Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence



Continuing with novels by American poets (such as Robert Creeley, Barbara Guest, or more approximately W.S.Merwin; Randall Jarrell's Pictures from an Institution remains foremost among these, as well as among academic satire), I filled in a preterition with A Nest of Ninnies, a satire of manners by John Ashbery and James Schuyler. While involving a larger cast of characters, it might be taken as a transposition of Bouvard and Pécuchet to a New York suburban setting, receiving ideas from culture rather than science, except that where Flaubert was venting anger, Ashbery and Schuyler vent bemusement. It ages less well: The late 20th century middleclass argot and fashion-following may be precise in the dialogue (also infecting the narration), but it lacks an edge, blunted with some sympathy towards its subjects, not quite as incapable of growth as B&P, though insufficiently for redemption. Riddled with clichés, the punchlines remain ambivalent.


What we talk about when we talk about what we talk about

Emerson's explication helps to resolve the polyphonic interpretations to which Bakhtin has been transcribed as Russia adapted to post-Soviet tonalities. (Yeah, I know, but hum a few bars and you'll be drunk enough not to mind.) But she does bring out the philosophical aspects of his thought that litcritters ignore, or are ignorant of. I've found that these dovetail nicely with Chas Peirce's pragmatism, though not in the way that it's pushed, say, in the Int'l Journal for Dialogical Science (wasn't Norbert Wiley played by Don Rickles on Gilligan's Island? As an abductor?). This dovetailing does not correspond with the direction pragmatism took thereafter (a good précis is supplied by Susan Haack in Contemporary Pragmatism), but the conversation came back around (like a game of "Chinese whispers", a.k.a. 以訛傳訛) via Carlin Romano on Miller, cueing Rorty's Objectivity, Relativism and Truth off my bookshelf (despite Peirce being his least favorite pragmatist, and him being Haack's least fave). Given this (well, not given in that sense), especially in the manifold applications to philosophy of science, it was surprising to see that an article could be written on Complexity and Philosophy that completely ignored, or was ignorant of, pragmatism. Lotsa folk talking past one another, it seems, or is it bitching and its discontents?

Addendum 10.5: The inaccurate 'Chinese whispers' translation (whatever wiki says) is actually idiomatic of '[unreliable] hearsay', not the name of the game (yes, checked with native speaker while posting; but perhaps metalingual puns lose something in translation), but it seems there's a whole lotta endemic misusage out there, not to mention epidemic viral adaptation of English into syntactic muzak. Recently read, Kenzaburo Oe's The Silent Cry was criticised in Japan as reading as if translated from English due to a foreign internal complexity of grammar, which itself ambivalently suits the storyline.


4AM will never be the same again

Yardley is spot on about Olga Grushin (relinked previously visavis Hemon), though underestimating her American audience and its (and her) appreciation of Russian history (Moscow is no character, nor a cardboard facade of Western construction). The Dream Life of Sukhanov, revolving around an apparatchik of art, lays on the Nabokovian allusions thickly, from details scattered about like bits of orange to more pervasive structure and theme, in particular that of being overtaken by memory (at a time when Russia,or RSFSR, too was being overtaken by history, in cultural replay of the Khruschev thaw), down to the final stroke of the pen. But where the cover blurb points to Bulgakov and Gogol, Sukhanov's oldest friend takes his name from Pushkin's Tales (well respected by Nabokov), and the name of his distant cousin, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dalevich, borrows from (not so well respected) Dostoevsky's initial names. This points in another intriguing direction: Dalevich's critical article on Chagall hinges on an anecdote of a pre-war confrontation between Chagall and Lunacharsky (later to become Commissar of Enlightenment), wherein the former rejects any Marxist explanation to his work. It was in Vitebsk that Chagall returned after WW I, meeting Lunacharsky, and establishing an avant-garde colony, one of more robust blossomings prior to Soviet realism wielding its sickle, before leaving for Moscow. Shortly thereafter, Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin arrived in Vitebsk and began assembling his litcritical essays, culminating in Leningrad in his '29 study on Dostoevsky, which was published shortly after his arrest (reworked in '63, another date significant to Sukhanov's story, with nothing published in between), and of which Lunacharsky's sympathetic review probably mitigated Bakhtin's sentencing to a more hospitable (i.e., less deadly than permafrost) exile. I'm not alone in seeing some connection between Nabokov and Bakhtin, beyond their roots in Russia's Silver Age, and I think Grushin makes use of this, however obliquely, in a chronological setting where the latter was central to the rehabilitation of criticism not mired in Soviet monology. As Nabokov's most incisive and yet wide-ranging literary criticism (and philosophy) was in his novels, not his lectures, so too Grushin accomplishes much more than just giving us a man mirroring his time, as long-distant events may appear smaller than they are. So, having read the primary texts of Bakhtin (and Holquist & Clark's bio) as they became available in English, I'm now relying on Caryl Emerson's The First Hundred Years of Mikhail Bakhtin to fill in the groundwork of his reception on his home ground.

(Other reading: Keegan's The Face of Battle, a history classic I missed along the way; Szewc's Annihilation, a different, lyrical sort of recovery of memory, less to my liking; YMMV.)


Nacht und Traume

Samuel Beckett would be 100 years old today if he were still dying.

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