Can librarians crack jokes about the “death of libraries” and still be taken seriously in the age of digitization and globalization? I believe that the answer is Yes. Especially if we approach the so-called crisis in the humanities with the same dark sense of humor as Monty Python and Nikolai Gogol.
“Bring out your dead!”
To me the generalized anxiety that humanists and librarians sometimes exhibit when talking about the future of their professions cannot help but recall the opening words of the Ukrainian national anthem, Shche ne vmerla Ukraina (“Ukraine has not perished…”): a patriotic hymn that for over 2 centuries has expressed the mixture of hope and desperation felt by Ukrainian nationalists in their struggle for independence from Russia.
To most people, on the other hand, the title for the Duke University Libraries’ Digital Humanities blog immediately brings to mind the famous “Bring out your dead!” scene from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).
Slavophiles and Python fans, however, actually share an elective affinity that goes beyond an appreciation for gallows humor. For as the following TMC movie clip suggests, one of the sources of inspiration for Monty Python’s “Bring out your dead!” skit was a scene from a little-known Hollywood epic called Taras Bulba (1962), starring Yul Brynner as the eponymous Ukrainian Cossack leader and Tony Curtis as his rebellious son, Andrei.
This Hollywood movie was, in turn, adapted from a historical novella of the same name by Nikolai Gogol (Mykola Hohol’-Ianovs’kyi, 1809-1852), the Ukrainian-born, Russian short story writer, novelist, playwright and essayist, who is best known for the comic masterpiece Dead Souls.
Gogol vs. Google?
How exactly is Monty Python’s brilliant spoof of Arthurian romance and Hollywood epics related to the national strivings of a Russified, 19th-century, Ukrainian intellectual burdened by memories of an imagined heroic past and doubts about a utopian future? And what does this have to do with Duke Libraries’ Digital Humanities blog? Can it be as simple as the fact that the humanities, like Ukraine, are not yet dead? And that like Dead Souls or Taras Bul’ba, they might yet inform the production and dissemination of knowledge, identity, and humor in whatever medium it might be created?
I have no answers to these weighty questions. What I do know is that there is now a blog, supposedly based somewhere in Norway, “a land rich in fjords,” whose sole purpose is to create a Ukrainian-language translation of all 45 episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Ще не вымерли літаючі циркачі Монті Пайтон!
“We believe that even in the age of Google and globalization, the Humanities continue to shape the way people study, research and publish and that libraries are at the center of this enterprise."
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