The Origin of the Anecdote: “Mukha-Tsokotukha” [The Buzzing Fly] Submitted for Consideration to Soviet Rulers
Among anecdotes about Stalin published by A. Krikmann there are several variations of the story “The State Leaders criticize the poem Mukha-mukha, tsokotukha” [Krikmann 2004, № 136]. This anecdote about Chukovsky’s tale and the reaction to it of different Soviet and Russian leaders from Lenin to Putin is probably based on actual events that took place in the 1920s. Its direct source can be found in the stories about literary misfortune of this tale (as well as other tales written by Chukovsky) that was considered ideologically wrong by the Soviet censors. Most likely, they were told by Chukovsky himself who described to the circle of friends how he and some other writers (for instance, Marshak) had to plead with the officials to prove that there was no ideological implications. These stories were projected into one of anecdote’s models based on cumulative effect (the first version). It is significant that the Soviet leaders’ reaction to the tale as it is presented in the anecdote perfectly corresponds with the official criticism recorded by Chukovsky. This interrelation between historical reality and the narrative mechanics of anecdote is further demonstrated by another version of this story where Chukovsky is replaced by Mikhalkov (the second version). This replacement has a definite semantic motivation (which should not be mistaken for a sufficient explanation why it occurs) and, at the same time, it follows the logic of folklore where the actions of one character can be easily transferred on another, provided that they both belong to the same category of historical (or mythological) personae. In our case this process is facilitated by the fact that the authors who write for children are less individualized in public consciousness than the ones who work in ‘serious’ genres. Replacing Chukovsky by Mikhalkov, the anecdote draws on such aspects of the latter reputation as a plagiarist and a cynical writer of the Soviet hymn that he kept changing according to political demand. It is a unique occasion when a Soviet writer became the hero of an anecdote cycle even with a limited (mostly professional) circulation. Thanks to Mikhalkov’s reputation the second version of the anecdote has a different message that the first one.
anecdote, historical (or mythological) personae, anecdote cycle, narrative mechanics of anecdote