PUTTING THE S INTO LAUGHTER
Compulsory Hilarity. An X in Russian is transliterated as Kh, a guttural clearing of the throat like the G in gaan huis toe. XA is how laughter is designated in the transliteration of the Shostakovich libretto. The policemen, the newspaper clerks and other groups—students, gentlemen—are all required to laugh together in specific rhythms. The oxymoron of ordered laughter is just one of the contradictions in the opera.
The bigger question of course is the place of comedy in works that describe or refer to situations of social dislocation and disaster. (Comedy is connected to but not the same as the absurd—the genre of the story and opera.)
This text by William Kentridge appears alongside the illustration of this print in William Kentridge Nose: Thirty Etchings, edited by Bronwyn Law-Viljoen and published by David Krut Publishing in 2010.