Lesson Plan The Joke by Milan Kundera

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Hard on the heels of the novels themselves came a book that sought among other things to explicate them: The Art of the Novel , a collection of seven essays in which Kundera laid out his conception of the European novelistic tradition and his own place within it. In fact you can no longer purchase a print edition in this country. Did Kundera achieve this, however, at the expense of something crucial — psychological truth to life? It means only that there are other enigmas, other questions that my novels pursue primarily … To apprehend the self in my novels means to grasp the essence of its existential problem.

To grasp its existential code. But characters tend to live longer in the memory than ideas. A few years ago, in this newspaper, John Banville wrote an interesting piece reappraising The Unbearable Lightness of Being two decades after publication.

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His tone was admiring but also gently sceptical. Many of his favourite novelists — Sterne , Diderot , Broch, Musil , Gombrowicz — really belong to that tributary of ironic, equivocal writing in which the authors are so conscious of the contradictions, pitfalls and contrivances inherent in the act of creating fictions that their books themselves become, on one level, parodies or at least self-interrogations.

By way of example she cited many passages, including a deeply uncomfortable one from The Book of Laughter and Forgetting in which the narrator makes a secret rendezvous with a female magazine editor who has been putting herself at personal risk by commissioning articles from him. She is so nervous about the encounter, which takes place in an anonymous flat, that she loses control of her bowels.

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This is a grim passage, without doubt, but I find it more of a slander on men than anything else. Ignorance is by some way my favourite of the more recent novels, not least because its heroine, Irena, is a complex, sympathetic character whose ambivalent attitudes towards exile are explored with wit and compassion. Why does Kundera feel the need to expose his women with such thoroughness, such cruelty? And how, for that matter, could he have written a page book of essays on the European novel without mentioning a single female writer apart from Agatha Christie?

Fortunately, The Festival of Insignificance is less disfigured by this tendency than almost anything else he has written; and so, although it may not be a substantial addition to his oeuvre, it might still be a good point of re-entry for those who have been turned off, in the past, by the problematic sexual politics which send ripples of disquiet through even his finest books. However, the logic behind many jokes and also the understanding of a play on words may still be beyond them. Kindergarten children love "Knock, Knock" jokes. Because they follow a predictable pattern they can easily replicate with any words they like.

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In fact, the words don't even have to make sense, as in the case of the joke above. Five- and 6-year-old children often think it is even funnier if they don't!

For example, they might look around the room, see an object, and use it in the joke. Table who? Table on the floor! Interestingly, a 5- or 6-year-old's use of humor tells you a great deal about his cognitive and linguistic abilities. The ability to play "knock, knock" jokes, for example, shows a child is learning the rules of conversation and is able to follow and use a sequential linguistic pattern.


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At this stage, children's vocabularies have developed to the level where they can play with replacing words in a sentence or pattern to see and hear! Calling something by the wrong name is a favorite "funny" at this stage and will get the entire class giggling. At this stage, children pick up the pattern of riddles and will run with them in their own way. A simple riddle such as "What did the cat say to the dog? Making sense is not what is most important to 5- and 6-year-olds.

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They love the fun of the silly statements, the pattern, and most important, the opportunity to laugh at their own jokes as soon as they tell them! During this time of development, children are taking the art of slapstick to new highs. Sometimes slapstick humor serves to cover a physical mistake as when they trip over or bump into something ; but more often slapstick comes purely from the desire to make people laugh by doing something silly.

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The use of physical humor shows that children are acquiring the motor control and coordination required to appear purposely uncoordinated and to make a comical movement safely. It actually takes muscle control to do this. Unfortunately, some children pick up on this style of humor a bit too much and become class clowns.

As the teacher, you need to support children's humor while providing appropriate boundaries and guidelines. As the famous pianist and comedian Victor Borge once said, "Laughter is the shortest distance between two people. Laughter breaks down boundaries and separations and builds connections. Five- and 6-year-olds use humor to make friends, to share "secret jokes," and to be "seen" in a group. It is not unusual at this stage for children to connect with one or more special friends to share their favorite silly comments. This is both an excellent linguistic and social exercise.

Sometimes these comments can be bathroom or biological function talk. Happily, children often progress through this stage quickly if not too much "reaction" is given.

Milan Kundera on Politics and the Novel | History of Intellectual Culture | University of Calgary

She plans to defend and earn her interdisciplinary PhD degree Linguistics and English this summer Also, she holds a full-time visiting faculty position at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell where she teaches academic writing to ESL graduate students and is involved in creating and proposing an ESL language program for international graduate students. She has been involved in studying and teaching translating and language and cultural studies for the past 15 years.

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She has successfully presented her work at conferences both national and international and published her work. Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms: a.