Alla Gorbunova.

Every week Lev Oborin posts a roundup of recent literary news, and I read them faithfully; this week’s brought to my attention the Petersburg poet Alla Gorbunova (Russian Wikipedia), who’s written a couple of books of prose — the brand-new one, «Конец света, моя любовь» [The end of the world, my love], sounded so good (Galina Yuzefovich in her review said it might be the book of the year) that I promptly bought an electronic copy and loved the title story (the first in the collection), in which the narrator describes her childish fear that the world would end and says that when she got older she realized the worst thing is that everything stays the same: мир обманул меня и оказался твердым, совсем твердым…. счастье — ето ожидание конца света [the world deceived me and turned out to be solid, completely solid…. happiness is waiting for the end of the world].

Her first book of prose, Вещи и ущи, a collection of very short pieces, came out in 2017; I’ll translate the title “Things and mings,” which will be explained by my translation of the title piece (you can read the original here, near the bottom of the page):

Mings

Things made from mind are distinguished from things made from matter by their history. The history of things made from matter is the history of material and master, machine and shelf. The history of things made from mind is the history of imagination. These two histories flow in parallel, but sometimes come together. For convenience we will call things made from matter “things,” and things made from mind “mings” [ущи, a combination of вещи ‘things’ and ум ‘mind’]. In each thing there is always some ming, even if only a little. The history of matter always includes the history of imagination. Most people have never seen pure mings, but I have. I love the history of things, but it may be that one day we will be living in a world consisting of mings. Sometimes I can’t tell immediately whether what’s before me is a thing or a ming, because at first glance they look identical. Then I begin to investigate the history of the object, and right away it becomes clear whether it’s a thing or a ming. But here too it’s possible to make a mistake and attribute the history of a thing to a ming or vice versa. There are people who interact perfectly well with things but on the plane of mings are completely helpless, and there are great masters of mings who are like little children when it comes to things. There’s no doubt that I have a certain talent for mings; in the first place, I can see them, and in the second place, I can perform various actions with them and even create them at will. As for things, the more ming there is in them, the easier it is for me to deal with them. Some things have very little ming in them. They say there is a dark sea in which mings cannot be born, and I fear that one day I will drown in it.

I have a weakness for the prose of poets, and I like that kind of thing a lot.

Comments

  1. I must say that after shuttling back and forth between the 1890s and 1960s, it’s exciting to read a book hot off the (e-)presses!

  2. Husserl said that the world was essentially completely populated by functions—those mings. Only in breakdown situations does the factiticy (or thing-ness) of something come into play, when its authentic function is called into question, and we are pushed back to looking at it at a (more) physical level.

  3. Denis Akhapkin says:

    Did you read Крошечные эссе by Elena Schwartz? I think this was a model for Gorbunova but Shwartz is much, much better

  4. Thanks for the tip — I haven’t, but I will!

  5. Here are some of her “little essays”; I like ГРИФЕЛЬНАЯ ДОСКА НА ВОДЕ (Slate on the water), which references Derzhavin’s wonderful «Река времен».

  6. Denis Akhapkin says:

    And essays I’ve mentioned were published in the same book: http://www.vavilon.ru/texts/shvarts6-3.html

  7. Very enjoyable!

  8. If you love Shvarts (I do), nothing in the world compares to her. But Gorbunova is still worth reading.

  9. John Cowan says:

    These mings are what Dawkins (and following him Michael D.C. Drout) called memes before it became impossible to use the word in its original generalized sense.

  10. A pleasing assonance (or, if you prefer, consonance)!

  11. I just finished “Под мостом” and man, it’s so good — a sort of Russian Elena Ferrante novel boiled down to a few pages. I think Gorbunova will eventually be much better known.

  12. There’s another echo of Dennett, namely his stances. We can look at a thing from any of three stances to predict its future behavior.

    In the physical stance, we see it as a physico-chemical object obeying the laws of nature: we can predict that a cannonball fired with a given force from a cannon pointing in a given direction will land in a specific place.

    In the design stance, we see it as an engineered or evolved object and predict its actions based on what it is for: when we see a bird, we predict that if it flaps its wings it will fly, because wings are for flying. We may, however, have a penguin, in which case we must switch to the physical stance to see why it can’t fly. Overall, the design stance is easier to use than the physical stance. We don’t need to know exactly how a horse runs at the level of atoms and molecules: the level of muscles and bones is plenty. Only when the horse runs over a cliff does the physical stance take over.

    Finally, we have the intentional stance, which is how we look at software and minds: we assign beliefs and desires to them. A bird will fly away if a cat approaches because it doesn’t want to to be eaten. A person who is hungry, we predict, will fix food, ask someone else to fix it, go to a restaurant, or order delivery, because they want to eat and they believe doing one of these things will satisfy the hunger. And a thermostat and its associated heating or cooling mechanisms believe the temperature should be such-and-such and want to make it so.

    This last example is the point that really outrages all sorts of philosophical people: as Searle said, do you really believe that that hunk of metal on the wall has beliefs in exactly the same sense that you or I do? But we move into the intentional stance because it’s the most useful for predicting the behavior of very complex systems. If the software is buggy or the mind is disordered, we must switch to the design stance, and sometimes to the physical stance, to see where the problem is coming from.

  13. Just got to this in “Против Закона” [Against the law], and I had to share it:

    Другой заказ был — переводить на бизнес-переговорах по перевозкам фундука. Встреча была в холле «Невского паласа», и все бы хорошо, но Настя не знала, как по-английски будет фундук. Hazelnut, мать его.

    Another commission was to translate business negotiations about the transportation of funduk. The meeting was in the lobby of the “Nevsky Palace,” and everything would have been great except that Nastya didn’t know how to say funduk in English. The fucking thing is “hazelnut.”

    I feel for her; I didn’t know the Russian word (which is from Crimean Tatar funduq; cf. Turkish fındık).

  14. The nut of the hazel species that is normally eaten is also filbert in English, so named because they ripen near Saint Philibert’s Day. However, there is also a folk etymology sometimes put forward, that the word comes from a German or Dutch term meaning “full beard,” and that this is related to the teardrop shape of the shells.

  15. はしばみ1【榛】 ローマ(hashibami)
    【植】 〔カバノキ科の落葉低木〕 (同属の総称) a hazel; Corylus heterophylla var. thunbergii.
    ▲ハシバミの実 a hazelnut; a hazel; a filbert.

    pähkinä
    Finnish
    Etymology
    From Proto-Finnic [Term?], from Proto-Finno-Permic *päškɜ. Related to Estonian pähkel, Ingrian päähkänä, Livonian pē’gõz, Veps pähkim, Votic pähtšenä, Erzya пеште (pešte), Eastern Mari пӱкш (pükš) and Udmurt пашпу (pašpu, “hazelnut (bush)”).

    1. nut
    2. hazel
    3. puzzle, riddle; difficult problem, tough nut to crack

    hassel
    Danish, Norwegian Bokmål, Norwegian Nynorsk, Swedish
    Etymology
    From Old Norse hesli, from Proto-Indo-European *kóselos- (“hazel”).
    a hazel (bush or small tree)

    I wonder what hasselgård means, apart from being a surname.

    I take it Avellaneda in Argentina is called after that.

  16. everything would have been great except that Nastya didn’t know how to say funduk in English.

    Kato Lomb as always has suitable horror story:

    The case of a Hungarian ornithologist in Germany is an example of the former. He was invited to give a lecture in his field and a Hungarian student who studied there was provided for him as an interpreter. A slide was shown and the first words were spoken: “This hoopoe has perching legs and a double-feathered crest which can be raised or bent back…”

    This sentence was not followed by translation, there was a dead silence, the interpreter was clearly tormented and finally exclaimed in despair: “Well, this bird!”

  17. filbert

    +cobnut:

    Kentish Cobnuts
    A Cobnut is a type of hazelnut traditionally grown in Kent. They are harvested in their green state form mid August and with brown shells and husks by mid October. All the Kentish Cobnuts are sold dehusked from November onwards.
    https://www.kentishcobnuts.com/shop/kentish-cobnuts/

    Cobnuts are a fresh hazelnut grown in Britain. They are harvested while the outer husk is still green and the nut is sweet and juicy, and it’s sold between mid-August and October. The cobnut is very distinctive looking with a green husk over its shell. The nut itself is medium in size and oval in shape; it is mildly sweet with a nice crunch. A cobnut is used like any other nut—eaten as a snack, sprinkled on salads, and folded into baked goods. A cobnut costs about double the price of other hazelnuts.

    Cobnuts, filberts, and other kinds of hazelnuts are all in the hazel genus Corylus. The cobnut is a cultivated variety of hazelnut introduced in the 19th century in Kent in southern England; hence, it is often commonly known as a Kentish cobnut. Underneath the green husk, which is easy to remove, is a brown shell that when young is easy to crack and take off as well. Once the nut begins to dry, the shell toughens, yet it only needs a sharp tap to break. Cobnuts are delicious to eat fresh from the shell when young; once a little older, it is best to use them as you would common hazelnuts.

    There are several cultivars of the cobnut, including Purple Filbert, Merveille de Bollwiller (also called Hall’s Giant), Kentish Cob, Butler, and Ennis.

    Cobnut vs. Hazelnut and Filbert
    Since these three nuts are all part of the same genus, they are very similar to each other. Cobnut is a hazelnut that is harvested and sold fresh, and filbert is a type of cobnut where the husk completely encloses the nut. Their names are interchangeable, causing much confusion.

    Cobnut Uses
    Before using cobnuts, the green husks need to be removed, which is accomplished by simply pulling it off. The shell underneath is then cracked and easily pulls away. What is left is fresh cobnut, which is often enjoyed simply, sometimes with a sprinkling of salt. But it can also be added to salads, into a streusel topping, or as part of a crumble for a fruit cobbler. It can take the place of pine nut in a pesto sauce or even replace almond in a classic macaron recipe. It can also be sprinkled into a meringue mixture before adding to the dessert.

    https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-are-cobnuts-435410

    cobnut
    Etymology
    (This etymology is missing or incomplete. Please add to it, or discuss it at the Etymology scriptorium.)

    1. The nut of the common hazel (Corylus avellana); hazelnut.
    2. A specific cultivated variety of hazelnut, also known as the Kentish cobnut.
    3. A game played by children with nuts.

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/cobnut

  18. macaron

    ?
    macaroon?

  19. PlasticPaddy says:

    @juha re hasselgård
    https://www.dokpro.uio.no/rygh_ng/rygh_form.html
    hassel% gets six hits.
    From wikipedia (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oeconym)
    “Norwegian oeconyms (Norwegian: gårdsnavn) are based on various factors associated with a property: local geography (hills, etc.), land use,….Typical suffixes on such names include -bø, -gaard/-gård, -heim/-um, -land, -rud/-rød, and -set. After the 1923 naming law (Norwegian: Lov om personnavn or Navneloven) was passed in Norway, many rural people adopted the names of the farms where they lived as surnames…. It is estimated that 70% of surnames in Norway are based on oeconyms.[20]”

  20. A hazelnut farm, in other words? Or a farm near a hazel grove?

    Thanks a lot!

    It was a surprise to hear that Norwegian drops the -d, while Swedish turns an -rd- into a retroflex consonant:

    gård

  21. What’s the difference between Hazelnut, Filbert and Cobnut?

    https://ratinkhosh.com/hazelnut-vs-filbert-vs-cobnut/

  22. David Marjanović says:

    that the word comes from a German or Dutch term meaning “full beard,”

    Vowel-wise that’s hard to imagine from Vollbart.

  23. PlasticPaddy says:

    @dm
    There is an accent (Scottish and Northern Ireland) where fill sounds more like full, which again has realisations which overlap with (realisations of) Dutch vol / German voll. I do not know when and where the folk etymology filbert < Vollbart was made but would note that the Scots/N.I. accent I am referring to could also pronounce the e in filbert more like the a in Vollbart (as would indeed many other accents).

  24. Fındık is only a mid-station on the journey from ποντικὸν (κάρυον), also known as nuх роntiса, to фундук. The Russian word only applies to the larger hazelnuts while лещина is close to a one-to-one fit (but I feel this distinction is disappearing). Likewise, балык only refers to salted and dried high-quality fish while balık is simply “fish.”

  25. Avellaneda

    Lazdynai (Lithuanian: Lazdynų seniūnija, Lazdynai) is an eldership in Vilnius, Lithuania, situated on the right bank of the Neris River. It covers area of 9.9 square kilometres (3.8 sq mi) and has population of 31,097 (according to the 2011 census). The word means “hazel bushes” in Lithuanian.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lazdynai

    A sculpture there:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/moacir/9524310708/
    https://www.jhpostcards.com/collections/lithuania

    Лаздинай снизу
    https://darriuss.livejournal.com/481160.html

  26. @juha: lj-user Dariuss (darriuss.livejournal.com) has lots of Lazdynai photos, from above as well as from below, plus images of other Soviet brutalist projects. I lived in Lazdynai for a few days in early 1988. A lovely residential area, almost paradisiacal by Soviet standards.

  27. I was there on a bus tour in 1979 and liked it as well.

  28. Where is the stress on Lazdynai? (It irritates me that Lithuanian Wikipedia, unlike Russian, does not provide this information for entry words.)

  29. A Lithuanian-Russian dictionary lists it thus:

    lazdýnas (which indicates a falling intonation)

  30. Thanks!

  31. https://www.bernardinai.lt/2019-08-10-lazdynai-gyvas-rajonas-turintis-neparadini-miesto-veida/
    (the video below the kurioje bene stipriausiai pasireiškė modernizmo tendencijos fragment, within 30 seconds in.)

  32. Lars Mathiesen says:

    @juha, those retroflex consonants (rd, rt, rn, rl, rs) are very characteristic for North and Central Swedish (and the standard), but lots of Norway has it as well (Trond says). It’s a sandhi phenomenon, active in compounds and across word boundaries, which makes it very tricky for non-natives:

    Har du sett [hɑːɖʏʷˈset:]
    Du har sett [dʏʷhɑːˈʂet:]
    Du har gått [dʏʷhaɾˈɡɔt:]

    Southern Sweden uses an uvular R which doesn’t engender retroflexion, and reportedly Finland Swedish does not do it either. (Substrate?)

  33. @juha: That’s interesting that Finnish uses the hazelnut as a metaphor for “puzzle, riddle; difficult problem, tough nut to crack.” In English, chestnut has the same meaning. It’s a bit old fashioned, I think, but otherwise unremarkable. I (and probably many other children) learned in from Gollum in The Hobbit.

  34. ktschwarz says:

    Chestnut: old tired joke, story, etc. That’s how Gollum uses it:

    “All right!” said Bilbo, not daring to disagree, and nearly bursting his brain to think of riddles that could save him from being eaten.

    Thirty white horses on a red hill,
    First they champ,
    Then they stamp,
    Then they stand still.

    That was all he could think of to ask—the idea of eating was rather on his mind. It was rather an old one, too, and Gollum knew the answer as well as you do.

    “Chestnuts, chestnuts,” he hissed. “Teeth! teeth! my preciousss; but we has only six!”

    I don’t think that’s very close to the Finnish use; it’s not a riddle or problem in general, certainly not a difficult one. I’ve used it for stupid urban legends and cliched sayings.

  35. Yup, neither Green nor the OED knows of a ‘riddle’ sense.

  36. Finnish uses the hazelnut

    The full form:

    kova pähkinä purtavaksi
    Alternative forms
    kova pähkinä
    Etymology
    kova (“hard, tough”) + pähkinä (“nut”) + purtavaksi (“to bite, for biting”)

    Phrase
    kova pähkinä purtavaksi

    1. (idiomatic) hard nut to crack, tough nut to crack, (problem that is challenging to solve)
    2. (idiomatic) hard nut to crack, tough nut to crack (situation, person, group, etc. which is difficult to overcome or deal with)

  37. John Cowan says:

    In my youth, the epitome of uncrackability was the Brazil nut, Bertholletia excelsa: no mere nutcracker would open them, although a carpenter’s hammer would do the job (wrap them in cloth first, though). A Brazil nut a day keeps the LDL away, but beware aflatoxin, selenium, and radium toxicity if you eat more than a few.

  38. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Paranødder in Denmark. From the Brazilian state Pará, it seems. And yeah, they were hard, but these days you only buy them shelled. (Something about checking them for the molds that make aflatoxin. There were some years where you couldn’t get them at all here).

    Or maybe the mold lives in the shells and the aflatoxin leaks into the nuts during storage. Sources are not clear.

  39. @John Cowan: Brazil nuts* are indeed hard to crack, but I learned to do it pretty consistently with proper application of just a nutcracker. However you open them though, the nutmeats tend to come out broken up—or at least scraped and scored. Only once in my life** did I get a Brazil nut out of a sealed shell with a completely undamaged nutmeat. I was so impressed that, rather than eat it, I kept it as a keepsake.

    * One piece of trivia I like to share is that the country of Brazil is named after the Brazil nut tree, not vice versa.

    ** I basically don’t eat Brazil nuts any more, since I am mildly allergic to them. When I was a teenager, I discovered that eating Brazil nuts caused me to get small, non-itchy hives on my chest. I had no other symptoms, but I know that allergies can sometimes get worse over time, and I have an uncle who is deathly allergic to all kinds of nuts; so I eventually decided not to risk eating Brazil nuts any more.

  40. Only once in my life did I get a Brazil nut out of a sealed shell with a completely undamaged nutmeat.

    I think I managed to do that myself once. However, I ate it.

  41. the epitome of uncrackability was the Brazil nut

    A Brazil nutcracker

    the country of Brazil is named after the Brazil nut tree

    Not this one?

  42. Huh. I guess I had forgotten that Brazil nuts and brazilwood come from two different kinds of South American trees (both of which have been overharvested for their heartwood). So the correct sequence is that Brazil is named after brazilwood, and Brazil nuts are named after Brazil.

  43. Trond Engen says:

    Lars:

    Har du sett [hɑːɖʏʷˈset:]

    Yes, save the rendering of the /u/ vowel.

    This sandhi-system goes across morpheme and word boundaries without hesitation. I’m pretty sure [i.e., I have no evidence but I enjoy stating it] that it’s a relic of the path not taken. Central Scandinavian’s descent into polysynthesis was stopped by the sudden appearance of public education and the national media.

    And on that note, in the most central forms of Central, the sandhi product [ɑːɖ] in the example sentence is a socio-linguistic compromise form between the colloquial and the written standard. Oslo and Colloquial Urban Eastern Norwegian and much of Central Sweden has [hɑrːʏ] (or whichever way you want to write that vowel). The non-initial or unstressed form of the 2sg pronoun is ru (subj.), (obj.).

    Norwegian examples:

    Åharumeræidaa? Å har du med deg i dag da? “What-have-you-with-you-today-then”?

    Duskulatnslåræ! Du skulle latt ham slå deg! “You should have-let him beat/hit you!”

    I first marked stress, but removed it since that will move with emphasis. If the 2p pronoun is empasized, the r becomes d (with the sandhi product ɖ).

  44. David Marjanović says:

    descent into polysynthesis

    Sandhi across word boundaries doesn’t seem to have much to do with that. For [sj zj] > [ʃ ʒ] in English, I’ve encountered more amazing examples than this year and is your. My kinds of German have general non-syllabic [n] > [ŋ] if the next word begins with a velar and [n] > [m] if it begins with a labial including [f] (and the same assimilations of syllabic /n/ to preceding, but not following, velars or labials).

    Edited to add: Wikipedia examples of tone sandhi in generic southern Chinese are absolutely frightening; it seems you need to plan your whole sentence before you can put a tone on the first syllable. And it’s all more isolating than English.

  45. I oversimplified above. Chestnut in English is sometimes encountered in reference to a well-known or easy riddle or puzzle. This is special case of the more general English meaning, and it clearly has a different origin than the Finnish. In fact, the specific application to riddles may be directly due to Gollum’s influence.

  46. Lars Mathiesen says:

    The [ʏʷ] thing is my mistake. It is a near-close protruded-rounded front vowel, but if I read WP right it should be a near-close compressed-rounded front-central vowel [ʉ] or [ɪᵝ] in the examples. (Du has a long vowel when stressed, and it doesn’t go to the more central quality of a short /u/ when unstressed).

    Reportedly, Swedish is one of very few languages to have a minimal pair between compressed and protruded rounding. In older descriptions du had a more central (but near-close) articulation than dy, for instance, but the way I learned them, it is indeed only the rounding type that separates them. (In this case, also word tone, but I’m sure there are real minimal pairs). The whole thing is a classical chain shift, ost has /u:/ and mål has /o:/, but /y:/ clearly refuses to vacate its spot. VOWEL MERGER PREDICTED, FILM AT 11.

    Anyway, if WP is to be believed, Swedish has compressed back rounded vowels and protruded front ones. Which is the reverse of Danish and German, for instance. I clearly learned to do that when speaking Swedish, because I do do the right thing, but I never before realized what it was I was doing. So I managed to confuse myself by mixing up Danish and Swedish vowels.

    So what does Norwegian do? From WP it looks like much the same story as Swedish (which is then not as unique as claimed), including compressed back rounded vowels, but there is this:

    The close /ʏ, yː, ʉ, ʉː/ have been variously described as protruded [ʏʷ, yʷː] and compressed [ʉ͍, ʉ͍ː] as well as compressed [ʏ͍, y͍ː] and protruded [ʉʷ, ʉʷː].

    Is it the speakers or the phoneticians who are confused?

  47. ost has /u:/

    AFAIK, ost has a short vowel:

    http://lexin.nada.kth.se/sound/ost.mp3

  48. Lars Mathiesen says:

    You are right. It’s Friday.

  49. But, judging by juusto & juust (Finnish and Estonian, respectively), it used to have a long one. (Actually, it’s overlong in present-day Estonian.)

  50. David Marjanović says:

    Which is the reverse of Danish and German, for instance.

    Depends on the kind of German – in mine, protruded rounding is entirely limited to /ʃ/.

    (I would not be surprised to learn that I suddenly become lip-readable when I speak French.)

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