Arvo Krikmann. TALES ABOUT HODJA NASREDDIN. From Language to Mind 4 Elva, 16. 09. 2010.
From Language to Mind 4
Elva, 16. 09. 2010
Archival and other source materials can suggest and support the hypothesis that the non-punchlined "ATU"-Schwanks with their well-known subcategories (like deception tales, tales about numskulls and another fools, so-called tall tales, and tales of lucky accidents) and punchlined jokes represent just two different historical strata in the jokelore of many European nations (including Estonians).
Some German folklorists (H. Bausinger, S. Neumann, L. Röhrich, N. Neumann, etc.) have even attempted to corroborate that many of contemporary punchlined German Witzes are the direct typological descendants of their older non-punchlined Schwank ancestors.
This can be well (at least partially) true for the European (particularly Northern-European) area, and can be supported by various more general theoretical observations as well.
On the other hand, there are numerous old empirical sources (like the notorious "Philogelos" and others) consisting mainly of short punchlined jokes and thus verifying that the punchline as such is altogether not a historically recent invention in the development of joke-making.
But the most serious empirical argument that has totally confused me, vanished my faith in the strictly bivalent distinguishabilty between the punchlined and non-punchlined humorous narratives and completely demolished my hitherto perception of what the punchline "as such" is, was the existence of the huge and extremely heterogeneous corpus of tales about Hodja Nasreddin that have been, and continue to be, very popular and productive in the very large area of the Oriental word.
Besides, being perhaps the most well-known representative of "wise fools" in the world folklore, Nasreddin totally destroyed my earlier perception of axiological rules governing humorous narratives, the very concepts of "good" and "bad" in humour, of relationships between the cleverness and stupidity, between the philosophical depth and seriousness (Idries Shah and others, as we know, consider Nasreddin an outstanding Sufi poet and philosopher) and coarse vulgar clownade, between the intentional and the spontaneous in general, etc.
All versions of Aarne-Thompson folk taleregisters (including the last ATU version) are very eurocentric, the share of Eastern material in them is inadequately low.
(Artem Kozmin’s distribution maps of ATU plots demonstrate that eurocentricity very conspicuously):
This also holds for the folktales connected with Hodja Nasreddin. In the chapter of anecdotes and jokes of Uther’s register the share of Nasreddin plots seems to be relatively high, as it includes at least 126 references to AlbertWesselski’s book "Der Hodscha Nasreddin" I–II (1911), that is, almost ¼ of allUther’s joke plots. But one must bear in mind that in Wesselski's book, particularly in volume II, the percentage of materials originating from Southern Europe and other places outside Turkey and other "core areas" of such plots is quite high. In Kharitonov’s collection, which 2nd edition (1987) includes 1238 different plots of 24 Eastern peoples, I found only about 50 references to the older versions by Aarne, Thompson, Andreev, the register of Eastern Slavic peoples by Barag et al., that constitute only ab. 4% of the sum of Kharitonov’s plots, at that Kharitonov’s choice must be considered altogether representative: about a half of his plots are indicated in sources of at least two different Eastern peoples.
It is difficult to imagine what would happen if someone attempted to merge that huge amount of new international Eastern types into the present body of the ATU. Or rather: nothing would happen, because it is absolutely impossible to realize intentions of this kind without completely demolishing the existing system of ATU categorization.
The characters of humorous tales in the registers of Aarne’s pedigree are bivalently divided to clearly stupid(or worth of punisment for other vices) and clearly clever ones, their system excludes any possibility to reserve some special subdivisions for "wise fools". Anyway, according to Uther (based on Wesselski’s collection) Nasreddin is considerably more frequently met in numskull stories than in tales about a clever man.
Let us look at the following seven variants of Nasreddin plots that seem to reiterate quite frequently in various printed and Internet sources and, at the same time, are indexed in ATU registers and thus should belong, on the principle, to non-punchlined Schwanks, not punchlined jokes.
But, when reading these examples, please contemplate a little bit on some questions:
1) how "non-punchlined" do you really feel them?
2) how are stupidity and cleverness related in Hodja’s behaviour in each of these stories (in Uther’s system the first five stories belong to the category "The Clever Man", the sixth – to the category "Other Jokes about Religious Figures", and only the seventh – to the category "Stories about a Fool" (previously Thompson’s "Numskull Stories")?
3) to what extent and sense is there possible to speak about the "real winner" or "real loser" of the conflict arising in each of the stories?
One day, a friend of the Hodja came to him and asked if he could borrow his donkey for two hours to go to the town. The Hodja, not really wanting to lend his donkey, thought for a while and then said: "Dear friend, I would like to help you but I have lent my donkey to another friend."The man was turning to leave when he heard the donkey, who was in the stable, bray. The braying became louder and louder. Then the man turned to the Hodja with great anger and shouted: "You, Hodja, you have cheated me!"The Hodja, in turn, was very angry and shouted back: "You silly man, haven't you any sense, whom do you believe, me or the donkey."
The Hodja was invited to a banquet. Not wanting to be pretentious, he wore his everyday clothes, only to discover that everyone ignored him, including the host. So he went back home and put on his fanciest coat, and then returned to the banquet. Now he was greeted cordially by everyone and invited to sit down and eat and drink. When the soup was served to him he dunked the sleeve of his coat into the bowl and said, "Eat, my coat, eat!"The startled host asked the Hodja to explain his strange behavior."When I arrived here wearing my other clothes," explained the Hodja, "no one offered me anything to eat or drink. But when I returned wearing this fine coat, I was immediately offered the best of everything, so I can only assume that it was the coat and not myself who was invited to your banquet."
Nasreddin borrowed a pot from his friend. The next day, he gave the pot back to the friend, and also gave him another smaller pot. The friend looked at the small pot, and said, "What is that?""Your pot gave birth while I had it," Nasreddin replied, "so I am giving you its child." The friend was glad to receive the bonus and didn't ask any more questions.A week later, Nasreddin borrowed the original pot from the friend. After a week passed, the friend asked Nasreddin to return it."I cannot," Nasreddin said."Why not?" the friend replied."Well," Nasreddin answered, "I hate to be the bearer of bad news...but your pot has died.""What!" the friend asked with skepticism. "A pot cannot die!""You believed it gave birth," Nasreddin said. "So why is it that you cannot believe it has died?"
Cogia Efendi one day went into a garden, pulled up some carrots and turnips and other kinds of vegetables, which he found, putting some into a sack and some into his bosom; suddenly the gardener coming up, laid hold of him, and said, "What are you seeking here?"The Cogia, being in great consternation, not finding any other reply, answered, "For some days past a great wind has been blowing, and that wind blew me hither.""But who pulled up these vegetables?" said the gardener. "As the wind blew very violently," replied the Cogia, "it cast me here and there, and whatever I laid hold of in the hope of saving myself remained in my hands.""Ah," said the gardener, "but who filled the sack with them?""Well," said the Cogia, "that is the very question I was about to ask myself when you came up."
ATU 1534E*. Good Decision (usually connected with the character of Hershele in Jewish jokes)
Nasreddin Hodja was named the kadi of Aksehir. One day, two men with a dispute came to him and asked him to resolve their conflict. The Hodja listened to the plaintiff first."You are right!" he said when the plaintiff completed his account. Then, the Hodja listened to the defendant."You are right!" he said to the defendant as well. Everyone in the room was perplexed. One of the observers dared to protest."Kadi effendi," he said, "You agreed with both of the parties. The dispute can't be settled if you say "you are right" to both of them."Nasreddin Hodja considered for a moment, then he said:"You are right too!"
Once, the people of The City invited Mulla Nasruddin to deliver a khutba. When he got on the minbar (pulpit), he found the audience was not very enthusiastic, so he asked "Do you know what I am going to say?" The audience replied "NO", so he announced "I have no desire to speak to people who don't even know what I will be talking about" and he left. The people felt embarrassed and called him back again the next day. This time when he asked the same question, the people replied "YES" So Mullah Nasruddin said, "Well, since you already know what I am going to say, I won't waste any more of your time" and he left. Now the people were really perplexed. They decided to try one more time and once again invited the Mullah to speak the following week. Once again he asked the same question - "Do you know what I am going to say?" Now the people were prepared and so half of them answered "YES" while the other half replied "NO". So Mullah Nasruddin said "The half who know what I am going to say, tell it to the other half" and he left!
One day Nasreddin Hodja and a friend were admiring the sky and watching a new moon."Hodja Effendi," asked the friend, what do they do with the old moons?""They cut them, trim them and turn them into stars!"
Stupidity and cleverness certainly cannot serve as criteria to distinguish Schwanks from jokes, because jokes abound in them not less than Schwanks. Furthermore, the pairs of stupid and clever characters conflicting and fighting with each other are very frequent both in Schwanks as well as in punchlined jokes. The clever person always wins, and the victory can be "real" or "material" (typically in non-punchlined Schwanks) or verbal (typically in punchlined jokes).
Salvatore Attardo’s so-called GTVH (General Theory of Verbal Humour) and other theories based on punchlined jokes (be they ethnic, linguistic or other) can confine themselves to identifying only one kind of joke characters – the target ~ butt ~ object, etc. In the works of different writers the meaning (read: axiological marking) of this term tacitly fluctuates from overtly "laughable at" (mockable, criticizable) persons to persons met with total cynical indifference in black humour to persons saying funny witticisms that are not addressed directly against somebody "on the same scene". More often, however, such witticisms do function as repartees parrying the antagonist's previous move.
Briefly, the GTVH has no terminological device to denote the "positive hero" of the humorous narrative, otherwise: no device to distinguish"silly punchlines" from "witty punchlines".
Emperor Charles the Bald: What separates an Irishman from a fool?Irish philosopher John Scotus: Just this table.
(Quoted from Veale, Tony, Kurt Feyaerts, Geert Brône. The cognitive mechanisms of adversarial humor. Humor, vol. 19-3, pp. 318; see therein also about the structure of so-called trumping humour in general)
Here Charles the Bald is evidently the target of the verbal punch he gets from John Scotus. But how should one describe the role left for Scotus himself? Our intuitive knowledge of "joke grammar" would suggest to us that the punchline is usually said by the target ~ butt ~ object of the joke, but that is not the case. How should one describe the role of the clever winner in whichever non-punchlined tale of deception? Are they "sources" of humour, or if not, then what are they?
It is a well-known folkloristic fact that some strong constituent (be it a date of the folk calender, a narrative character, etc.) tends to attract and perpetuate to itself certain content elements (beliefs and customs, plots etc.) originally connected with other, weaker dates, characters etc. It is difficult, if not impossible to ascertain the origin and age of plots that are nowadays known as stories about Nasreddin or restore the main trends of historical development of "Nasreddin repertoire" in general. Anyway, as Nasreddin has become the Turkish national hero and brand figure, the attempts have been made to consider as "inauthentic"the stories where Nasreddin is involved in bad deeds (drinks alcohol, or harrasses women, or is shown as stingy or greedy, etc.) Further, Idries Shah, the psychologist Robert Ornstein and others have tried to qualify him as an outstanding Sufi poet and philosopher and extract from behind the surface of his seemingly foolish and absurd deeds and sayings some deep-reaching philosophical content.
One perhaps the most well-known items of the kind is the widely known contemporary joke about a drunkard looking for his keys which had originally (and often has also in the contemporary sources) Hodja Nasreddin as its target figure, instead of the anonymous drunkard, which occurs in innummerable printed and internet sources in many languages.
Here is an example from Idries Shah:
One day Mullah Nasruddin lost his ring down in the basement of his house, where it was very dark. There being no chance of his finding it in that darkness, he went out on the street and started looking for it there. Somebody passing by stopped and enquire: "What are you looking for, Mullah Nasruddin ? Have you lost something?""Yes, I've lost my ring down in the basement." "But Mullah Nasruddin , why don't you look for it down in the basement where you have lost it?" asked the man in surprise. "Don't be silly, man! How do you expect me to find anything in that darkness!"
In English: ring lost
In Russian: key(s) lost
This plot undoubtedly meets all conditions set for punchlined jokes in the GTVH:
it is manifested linguistically (LA); it represents a certain "genre", the actually narrated joke or the didactical reference to it (NS); it has the drunkard or Hodja as the target character (TA); it has the situation (SI) where the hero's interlocutor with his surprised question provokes a punchlining reply; it reveals a sharp incongruity between the necessary (right place) and complementary conditions (sufficient degree of illumination), or between the rational optimum in applying utilitarian vs. hedonistic motives of behaviour and acting in general (SO); and it has them in the reversed order of importance (LM).
But just this tale is frequently told or referred to in scholarly and scientific contexts as a paragon of wrong reasoning, wrong (or creative) methodology, or the like.
A drunk man lost his keys one night, and was observed to be peering at the ground under a street lamp to find them. When asked why he was looking for them there, when he had lost them in the dark bushes some distance away, the drunkard replied, "I know, but it's easier to look for them here."
This anecdote was told to me in 1983 by Carol Prutting in order to illustrate that because some clinical issues are difficult to tackle, the clinician may be dissuaded from seeking relevant routes of understanding a problem and choose instead a standard and well-worn approach to the problem – easy but not necessarily effective. Such, Protting maintained was the resistance of many clinicians to adopting the paradigm of clinical pragmatics – an observation I believe is as true today as it was then.
Penn, Claire. Clinical Pragmatics and Assessment of Adult Language Disorders: Process and Product. Pragmatics in Speech and Language Pathology. Ed. by Nicole Müller. Vol. 7. 2000. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 107.
Not long after he [W. James] wrote those words, most of psychology set off in quite a different direction, forcefully rejecting introspection altogether as a method of observation, and putting all its money on overt behavior. That limitation still constrains much work on the nature of the mind, and introspection still fails to be taken very seriously. Much research on the mind thus follows the pattern of the drunk who lost his keys in a dark corner, but was looking for them by a lamppost because the light was better there. The potential for understanding the mind has thus been limited to searches under the bright light of overt behavior.
Chafe, Wallace. Language and the Flow of Thought. The New Psychology of Language: Cognitive and Functional Approaches To Language Structure. Ed. by Michael Tomasello. 1998. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp. 95–96.
So the mode of functioning of the joke about looking for a ring or keys – both in the drunkard's and Nasreddin's version – also seems to corroborate its high cognitive and heuristic value in general, as it has attracted the attention of above-cited and many other contemporary modern authors.
And in turn, it has been tirelessly reiterated by Idries Shah and others that the tale (often qualified as a fable) can and must be interpreted not just as a joke, but in deeper sufistic, spiritual manner, i.e. it allegedly suggests not to look for the eternal in temporal and earthly; that the (dark) house symbolizes the internal (mental, spiritual) world of the human being and the space outside of it, respectively, surrounding us environment; thus the key for resolving many difficult problems should be looked for inside the dark hideouts of our soul and mind, not in the outer space; that one must look for the God just where he had lost him etc.
On the other hand, İlhan Başgöz has collected and studied the oldest recordings of Nasreddin stories (in manuscripts of the sixteenth century) – altogether 311 stories – that should likely reveal the oldest layers and the most adequate "initial stance" of Nasreddins’s character. In his work "A Thematic Analysis of Hoca Stories in Historical Perspective" Başgöz delineates the main thematic focuses in the corpus of these earliest texts about Nasreddin:
1. Religious beliefs, rituals, places of worship, teachers or students of religion, death and resurrection – 65 stories.2. Hodja’s relationship with his family members (wife, son, daughter, father and mother) – 62 stories.3. Relationship with a donkey – 41 stories.4. Needs for food or money and the petty thievery Hodja commits to supply those needs – 17 stories.5. Hodja’s behaviour in relation to an authority figure – 14 stories.6. The justice system: courts, judges, false witnesses, plaintiffs, defenders and Hodja’s temporary judgeship without pay ( in the role of so-called "shadow judge") – 12 stories.
Başgöz’s general summary of the character of Hodja in these oldest texts is briefly the followong:
Nasreddin is a antihero.
The Nasreddin stories cast challenges to practically each component of Turkish political and social system of the time.
Through absurd humour, they problematise many fundamental aspects of human relationships and human knowledge.
They ridicule established and petrified rules and traditions and defy the authoroties.
The express distrust towards the ways of social and individual functioning of human life and expose the folly of human characters.
And what is especially surprising and seems, at first sight, to be incompatible with the concepts of 'Islam' and 'Middle Ages', this protest is often expressed in extremely crude, overt and obscene forms.
Başgöz’s remarks that in the great majority of the stories, Hodja’s humor is directed against two social institutions: religion and family, and adds a fabulously detailed statistics (quoted exactly from the original):
"Eighty-seven stories in the sixteenth-century collection may be called obscene, which transcend all categories.Fifteen of such stories refer to the penis, sixteen to the vulva, seven to the testicles, three to testicles and penis, and two to the anus; eighteen stories refer to farting and defecating; twelve to to having sex with a woman, one with a cat, one with a camel, one with a man, and eight with a donkey; one story refers to a pimpand one to a whore."
Here are some examples of stories allegedly expressing Nasreddin’s attitude to religious matters (quoted from Başgöz):
One day when preaching in a mescit, a small mosque, the Hodja said, "Muslims, I realized that Sivrihisar has the same weather as our town because my penis and testicles remained closely tied together in both towns."
One day while preaching in a mescit, the Hodja says, "Muslims, you should be thankful to God. Do you know why? Because he did not put your anuses on your face. If he had, you would defecate on your face daily."
One day Nasreddin Hoca sees a minaret. "What is that?" he asks. "That is the town's penis," he is told. "Do you have a behind to match it?" the Hodja exclaims.
A child defecated in front of the Hoca's house every day. When questioned by the angry Hoca, the child said, "I am the nephew of God, you cannot punish me."The Hoca took the hand of the boy, brought him to a mosque, and told him, "This is the house of your uncle. Defecate there as many times as you like."
The Hoca went to a mosque to pray. By chance, he was wearing a short robe and happened to stand in the front row of the worshippers. As he prostrated himself in prayer, his testicles stuck out and a man behind him took firm hold of them. The Hoca, in turn, took hold of the imam's testicles. "Hey," said the imam, "what do you think you are doing?" – "What do I do?" the Hodja replied. "Are you not playing testicle tag here?"
"Stories related to the family in sixteenth-century manuscripts portray the Hoca either as a verbal aggressor or as a resentful husband. The Hoca’s family does not reflect the structure and interpersonal relations of a real family. It is a hypothetical unit, a fantasy where all constraints and taboos, sexual or social, collapse, where traditional role models and norms governing family life break down. Relationships within the Hoca’s family exhibit primal human instincts unhindered by social restrictions. The father’s or mother’s authority and power, the axis that generates and maintains order in the family, falls flat. The Hoca, who has no authority in the family, is presented as the cause of that collapse. His wife and son repay his behavior with disrespect. Disorder, disunity and chaos ensue and dominate family life. Family members are described in terms of the most vulgar expressions of male and female genitals.
For example, the Hoca’s wife sits down and exhibits her vulva [- - -]. His daughter entices her lover by showing him her genitals [- - -]. The mother characterizes her daughter as a person who has an untouched melon between her legs, to which the Hoca objects, explaining that the melon is split, not untouched [- - -]; the wife gives birth to a daughter and wishes that she had two eggs between her legs, to which the Hoca responds, "Don’t worry, soon enough, when she grows, several eggs will be hung there" [- - -]; the mother addresses her vulva as "my treasure, the cause of my wealth and fortune without which I could not achieve anything"; the Hoca refrers to his penis as the cause of his trouble and misfortune [- - -]."
Hodja’s behaviour is incredibly brave and arrogant also in communication with authority figures, like beys, padishahs and sultans. Başgöz remarks that in the sixteen-century manuscripts they are, in general, anonymous, not identified by individual names. Tales about Hoca’s relationships with the notorious Mongolian tyrant Timur (or Tamerlane) occur firstly not earlier than in seventeenth-century manuscripts.
Please read some examples again.
One day, the Hodja's wife went to a river to wash clothes and insulted the padishah because his leers embarrassed her. Upon learning that the woman was the Hodja's wife, the padishah called the Hodja into his presence and asked him if the woman was his wife. "Why did you ask?" Nasreddin Hodja questioned. The padishah responded, "I will defecate on her vulva." The Hodja, turning the tables on the padishah, said, "Why don't you defecate on my penis. Then I will place it in her vulva."
One day, Nasreddin Hoca was sent to Arabia as an envoy. During the feast given by the Arab notables, the Hoca farted. Imad, his student, criticized the Hoca after the feast, saying "What a strange thing you did. You degraded us before the beys and agas." Nasreddin Hoca replied, "Hey Imad, don’t worry. These Arabic speakers would not understand farting in Turkish."
In a Turkish bath, Tamerlane asked the Hoca how much the Hoca would bid if he, the king, were to be put up for sale. "Forty akçe," answers the Hoca. "But this is only the value of my futa [silk bathing suit]," Timur replies. The Hoca responds, "That is what I bid for. Otherwise, a dirty Mongolian like you would not be worth a penny."
One day Hoca and his student Imad saw a drunk judge lying on the ground, his turban and cloak thrown in the dust. They took the clothes for themselves. The next day, the judge sent his men to find the thief, and they found the Hoca wearing the turban and cloak. Questioned in the court about where he found the clothing, the Hoca said, "Yesterday my student and I came across a person who was deadly drunk. Imad and I screwed him twice and then got these from him. If you are the person, you can take them." The judge said: "No, no. These are not mine. My turban was longer than this. You can have them both."
Hodja’s relationships with his donkey (including sexual intercourse with the animal) is a special topic very thoroughly dealt with in Başgöz’s paper. I confine myself with some illustrating examples again:
The Hoca's donkey became very skinny, and a friend advised the Hoca to smear yogurt around his penis and feed the donkey through the vulva, which the Hoca attempted. After a few times, he was surprised at having had an ejaculation, and he said, "I have never had sex with such a skinny donkey."
One day, Nasreddin Hoca went to a village and had sex with his donkey in a secluded place. Afterwards, he lay down exposing his penis to the sun. Someone came across the Hoca while he was reclining and said to him, "What are you doing? Isn't it shameful to expose your penis?" The Hoca responed, "Go on your way, you whose tribe I fuck. Do you want me to leave my damp and wet penis unexposed so it would get moldy?"
The owner of a donkey caught Nasreddin Hoca having sex with his donkey, which was lying on the ground. The owner asked tha Hoca what he was doing. The Hoca replied, "Don’t you see? I am lifting your donkey up with my penis."
A man came and spit in the face of Hoca while he was having sex with a donkey in a small mosque. The Hoca responded by saying, "If I were not busy with important business, I would teach you a good lesson because you spit in a holy place."
The following centuries have added a lot of new motifs, dimensions and colours to the narrative repertoire connected with Hodja Nasreddin’s figure.
As a result, as was already said in the beginning, this corpus of tales turns out to be a huge mixture of everything that thoroughly demolishes and blends together any clearcut borders between the punchlined and non-punchlined humorous narratives, violates all axiological rules, all criteria for distinguishing "the good" and "the bad"that work very well for Schwanks and jokes of the "Western standard", including cleverness and stupidity, coarse obscenity and philosophical seriousness, All borders between the intentional and the spontaneous, between sincere speech and irony, between what happens "really" and what is played seem to be ruined.
However, there is an empirical fact and some remarks made by İlhan Başgöz that can indicate another, perhaps more promising, aspect for structural division of humorous narratives. It is the technical fact that in the book "Двадцать три Насреддина" [Twenty Four Nasreddins] (1986) by M. S. Kharitonov, the best compendium of Nasreddin tales that I know, 83% of texts are ending with a phrase said by Nasreddin, in the Turkish material of Albert Wesselski’s book – even 94%; the frequencies are similar in other sources as well (e.g., by G. Borrow, P. N. Boratav, and others). Such ending comment can include a critical or approving evaluation of a situation, make a generalising conclusion from it, be a witty retort to a verbal attack of some other character, etc.
So, the main structural watershed seems to go not between the non-punchlined Schwank as such and contemporary punchlined joke as such, but between the tales with a certain "real" or "material" solution of a certain problem and tales ending with somebody’s comment, i.e. the direct speech. This ending remark can be considered as one of the focal "points of dissemination" which, according to the configuration of conditions, can be qualified as anunintentional self-exposure of the butt of the joke, a witty retort of the clever antagonist, or just a "sub-punchline" humorous comment of a neutral bystander (e.g., in wellerisms), axiologically ambivalent or totally asemantic saying of a "wise fool", a remark reminding the moral conclusion in the end of fables, etc. etc.