Sotirios K. Mouzakis
Fredag (Friday), 09:00–09:30, H135b
Affiliering (affiliation): University of Zürich, CHE
Joke the Pain Away
Grief, Laughter, and Jenny Jägerfeld’s Comedy Queen (2018)
The death of a beloved parent usually hits a child pretty hard. Particularly so, if the deceased parent was still young, and if the child is in their formative years where parental guidance is all but dispensable. Even worse, the abyss opening in front of the child reaches a whole new dimension of depth if that parent took their own life. The child, then, does not only have to deal with the loss of a caregiver but also needs to find mechanisms to cope with the mental challenge a suicide can permanently inflict on those bereaved. And that all the while trying to maintain a daily routine and to navigate childhood/ puberty which have perils of their own right in store. Such tragedies are anything but funny, neither in fiction nor in reality, and most of all, they do not produce exhilaration and laughter. They take away a part of the child’s childhood and force them to grow up and mature faster than they usually would have had to.
Sasha, the twelve year old protagonist of Jenny Jägerfeld’s Augustpris-nominated novel Comedy Queen (which Sanna Lenken recently has made into a movie which and won the prestigious Glass Bear at Berlinale in 2022), is one of these adolescents who have lost a parent. Her mother was clinically depressed to the point that she ended her life. Sasha witnessed her mother’s mental health deteriorate more and more – she would not stop crying and even made others cry, too – and is left with a grieving and overwhelmed father. As a consequence, Sasha forbids herself to cry and makes it her mission to help her father find joy in life and overcome his wife’s death. The imperative of cheerfulness Sasha imposes on herself, however, cannot conceal her lack of coping mechanisms to adequately mourn the mother’s passing and master her sorrow in a healthy fashion.
As such, humour, and especially laughter, become the key to unlock a general understanding of the psychodynamic processes Jägerfeld’s Comedy Queen sets in motion, both in protagonist Sasha on the level of the action as well as in the adolescent reader on the reception level. In my paper, I therefore aim to analyse the different comic layers in Jägerfeld’s novel in order to
- show the various forms of comedy deployed and how they are functionalised narratively,
- show the difficult entanglement of grief and laughter, and shed light on the therapeutic power of the latter as a means of healing,
- extrapolate approaches to teaching young readers about dealing with grief and loss between the poles of psychology, pedagogy and education
Humour and comedy, then, are not limited to their entertaining properties but serve as carrier to transport valuable pedagogic lessons in a readily digestible manner.
I studied English, French, Scandinavian Studies and German Literature at Albert-Ludwigs-University in Freiburg/ Breisgau in Southern Germany. I passed my state board examination (teachers’ degree; English, French, Swedish) in 2013. In 2014 I completed my BA in Scandinavian Studies. From 2016-2020, I was research assistant at the Collaborative Research Centre 948 „Heroes – Heroizations – Heroisms“ (SFB 948), situated at ALU Freiburg and funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft DFG). I was affiliated to the Department of Scandinavian Studies at ALU Freiburg (at the chair of Prof. Dr. Joachim Grage), where I also taught classes at BA and MA level from 2014 to 2021 (on European literatures and cultures with a special focus on Scandinavia). In 2021, I took on a post as research assistant at the German Department (and there, more precisely, at the Department for Scandinavian Studies, chair of Prof. Dr. Klaus Müller-Wille) at Zürich University, where I will pursue my postdoctoral education.
I am currently wrapping up my PhD on negotiations of the heroic in contemporary Scandinavian young adult fiction, which is supervised by Joachim Grage (ALU Freiburg) and Thomas Mohnike (Université de Strasbourg). The forthcoming monograph is expected to be published as part of the series Beiträge zur nordischen Philologie (BnPh) in 2023.