Sexual Politics in The Joke


  • Michael Wilding


When racist jokes were outlawed in Britain by the race relations act, Idi Amin, that British-trained officer who had turned on his colonial master, became the focus of their survival. The ugly tradition persisted with an explicit political target; it was tacitly deemed legitimate, patriotic, to concoct obscenities about the big black man who defied British imperialism. Now that sexism is notionally taboo its reservoirs likewise found their outlets in a political guise. Attitudes, values, concepts that were inexpressible amongst the literary political intelligentsia within the western alliance found displaced location in works that could be hailed for their opposition to the communist world. Whatever the role of the sexual in Milan Kundera's work in its original Czechoslovakian context, translated into English it offered illiberal satisfactions for those who could protest that they appreciated it for its politics: much as people allegedly protested that they bought Playboy for the fiction. The central incident of Kundera's The Joke, the celebration of sex for hatred, sex for revenge on the unwitting, unknowing victim, who is a woman, is the celebration of a variety of rape, of degradation. of a horrific contempt for woman.