Here’s another bit from the Second Act of Bykov’s Orfografiya (see this post for an earlier sample); it illustrates the fascination and frustration of reading the book:
Bookseller’s Row in the Haymarket was a grotesque sight—like almost all sights then: destitution and wretchedness were carried to such absurd lengths that they ceased to provoke tears but only decrepit, wise laughter such as the last Romans must have aimed at themselves and the Gauls. Somewhere in the hidden, half-legendary Petersburg cellars precious manuscripts were still being exchanged for equally fabulous, apocryphal things—a pound of butter, a ham; but in the Haymarket they dealt mainly in the literature of the Russian Golden Age, naive literary almanacs in which vulgar quarrels were carried on, with opponents caught in misprints and hidden peccadillos hinted at—so-and-so lost everything at gambling, or had informed on someone, or was a kept man… The public was most picturesque and ill-assorted: here was the beginning of the disintegration of the Petersburg School—zaumniks, “ushkuiniks,” pustoglots, nothingists, metaphorists, columbines, going-to-the-peoplists, and the completely enigmatic quasists. Here stood the gnomelike graybeard Trufanov with a bundle of “northern antiquities” transcribed in a decorative style and said to have been collected at the time of the Arkhangelsk rites—in fact they had been taken from a collection of byliny and worked up into a state of complete incomprehensibility; he was seen with his group singing the bawdy songs of Nesein [No-sow] (“My name is because we are not simple peasants: we do not sow nor reap, we are peasants not by calling but by willing”).
(The Russian is below the cut.)
The “disintegration of the Petersburg School” section drives me nuts: “zaumniks” I know, they were practitioners of Zaum, but what’s the status of the rest? Ushkuiniks were medieval Novgorodian pirates, and there was a literary almanac called Ushkuiniki published in Petersburg in 1922 and later a 1927 self-published poetry book of that name by Aleksandr Tufanov, a now-forgotten futurist, zaumist, and “sound poet” (note the apperance of a character called “Trufanov” immediately below in the passage—Bykov consistently renames characters based on real people, so that Shklovsky turns up as “Lgovsky” and Gorky as “Khlamida,” an early pseudonym); was there any group of “Ushkuiniki” in 1918, or is it pure invention? “Pustoglots” [pustogloty] has the Russian prefix for ‘empty’ and the Greek suffix for ‘tongue, language’ (as in polyglot), and the Russian word gets a few Google hits as an insult; “nothingist” [nichevoshnik] is a rare word defined by Dahl as ‘someone for whom everything is nothing’; columbines [akvilegi] is, as far as I can make out, simply the name of a flower;
lyudokhod isn’t an actual word but has a prefix meaning ‘people’ and a suffix meaning ‘going,’ and it’s used as a caption for this photo; kvazer seems to sometimes be used for kvazar ‘quasar’ and sometimes in ways I don’t understand [these words are explained in the comments below]. What’s a poor translator supposed to do with this farrago? But it sure is fun.
Addendum. A correspondent points out to me that “Nesein” is a “very transparent to a Russian reader allusion to the peasant-poet Sergei Esenin,” something that was obvious as soon as she mentioned it but that hadn’t occurred to me. Thanks, Evgenia!