The Hero in the Modern Czech Novel », Canadian Slavonic Papers: An Inter-disciplinary Quarterly Devoted to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, n° 14 (1972), p. 634-642. +++ Article de revue

### Abstract
Czech novelists of the 1960’s, released from the ideological straightjacket of socialist realism and from the bureaucratic tongs of state censorship, turned into investigating the reasons for the loneliness, disillusionment, and alienation of their contemporaries. Three oustanding writers presented each his own convincing analysis of the specific Czechoslovak forms of this malaise of our times. Milan Kundera in The Joke sees the main cause for disillusionment in the social parasitism and personal weaknesses of his Czech contemporaries. Ludvík Vaculík in The Axe puts the blame of the official ideological dogmatism which frustrates the sincere idealist. Josef S̆kvorecký in The Lion-Cub considers the problem as a moral one: his hero refuses to make a choice and carry the resulting responsibility from fear of beocming involved and of having morally to compromise. In writing their novels, Jundera and Vaculík chose a highly involved ‘modernistic’ manner, handling cleverly the narrative time and mode. S̆vorecký’s beautifully written novel seems to be more ‘traditional’ from the point of view in form. All three novelists have provided important insights into the nature of contemporary man and of his tragic fate.

Zekulin, 1972, PDF ###

CUCU, Sorin Radu, « The underside of politics: Postmodernism, political mythology and the Cold War », thèse de doctorat, Department of Comparative Literature, State University of New York at Buffalo, 2007, 247 f. +++ Thèse de doctorat / mémoire de maîtrise

### Abstract
This dissertation discusses the political implications of postwar novels from both sides of the infamous Iron Curtain, focusing on the critical engagement of these fictional texts with two of the key mythological structures created in modernity: the constitution of the political subject—centered around the Marxist idea of emancipation—and the “emergence of the public sphere”—according to Habermas, central to the construction of democratic imaginary, in the liberal tradition.

The theoretical assumption that late 20th century culture directly engages specific politico-historical experiences appears in literary criticism as the central element of the shift from the high modernist aesthetics to a new model. More so, classical studies on the much-debated concept of postmodernity suggest various political acts that tacitly point towards the Left. More specifically than Ihab Hassan, Brian McHale or Matei Calinescu, Linda Hutcheon’s work, for instance, aims at a “politics of postmodernism” emerging within the poetic structure of historiographic metafiction. Yet, there is no comprehensive study of the possible intersections between political thought and the “innovative” contemporary novel. Only recently, Marcel Cornis-Pope has discussed the poetic strategies that lie behind this label (i.e. innovative fiction) and has argued for their political impact, focusing on the contextual significance of the cold war era. However, in most contemporary literary studies, the categories that define politics are taken for granted.

This comparative study is a new approach to the particular significance of postmodernism to contemporary American literature. Similarly to Alan Nadel, I see postmodern writing as a specific cultural attitude that encompasses, politically, narrative strategies to overcome the anxieties of the cold war or the political turmoil of its aftermath. As a result of my study, the specific poetic strategies used to approach the rise of American hegemony after World War II are a matter of aesthetic choice that gives contemporary writers an active sense of political agency. My study focuses on three distinct poetic and affective modalities, through which the political acquires a central literary significance: a) the lyrical evocation of the decline of the American Left; b) the expression of frustration/dissent via deliberate fictional mis-representations of historical facts; c) the attempt to tackle collective anxiety through narrative. Instead of restricting the research of literary politics to either representation of historical events or to the writers’ commitment to a specific set of political ideas, my solution is to approach the question of power by situating American postwar fiction, emerging from a culture of suspicion, mistrust and paranoia, to paraphrase Don DeLillo, in the proximity of Central-European anti-communist literature. The rejection of the geopolitical name “Eastern Europe” by Milan Kundera and Danilo Kis also emphasizes the anti-colonialist (i.e. anti-Soviet) project of Czech, Serbian and, (too a lesser extent) Romanian writers.

My first two chapters deal with the theoretical distinction in post-foundational thought between politics and the political in the work of Jean-Luc Nancy, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Alain Badiou, Claude Lefort, and, more recently, Ernesto Laclau. While the contemporary meanings of politics are restricted to a positivist and empirical understanding, the new category (i.e. the political ) opens up a space to think anew central notions of modern political thought: emancipation, community and the organization of the social.

In my third chapter (The Obscene Underside of Private Life ) I read Milan Kundera’s novel The Joke in relation to Philip Roth’s I Married a Communist. My text focuses on the relation between the failures of authentic political subjectivity and the ideological excesses of the cold war age.

In my fourth chapter, I discuss the political stakes of American postmodern narratives of excess (such as Robert Coover’s The Public Burning) in contrast to Eastern European mythical realism (D.R. Popescu’s The Royal Hunt ).

My last chapter two chapters examine the literary engagement with paranoid conspiracies. I argue that the fictional investigation of this specific political mythology needs to be related to the question of sovereignty.

By analyzing representative novels about American politics in the cold war period in relation to Central-European fiction I was able to examine the literary meanings of the cold war opposition between democracy and communism. Using the theoretical distiction between politics and the political , I was able to identify the specific significance of leftist politics for American fiction, written in the cold war.

La version PDF de la thèse est disponible pour les membres de communautés universitaires qui ont un abonnement institutionnel auprès de UMI - Proquest ###

CRAVENS, Craig Stephen, « Pushkin’s Evgenij Onegin, Dostoevsky’s Besy, Capek’s Hordubal, and Kundera’s Zert : The first-person novel in Czech and Russian literature », thèse de doctorat, Princeton University, 1998, 200 f. +++ Thèse de doctorat / mémoire de maîtrise

### Abstract
The dissertation explores the portrayal of consciousness in the first-person novel as it relates to the potentials available to language. It is my contention that a study of character brings us closer to the heart of the novel–to the values, beliefs, and vision it espouses–than any other approach. Structuralist and Formalist criticism notwithstanding, the notion of the existential autonomy and psychological fullness of characters in the novel is not an illusion but is inextricably bound up with the formal evolution of the genre since the eighteenth century.

The first-person novels selected for examination are from two different national traditions, Russian and Czech, and four different literary schools, from Pushkin’s Neoclassical/Romantic Evgenij Onegin to Milan Kundera’s Modernist/post-Modernist Zert (The Joke), with Dostoevsky and Karel Capek holding the center with their Realist/Modernist works Besy (Demons) and Hordubal. It is my thesis that certain types of first-person novels involve the reader psychologically and morally to a greater extent than other kinds of novels. They invite and often compel the reader to enter into a complex dynamic of sympathy with and judgment of the fictional characters. I do not intend a survey of first-person narration in all its forms, but rather an examination of a specific kind of literary consciousness created in these four very different works. These consciousnesses have at their base essentially the same elements as (in my use of the term) the lyric–not in their use of rhyme, rhythm, and meter, but in the way experience and the empirical world are conceptualized and presented. The authors here under consideration were all interested in psychological mimesis, in creating characters whose cognitive functioning and apprehension of the world resembles such functioning in real life.

The decision to compare works from two different literary traditions was guided, first of all, by the abundance in Czech and Russian literature of imaginative prose that makes the presentation of a character’s mind, thoughts, or consciousness a main theme of the work. Bluntly stated–these are works with a greater proportion of attitude to action. I will argue that one of the reasons for this can be found in the Czech and Russian languages themselves. Due to certain grammatical peculiarities, these languages present extremely favorable conditions for the interpenetration of different voices to create more subtle and flexible registers of discourse between narrator and character than many other Western European literatures, allowing authors of genius to exploit these options and negotiate between the two realms much more easily and precisely. Moreover, Russian literature entered and helped form the very foundation of the revived Czech literature throughout the nineteenth century. Hence, the study is not only a typological comparison of a certain phenomenon in two different literatures, but also an examination of the influence of one literature upon another and how certain themes, techniques, and authors were received and understood by another culture. This throws new light, I suggest, on the larger historical contours of both Russian and Czech literature.

La version PDF de la thèse est disponible pour les membres de communautés universitaires qui ont un abonnement institutionnel auprès de UMI - Proquest ###

AJI, Aron, « Self in “the last act of the modern era”: A study of the terminal paradoxes of existence in Milan Kundera’s fiction », thèse de doctorat, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, 1989, 195 f. +++ Thèse de doctorat / mémoire de maîtrise

### Abstract
Milan Kundera perceives the existence of contemporary individuals as fragmented because of their inherent desire to control their own being and their categorical relatedness to the outside world. They are torn between the promptings of their private selves and the impersonal dictates of history, political ideology and culture. According to Kundera, this fragmentation challenges the traditional notions about the self. We can no longer understand the self in terms of the once-reassuring distinctions, such as public and private identity, the self as an object and the self as a subject, existence and essence, the collective will of society and individual will, engagement and alienation. These distinctions have been substituted by what Kundera calls “terminal paradoxes”: blurred, interdependent and contradictory dispositions which simultaneously describe the contemporary self’s existence. Common to Kundera’s characters are two pairs of terminal paradoxes: Abandonment vs. Commitment, Lightness vs. Weight. These pairs supply us with a general perspective to approach the particular situations of his characters. Each of these pairs finds its most elaborate treatment in Kundera’s first and last books to date: Abandonment vs. Commitment in The Joke, Lightness vs. Weight in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Thus, a close examination of the two also reveals Kundera’s enduring concerns and the main tenets of his existential vision, namely, the relationship between the self and history, the questions of self-definition and identity. ###

BOUREAU, Alain, « Milan Kundera, historien de la contingence », Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’histoire, vol. 4, n° 112 (2011), p. 99-105. +++ Article de revue

### Résumé
L’auteur, médiéviste, entend tirer les leçons historiennes que donne La Plaisanterie de Milan Kundera, son premier roman, achevé en 1965. Au-delà de la dénonciation du stalinisme, le roman met en scène la saisie du changement temporel comme chaos, rétif à toute permanence ou à toute évolution. Dès lors, il devient impossible de penser le passage de l’individuel au collectif : le propre du totalitarisme ordinaire est de supprimer toute saisie possible et explicite des modalités de constitution d’une collectivité. On analyse la destruction, dans le texte et dans la vie de son héros, des grands ressorts romanesques et existentiels, comme autant de déroutes de l’intention : la vengeance, la rencontre, l’identité, la complicité de la plaisanterie. Devant le chaos, le romancier et l’historien doivent formuler des hypothèses qui tentent de dépasser le désordre individuel. La Plaisanterie nous rappelle formellement que l’histoire est la science du contingent.

Milan Kundera, Historian of Contingence The author, a medievalist, wants to consider Milan Kundera’s first novel, The Joke, published in 1965, from a historian’s point of view. Beyond the denunciation of Stalinism, the novel portrays the chaos caused by temporal change unable to allow any permanence or evolution. From then on, going from the individual to the collective becomes impossible to conceive: the essence of ordinary totalitarianism is to eliminate any possible and explicit comprehension of the ways to build a collectivity. Both in the text and in the life of the hero, the destruction of important fictional and existential mechanisms (vengeance, encounters, identity, the role of the joke) is analyzed as being as many failures of intention. Faced with chaos, the novelist and historian have to formulate hypotheses that try to go beyond individual disorder. The Joke reminds us formally that history is the science of contingence.

Boureau, 2011, PDF ###

LAHANQUE, Reynald, « Aragon et Kundera : La lumière de La Plaisanterie », dans Corinne GRENOUILLET, Recherches croisées Aragon-Elsa Triolet, n° 12, Strasbourg, Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2009. +++ Article de revue

MARGALA, Miriam, « The Unbearable Torment of Translation: Milan Kundera, Impersonation, and The Joke », TranscUlturAl, vol. 1, n° 3 (2010), [en ligne]. +++ Article de revue

### Abstract
Milan Kundera, a Czech émigré writer, living in Paris and now writing in French, is (in)famous for his tight and obsessive authorial control. He has said many times that he did not trust translators to translate his works accurately and faithfully. The various translations of his novel Žert (The Joke) exemplify this point. The novel has been translated into English, French, and many other languages more than once, depending on Kundera’s dissatisfaction with a particular translation (which, at first, he would support). Thus, there followed a cascade of translations (namely in French and English) as Kundera would eventually become dissatisfied even with the latest “definitive” translated version. As he famously says in an interview regarding the 1968 French translation of Žert, “rage seized me”. From then on, Kundera showed displeasure at any translator who, however briefly, would impersonate the author and take some license in translating Kundera’s work. Further, Kundera decided that only his full authorial involvement in the process would ascertain “the same authenticity” of his translations as the original Czech works. Kundera thus becomes the omnipresent, omnipotent author, himself impersonating God controlling his own creation. Finally, Kundera takes extreme measures and translates Žert into French himself. The resulting translation surprised many – editing changes are plentiful but apparent only to those who can compare the original Czech text with Kundera’s own translation. Kundera’s stance is conflicting, as he denies creativity to other translators but as the auto-translator, Kundera freely rewrites, rather than just retranslates, his own works. By exploring the convoluted and complex history of translations of Kundera’s works, I will try to illuminate the reasons behind Kundera’s posture. I will support my discussion by analyzing not only well known Kundera’s statements, but also those less quoted which, as I have discovered, are rather crucial to understanding Kundera’s position.

Margala, 2010, PDF ###

Žert [La plaisanterie] (oeuvre)
AuteurMilan Kundera

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