About a year ago, friend and colleague Nancy Ries recommended this article to me, correctly guessing I would be delighted at the resonance between the notion of stiob, my love of what the Situationists would call the parodique-serieux (I.S., number 3, December 1959) and my surname (plus an “i”). I came across the passage I had excerpted from the article during today’s end-of-the-year file clean-up, and thought I’d post it here for safe-keeping.
The Case of Stiob
The notion of stiob, in usage in nonconformist circles for decades, has recently received Western academic attention due to the work of Alexei Yurchak, who has integrated its explication into a broader theoretical framework (Yurchak 2005). He describes a ‘hyper-normalisation of form’ of official Soviet practices, juxtaposing this with their increasing lack of denotative semantic content in the late-Soviet period. Yurchak proposes the concept of a ‘performative shift’ to describe how certain formulaic acts (public eulogies for Communism, for instance—whether performed sincerely or not) often became ideologically vacuous means to totally different ends (Yurchak 2005, chapter 6). In lay terms, his diagnosis is of a mismatch of official form and non-official content.
In the late-Soviet culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s, stiob practices exaggerated this mismatch, propelling it into the realm of the absurd. Unlike the sharply ironic and politically-engaged attitude of the Thaw generation (shestidesyatniki), stiob was performed with mischievous humour and a façade of deadpan nonchalance. It was considered successful precisely when it duped the audience into believing something impossible or ridiculous. Ideally, the issue of the author’s sincerity was indefinitely unsettled and ambiguous. As Yurchak says, stiob ‘refuses the very dichotomy’ between seriousness and irony (2005:250).
Ivor Stodolsky, “A Multi-Lectic Anatomy of Stiob and Poshlost’: Case Studies in the Oeuvre of Timur Novikov” (2011). My emphasis.