It is worth noting, furthermore, that such accuracy [of feeling] and elegance [of proposal in literary criticism] belong only to the very few. The entire notion of research in modern letters is vitiated by the evidently false postulate that tens of thousands of young men and women will have anything new and just to say about Shakespeare or Keats or Flaubert.
Real Presences, George Steiner
It’s difficult to know what to make of a (masterful) literary critic aiming his lance at literary criticism as an enterprise. It certainly requires a great deal of self-confidence!
Steiner’s thought experiment in this book, of a world without secondary criticism, where all criticism of the arts is in some sense immanent, embedded, is fascinating, though. The first chapter does point at the kinds of secondary criticism that might meet with approval by the author’s artistic values, however–works in which the critic does not pretend to any kind of objectivity and in which he or she becomes implicated in some deeper, artistic way for the success of the critical work.
Agree or no, it is a principled attack on secondary criticism, unlike, say, Nabokov’s penchant for trashing literary translators (who are not named Nabokov) without setting up real, attainable criteria by which to condemn their work. (“This is the first English translation of Lermontov’s novel. The book has been paraphrased into English several times, but never translated before.”)
Happily, I find Steiner generally stands up to Steiner’s own rigorous standards for criticism!
He thought about the fact that each of those houses had its dead. And everyone who had lived in those old houses fifty years ago, they had all died. Some of the dead he still remembered.
“When a person dies, they should burn down the house, too,” Peredonov thought wistfully, “it’s just too frightening.”
The Petty Demon, Fyodor Sologub
Almost halfway through, I’m still not sure what to make of Sologub’s masterpiece. There are clear affinities with Dostoevsky’s Demons, which I just finished earlier this month—for good and for ill. The characterization in the first half has been Dostoevskian (that’s the “for ill”), certainly. (Edit: the second half was amazing, though still without much movement of characters not named Sasha or Lyudmila, and put this in the pantheon of my absolute favorite books!)
This little moment of Peredonov’s captures something interesting and true about human experience, however. We can’t shake the ghosts around us, especially if we continue to inhabit the same physical ground where we encountered them in life.
Он думал, что у каждого здесь дома есть свои покойники. И все, кто жил в этих старых домах лет пятьдесят тому назад, все умерли. Некоторых покойников еще он помнил.
“Человек умрет, так и дом бы сжечь, — тоскливо думал Передонов, — а то страшно очень”.
«Мелкий бес», Ф. Сологуб
In sentimental retrospect, the Russian reader of the past seems to me to be as much of a model for readers as Russian writers were models for writers in other tongues. He would start on his charmed career at a most tender age and lose his heart to Tolstoy or Chekhov when still in the nursery and nurse would try to take away Anna Karenin and would say: Oh, come, let me tell it to you in my own words (Day-ka, ya tebe rasskazhu svoimi slovami [slovo-word]). That is how the good reader learned to beware of translators of condensed masterpieces, of idiotic movies about the brothers Karenins, and of all other ways of toadying to the lazy and of quartering the great.
And to sum up, I would like to stress once more, Let us not look for the soul of Russia in the Russian novel: let us look for the individual genius. Look at the masterpiece, and not at the frame–and not at the faces of other people looking at the frame.
“Russian Writers, Censors, and Readers,” Lectures on Russian Literature, Vladimir Nabokov
I find more to disagree with in Nabokov’s critical work than to agree with, and his tone is often petulant verging on offensive. I like him only as a novelist, almost never as a critic or translator. But when he’s right, he’s right.
видавший виды – worn, seasoned, world-wise
No etymology, really, since it’s a stock phrase rather than a word. But when I ran across it, referring to a coat worn by one of the characters in Jana Wagner’s post-apocalyptic debut novel, I immediately liked it. As if the coat were saying, “Hey bub, I’ve seen things.”
(Found: «Вонгозеро», Яна Вагнер.)
безалаберный – disorderly, disorganized
безалаберный безала́берный также безала́борный (Преобр.). Произведено от ала́бор “порядок”, которое до сих пор объяснялось неудовлетворительно: от лат. elaborāre (см. ала́бор), нем. albern (Горяев; против. см. Ягич, AfslPh 15, 603), д.-в.-н. alwâri (Маценауэр, LF 7, 7) и тюрк. alp är (Гордлевский, ОЛЯ 6, 326); см. об этом ниже, на олберы. Этимологический словарь русского языка. — М.: Прогресс 1964—1973
(Found: «Защита Лужина», Владимир Набоков.)
I have a BA in Russian from a tiny college in the Midwest. Somehow that led to a career in business (not in or concerning the FSU).
I once took a crack at translating Sokolov’s School for Morons, but I’m not a literary translator (yet). I wrote a thesis on computational linguistics and know what a clitic is (it’s not as dirty as it sounds), but I’m definitely not a linguist. I’m an amateur in the worst sense of the word, but aspire to be one in the better sense.
I don’t have serious ambitions for this blog but hope you find some good words here!