Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The river floes break in spring...


Alexander Blok
The river floes break in spring...
March 1902
translation by Greg Pavlik 


The river floes break in spring,
And for the dead I feel no sorrow -
Toward new summits I am rising,
Forgetting crevasses of past striving,
I see the blue horizon of tomorrow.

What regret, in fire and smoke,
What agony of Aaron’s rod,
With each hour, with each stroke -
Or instead - the heavens’ gift stoked,
From the Bush of Moses, the Mother of God!

Original:

Весна в реке ломает льдины,
И милых мертвых мне не жаль:
Преодолев мои вершины,
Забыл я зимние теснины
И вижу голубую даль.

Что сожалеть в дыму пожара,
Что сокрушаться у креста,
Когда всечасно жду удара
Или божественного дара
Из Моисеева куста!
 
Март 1902

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Why I am a Dostoevskyan Humanist

An explanation in 5 parts, by reference to the works of those who were not.*

'Lo! I show you the Last Man.

"What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?" -- so asks the Last Man, and blinks.

The earth has become small, and on it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small. His species is ineradicable as the flea; the Last Man lives longest.

"We have discovered happiness" -- say the Last Men, and they blink.

They have left the regions where it is hard to live; for they need warmth. One still loves one's neighbor and rubs against him; for one needs warmth.

Turning ill and being distrustful, they consider sinful: they walk warily. He is a fool who still stumbles over stones or men!

A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams. And much poison at the end for a pleasant death.

One still works, for work is a pastime. But one is careful lest the pastime should hurt one.

One no longer becomes poor or rich; both are too burdensome. Who still wants to rule? Who still wants to obey? Both are too burdensome.

No shepherd, and one herd! Everyone wants the same; everyone is the same: he who feels differently goes voluntarily into the madhouse.

"Formerly all the world was insane," -- say the subtlest of them, and they blink.

They are clever and know all that has happened: so there is no end to their derision. People still quarrel, but are soon reconciled -- otherwise it upsets their stomachs.

They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health.

"We have discovered happiness," -- say the Last Men, and they blink.'
Friedrich Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra



The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, Hans Holbein

Now, did He really break the seal
And rise again?
We dare not say….
Meanwhile, a silence on the cross
As dead as we shall ever be,
Speaks of some total gain or loss,
And you and I are free
Auden, Friday’s Child

“Wherever an altar is found, there is civilization."
Joseph de Maistre

“All actual life is encounter.”
Martin Buber, I and Thou

* model for composition stolen gratuitously from an online challenge.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Something Amiss

Looks like this curious non-review of the novel Laurus seems to have been referring to "Brahmins" as "Brahman" - I suppose republished to correct the mistake:

​Russian Brahman by Alan Jacobs | Articles | First Things

www.firstthings.com/article/2016/04/russian-brahman
First Things
Russian Brahman. by Alan Jacobs April 2016. Laurus by eugene vodolazkin translated by lisa hayden oneworld, 384 pages, $24.99. Eugene Vodolazkin's ...

​Russian Brahmin by Alan Jacobs | Articles | First Things

www.firstthings.com/article/2016/04/russian-brahmin
First Things
Russian Brahmin. by Alan Jacobs April 2016. Laurus by eugene vodolazkin translated by lisa hayden oneworld, 384 pages, $24.99. Eugene Vodolazkin's ...

Whatever his problematic grasp on Hindu concepts, it's obvious Jacobs knows little to nothing about the tradition of Russian yurodivy, which makes this review overall kind of silly at best. Interested readers can refer to the hagiographies of Xenia of Petersburg or Feofil of the Kiev Caves Lavra to become acquainted with some of the conceptual background to the novel, both published by the monastery press in Jordanville, NY in English. As a complement the Pavel Lungin movie Ostrov is worth watching carefully - the film is based partly on Feofil, though like the life of St Xenia, it explores the theme of vicarious repentance. (It was not until the third time I saw the film that I fully grasped it - the visuals are stunning and in many respects a distraction.)

On a similar vein, the reviewer seems to be unaware of the standard - far too standard to be universal in fact - Eastern Christian view of the spiritual life: purification, illumination and theosis. This is particularly strong in the present tense Eastern Orthodox tradition with the popularization on the compendium of texts on prayer from the patristic and medieval eras known as the Philokalia, so there should be no surprise that it is echoed by a Russian Orthodox novelist writing about a fictional early Russian spiritual figure. These are themes that recur in entirely secular Russian literature as well as, for example, the surrealist Vladimir Sorokin. Mistaking normative Eastern Christianity with Hindu/Dharmic spirituality seems like a fundamental error that even a high school student would have avoided. I am astonished by this given the relative popularity of the Way of the Pilgrim, which contextualized the Philokalia in 19th century Russian spirituality explicitly. This, I fear, provides an acute illustration of the siloing of intellectual life in America these days (if not a somewhat obvious poverty).


All of that aside, what continues to trouble me in general is the fact that most of the reviews of Laurus that I've seen have been oriented toward theological critiques - endorsements or arguments revolving around the reviewer's reading of what the author might want us to think about religion. And yet it is obvious that Vodolazkin did not write a religious apologetic (Jacobs invokes Karamazov, which is simultaneously a religious argument and a humanistic work - but Laurus is anything but the former). Laurus deserves a review as a work of notable - even great - world literature: which is to say first and foremost an exploration of what Vodolazkin is attempting to accomplish as a writer and what that has produced as a work of literature. The lack of serious analysis is particularly puzzling given the devices Vodolazkin uses to deal with language, identity, personality, relationship, and - yes - time. We could do with a few less sermons and a bit more thought.