Creating a Useable Past: Literature as Legitimizer during the 1930s 'Days of Russian Culture'

Angela Brintlinger, Ohio State University

In 1934 when Ivan Bunin won the Nobel Prize for literature, Russian emigre communities throughout the world received a welcome boost in cultural prestige and legitimacy. The rest of the world had to acknowledge that this writer, in exile from his homeland, represented another country, the Russian diaspora or "Russia Abroad," as it came to be called.

The cultural configuration of Russia Abroad relied on outreach efforts to both Russians and the host cultures in which they found themselves after the 1917 Revolution in order to stake a certain claim for hegemony over the concept of Russianness, even though political hegemony now belonged, irretrievably it seemed, to the Soviet state.

One tool of this cultural entity was the "Days of Russian Culture," a celebration of Russian identity which took place every year from Paris to Harbin and from Helsinki to Damascus.

Drawing upon archival materials from the 1930s "Days of Russian Culture," I will argue in my paper that Russian emigres were searching for a 'useable past' in the face of a difficult present and an uncertain future. Further, they found that past in their cultural patrimony, specifically in their literary forbears. Through Bunin -- and Pushkin, Lermontov, Turgenev, among others -- Russian emigres sought to legitimate their culture in the eyes of the West and to wrench cultural hegemony from the arms of the Soviets.

Rodney L. Patterson, State University of New York, Albany

The Letters of K. D. Bal'mont

Rodney L. Patterson, State University of New York, Albany

THE PROBLEM: There are striking contradictions between and among various versions of what Bal'mont was like in real life. After Brjusov (on respectable literary grounds though also with a desire to settle scores) declared that Bal'mont was defunct in 1903, critics and literary historians began to repeat certain charges against Bal'mont, for example: that he did not "work" on his writing; that he mindlessly "sang" whatever came into his excessively musical mind; that he was constantly drunk; that he was not sane in general and quite ridiculously insane as regards women; that he was irresponsible and led a disorderly life; that he had no coherent worldview; that he was a graphomaniac; etc.

MY THEORY: My research over the past 30 years consistently reveals that the negative ideas above are not very accurate. Bal'mont's true nature and life are obscured by rumor, gossip and selective remembering of an unfriendly sort. Occasinally Bal'mont's public behavior and his poses encouraged some of these charges, but in general they are grossly exaggerated, especially after Belyj, in his highly impressionistic memoirs, tried to destroy a god that failed. Other distortions can be traced back to people like Gor'kij, whose views on Bal'mont were colored by politics. Good writers with more tolerance and independence (e.g., Cvetaeva, Voloshin, Pasternak, V. Ivanov, Èrenburg) offered much more positive (and correct) accounts of Bal'mont's nature and writing.

Mostly on the basis of his vast (mostly unpublished) correspondence, I will show that Bal'mont was not as a rule psychologically unbalanced, nor a score-keeping Don Juan, nor an irresponsible writer and person, and was "on the wagon" most of the time. He made enemies because he had a true Decadent's disdain for "accepted norms" of behavior, consistency, and conformity (even to the "school" Brjusov tried to build around him)--he strongly believed in complete personal freedom. I will show how that freedom, especially, caused him to err sometimes as a writer, colleague, husband, father and lover. Nevertheless, he had a naturally childlike sincerity and credulity, was remarkably honest, and constant in love and friendship. He loved most profoundly his second wife, their daughter and one of his commonlaw wives. Taken as a whole, however, the letters reveal that he loved few people more than he loved Brjusov and he loved no human beings the way he loved Nature and the Ultimate Source of life.

MY EVIDENCE: With invaluable aid from two of Bal'mont's daughters, N. K. Bal'mont-Bruni and S. K. Shales, who shared their memories of their father, I acquired a great number of letters from Bal'mont to their mothers. Furthermore, I have spent about three years in Russian archives, studying and copying other letters by hand. These letters allow me to dispute misconceptions about what Bal'mont was like in real life. In amending his portrait, I will account for a few of the odder characteristics of his letter-writing, e.g.: the letters of this world-traveler contain almost no detail about what he saw en route and have almost nothing about the personality or character of friends and enemies. Furthermore, they indicate his quite marginal participation in the formation, development and defense of literary schools and theories. They also provide some grounds for speculation about the nature of the insanity which began to darken his life from 1933 until 1942.

Shauna Toh, Columbia University

Toys and Words: Transgression as Indoctrination in Children's Literature

Shauna Toh, Columbia University

This paper attempts to use short readings of children's stories and rhymes by Daniil Xarms and Kornej Chukovskij to construct part of a theory of children's literature that combines a revelation of Chukovskij's own strictly systematized conception of art underlying his seemingly free and playful approaches with an application of Walter Benjamin's observations on children's cognitive development that infuse his work on revolutionary forms. It will hopefully contribute to the de-taxonomization of "compromised" and "uncompromised" modernist artists, with the eventual goal of removing such judgmental and simplified tags altogether.

The aims and attitudes of many of the post-Symbolist avant garde movements in Russia and the Soviet Union during the early decades of this century -- whether primitivist or futurist, abstractionist or constructivist -- were marked in appearance by a shift toward the concrete: from the spiritual to the material. With the rise of modernist concepts, artists began to direct their attention toward the form and matter of creation. The focus on material and external qualities, along with the increasing intermedial collaboration among artists, corresponded to the growing theatricalization of many artistic spheres, such as visual arts and literature. Art became more of a game, both in its outwardly flamboyant presentation and in its internal theorization, which was concerned with uncovering the founding rules and limits of creation.

This process of uncovering assumed an order underneath surface aesthetics, and concrete elements and guidelines of successful art were studied and classified, even at the same time that novelty, estrangement, and transgression in relation to just such systems were identified as most effective artistic devices. Transgression and rebellion became co-opted into normal elements, to be used toward whatever end the work of art was to achieve. Thus the issue of form's relation to content is confused: how does the appearance of artistic rebellion or formal innovation -- breaking rules and confounding expectations -- relate to an actual rebellion or innovation if the artistic act of transgression is itself classified within a set of rules?

These issues come to the fore when examining children's literature in the modernist period, where the inevitable issues of the pedagogical aims of literature in general and art as a whole, as well as those of form versus content, are prominent; it is not only important to determine what should be presented to children, but how. Chukovskij, for example, is a relevant case: a self-styled figure of command whose pedagogical philosophy drew from the implied general assumption that art for children serves to indoctrinate by transgressing rules to reinforce norms. Chukovskij's views on the learning process are an interesting comparision to Benjamin's, who saw trangressions, remnants, and the "outside" elements of culture as possessing key revolutionary potential when processed by the child's learning eye. Reading modernist children's literature within the framework of these two philosophies, this paper evaluates what these implications about "norms" and "abnormalities" contribute to the discussion of artistic didacticism.

Stephanie Merkel, Ohio Wesleyan University

Boris Sluckij's "Vo buxarskom xalate" (1975) and the Romantic Culture of Xalat

Stephanie Merkel, Ohio Wesleyan University

Most of us have encountered the word xalat and its many derivatives in reading Russian literature. Except for two short lexical inquiries by V. V. Vinogradov and Ju. S. Sorokin, respectively, few have taken note of its tremendous significance in Russian culture. Even these two eminent scholars did not fully understand what can be called the romantic culture of xalat and its origins in the first three decades of the nineteenth century.

In my dissertation, I focused initially on the xalat poems of P. A. Vjazemskij, A. S. Pushkin, A. A. Del'vig, and V. A. Zhukovskij, which comprise an ongoing discussion of the appropriately dressing-gowned attitude of the poet. Each participant alters xalat slightly each time it appears, until finally a composite portrait of the Russian romantic emerges. A parallel development in the visual arts, authorial xalatnye portrety (a term not invented by me, but used for this subgenre of the kamernyj portret) of these same poets were painted at this time by Zontag, Tropinin, and Kiprenskij.

Poet Boris Sluckij exhibits an intimate acquaintance with this romantic culture of xalat in his 1975 poem, "Vo buxarskom xalate." As in the earlier exchanges, an attitude of self-parody prevails. In my discussion of Sluckij's poem, I will cover the following points:

1. Sluckij picks up the modifiers and rhymes associated with xalat in Pushkin's "K Galichu" (1815) and "Orlovu" (1819), Vjazemskij's "Proshchanie s xalatom" (1817), and Del'vig's "K xalatu" (1819).

2. Sluckij's late twentieth-century vocabulary (kooperativnaja kvartira, Xeminguej) is in accord with the use of prosaic words such as xalat in the poems of the Pushkin Pleiad (Raich, Polevoj, and others objected specifically to the use of xalat).

Conclusion: The question arises from these observations, "Why did Sluckij pick up the threads of this particular conversation among poets which had trailed off more than a century before?" I believe that Sluckij's resort to xalat is motivated by concerns similar to those of the Pushkin Pleiad in taking up Denis Diderot's robe de chambre. Diderot had written his literary miniature Regrets sur ma vieille robe de chambre (1767) as a declaration of his independence as a writer in the service of Russian autocrat Catherine II; Vjazemskij translated Regrets as one of the most important Diderotian texts for Russia at a time when the prince himself was under virtual house arrest for criticizing Tsar Alexander I. In light of the strong message of the writer's independence in the face of political oppression associated with the dressing gown in literature, we must reexamine the current critical opinion of Sluckij's poetry that faults him with "spiritual poverty, wary vagueness, and the shiftiness of the political worker" (in Terras, Victor, Ed. Handbook of Russian Literature. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985).

Stuart Goldberg, University of Wisconsin

Konrad & Jacob: A Hypothetical Kabbalistic Subtext in Adam Mickiewicz's Dziady, Czesc III

Stuart Goldberg, University of Wisconsin

The similarity between Konrad in Mickiewicz's Dziady, Czesc III and the biblical Jacob has been mentioned in passing by both Juliusz Kleiner and Michal Maslowski (Kleiner, Mickiewicz, 358; Maslowski, "Kto jest bohaterem 'Dziadów'?" Ruch Literacki 3, 147). However, neither explores the connection further. At the same time, while scholars such as Kleiner, Abraham Duker, Artur Sandauer, and Jadwiga Maurer have written about Jewish and particularly kabbalistic influences in Dziady, discussion has remained focused largely around the image of the "Max straszny" ['man of dread'] in Widzenie Ksiedza Piotra and especially on the gemmatriac formula A imie jego czterdziesci i cztery ['And his name is two score and four']. In the present paper, I explore the kabbalistic question further by testing the hypothesis that while Konrad does, in fact, function as a biblical Jacob who struggles with God, his true prototype is the kabbalistic Jacob of the Zohar whose mission is to harmonize the antagonistic forces of love and judgment through a mystic journey to the demonic other side (sitra ahra).

The poet's ties to Judaica have remained one of the most persistently taboo topics in Mickiewicz studies. Moreover, while it is highly probable that Mickiewicz had some knowledge of Kabbalah, due in part to alleged censorship of the poet's biography (not least of all by his son and most influential biographer, Wladislaw Mickiewicz), it is not possible to "prove" (or disprove) his acquaintance with any particular kabbalistic source. I focus my attention, rather, on the way an examination of kabbalistic texts enriches our reading of Dziady. If my reading can provoke new insights into the dynamics of the work as a whole, I will be happy to have ventured into a critical space so far removed from "verifiable" literary influences.

Similarities between the roles of Jacob in the Zohar and Konrad in Dziady can be seen clearly in at least three areas: the nature of Konrad's mystic journey, the nature of his sin, and the nature of his mission. The first part of my paper shows the parallels between Konrad's mystic journey at the beginning of Dziady, Czesc III and the mystic path of Jacob in the Zohar. The second part challenges the claim that Konrad's fundamental sin is hubris. The third part attempts to show how Konrad's kabbalistic mission is fulfilled within the work and, in doing so, points to organic links between the dramatic scenes of Dziady, Czesc III, the epic Ustep, and the closing epistle Do przyjaciol Moskali. In this way, I also attempt to shed light on one of the fundamental questions of Mickiewicz studies, that of the unity of Dziady, Czesc III and the function within the drama of non-dramatic elements.

Tom Priestly, University of Alberta

Three Words of Cankar's and How (Not) to Translate Them

Tom Priestly, University of Alberta

Ivan Cankar's short story Hlapec Jernej in njegova pravica has been translated into at least 15 languages. This paper will examine three problems arising in the translation process, as illustrated by the way they were handled in eight translations - two English, one French, two German and three Russian (see bibliography). All three problems are encapsulated in the title of the story, and involve the words hlapec, Jernej, and pravica.

The name Jernej offers a clear example of one quandary: should one transliterate names, or use the equivalent cognates? The cognate forms (1) Bartholomew, Barthel, etc., are avoided by some translators but not by all. This quandary is easy to describe and difficult to solve; some of the reasons for one or the other choice are culture-specific.

The word hlapec involves much more culture-specificity, being fully comprehensible only to readers who appreciate the particular late-feudal agricultural environment. In this instance, the translators' choices reflect the intended readership - except for the 1930 English translators and their infelicitous bailiff.

Third, the translation of pravica requires attention to the whole of the story, which treats differing interpretations of the protagonist Jernej's rights; throughout, not only pravica and its antonym krivica but the derived adjectives pravichni and krivichni occur frequently, and not all the translators attend sufficiently to consistency of interpretation. Particular attention is paid, in the paper, to Louis Adamic's translation, which has recently been the subject of dispute between Nike Kocjanchich (1993) and Jerneja Petrich (1994). Incidentally, it is shown that Oxrimenko (1929) was a translation from Adamic, not from Cankar.

Chronological bibliography of translations analyzed:

Adamic, Louis. Yerney's Justice. New York: Vanguard Press, 1926.

Glonar, Jozha. Barthel, der Knecht, und sein Recht. Volksstimme (Frankfurt) 1926, 208-225.

Jeras[-Guinot], S[idonie] & J[osip] Jeras. Le valet Barthèlemy et son droit. Nouvelle inèdite slovene. Les Oeuvres libres (Paris) 1926, 65: 93-164.

Sheremet'ev, L. A. Bortolo i ego pravo. Moskva-Leningrad: Gos. izdat., 1927.

Jirku, G[usti]. Der Knecht Jernej. Eine Auswahl. Wien/Leipzig: Niethammer, 1929.

Okhrimenko, P. Pravda batraka. Moskva (Biblioteka Ogonek 410), 1929.

Jeras-Guinot, Sidonie & H. C. Sewell Grant. The Bailiff Yerney and his Rights. London: Rodker, 1930.

Urban, S. Batrak Ernej i ego pravo. Moskva: Gos. izdat. xudozh. literatury, 1958.

Other bibliography:

Kocijanchich, Nike. 1993. "On Louis Adamic's translation of Hlapec Jernej in njegova pravica, Slovene Studies 15/1-2, 1993 (1995), 139-50.

Petrich, Jerneja. 1994. "Response," Slovene Studies 16/2, 1994 (1998) 99.

Note (1): This cognacy appears improbable but indubitable.