Joseph Hong

Comparative Literature

As a second year Comparative Literature major, Joseph Hong became interested in the topic of political comedy and, after visiting Prague, he became interested in its rich intellectual history. The works of Milan Kundera most especially appealed to him. However, Joseph began to feel that the brilliantly comic aspects of his work were being undermined by political interpretations. Hoping to re-assess the comic in Kundera’s novels, Joseph decided to write an independent research paper on this topic to truly refine his methods of literary analysis. The UC Irvine Humanities Honors Program provided him with a structured way to conduct independent research.triangle.gif (504 bytes)




Many scholars have interpreted Czech novelist Milan Kundera’s work The Joke as a political satire. This emphasizes the political qualities of this text, as it argues that The Joke comically critiques the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia’s injustices and inherent contradictions. In response to these political understandings, Kundera himself once responded, “Spare me your Stalinism, please. The Joke is a love story!”. Despite this authorial claim, many have persisted in their political readings. Thus, a hermeneutic—or interpretive—impasse still exists. How do we reconcile Kundera’s conceptions of his own work with this body of academic criticism? Resolving these tensions requires turning to Kundera’s later novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. This text provides a theory of the linguistic mediums of voice and writing that can be applied to The Joke. Reading The Joke through the lens of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting allows for an understanding of the Kunderan subject in its inability to properly handle these mediums of language. This emphasizes the comic rather than the political as the crux of the Kunderan text. The Joke then becomes a work of meta-political comedy—a comedy about the subject’s inability to produce satire. What is at stake, therefore, is a theory of skepticism towards political comedy: Are we able to produce viable political humor despite our own subjective failures?triangle.gif (504 bytes)

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Faculty Mentor                                                                                                                

M. Ackbar Abbas

School of Humanities

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