FODDER FOR ALLUSIONS.

I’m digging into The Russian Context: The Culture Behind the Language by Eloise M. Boyle and Genevra Gerhart (which I wrote about here), and I’m sure I’ll have much more to say about it, but right now I just want to quote this paragraph from the introduction to the Literature section (which “contains those quotations from literature that the educated Russian carries in his head, and that a student of Russian will encounter not only in everyday conversations with Russians, but when he picks up a newspaper or turns on the television”); it provides a concise explanation of a well-known phenomenon:

Educated Russians carry a virtual library around with them, not necessarily because of an innate interest in literature, but because their teachers (and sometimes parents) made sure it would be carried around: practically everyone in the country has been required to memorize essentially the same bits of poetry and prose. (Scratch a Russian, any Russian, and you can hear about a green oak tree at the seaside with a golden chain around it.) Such memorization led to a shared interest in and understanding of literature, which then became a way for people to communicate with one another. This led in turn to a sense of community felt at poetry readings and other literary events. This fodder for allusions is therefore readily available to all, and is found everywhere in Russian life: in speech, in advertising, and in journalism.

I wrote about the green oak here:

Pushkin, of course, is a far greater poet than Landor, and he is not only a classicist; his Mozartean combination of classical expression and frequently romantic sensibility can be found in English poetry only in Coleridge. What Nabokov calls “the extraordinary lines, among his greatest, that Pushkin added in 1824, four years after its publication, to the beginning of Ruslan i Lyudmila (‘By a sea-cove [stands] a green oak,/ on that oak a golden chain,/ and day and night a learned tomcat/ walks on the chain around [the oak]…’) is the only thing in any language I know that can be set beside Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan.”

I could wish there were a similar literary culture among my own countrymen.

Comments

  1. I too.

  2. Been there, done that, heaved it overboard. Gale (age 67) can still recite “In Flanders Fields” verbatim, and it isn’t even an American poem; I (age 52) only remember bits of it.

  3. Hat, I can see why you might yearn to live in a culture where higher literature of the past is a common heritage shared and appreciated by all.
    But I wonder whether (1) this is a totally good thing and (2) whether the situation in English is as bad as you seem to see it.
    Regarding (1), the sharing of a common heritage is a result of a focus (often a forced focus) on a particular body of work. It was true of the Chinese literati, who had to grind away for years to pass their exams, and of the ancient Japanese upper classes, who were familiar with the body of ancient waka. That is, I think, one reason why their work is so full of allusion, which is directed at other people who are familiar with the same tradition. The same thing probably applies to devout Christians, who are so familiar with the Bible that they can quote it and be instantly understood by others who know their Bible.
    The upside is the fact that everyone shares a magnificent literary tradition. The downside is that it involves forced inculcation and a narrow focus — what some might refer to as stultification. I don’t think it’s an accident that breaking of old moulds can result in bursts of creativity, such as the flowering of Chinese theatre under the Mongols.
    As for (2), I think all cultures have shared traditions of some sort or another. This may not be ‘high classical literature’. It includes folk sayings, religious texts, songs, poems, and many other things. You just have to look at book titles and film titles out of Hollywood to see how snippets of language — a shared culture — are utilised to create interesting and creative titles. The only one I can think of at the moment is ‘Catcher in the Rye’, but there are many more. (When checking ‘this sceptr’d isle’ I found that the BBC had done a radio series on British history called ‘This Sceptred Isle’. This is direct from Shakespeare). The titles of Hollywood movies in many cases can’t be translated into foreign languages because they draw on the resources of the English language and its culture.
    Speaking personally, there is a lot of English-language poetry that I learnt at school that I can still dredge up. The phrase ‘run widdershins in my brain’ is one that you might not have heard because it’s not part of our (Bathrobe and Languagehat’s) shared tradition. It’s from a poem by Judith Wright, and it’s something that I could conceivably come out with in an appropriate written context. Should I lament that it’s only something that Queenslanders from my generation would know and is not a part of the greater English-language tradition that I could share with JE and AJP?
    For much of our generation, I suspect that music (more specifically pop music from the 50s to the 80s) forms a common language. It’s not high literature, but it’s definitely a common language and culture. Is it so bad? When you consider how much great literature has been lost to history because of the death of civilisations and linguistic change, is it really such a tragedy that people move on and create new traditions?

  4. The downside is that it involves forced inculcation and a narrow focus — what some might refer to as stultification.
    Except that there are no signs of that having happened in Russia.
    I think all cultures have shared traditions of some sort or another. This may not be ‘high classical literature’. … For much of our generation, I suspect that music (more specifically pop music from the 50s to the 80s) forms a common language.
    And for a later generation, computer games and comix. But somehow I can’t, much as my democratic heart rejoices at any shared culture, set those things on a level with great literature. Call me elitist if you will.

  5. It’s true that Russians (or many Russians, anyway) remember a lot of memorized prose and poetry. The idea that this leads to “a shared interest in and understanding of literature,” much less “a sense of community felt at poetry readings and other literary events,” is romantic bullshit that reveals how little the authors know about Russians who aren’t members of the intelligentsia (i.e. practically all of them). Like average citizens of any other country, normal Russian people read vast amounts of pulp crime fiction and barely anything “high culture” at all–just look around on any subway train. Meanwhile, “literary events” are the province of a narrow and inbred community and have little or no relevance to the average Russian.
    Except that there are no signs of that having happened in Russia.
    There are plenty of signs, and I’m frankly surprised that you haven’t encountered them by now.

  6. So you think Americans are fodderless waifs, while Russians know they can turn to Väterchen Fodderov for consolation ?
    I don’t think you’re elitist. Perhaps you’re just associating too much with the right people – everyday, lovely folks who aren’t into trading high-culture quotes with each other. If you’re missing the latter, you can always hang out at a temple of culture – until you get fed up with it.
    I can’t take intellectuals for too long at a time, and I get bored with nice people after a while. So I shuttle between the two, with a wry smile on my face. That’s just the way it is.

  7. Also, my uncle, who lives in Israel, sent me this great story on this exact theme. I’m too lazy to translate it, so here it is in Russian::

    Речь о тех временах, когда русскоговорящих интервьюеров в израильских военкоматах еще не было, а русские призывники уже были. Из-за того, что они в большинстве своем плохо владели ивритом, девочки-интервьюеры часто посылали их на проверку к так называемым “офицерам душевного здоровья” (по специальности – психологам или социальным работникам), чтобы те на всякий случай проверяли, все ли в порядке у неразговорчивого призывника. Кстати, офицер душевного здоровья – “кцин бриют нефеш” – сокращенно на иврите называется “кабан”. Хотя к его профессиональным качествам это, конечно же, отношения не имеет.
    Офицер душевного здоровья в военкомате обычно проводит стандартные тесты – “нарисуй человека, нарисуй дерево, нарисуй дом”. По этим тестам можно с легкостью исследовать внутренний мир будущего военнослужащего. В них ведь что хорошо – они универсальные и не зависят от знания языка. Уж дом-то все способны нарисовать. И вот к одному офицеру прислали очередного русского мальчика, плохо говорящего на иврите. Офицер душевного здоровья поздоровался с ним, придвинул лист бумаги и попросил нарисовать дерево.
    Русский мальчик плохо рисовал, зато был начитанным. Он решил скомпенсировать недостаток художественных способностей количеством деталей. Поэтому изобразил дуб, на дубе – цепь, а на цепи – кота. Понятно, да?
    Офицер душевного здоровья придвинул лист к себе. На листе была изображена козявка, не очень ловко повесившаяся на ветке. В качестве веревки козявка использовала цепочку.
    - Это что? – ласково спросил кабан.
    Русский мальчик напрягся и стал переводить. Кот на иврите – “хатуль”. “Ученый” – мад’ан, с русским акцентом – “мадан”. Мальчик не знал, что в данном случае слово “ученый” звучало бы иначе – кот не является служащим академии наук, а просто много знает, то есть слово нужно другое. Но другое не получилось. Мальчик почесал в затылке и ответил на вопрос офицера:
    - Хатуль мадан.
    Офицер был израильтянином. Поэтому приведенное словосочетание значило для него что-то вроде “кот, занимающийся научной деятельностью”. Хатуль мадан. Почему козявка, повесившаяся на дереве, занимается научной деятельностью, и в чем заключается эта научная деятельность, офицер понять не мог.
    - А что он делает? – напряженно спросил офицер.
    (Изображение самоубийства в проективном тесте вообще очень плохой признак).
    - А это смотря когда, – обрадовался мальчик возможности блеснуть интеллектом. – Вот если идет вот сюда (от козявки в правую сторону возникла стрелочка), то поет песни. А если сюда (стрелочка последовала налево), то рассказывает сказки.
    - Кому? – прослезился кабан.
    Мальчик постарался и вспомнил:
    - Сам себе.
    На сказках, которые рассказывает сама себе повешенная козявка, офицер душевного здоровья почувствовал себя нездоровым. Он назначил с мальчиком еще одно интервью и отпустил его домой. Картинка с дубом осталась на столе.
    Когда мальчик ушел, кабан позвал к себе секретаршу – ему хотелось свежего взгляда на ситуацию.
    Секретарша офицера душевного здоровья была умная адекватная девочка. Но она тоже недавно приехала из России.
    Босс показал ей картинку. Девочка увидела на картинке дерево с резными листьями и животное типа кошка, идущее по цепи.
    - Как ты думаешь, это что? – спросил офицер.
    - Хатуль мадан, – ответила секретарша.
    Спешно выставив девочку и выпив холодной воды, кабан позвонил на соседний этаж, где работала его молодая коллега. Попросил спуститься проконсультировать сложный случай.
    - Вот, – вздохнул усталый профессионал. – Я тебя давно знаю, ты нормальный человек. Объясни мне пожалуйста, что здесь изображено?
    Проблема в том, что коллега тоже была из России…
    Но тут уже кабан решил не отступать.
    - Почему? – тихо, но страстно спросил он свою коллегу. – ПОЧЕМУ вот это – хатуль мадан?
    - Так это же очевидно! – коллега ткнула пальцем в рисунок.- Видишь эти стрелочки? Они означают, что, когда хатуль идет направо, он поет. А когда налево…
    Не могу сказать, сошел ли с ума армейский психолог и какой диагноз поставили мальчику. Но сегодня уже почти все офицеры душевного здоровья знают: если призывник на тесте рисует дубы с животными на цепочках, значит, он из России. Там, говорят, все образованные. Даже кошки.

  8. Excellent анекдот! I hope it’s not too much to call it dubious, but very funny.

  9. There is a downside to this. Russian classics are an impressive collection of literature, but when they are promoted to the detriment of other literatures, they are as much a killer of small languages and their literatures as anything. I admire Lermontov, but should Lermontov be allowed to kill Vasil Bykau?

  10. Panu, how serious are you? Василь Быков isn’t good enough to be in the same sentence with Лермонтов.
    “I admire Shakespeare, but should Shakespeare be allowed to kill Irvine Welsh?”
    boo-hoo

  11. Panu, how serious are you? Василь Быков isn’t good enough to be in the same sentence with Лермонтов.
    I use Bykau here as a metaphor for Belarusian literature as a whole. The point isn’t whether Lermontov is a better writer or not. The point is that there are too few people able to make an informed comparison, because the Lermontovs and their language have been promoted out of all proportion over the Bykaus and their language.

  12. “I admire Shakespeare, but should Shakespeare be allowed to kill Irvine Welsh?”
    boo-hoo

    I for one don’t admire Shakespeare. I think he is another writer who has been promoted out of all proportion. I am not familiar with Irvine Welsh, but for me, Bykau is more relevant than Lermontov. I might read Lermontov for entertainment, but Bykau to learn about the bitter real world, where men and languages get killed.

  13. Bathrobe: For this New South Welshman, it was “Abou ben Adhem – may his tribe increase! – awoke one night from a deep dream of peace …” etc. It was boring then and it’s still boring as it runs widdershins around my brain. But they also did teach grammar and spelling, for which I was ever grateful.

  14. Hm, why does this song sound so familiar? Oh! I hear it all the time about the Bulgarian authors, too.
    No one reads Bykovs and Yavorovs not because they are underpromoted, but because they are inferior and derivative. All the “pro” arguments I hear are transplanted directly from nationalistic discourse (and stink).
    PS
    This reminds of a recent David Mitchell video: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/video/2009/jun/25/david-mitchell-soapbox

  15. All the “pro” arguments I hear are transplanted directly from nationalistic discourse (and stink).
    Oh yes, only Russians and other big countries and linguistic groups are allowed to cherish their languages and literatures. If us little ones do that, that would be nationalism and fascism. I have heard this from Russians often enough. The Great Patriotic War, the great patriotic suffering, do you want to know where you can put your great patriotic whatever?

  16. And Dostoyevsky was a stinking anti-semitic bastard anyway.

  17. Bathrobe says:

    We seem to have wandered into fraught territory here.
    One part of me agrees with Panu, because whether a writer becomes celebrated or famous in many ways depends on the luck of the draw. If s/he wrote in a language or tradition that survived, s/he will live on to posterity in university dissertations. If not, s/he will go into oblivion. That is the way things are. We will never know how great Mayan literature was because those bastard Spanish went and destroyed it all.
    You will always have people who are eager to introduce to the world rare gems that have been buried in obscurity. And you will also have people who are happy to praise the canon to the skies, content to say that because an author or poet is extant, celebrated, and in an accessible language, s/he must be great. Had we but world enough and time, we could devote a thousand years to each literature, living and dead, appreciating each part in full. But we don’t.
    The claim that some literary works are neglected because of linguistic chauvinism shouldn’t be dismissed so easily. Byelorussian I don’t know, but I am sure that some of the great Hindu classics don’t get their just exposure, outside their own culture, that is, because they haven’t been fully incorporated into the canon (recognised as great, but neglected as exotic rather than relevant). The same probably goes for Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, and many other literatures. One of the fascinating things about this blog is that it often does come up with neglected works in literatures like Portuguese or Spanish. None of the people here are willing to just read the conventional ‘established greats’. Plenty of contributors are familiar with much more exotic parts, and it certainly makes the blog more interesting. There is nothing worse than a coterie of people who know, and only want to know, their own narrowly circumscribed world.

  18. I take linguistic and literary chauvinism seriously, but — at least in the abstract — you can separate that from the question of whether it’s a good thing to have a shared pool of memorized verse in your native language.
    It’s true that you only arrive at such a state by coercion. I was coerced into reading S.E. Hinton’s Outsiders and Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, both of which I think are deeply stupid and tendentious books. I wish I’d been let alone, but if I was going to be coerced, I wish I’d been coerced into memorizing Othello, or even Abou Ben Adhem, instead.
    The alternative to memorizing classics isn’t being free, the alternative is being forced to read (or rather scan) something else that somebody thinks will be good for your little unformed mind. At least memorization gives you the experience of paying attention to every word of a text. That’s an experience I think few schoolchildren get now.

  19. the Lermontovs and their language have been promoted out of all proportion over the Bykaus and their language.
    Are you kidding me? Say what you will about the USSR, it promoted the shit out of minority languages and literatures. They invented “national epics” when there weren’t any to hand and published them in huge editions.
    I for one don’t admire Shakespeare.
    Your loss.
    And Dostoyevsky was a stinking anti-semitic bastard anyway.
    That’s a childish attitude toward literature. If we’re only to read the works of ethically and morally pure writers, we’re 1) going to have to do a shitload of biographical research, and 2) going to be left reading a few pieces of pablum over and over.
    And the whole “Shakespeare wasn’t great, he was just the beneficiary of hegemonic blah blah blah” is one of the sadder and stupider results of the politkorrektnost of recent decades.

  20. That’s a childish attitude toward literature. If we’re only to read the works of ethically and morally pure writers, we’re 1) going to have to do a shitload of biographical research, and 2) going to be left reading a few pieces of pablum over and over.
    Sorry, but as far as Dostoyevsky is concerned, I think there are serious objections to him, not just his God-awful reactionariness and anti-Semitism. It is perfectly possible for a good writer to have been a child of his times and thus have had typical prejudices of his age. However, I am not at all convinced that Dostoyevsky was a particularly good writer, in the sense of a good storyteller. His whole mind was so childish and so diseased at the same time, that much of his writing simply smacks of screed.
    I can envision a reactionary writer who is fun and sometimes perceptive in all his crankiness. But Dostoyevsky was a bigot and a lunatic, and the screedy element of his writing makes much of it unreadable – you simply can’t identify with the convulsions of a diseased mind. Besides, the fact that his work is used as justification for fascistoid Russian nationalism makes me unsympathetic towards it for the reason that my country is next door to Russia, i.e. Russian nationalism is from my point of view an existential threat.
    As regards Shakespeare, he might have been an above-average genre scribbler, but his literary value is difficult to ascertain, because any judgement will inevitably be influenced by the Cthulhu-ish cult of his work. Shakespeare is, basically, not a writer, but a prophet of a religion, with a massive body of theological works. To question the superiority of the prophet always elicits knee-jerk reactions from the cultists. I already have got religion, so I think I am not going to subscribe to the cult. However, the cult is so all-pervasive by now, that it is impossible to just have a personal opinion of the Prophet and His Scripture.

  21. The alternative to memorizing classics isn’t being free, the alternative is being forced to read (or rather scan) something else that somebody thinks will be good for your little unformed mind.
    I don’t think I can agree with this at all. I learnt to read from the Adventures of Tintin, and read both Kalevala, Kanteletar and Seven Brothers because I wanted to – because I was a curious child. I have no idea of having ever been coerced to read the classics of my native language.
    As regards the Russian classics, anyone should know that they are printed and distributed in such quantities that they are all over the place in ex-Soviet countries. They are the literary McDonalds hamburgers of those countries. I for one am always angered by all those Pushkins and Lermontovs printed in Belarus, Ukraine etc., because the bottom line is that something in the local language was left unprinted, the paper and ink being needed for this mass-produced crap.
    It should also not be forgotten that this force-feeding of Russian classics was the work of one of the most repulsive totalitarian dictatorships ever known. I for one am happy that I could grow up in an independent Finland, where I could read my own classics. Had Finland been occupied and annexed by Soviet Union, it is thinkable that I could never have had the possibility to read them, because the paper quota of Finizdat – Khudozhestvenno-literaturnoye izdatel’stvo Finlyandskoy SSR would have been used for printing those God-awful Pushkins and Tolstoys.
    The mass-printing and mass-distribution of Russian classics has been part of a Russification campaign, lead by the same country which imprisoned and murdered millions of people. Whatever the literary value of the Russian classics, they too are stained with the blood from the Gulag victims.

  22. slawkenbergius, I don’t quite agree with you. That is, yes, folks on the metro are reading pulp fiction. And in the evenings they are not curled up with the Great Authors; they’re watching crap TV. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t had those classics bashed into them through repetition and recitation in school. I don’t think there have been surveys on this, so I can’t cite percentages. But certainly part of those pulp-fiction-reading and crap-tv-watching masses *think* that knowing passages from Pushkin by heart is a Good Thing. I’ve certainly had drivers and workers recite poetry at — to me — unexpected moments. I agree that the excerpt sounds a bit romanticized, but I don’t agree that it’s total bullshit (as you seem to think). Because they are right that those bits of poetry and prose become headlines (sometimes with puns) or advertisements (ditto on the puns). They keep popping up in “low” culture, which keeps them important.

  23. Say what you will about the USSR, it promoted the shit out of minority languages and literatures.
    The only part of Soviet cultural history I am familiar with is Soviet Yiddish. The Soviets did promote Yiddish until it was decided that Yiddish schools should be closed and its writers killed. The shit out of, indeed.

  24. “Whatever the literary value of the Russian classics, they too are stained with the blood from the Gulag victims.”
    Oh dear. I can’t agree with this. Tolstoy really isn’t responsible for the Gulag or Soviet policies. Nor do I think he is tainted by them.
    (btw I keep trying to use m-l’s italic instructions, but I can’t get them to work.)

  25. Actually, I’m a bit taken aback by your ferocity, Panu. I would agree with you, in a lower tone of voice, that the Soviet Union used Russian literature as a means of Russification; that printing press published them to the detriment of non-Russian literature; that while they seemed to promote national literature (and in some ways did), they also condescended to it. This is particularly true of the other Slavic language literatures. Russians do turn up their nose at, say, Shevchenko (if they’ve ever read him). But that is one issue, and the value of Russian literature is another. I don’t see how Pushkin or Lermontov or Tolstoy etc should be ignored or condemned because of Soviet policies.

  26. (<i>Thing to put in italics</i> is magicked into Thing to put in italics. Sadly, this kind of information uses up all the space in my spicy brein where some of my teachers hoped (vainly) that poetry could be embalmed. I, for one, don’t especially regret it.)
    When I had learned Zwedish to a reasonable level, I was all like “take me to your Shakespeare!”, but it turned out they didn’t really have one. When I learned Dutch to a reasonable level I was, being chastened by experience, only a little bit “Take me to your Goethe!” but they gave me Rembrandt and Vermeer, which isn’t so bad although the need for irregular verbs isn’t particularly compelling.
    When I learned French, on the other hand, I carefully neglected to ask them to take me to their Molière: I was worried that they might.

  27. I see. I was using the wrong directional keys.
    thanks (for the chuckle, too)

  28. the fact that his work is used as justification for fascistoid Russian nationalism makes me unsympathetic towards it
    This is obviously the entire basis for your views on Russian literature. I’m sorry for the trials of your nation, and I’m sorry they’ve poisoned your mind to literature. As for Shakespeare, you’re simply repeating the postmodern drivel I’m so sick of. As I said, your loss.

  29. linguist.in.hiding says:

    >> the Lermontovs and their language have been promoted out of all proportion over the Bykaus and their language.
    > Are you kidding me? Say what you will about the USSR, it promoted the shit out of minority languages and literatures.
    Yes (and no). I have heard Soviet language policy described as the best in the world. There is _some_ truth to it for sure. But in practise, well…
    > They invented “national epics” when there weren’t any to hand and published them in huge editions.
    I would like to see some references to that. I know that some of that is true, but only a tiny minority ever read those “epics” or any minority language literature. I know that literature students did read for example Yuri Rytkheu or Yuvan Shestalov.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri_Rytkheu
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuvan_Shestalov
    All that was then quickly forgotten.

  30. “Are you kidding me? Say what you will about the USSR, it promoted the shit out of minority languages and literatures.”
    The Mari, Kyrgyz Chuvash intelligentsia were rounded up and shot nearly to a man on respective single nights in the 1930s. The writers that the USSR promoted wrote socialist realism of very low quality, while more original poets and novelists weren’t rehabilitated until the 1980s. The USSR was not a healthy climate for minority language literature.

  31. This is obviously the entire basis for your views on Russian literature.
    Wrong. I have studied Russian on university level, and before I learnt my first words in Russian, I was already well-versed both in Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Solzhenitsyn. I actually passed the Russian literature and culture exam without preparation, simply because I knew my Solzhenitsyn by heart.

  32. They invented “national epics” when there weren’t any to hand and published them in huge editions.
    Well, “the Epic of Manas” – the national treasure of Kyrgyzstan is probably a good example. It is certainly based on epic poems that were being recited orally in the pre-Soviet era. But the codified edition that is now the “classic centerpiece of Kyrgyz literature”TM is largely a product of diligent Soviet polishing in the 1920s from what I understand.

  33. I don’t see how Pushkin or Lermontov or Tolstoy etc should be ignored or condemned because of Soviet policies.
    I am not saying they should be ignored or condemned. But it is morally reprehensible not to see this side of the issue.
    I came into Russian as somebody who was fiercely critical of old-fashioned Finnish patriotism. But knowing Russia means learning to love your own country for not being Russia.

  34. vanya, there is no single codified edition of the Manas epic. If you go shopping for the Manas in Bishkek, you are presented with a dizzying array of options.
    There are two traditions from early Soviet times that are especially widely respected, but I don’t think there is much in the way of “Soviet polishing” in them. They agree in the main with the Manas edition of Wilhelm Radloff, who took down the epic long before Communism.

  35. Panu, I don’t think I’ve seen you around here before. Welcome. I think I can say with full authority (calque from the Russian — sorry) that the posters on the list are people who really do sympathize with the position — and even sometimes live their lives in support of the position — that small(er) national languages and literatures should be protected and saved and cherished and celebrated. You won’t find an argument against that here. But I, for one, see a distinct difference between recognizing that non-Russian national literatures were suppressed in many ways by the USSR and the intrinsic value of Russian literature. I can separate the two issues without any problem. (long pause while poster drinks a lot of cold white wine) Nope, I’m trying to feel guilty, but I can’t. Which for me is really something, because I can usually feel guilty over just about anything.

  36. You know, I’d just like to take a moment to really complain here. Moscow is now in Week Five of the the worst heatwave in history. Yesterday the winds shifted, and in addition to yet another record-breaking high temperature, the smoke from the peat bog fires was so bad that you couldn’t see the building across the street. We exceeded “daily acceptable limits” of nasty stuff in the air like carbon monoxide by something like 180 times. I have no water. My eyes are running. I’m drinking lots of white wine because that’s all there is. Come on, folks, send us some cold air and rain!
    (End of self-pitying rant.)

  37. Oh, I have been around for some time, rest assured of that. And my stance is less intransigent than I may appear – I have even translated some samples of Dostoyevsky into Irish. But I must say that some opinions LH has expressed here I find puzzlingly naive.
    That literary culture is not necessarily a Good Thing (TM). Russians often refer to their own erudition as a reason why they are, forsooth, on a higher moral level than us inorodtsy. This is something just about every person studying Russian should know and understand, and I am rather baffled at LH’s wide-eyed enthusiasm about Russian literary culture.
    Besides, that literary culture is no guarantee for a particularly good literary taste: Russians love to read stuff that is worse than mass-market detective stories. The stuff they read is nationalistic, racist crap a la Valentin Pikul.

  38. I know that some of that is true, but only a tiny minority ever read those “epics” or any minority language literature.
    Yeah, I’m sure that’s true, and I’m certainly not disputing that the Soviets suppressed Kyrgyz and Yiddish writers along with Russian ones. My point is simply that the Soviets made a big production out of supporting the languages and literatures of the non-Russian nations, so it doesn’t make sense to call the USSR “a killer of small languages and their literatures.” Obviously they killed a lot of individuals, but some of the smaller languages certainly wouldn’t have survived if the Soviets had pursued a more normal policy of imposing the majority language.
    (I’ve recently acquired Terry Martin’s The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939, which should shed light on all this; I expect to be posting about it when I get around to reading it.)

  39. And as Chris Culver pointed out, the way how Soviet Union “promoted” minority languages was condescending. They killed – physically killed – tradition-bearers and writers, and the kind of national culture they promoted was fake folklore and socialist realism of the most tedious kind, the hidden message being that the Russosphere is where life is lived and where things happen. Ukrainian is fine for folk songs, but Russian is the language of the scientific age.

  40. Russians often refer to their own erudition as a reason why they are, forsooth, on a higher moral level than us inorodtsy.
    So? That’s a failing on the part of the Russians, not of their literature.
    This is something just about every person studying Russian should know and understand, and I am rather baffled at LH’s wide-eyed enthusiasm about Russian literary culture.
    And I am baffled by your strange refusal to separate literature from politics. I have wide-eyed enthusiasm about Russian literary culture because it is one of the great cultures of the world.
    I am also very fond of Chinese food. Should I reject it because the Chinese oppress smaller nationalities?

  41. mab: Yeah, Panu’s been around quite a while, and he and I respect each other, as do slawkenbergius and I, but I have literary/political bones to pick with each of them!

  42. I recently went to Madrid and was just amazed at the number of people reading on the subway and all the “high literature” that they were reading. Never really seen anything like it.

  43. linguist.in.hiding says:

    There are seldom opportunities to say something new and exciting, so I contend myself to say something old and boring.
    mab
    > I think I can say with full authority (calque from the Russian — sorry) that the posters on the list are people who really do sympathize with the position — and even sometimes live their lives in support of the position — that small(er) national languages and literatures should be protected and saved and cherished and celebrated.
    What are small(er) national languages? I take it for granted that a national language here is meant at most by a national language spoken by quite few people on an independent country level. Now, in that case Estonian fits (No, Estonia is not a part of “the Russian Empire”! I have not claimed nothing like that, YOU RUSSOPHILES!).
    The posters on the list… …hmmm. Remember that you yourself had a brawl over at:
    http://slawkenbergius.blogspot.com/2010/05/guide-to-reading-western-reporting-on.html
    The writer there was one of the posters in this very thread (I was curious and because of that I found that little side theater). That poster himself posted this:

    Guide to Reading Western Reporting on Russia–Without Reading It
    [snip]
    2. If the author’s last name belongs to a former Soviet nationality, but especially Georgia (-dze, -shvili), Ukraine (e.g. -enko), or the Baltic States (-as, -is, something Finnish-sounding with lots of Us and Os), don’t read it. This also goes for certain former Warsaw Pact nations, notably Poland (-ski).
    All members of former Soviet nationalities hate the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire, and think that when Russia objects to their joining NATO, this has something to do with its imperial legacy. Who’d-a thunk it? In any event, the article is most likely just a thinly-disguised plea for more American military bases. The shortest route there is, apparently, always to paint a picture of the Evil Empire that would have George Lucas shitting his pants. EXCEPTION: Eastern Ukrainians. In that case, see a) and b) for Russians above.

    Now this is “quite careless”. (Yes. I see the “Without Reading It”. That goes both ways, or multiple ways. Clever. Boring.) See especially:
    > the Baltic States (-as, -is, something Finnish-sounding with lots of Us and Os)… …In any event, the article is most likely just a thinly-disguised plea for more American military bases.
    I have _never_ seen any reporting on Russia, thinly-disguised or not, for any kind of pleas for more American military bases in Estonia or elsewhere (else? –offtopic– Can I say that? Is it grammatical? I mean “elsewhere else”) by Estonians (or of Estonian ethnicity). I do read that kind of political drivel I’m ashamed to say, so I’m not totally ignorant of the topic. I’m asking for some proof of the claim. AND JUST FOR YOUR INFORMATION, there are no American (= NATO) military bases in Estonia (that means zero, nil, “none at all”), see:
    http://www.vm.ee/?q=en/node/3806
    > Estonia’s Ministry of Defense said there is no plan to have NATO military bases in Estonia.
    > “Estonia has no plan to this effect,” said Madis Mikko, spokesman for Defense Ministry.
    And nothing has changed since 2003.
    Now, ask yourself, is slawkenbergius’ writing really in the spirit of “the posters on the list are people who really do sympathize with the position — and even sometimes live their lives in support of the position — that small(er) national languages and literatures should be protected and saved and cherished and celebrated.”?
    After all this I only wish that all of us could just get back to linguistic topics. That is principally why I come here.

  44. I have wide-eyed enthusiasm about Russian literary culture because it is one of the great cultures of the world.
    Here I must disagree. Russian culture is different and at times fascinating, but it is a deeply flawed and in some basic ways very inhuman and deeply repugnant.
    I am not particularly political, I am just a moralist. It is my opinion that as interesting Russian classics may be, I would gladly burn the lot of them if that could resurrect as much as one of the people who met their premature deaths in the Tsarist katorga and in the Stalinist repressions. If the price of the resurrection of those people would be the complete disappearance of the Russian language and culture from the face of the earth and the annals of history, I for one would gladly pay it.
    Breyten Breytenbach the Afrikaans poet seriously asked himself, whether his native language was still worth writing poetry in, when it had been sullied by its association with apartheid. The question must be asked, whether it is still moral to speak, write and read Russian after Stalin especially noting that neo-Stalinist nationalism is raising its ugly head in Russia today.
    German was once stained with blood, too. But Germans actually repented. The whole post-WWII German literature (West German, at least) is one long act of repentance. Russians don’t repent, they seem to want Stalin back. The mass murders, lies, deportations, propaganda, the whole fucking lot, the bastards actually want to be proud of it, and see it as their right to be proud of it! This is indicative of such a moral rot and decay, that there is absolutely nothing “political” about being upset by it.
    Once I was young and believed in the propaganda about perestroika, glasnost and whatever, about how the Russians wanted peace. That too turned out to be another lie from the Gulag murderers. Lies, deceptions, new lies and deceptions. Murders and new murders.What a beautiful country. What a beautiful culture, isn’t it.

  45. linguist.in.hiding says:

    I think I don’t have to apologize, but Panu is over the top. Russians are quite peaceful these days. There are no pogroms, no harassment of minor nationalities (I am sorry that Christopher Culver or others said that the leaders of some minority cultural institutions just got whacked: yeah, sorry about that).
    mea culpa

  46. I would appreciate it if you emailed me first before ascribing beliefs or “spirit” to me based on a clearly facetious satirical blog post. For the record, I very much support the languages and literatures of small nations and peoples, and am quite far from Great Russian nationalism of any kind, whether cultural or political. What that has to do with the highly unsatisfactory state of the Western media conversation on Russia, I’m not sure.

  47. Incidentally, Terry Martin is my quasi-advisor, and I have to say he’s really a fantastic and rigorous scholar. His and Ron Suny’s work on Soviet nationalities policy is a really great antidote to some of the tendentious and ahistorical generalizations being thrown around in this thread.

  48. Bathrobe says:

    Hat, it seems to me that your adoration of Russian literature from a far-off Olympian viewpoint (you can appreciate their good points because they can’t really touch you) has run smack into the bitter reactions that the Russians/Soviets can arouse in the real world. Panu’s extreme reaction to your love of Russian literature is vaguely similar to my reaction to the Tang dynasty times blog. Chinese culture looks beguiling and benign from a distant Romantic viewpoint. It’s less so if you’re (say) a Uighur having to deal with it close up.
    You have at times pointedly excluded political comment from this blog, but unless you just want to run a cosy literary and linguistic salon, I wonder if you can really exclude bitter criticisms of Great Russian Chauvinism (of which I have no experience but have heard about anecdotally) or extreme reactions to Soviet cultural and literary policy from the scope of the blog. Saying that you can separate their literature from their politics is the voice of sweet reason, but I doubt it is so simple.

  49. Bathrobe, is there any art that was produced in a pure, irreproachable society? Should we refrain from adoring any art or literature produced in the US during the Bush years, for instance?

  50. I think Panu’s reaction has more in common with the campaign against DWM in literature. The DWM themselves might be ‘blameless’, but if the establishment that stuffs DWM literature down your throat gets stuck in your gullet, you could not be blamed for developing nausea every time you read it.
    Politicisation is unavoidable, because literature without politics and literature without society is impossible. (I’m starting to sound like deadgod here). When literature, no matter how good, is used as a vehicle for national aggrandisement as a kind of compulsorily imposed ‘soft power’, revulsion is entirely understandable.

  51. Professor: “Why did ben Adhem’s name lead all the rest?”
    Isaac Asimov (in high school) “Alphabetical order, sir!”

  52. I think, effectively, all of the world’s literature ever existed can be dismissed in the same fashion. Greek? Imagine I’m a Scythian or something. Vedic? Unless we believe in the Hindutva shit, all non-Aryans. Pre-Han Chinese? Ah the poor slaves and Huns. (who hate each other, incidentally) Arabic? Not if I’m a noble Sassanian. Tibetan? I won’t love a word of Tibetan if I’m a Chinese from Tibetan-occupied Liangzhou. Even… French? That’s one of the greatest dialect-killers in the history!

  53. When literature, no matter how good, is used as a vehicle for national aggrandisement as a kind of compulsorily imposed ‘soft power’, revulsion is entirely understandable.
    That’s the point. And Russian literature has been very much used in that way. Here in Finland, in fact, classical Russian culture was quite obviously used as a way to make communism and fellow-travelling Russophilia more palatable, and it was a very potent weapon – in fact, when I was younger, I too believed in the crap. In fact, any blanket criticism of Russia and Russians is over here usually dismissed by referring to the great Russian culture and literature. I readily admit that my attitude to Russians does verge to the racist, but I would prefer people to dismiss my criticisms by stating that Russians are human beings, not that they as a nation somehow deserve credit for Tolstoy.

  54. French? That’s one of the greatest dialect-killers in the history!
    Which is why I don’t speak it. My Breton however is still in its infancy.

  55. bruessel says:

    Oh, mab, I do feel for you and I wish we could send you some cold air and rain, we’ve got plenty of it here in Belgium right now. Hang in there, I hope you can stock up on more white wine.

  56. Minus273 is right. There’s no end to this kind of thing once you get started. A saying involving a baby and bathwater springs to mind.
    I’m pretty sympathetic to the cause of minority languages in the former USSR. I recently watched Sergo Paradjanov’s film Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors and I’m quite aware the director’s woes at the hands of the Soviet authorities began when he refused to dub a Russian soundtrack over the original Hutsul (Hutsul being a minority form of a “minority language” and itself now apparently under threat from standard Ukrainian). But this doesn’t mean I’m going to stop watching the films of Paradjanov’s friend Tarkovsky just because they’re in Russian.

  57. I guess I missed Panu’s presence here in the past, although I can’t imagine how. I’m not sure what to say, since Panu’s arguments keep changing but seem so fundamentally wrong-headed and yes, racist. Sadly, I can’t agree that today’s Russians are peaceful with regard to other nationalities. If you are dark-skinned, black or Asian, you run a risk in Russia of being beaten or killed these days. Nor can I assert that there isn’t any Great Russian Chauvinism, because of course there is, and even well-educated, cultured, and liberal people disclose a condescending attitude towards other nations and their languages and cultures. And don’t get me started on the leadership these days. But the above doesn’t apply to every last Russian on earth, nor does it mean that they are not capable of change. Nor is it true that there has been no repentance for the past (although I certainly think the country, as a whole, has not come to terms with their past, taken responsibility for it, or asked forgiveness for it). Nor does that “taint” their literature. Yes, great literature did grow out of this culture. Yes, great horrors grew out of this culture. Those two phrases could describe dozens or even hundreds of countries.
    Panu, surely you can see that your racist hatred of Russians is exactly the crime you accuse them of? Maybe you don’t care, but I do. Hating all Russians because of what some Russians did is reprehensible. So much for your being a “moralist.”

  58. Panu, surely you can see that your racist hatred of Russians is exactly the crime you accuse them of? Maybe you don’t care, but I do. Hating all Russians because of what some Russians did is reprehensible. So much for your being a “moralist.”
    I would have no problem with Russians if I could be sure that there is an influential enlightened opinion in Russia condemning the dark side of Russian history. There isn’t.
    I would have no problem with Russians if they stopped bragging about their great country and trying to rehabilitate Stalin.
    I certainly am conscious of the racist elements in my anti-Russian attitude. As most Finns, I certainly was raised to be a racist Russophobe. As a young idealist, I rebelled against this upbringing by learning Russian and adopting Russophile attitudes; but the sad fact is, that my personal contacts with Russians confirmed practically all the “prejudices” I was taught at home.
    Of course, my strong reaction against all kinds of Russophilia ultimately derive from the fact that my own Russophilia was only anti-Russian racism turned upside down. The sad fact is, that when you try to keep all philias and phobias out of it, you end up with a generally negative attitude.

  59. But this doesn’t mean I’m going to stop watching the films of Paradjanov’s friend Tarkovsky just because they’re in Russian.
    I am not saying you shouldn’t watch Tarkovsky. But instead of so many thoughtless Western lovers of Russian culture, you should at the very least be able to ask yourself, whether this is good for you, and whether this is conveying a message that is ultimately fundamentally irreconcilable with Western democratic values.
    I don’t say we should stop reading Russian literature, or watching Russian movies. But I tend to be of the opinion that the cultural production of a totalitarian country often conveys totalitarian and anti-democratic values even if ostensibly critical of the totalitarian state and system. Solzhenitsyn, whose “Archipelago” I have read, and reread many times, in Russian, is a case in point.

  60. It is my opinion that as interesting Russian classics may be, I would gladly burn the lot of them if that could resurrect as much as one of the people who met their premature deaths in the Tsarist katorga and in the Stalinist repressions.
    That is a false equivalence. Since Turgenev, Chekov, Akhmatova, Nabokov, Bely etc. etc. were not created or celebrated by Stalinist repression, it’s hard to see why they should be blamed for it. You act as if Russian high culture actively promoted Russian imperialism and authoritarianism, when at most it followed imperialism and in many cases stood in opposition to it. A Russia with no great literature would just have been an even more horrible Russia – think Ivan Grozny’s Russia. He didn’t need poets and composers to spread his power.
    Do you feel the same way about Latin literature? The Roman Empire was in almost every respect more genocidal and repressive than the USSR, yet few of us seem to have qualms about a propagandist like Vergil.

  61. Of course, my strong reaction against all kinds of Russophilia ultimately derive from the fact that my own Russophilia was only anti-Russian racism turned upside down. The sad fact is, that when you try to keep all philias and phobias out of it, you end up with a generally negative attitude.
    I realise “Finlandisation” must have been a drag and it must be nice to have the freedom finally to criticise the Soviet Union and/or Russia publicly in whatever terms you like (and indeed there is plenty to criticise) but, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, swinging wildly from Russophilia to Russophobia seems to have more to do with you and your personality than the merits or demerits of Russian culture.
    But instead of so many thoughtless Western lovers of Russian culture, you should at the very least be able to ask yourself, whether this is good for you
    I’m quite capable of thinking for myself, thank you. I can point out the flaws in Pushkin’s view of European politics in “To the Slanderers of Russia” while still being able to enjoy “Eugene Onegin”. I’m just not puritanical enough to do otherwise (and puritanical zealotry has caused quite enough misery and destruction of its own throughout history).
    (Slightly off-topic note: The Roman Empire was in almost every respect more genocidal and repressive than the USSR. I seriously doubt this was the case. I doubt that pre-industrial societies had the capability to exert the sort of control Stalin had, even if they wanted to.)

  62. Well, gosh, Panu, I’ll be sure to pass on your rules to Russians. As well as your opinion about all of us “thoughtless Western lovers of Russian culture.” Sheesh. It must be lonely up there, being so smart and all, among us mindless sheep.

  63. Why are you even arguing with him? It’s obvious that he’s a lunatic incapable of changing or critically examining his opinions.

  64. Yes of course you’re right. I was going to add “I’m out of this” — because I am. It’s more fun to tustle with you over whether or not the Great Authors have meaning for the plebes over here:)

  65. Do you feel the same way about Latin literature? The Roman Empire was in almost every respect more genocidal and repressive than the USSR, yet few of us seem to have qualms about a propagandist like Vergil.
    I am afraid I am not familiar enough with Latin literature to give you any kind of answer. Classical languages are not my cup of tea, and Roman history is something I know from books written in modern languages. If I read Latin literature, I would probably see it above all as historical source material.
    Feel free to call me a barbarian because I don’t read Latin. Myself, I am of the opinion that modern Russian literature is much more relevant and readable. :)
    if you’ll forgive me for saying so, swinging wildly from Russophilia to Russophobia seems to have more to do with you and your personality than the merits or demerits of Russian culture.
    I can assure you both my Russophobia and my Russophilia are of very modest kind, compared to the mainstream incarnations of both the phobia and the philia in my country. I don’t shout abuse at Russians in the street (as the mainstream Russophobes in Finland do), and I don’t call Estonia a fascist state which should be obliterated by Russia’s righteous soldiers (as the mainstream Russophiles in Finland do).
    I seriously doubt this was the case. I doubt that pre-industrial societies had the capability to exert the sort of control Stalin had, even if they wanted to.
    I tend to agree, although the Roman Empire did engage in genocide occasionally. Besides, even behind genocidal acts by imperial Romans, some sort of military necessity is usually discernible. Modern totalitarianism both in the Soviet Union and in Nazi Germany has very much been about gratuitous mass-killing which has been both societally and militarily senseless. Solzhenitsyn tells us that while men were killed by the thousands on the front, and zeks screamed for a chance to show their loyalty to the Soviet state on the front, there never was a shortage of healthy young men with healthy new kalashnikovs to guard the zeks. And as we know, the Holocaust made absolutely no military sense.

  66. As far as that is concerned, it’s certainly true that most Russian people have had Pushkin et al drilled into them, and many probably still retain some of those memorized poems into adulthood. I’m not sure that that’s such a good thing, however. It tends to lead to fetishization of the school canon and a lack of active, critical engagement with literature, especially when it’s not coupled with any real effort in that direction. (As far as I can tell, Russian schools are pretty bad at teaching critical thinking in general–whatever that means.) All in all, I don’t think Russia has any more of a broad literary culture than the US does, at least in the sense that “broad literary culture” is generally understood.

  67. You act as if Russian high culture actively promoted Russian imperialism and authoritarianism, when at most it followed imperialism and in many cases stood in opposition to it.
    I am not entirely in disagreement with you, but in my opinion Dostoyevsky is indeed an advocate of reaction, theocracy and anti-enlightenment attitudes, and he seem to have been so serious about it, that he would not necessarily be against the Russian nationalism exploiting him in their anti-Western, anti-Semitic propaganda.
    A Russia with no great literature would just have been an even more horrible Russia – think Ivan Grozny’s Russia. He didn’t need poets and composers to spread his power.
    I am not entirely sure of that. A Russia which has only brutal violence to resort to is simply an enemy. A Russia armed with a great literature and/or Communism – and Communism is an ideology that does appeal to the moral conscience, after all – is a Russia that can reach into your soul and use your better self as a tool to enslave you by seduction. On some level, this is worse than Ivan Grozny’s naked brutality.
    Brutality is something you immediately see is wrong. Brutality is something you automatically rebel against. But when you have been seduced and enslaved by an ideological system that tells you that it is actually a Good Thing to be a slave, that is far worse.

  68. I’m not sure that that’s such a good thing, however. It tends to lead to fetishization of the school canon and a lack of active, critical engagement with literature, especially when it’s not coupled with any real effort in that direction. (As far as I can tell, Russian schools are pretty bad at teaching critical thinking in general–whatever that means.)
    About this, at least, I agree with Slawkenbergius. I would only like to add the word “brainwashing” here somewhere.

  69. This may not be a comfortable truth, but the current state of the research on the Stalinist terror suggests that it was far from senseless or useless: it permitted such a degree of social mobility and fluidity that it ended up reshaping Soviet society into something much more recognizably modern than late-imperial society ever was. It was obviously not an ideal way to get to that point, but treating it like some kind of mystical paroxysm misses some very important points. Remember, the Stalinist terror had its non-morally-culpable beneficiaries as well as victims, and many people in Russia today come from families that would be nowhere if it wasn’t for the Terror.

  70. Remember, the Stalinist terror had its non-morally-culpable beneficiaries as well as victims, and many people in Russia today come from families that would be nowhere if it wasn’t for the Terror.
    This is quite a good point, and it also explains a lot about why many Russians still have so positive attitudes towards Stalin. However, I don’t quite think this outcome was foreseen or aimed at.

  71. By the way, I actually agree with Panu about Dostoyevsky. The fact that he was a stone-cold reactionary with close ties to the “Slavophile” wing of the official establishment is often missed by Western readers who prefer to see him as a kind of gentle, mystical, otherworldly existentialist dreamer. He would probably see this as a castration of his work, and I think he’d be right (although of course i don’t sympathize with his beliefs). The chapter on Dostoyevsky in Andrzej Walicki’s The Slavophile Controversy is really good, even if it’s already quite old.

  72. Well, I’m relieved to come back to the post after a night’s sleep and not find blood in the aisles. Little did I know how contentious my tossed-off quotation from Boyle and Gerhart would prove to be!
    Incidentally, Terry Martin is my quasi-advisor, and I have to say he’s really a fantastic and rigorous scholar.
    Lucky you, and you make me even more eager to read what is obviously an indispensable book for someone of my interests. (Incidentally, for all the bile people direct at spellcheck, I’m grateful for its existence if only because it puts a red line under “indispensible” every time I type that alluring misspelling. God knows why I’m so convinced it has an -i-, but apparently I am.)
    Hat, it seems to me that your adoration of Russian literature from a far-off Olympian viewpoint (you can appreciate their good points because they can’t really touch you) has run smack into the bitter reactions that the Russians/Soviets can arouse in the real world.
    Oh, bullshit (he said with affection). My adoration of Russian literature does not come “from a far-off Olympian viewpoint,” it comes from a viewpoint free of the thick, stifling clouds of poisonous nationalism that are keeping Panu from being able to enjoy it. It’s nonsense to say that unless you have a boot stomping on your (or your people’s) face, you are unable to justly evaluate the art produced by artists of the same nationality as the boot-wearer, and particularly ludicrous nonsense because the same boot has been stomping on those very artists. As vanya says, Russian literature has been notably opposed to state power (aside from the now forgotten champions of “socialist realism”); that’s been one of its defining features for two hundred years. To condemn Russian writers because you don’t like the behavior of the Russian/Soviet state is pure racism and should be forthrightly rejected, not abetted out of misplaced sympathy.
    That said, I don’t welcome people putting the boot into Panu. It’s clear majority opinion is against him, and he’s already admitted his own racism; I hope he eventually comes to a more nuanced view of the world, but calling him names won’t aid in that process. He’s a good guy with some unfortunate views, as are many of us, and bear in mind that he is not personally oppressing anyone, just depriving the heirs and assigns of Russian writers of a few extra pennies in royalties, which I’m sure they can manage without.
    unless you just want to run a cosy literary and linguistic salon, I wonder if you can really exclude bitter criticisms of Great Russian Chauvinism (of which I have no experience but have heard about anecdotally) or extreme reactions to Soviet cultural and literary policy from the scope of the blog.
    Huh? In what way am I “excluding” them? They are freely expressed in this very thread; am I not allowed to respond to them?

  73. The fact that he was a stone-cold reactionary with close ties to the “Slavophile” wing of the official establishment is often missed by Western readers who prefer to see him as a kind of gentle, mystical, otherworldly existentialist dreamer.
    Besides, Western readers tend to be entirely ignorant of what a chilling horde of monsters those reactionary forces of Tsarist Russia were (when I was learning English and German as a boy, I was taken aback by the fact that they seemed not to have an equivalent for the Finnish term mustasotnialainen – “one of the black sotnia“). Tsarism tends to be seen as a – well, if not benign, at least nicely silly monarchism comparable to the ceremonial monarchies of today’s Europe.

  74. All in all, I don’t think Russia has any more of a broad literary culture than the US does, at least in the sense that “broad literary culture” is generally understood.
    Tell how you “generally understand” “broad literary culture.” This is interesting.

  75. The Russian equivalent to “mustasotnialainen” is “черносотенный.” and it wasn’t in use throughout the nineteenth century because the relevant political organizations that came to be known as the Black Hundreds didn’t exist until the early 1900s.
    Tell how you “generally understand” “broad literary culture.” This is interesting.
    I think the term presupposes some kind of broad-based interest in and public dialogue about “high culture,” and especially interest in new books. Something of the kind seems to exist in France, for instance.

  76. he’s already admitted his own racism; I hope he eventually comes to a more nuanced view of the world, but calling him names won’t aid in that process. He’s a good guy with some unfortunate views, as are many of us, and bear in mind that he is not personally oppressing anyone…
    Racism — an unfortunate view? Maybe my brain is addled for lack of oxygen — have I complained today about the thick smoke filled with carbon monoxide blanketing our once pristine dacha settlement? — but “racism” is more than an unfortunate view. It doesn’t matter how you dress it up or justify it, it’s still disgusting.

  77. it comes from a viewpoint free of the thick, stifling clouds of poisonous nationalism that are keeping Panu from being able to enjoy it.
    I would like to take issue with this. I would like to substitute patriotism for nationalism. There are Finnish nationalists too, and they call me a nigger-loving multiculturalist dhimmi (which I am happy to admit to be – I have no problem with Africans or Muslims). My attitude is not due to any nationalist prejudice, but bitter memories (and I was brought up by my grandparents, who were no nationalists but themselves liberal and cosmopolitan people who were persecuted and disturbed by contemporary Finnish nationalists back in the thirties, so these memories are not something I picked up from nationalist screeds).
    As an American, you can afford an Olympian attitude, because you have all the American nuclear weapons to keep the Russians off your ass, if I am excused to make use of such strong language. I don’t say it’s a bad thing. I think it is quite nice that you can have such an attitude. The fact is however that with the imperialist noises issuing from Russia, with Russia’s condescending attitude to small countries such as us, and with the hordes of young Russians attending to Putinist youth camps to be brainwashed into nationalist-imperialist zombies, I am incapable of such attitude. For me, the very existence of Russia is, at the end of the day, an existential threat.

  78. Western readers tend to be entirely ignorant of what a chilling horde of monsters those reactionary forces of Tsarist Russia were
    The words “knout” and “ukase” entered English from Tsarist Russia. They hardly suggest a big thumbs-up for the regime. There was a lot of anti-Russian feeling in Britain in the 19th century (Crimean War, Great Game). Then there’s 19th-century Russian literature itself, which rarely gives an absolutely idyllic picture of the place.

  79. The words “knout” and “ukase” entered English from Tsarist Russia. They hardly suggest a big thumbs-up for the regime
    That is ancient history. I really don’t think it is much remembered today. I wouldn’t be surprised if the prevailing attitude were that whatever was before those awful Communists must have been good.

  80. not to have an equivalent for the Finnish term mustasotnialainen
    Can you elaborate what the connotation is in Finnish that’s missing in English (and German)?
    Black Hundreds is something an American might well remember from AP European History and certainly a reader of Paul Avrich would know. And black-hundredists would be recognizable to such a person, if not daily vocabulary.

  81. Can you elaborate what the connotation is in Finnish that’s missing in English (and German)?
    It is probably not a question of connotation, but of frequency. The connotation in Finnish is simply “a Russian who wants to take away our freedom and our language”. Remember that our country was a dependency of Russia in the beginning of the 20th century. “Mustasotnialainen” was somebody who wanted to destroy and Russify our country just for laughs.

  82. The fact is however that with the imperialist noises issuing from Russia, with Russia’s condescending attitude to small countries such as us, and with the hordes of young Russians attending to Putinist youth camps to be brainwashed into nationalist-imperialist zombies, I am incapable of such attitude. For me, the very existence of Russia is, at the end of the day, an existential threat.
    That’s sensible. All small countries bordering on the Russian Federation today should be extremely worried about the threat. But that is one thing; your racist condemnation of all Russians, their literature, and their culture is something else. There are enlightened, intelligent, nonchauvinistic, cultured Russians.

  83. I wouldn’t be surprised if the prevailing attitude were that whatever was before those awful Communists must have been good.
    Unlike in Finland, I don’t think there is a “prevailing attitude” towards tsarism in the UK since most people neither know nor care enough about it to have an opinion. Those who do tend not to be members of some kind of pro-serfdom lobby.

  84. But that is one thing; your racist condemnation of all Russians, their literature, and their culture is something else. There are enlightened, intelligent, nonchauvinistic, cultured Russians.
    There are, but the fact is that Putin is depressingly popular in Russia, that the present régime with all its nastiness has considerable popular support and that the nationalist noises also have a broad popular supports, It is exceedingly difficult to avoid the impression that official Russia, the state with its policies today, is more or less the likeness of Russian people, and this means that that ordinary Russians are to some extent morally responsible for the existential threat I mentioned.

  85. There are enlightened, intelligent, nonchauvinistic, cultured Russians.
    Funny you should write that, mab. The last sentence in Hat’s post suggests he wouldn’t think it’s true if the word “Americans” were substituted for “Russians” – at least that American literary culture doesn’t hold up to “the” Russian one.
    I think that, as regards literary works, it is occasionally not only useful to suspend disbelief, but also advisable to suspend animus. If there is anything that will help us move away from the ordinary run of history-driven conflict, it is the great works of the imagination that take us out of the ordinary. It’s nice to be able to blame everybody – all Russians, all Americans – but it’s hard to justify it in individual cases. Justice is about weighing individual cases on their merits in the light of general principles and the circumstances. The attitude “one principle fits all” is not just, but tyrannical.
    I think I understand why Panu feels as he does, and I think he’s justified in feeling that way. It’s up to him to decide the point beyond which he is actually contributing, by what he says, to a “stamp’em out” attitude indistinguishable from the one he deplores in “Russians”.

  86. some kind of pro-serfdom lobby
    I’ve never heard of that lobby. Is it the PR branch of the b*ndage business ? Do they want it to be legal to hire people over the weekend who will tug their forelocks at your bidding, and plough fields with a stick while you watch ?

  87. Funny you should write that, mab. The last sentence in Hat’s post suggests he wouldn’t think it’s true if the word “Americans” were substituted for “Russians”
    Indeed. Well, being an American himself, it is his privilege. However, Americans in general have many laudable qualities, and it is my impression that many Americans are very well-versed in the intricacies of their political system and the democratic philosophy behind it in a way I find quite amazing and oddly comforting. A European intellectual – even one who has studied pol.sci. – is entirely ignorant of the inner workings of democracy and thus more easily influenced by totalitarian philosophies. Besides, I have found many Americans of viewpoints very opposed to mine quite ready to cooperate with me where interests overlap. This is a quintessentially American quality which I have learnt to esteem and like.
    I think that, as regards literary works, it is occasionally not only useful to suspend disbelief, but also advisable to suspend animus. If there is anything that will help us move away from the ordinary run of history-driven conflict, it is the great works of the imagination that take us out of the ordinary.
    That is however a two-edged sword. Even Russians should read books about how it felt on the other side, and when I say “the other side” I don’t mean Nazi Germany (I know perfectly well Heinrich Böll was a writer whom Russian loved to read) but us small states whose existence is threatened by Russia.
    It’s up to him to decide the point beyond which he is actually contributing, by what he says, to a “stamp’em out” attitude indistinguishable from the one he deplores in “Russians”.
    You know, it is difficult not to be carried away. There is an odd delight in being, for a while, the unreasonable racist. There is an odd delight in “whataboutery”, as they call it in Northern Ireland.

  88. I wouldn’t be surprised if the prevailing attitude were that whatever was before those awful Communists must have been good.
    General ignorance of history is a fair cop. However, that’s just as likely to mean that people don’t suppose that there ever was a time before Russian Communism or that there was a Russian Revolution. As JCass says for the UK, I doubt most Americans have an opinion.
    And, in the same vein, 3% of Russians surveyed included Finland when asked about WWII, vs. 82% who knew Germany (1% has the USA and other Allies as opponents; perhaps they misunderstood the question).

  89. I would like to substitute patriotism for nationalism.
    I’m sure you would. That doesn’t make it correct.
    As an American, you [blah blah blah]. The fact is however that with [blah blah evil Russia], I am incapable of such attitude. For me, the very existence of Russia is, at the end of the day, an existential threat.
    So your claim is that all Finns, without exception, feel as you do because of this inescapable existential threat? Or is it that only good patriotic Finns feel as you do, and the rest are lackeys (either evil or simply ignorant) of the neighboring menace? What should be done with those un-Finnish Finns: will reeducation be enough, or should they be rounded up for the good of the Nation?
    I wouldn’t be surprised if the prevailing attitude were that whatever was before those awful Communists must have been good.
    What a ridiculous idea. Very few people anywhere outside of Russia give a damn or know a thing about “whatever was before those awful Communists.” And why should they? The tsars have not been relevant to anyone’s life for almost a century now. What is your attitude to the Qajar dynasty?
    ordinary Russians are to some extent morally responsible for the existential threat I mentioned
    This is why your views are racist (in the broad sense) rather than nationalist. To hold every member of a group responsible for the actions of a few is repugnant, and you should be ashamed of yourself for succumbing to it.
    The last sentence in Hat’s post suggests he wouldn’t think it’s true if the word “Americans” were substituted for “Russians”
    What the fuck? Because I wish my country had a more widespread literary culture, I must therefore think there are no enlightened, intelligent, nonchauvinistic, cultured Americans? Try to think for two seconds before hitting Post.
    I think I understand why Panu feels as he does, and I think he’s justified in feeling that way.
    I can understand why Panu feels as he does, too; cheap unthinking nationalism is an easy fix for many people. To say he’s “justified in feeling that way” is cheap unthinking claptrap of the sort I thought you deprecated. It’s one thing to be contrarian; it’s quite another to aid and abet the worst tendencies of humanity.
    And Panu, I assure you if the Finns managed somehow to rule a sixth of the world’s surface, they would behave just as badly as the Russians. Power corrupts. I’m sure you don’t want to believe or even think about that, but it’s the truth.
    Oh, and:
    The connotation in Finnish is simply “a Russian who wants to take away our freedom and our language”. … “Mustasotnialainen” was somebody who wanted to destroy and Russify our country just for laughs.
    That’s an ignorant misunderstanding of an important concept, and shows the eagerness of the Finns to ignore the suffering of the Jews in favor of feeling sorry for themselves. The Black Hundreds were a group of anti-Semitic thugs who perpetrated pogroms in Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; I seriously doubt they gave a shit about Finns. The term “Black Hundred” (chernosotenets) is rightly reserved for a reactionary anti-Semitic strain in Russian society that is, regrettably, still with us. For Finns to appropriate the epithet for their own uses is as if they were to use “apartheid” to mean “being against Finland.”

  90. “Western readers tend to be entirely ignorant of what a chilling horde of monsters those reactionary forces of Tsarist Russia were”
    Not in America. I’d say it’s the opposite actually. You still hear people saying the original Bolshevik revolution was justified because of how awful the Tsars were. I agree romanticising late Tsarist Russia is also a pitfall many lovers of Russian literature fall into, especially those of us who love the Silver Age writers, but the evils of late Tsarist Russia can’t even be compared to Stalinism – or even, say, Mussolini’s Italy. It’s a completely different scale. I could make a case that between the destruction of Irish culture, the obliteration of Welsh, the concentration camps in South Africa, the oppression in India, etc. etc. that the British Empire wasn’t really that much better in the late 19th century, at least if you weren’t British.

  91. I’m sure you would. That doesn’t make it correct.
    At this point, I strongly urge you to go back to Orwell’s Notes on Nationalism to reflect upon the difference between nationalism and patriotism. Nationalism is offensive and expansive, patriotism is defensive and conservative. I don’t sdvocate a pre-emptive nuclear assault on Russia, as far as I know, I am simply worried about the possibility that evil Russians come and destroy my country. And over here it is a possibility that feels very real.
    So your claim is that all Finns, without exception, feel as you do because of this inescapable existential threat?
    No. My claim is that mainstream liberal Finns can, and often do, feel like I do because of this inescapable existential threat. And actually, some of our racist, neo-Fascist nationalists, who have actually won disproportionate political influence in Finland lately, welcome Russian immigrants precisely because in their eyes Russians are sound white nationalists whose healthy hatred of blacks, Swedish-speakers, and Muslims hasn’t been corroded by political correctness.
    What should be done with those un-Finnish Finns: will reeducation be enough, or should they be rounded up for the good of the Nation?
    As regards those Finnish Nazis who want to join Russia because Russia is such a healthily white place where niggers are hated and killed, I indeed think they should be rounded up, not for the “good of the Nation”, but for the naked survival of the rest of us.
    This is why your views are racist (in the broad sense) rather than nationalist. To hold every member of a group responsible for the actions of a few is repugnant, and you should be ashamed of yourself for succumbing to it.
    As long as it is a prevailing attitude among young Russians that Belarusian is not a language and Estonia is not a country, I am indeed going to hold Russians responsible for the state their country is in, and for the threat it poses to us. Political correctness is a game that plays both ways. There is no politically correct culture of self-reproach in Russia now. They are not blaming themselves of what their country did to us, to the Estonians, to the Belarusians and most everybody in Eastern Europe. And they themselves strongly identify with the “glories” of their history and their country – that is the prevailing attitude in Russia.
    Yes, there are people in Russia who do venture to question the prevailing “truths” about, say, the Great Patriotic War. Aleksandr Podrabinek could be mentioned. He is not particularly listened to. There are people like Anna Politkovskaya. They are murdered. Galina Starovoytova? Dead and buried. Whenever a voice rises to preach justice in Russia, that voice is silenced with a kalashnikov. And ordinary Russian people don’t care.
    Now that there is no Soviet tyranny anymore, ordinary Russians should indeed be credited with some responsibility for what their country has come to. What is happening in Russia, is something they basically accept.
    That’s an ignorant misunderstanding of an important concept, and shows the eagerness of the Finns to ignore the suffering of the Jews in favor of feeling sorry for themselves.
    In fact, Finns if anything solidarized with the Jews. The underground organization of Finnish constitutionalist patriots was called Kagaali, which is a Finnicization of qahal – or the Russian form kagal. As you should know, the infamous Protocols as well as other Russian anti-Semitic material suggested that there was a Jewish conspiracy called kagal. Finnish patriots actually identified with that kagal and named themselves accordingly.
    I should also point out to you that Finns saw the threat to our autonomy and linguistic rights to emerge precisely from the very forces in Russia which were also instigating pogroms against Jews. Anti-Semitism has never been particularly prevalent in Finland, while in those good old days, Finns were eager to identify with just about everybody who was weak and under the threat from a strong neighbor. That went on even after us gaining independence. When Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, the consulate of the latter was overwhelmed by Finns who wanted to join the fight on the Ethiopian side.

  92. I recalled once that I found on Youtube that Zhanna Bichevskaya, one of my favourite singers, singed “My Russky”. Being anti-Chinese nationalist in particular, and anti-nationalist in general, I find it hard to concile the beauty in her early Okudzhava covers and “My Russky”.

  93. Ah, the past of “sing” is of course “sang”. I thought of “chanter” — Englished to “chant”, a weak verb.

  94. What the fuck?
    Hat, I wrote “suggest”, and it’s obvious to anybody that knows you even a little that you didn’t mean that – but taken as it stands, the sentence sounded like that. I was trying to make an “ironic” point: that the way people express themselves on occasions does not justify condemning them.
    What is wrong with my saying that Panu is “justified in feeling that way” ? Suppose someone is angry for what you think are good reasons – for instance when their business partner absconds with the company assets. What sense would it make to say “I understand why you feel angry”, and then add “but you’re not justified in feeling angry” ? In my books, to understand someone’s anger is to feel that there is some justification for that anger. But it doesn’t justify what they might later go on to do in the heat of that anger, of course. What needs to be added is – but not immediately, not when the anger is peaking – “maybe you shouldn’t stoke your anger, because you might do something you regret. Try to think less angrily about how you might fix the situation”.
    Maybe I should start using emoticons for enhanced clarity. Or even just avoiding stepping into an emotional comment thread while wearing my Sunday shoes.

  95. Part of your problem Panu, is that you exaggerate Putin’s popularity and apparently discount the reasons for what popularity there is; exaggerate the numbers of people who believe that Estonia isn’t a country and Belarussian isn’t a language; underestimate the number of people who are actively fighting the regime and the number of people who passively support them; underestimate the number of people who are horrified by the violations of freedoms and the deaths of journalists and others who question the regime.
    Which is not to say that Russia these days isn’t a threat, although it is more of a threat to the former Soviet republics than to Finland or even the Baltic states.
    In any case, all of the above can be discussed and argued about. That is very different than your first posts on Russian literature.
    Grumbly, if I understood you, I would say I understand, say, a black person who has been viciously discriminated against by white people and then dislikes all white people. I understand it, and I see it’s unfair, but that black person, however justified his or her dislike, has to abandon it, lest s/he become like the discriminators. But Panu, have you been personally suppressed or oppressed or discriminated against by Russians? It doesn’t sound like it, unless you consider being forced to read Russian literature a form of torture. You sound like you are just delighted by being a bad boy and being a racist. You exaggerate everything bad in Russia and underestimate everything good. And think that no one should read Herzen because of what happened under Stalin.

  96. Grumbly, if I understood you
    mab: you did. See my Sunday shoes comment.

  97. Which is not to say that Russia these days isn’t a threat, although it is more of a threat to the former Soviet republics than to Finland or even the Baltic states.
    With all due respect, although the United States never acknowledged that the Baltic states were annexed by the USSR, in the eyes of the Russians they are former Soviet republics. And in Finland, there are both pro-Russian neo-Nazis and a very peculiar Russophile movement which calls Estonia a non-state and anybody criticizing Russia a Nazi and a terrorist. Russia already influences Finnish internal politics in much less subtle ways than back in the old Soviet days.
    But Panu, have you been personally suppressed or oppressed or discriminated against by Russians? It doesn’t sound like it, unless you consider being forced to read Russian literature a form of torture.
    Actually, I have been to Russia and was shocked by both the country and the people. I never want to go back, and I don’t want Russia to take over us. I confess that I have been heavily traumatized and scared out of my wits by my visit to Russia.
    Moreover, I have been personally targeted by that neo-nazi gang I mentioned, which includes Russian immigrants.
    You exaggerate everything bad in Russia and underestimate everything good.
    I have no difficulty estimating Vladimir Voynovich, whose delightful novels always make me laugh. His criticism of Solzhenitsyn has also influenced me. I am positive I would like the man himself, if I could meet him. There are other contemporary writers too whose work I admire, Fazil Iskander for instance.

  98. 1. Civics classes. Do other countries have those? You do hear certain Americans calling for curtailing the rights in the Constitution & Bill of Rights (and sometimes actually doing so) when facing the perceived existential threat of the day (Japanese-Americans during WWII, Commies during the Cold War, Muslims now), but it’s always a bit of a shock since it’s assumed that people you’re conversing with are familiar with the rights & history behind the formation of the Constitution & the Bill of Rights.
    BTW, all societies have shared culture in their language. For Americans, it’s virtually nothing literary, but Hollywood & the language of those old dead white guys who wrote the Constitution, etc. 200+ years ago (and some other dead white guys like Lincoln); for Russians, it may be their literature; for Chinese, the chengyu (idioms that allude to a whole story & conjure up a world of meaning in 4 characters) coined by even older, more dead Chinese guys written in an old dead language (wenyanwen) that may be quoted & understood by illiterate, uneducated people thousands of miles and generations removed from their homeland in various Sinitic languages/regionalects/dialects (replete with archaic grammar & all).
    It’s hard to argue whether one culture is “higher” than the other. Shakespeare was low culture in it’s day. Current Hollywood may be considered high culture in some distant future.

  99. What sense would it make to say “I understand why you feel angry”, and then add “but you’re not justified in feeling angry” ? In my books, to understand someone’s anger is to feel that there is some justification for that anger.
    Well, I guess I understand what you mean, since you follow up with “maybe you shouldn’t stoke your anger, because you might do something you regret.” In my mind, telling someone their anger is justified is in itself helping stoke their anger. But thanks for clarifying, and of course for explaining what you meant by your remark about my final sentence, though I strongly disagree that “taken as it stands, the sentence sounded like that.” I think you were so taken with the clever rhetorical point you had come up with that you let it override other factors. But I forgive you, since I have been known to succumb to the same temptation myself.
    Actually, I have been to Russia and was shocked by both the country and the people.
    Yeah, that’s not quite the same as having been personally suppressed or oppressed or discriminated against by Russians. But feel free to cling to your entrenched hatred; it won’t do you any good, but it won’t do anyone else any harm either, as long as you follow Grumbly’s sage advice. I hope, though, that having vented at length here, you won’t feel compelled to go into further threads about Russian literature to point out how evil and oppressive it is, because that would get boring pretty fast.

  100. the United States never acknowledged that the Baltic states were annexed by the USSR
    During the Cold War, portrayals of Finland in the popular press, like Time or Newsweek, varied enormously, going from portraying Porkkala and the “Finnish Solution” as a victory for the West to casting Kekkonen as a KGB agent to something like this that’s sort of in-between.
    It seems that this was also the case within the intelligence community and therefore in the halls of government, though much remains classified. From this fairly confident CIA report to the NSC’s “Peaceful Coexistence, Soviet Style” (I gather lots of this sort of thing) that Jussi M. Hanhimäki has written about.
    You have to be careful about viewing any player’s position as monolithic.

  101. Yeah, that’s not quite the same as having been personally suppressed or oppressed or discriminated against by Russians. But feel free to cling to your entrenched hatred; it won’t do you any good, but it won’t do anyone else any harm either
    I see that you paid no attention to what I said about Russian influence in our present neo-Nazi culture, as well as about the bizarre Russophile culture of Finnish Putin-worshippers calling Estonia a non-state. Obviously, you are too busy classifying me in your neat category of “racist” to pay attention to uncomfortable facts that might add shades of gray to your black and white world.
    I am altogether appalled at your dishonesty. I would like add something more here, but I don’t really think there is any common ground left. If you see it fit to entirely ignore the fact that we have a racist subculture in this country where Russian immigrants keep agitating local racists both against Muslim and African immigrants, and that that subculture is happy to target people like me, I don’t really think it’s worth wasting more time on you.
    Undoubtedly, there are nice people in Russia, as everywhere. But at the same time, it is a fact that appallingly racist attitudes are accepted in Russia. Racist, antiliberal, fascist attitudes. I have been targeted by a racist, antiliberal, fascist subculture with pro-Russian attitudes, where one of the most foul-mouthed agitators happened to be a Russian. In my own country. After that, I am not taking all this shit from you. Have a nice rest of your life. I will never darken your door again.

  102. Another satisfied customer!

  103. Hat, thanks for the laugh. I have to say that I feel like I’ve been hit over the head, or living in a blog nightmare. It’s all compounded by the heat, the smog, the runny eyes and headache.
    Ah well. Maybe after a good night’s sleep (ha! I keep being woken up by the smoke — good to know that those primal instincts of survival still work, I suppose, but it would be nice to sleep through the night) I will get back to the more interesting tussling over Russia’s literary culture.

  104. Yeah, I wonder what brought that on; after all, I’ve been writing favorably about Russian literature for eight years, and he’s never before seen fit to favor us with his, uh, views on the subject. Ah well, life never ceases to surprise. I just hope the heat/smoke nightmare over there ends soon.

  105. My folks are over at the dacha trying to keep it from lighting on fire–apparently they only barely fought off the blaze yesterday. I haven’t left my Moscow apartment for the past couple of days, since the smog and the heat are at least bearable inside. I just hope I’ll be able to fly home in time for the new semester.

  106. Jesus. Hang in there, both of you! (And, of course, any other readers who are being affected by the hellish weather.)

  107. Oh my god — slawkenbergius — you’re here! We could fight about Russian literary culture in person!
    Your parents’ dacha must be to the east or southeast of Moscow. Poor souls. I’m in the west, where there are no peat bog fires nearby (and won’t be since we are near the government residences). But today the wind shifted again and the whole place is covered with smoke. I know it’s better than the city, but it really is awful.
    Do you know Hat’s email address? Write him and he’ll pass on mine. If you can bear to leave the apartment, you could come out here. It’s only the third circle of hell.

  108. I sounds downright apocalyptic out on the (not so) frozen tundra these days.

  109. It sounds downright apocalyptic out on the (not so) frozen tundra these days.

  110. Btw, are things really that bad in Finland? After reading this, sounds like a horribly nasty mess of extremists of every stripe. I’ve been there, but only for a few days.

  111. It is apocalyptic. It is Week Five of temperatures that have only twice gone under 30 C (about 86 F). We have broken records over 12 times, including for highest temperature ever recorded. Today it was about 99 F. It has rained three times, lightly, for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, the peat bogs and the forests are burning. The city is blanketed in smoke and smog (and remember that we have leaded gas). Apparently carbon monoxide is something like 180 times the daily “acceptable” norm. Few buildings have air conditioning. At my dacha, the water disappears every day from about 5 pm to midnight. The electricity, modem, and cell phone short out as well. We are all in survival mode. We do what we can, and then we stop. I am a very energetic person who withstands heat very well — and today I spent about 3 hours lying in a trance with the fan on me. It’s very surrealistic. I sit on my terrace and can’t see the dacha next door — it’s all white smoke. The only time I’m comfortable is when I go to the river. The river bed is not deep, so I plop down on the sand, with my head and tits and toes sticking out of the water. Horrible image, but that’s the only time I’m not miserable.

  112. Well, I will point out posthumously to Panu that the American tendency to appreciate things they agree with/like about others and ignore the rest is exactly why they can read Dostoevsky for part of what he is, while ignoring the rest. See this post at Separated By A Common Language for why American compliments, though they seem over the top to the rest of the world, are actually quite sincere, and what that does and (more importantly) does not mean:

    It is in Americans’ nature to subconsciously look for points of connection with anyone they meet because mainstream American culture is solidarity-based (see Brown & Levinson 1987). This is to say that communication is based on the goal of creating a sense of equality and belonging. This, in turn, is due — paradoxically — to the facts that American culture rests on a belief in the primacy of the individual (rather than the group) and that it is achievement-oriented, rather than ascription-oriented — i.e. it’s about what one does rather than what one is [...]. The individualism means that we can’t just rely on the knowledge that we belong, we have to be reassured of it fairly regularly. [...]
    [As an American,] I don’t have to approve of you in order to compliment you, I just have to find a fragment of you that I can approve of in order to develop a relationship of some sort with you. One can see why this might be taken as insincerity in some quarters, but if I tell you I like your shoes and that you play the tuba well, it’s almost certainly the case that I really do like your shoes and think you’re tuba-tastic. So, it’s a sincere attempt on my part to cement our relationship with shared values–at least as far as shoes and brass instruments are concerned.

  113. Wow. What a great link and quote at the end of wild thread. Thanks for introducing me to “Separated…”, John C.

  114. Trond Engen says:

    today I spent about 3 hours lying in a trance with the fan on me
    5The third circle of hell to you, the ninth level of wisdom to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

  115. I know everyone thinks Panu is over the top or out of his mind. I don’t think that way at all.
    I’m currently in Mongolia, a country which nurses an almost fanatical hatred of the Chinese. Quite simply, the Mongolians are afraid of the Chinese. I suppose the antidote to all this is for the Mongolians to realise that the Chinese are people, too. But when most Chinese firmly believe that Mongolia really should belong to China (although China is supersensitive about “sovereignty”, it’s amazing how nonchalantly Chinese people will comment about “taking Mongolia back”), when many Chinese who come here are unscrupulous businessmen or illegal workers, when much that is imported from China is shoddy or substandard, it’s hard to dismiss a huge and menacing neighbour as just ‘people’.
    So I can fully appreciate how Panu feels. It’s easy to tell the someone to ease up if you come from a place that isn’t subject to the same threats.
    Personally, I think that a fanatical obsession with any enemy is self-limiting. It hurts you much more than it hurts your enemy. But I suspect that being in a small country located next to a large and (subtly or blatantly) expansionist neighbour is not something easy for Americans or Australians to understand (don’t know about the Brits). The strains and stresses set up by the massive ‘dark star’ next door emerge in all kinds of uncomfortable ways, as Panu has detailed in his posts.
    Incidentally, the most virulent nationalists in Mongolia are the neo-Nazis, who adulate Hitler, hate the Chinese (they police an informal ban on Chinese-language signs), and are generally racist, sexist, and vile (reported on in the Guardian recently).

  116. I think you were so taken with the clever rhetorical point you had come up with that you let it override other factors.
    <*blushes guiltily*>
    darken your door
    Boy, that was the fodder and moither of all rants to date here. I’ve seen neurotic terrierists come and go, but this was something different. Unfortunately, I myself know how to get into such states – I can do both at short notice. One of the things I like about blogging is that everybody is always holding a mirror to themselves – so that I can get a peek while pretending to be looking elsewhere.

  117. Similar things can be experienced within a country. Older Americans will remember the Black Power movement in the late sixties. Was that exaggerated and unmotivated ? Then there was militant “gay pride”. I fought many a battle then, and still have a rifle in the attic for all eventualities.
    As Bathrobe and others remind us with their examples, it’s hard to know how to deal with such resentment when you yourself are not directly affected – or think you’re not. I am eternally grateful to Tom Wolfe for describing one reaction that just doesn’t cut it – I’m thinking of Leonard Bernstein, large black pianos and small black maids.

  118. Sinclair Lewis has his Babbitt express the opinion that advertising slogans are the true poetry of America. I’ll have to admit from observation that many here do get the same kind of pleasure repeating and recognizing various jingles that Russians do from their verse tradition.

  119. michael farris says:

    I’m very sorry that travel (as pleasant as it was) meant I missed most of this thread. I especially would have liked to be around before panu’s dramatic exit. As it is, I’ll add some comments at random in a few posts.
    First, the first quote seems pretty fraudalent to me. Not on purpose, but the author has some very heavy blinders on. I doubt if there’s much of a ‘shared interest in and understanding of literature’ that’s greater in the Russian population than in other industrial and post-industrial states. I’d say rather a centralized educational system that depends a lot on memorization and doesn’t take individual preferences of teachers and/or students into account just means that the super-literate will have a lot more shared references than in some other countries.
    Also, most people aren’t good at separating individual and collective phenomena (I’m not great at it myself but I think I’ve gotten better over the years).
    Does Russia have one of the great world literary traditions? Yes.
    Does this mean a greater of percentage of Russians are interested in literature as literature? Not necessarily.
    Has the Russian state ever, in any incarnation, ever been a good neighbor? Not really (I’m being as diplomatic as possible here).
    Did the Soviets pay lip service to promoting minority languages and literatures while making sure that russification proceded as rapidly as possible? Yes.
    Are many or most individual Russians nice people? IME yes.
    Have they collectively ever had a government that wasn’t deeply dysfunctional, repressive or both? No.
    Should authors be held responsible for the sins of their compatriots? Mainly to the extent that they support and furthered them.
    Is it possible to enjoy an artist’s work while thinking of them as a pretty sorry human being? I can (but I don’t forget about the sorry human being part).
    Is Shakespeare really overrated? Oh god, yes.

  120. Is Shakespeare really overrated? Oh god, yes.
    Just to be clear: it’s the raters who are overrating and overrated, i.e. the Shakespeare critics and effusiasts. There are too many of them, making too much noise. Each has an axe to grind, or an i to dot.
    I have read very little S., and never go to the theater in Germany (though in London I would squat in one). When I occasionally run across a passage from one of the plays, I am astonished and amazed. But the hawkers and the squawkers make it impossible to get much closer.
    Maybe this was the main concern of mystery sects and secret-guarders – not to maintain a power monopoly on valuables, but simply to prevent them being pawed over and ripped apart by the Pöbel. (thanx and a tip of the hat to F. Nietzsche)

  121. Folks, Panu’s fears about Russia, concerns about domestic and foreign policies, and intense dislike of its more or less official stance regarding its past are perfectly reasonable. I also don’t have any problem with someone who says: “I was in country X and I didn’t like it. The people were cold/polite/proper/pushy/loud/quiet — whatever. It’s not for me.” If he just stayed there, I wouldn’t have had any complaint. But he didn’t. He exaggerated the extent of everything bad and applied it to everyone. And this whole discussion began because he insisted vehemently that works of literature written 200 years ago are tainted by policies 50 years ago.
    Frankly, I thought the “real” point came out at the end. It isn’t Russia and Russians, it’s their influence in Finland that upsets him. But that’s a Finnish problem, isn’t it? If Finns are attacking him, Muslims and Africans, it’s more comfortable to say “It’s the Russians’ fault.” But of course it’s the fault of the Finns who are doing it.
    It’s one of those Nabokovian mirror images. Here in Russia, some people are constantly pointing the finger at everyone else. The problem of crime is the migrant workers from the Caucasus. The problem of low fertility is the Americans who have come in and pushed contraception. The problem of drugs is the West. The problem of corruption is “western values.” The problem of this terrible heatwave is the satellite the US sent up to control the weather and bring Russia to its knees (I’m not kidding.) For Panu, the problems of racism in Finland are caused by the Russians.

  122. When wheat exports from Russia were suspended this week, I found out why I am overweight: from eating too much imperialistic Russian bread.

  123. michael farris says:

    Slight clarification: The reason I find Shakespeare to be overrated is that I can’t understand Shakespearean dialogue delivered at normal speed. I can work my way with difficulty through written texts with lots of cheat notes but as modern theatrical dialogue it fails for me. I pretty much agree with John McWhorter on this (not a common occurence by any means).
    I remember having to read Shakespeare out loud in jr and sr high school and the whole class pretty much only understanding bits and pieces.
    (Cue the usual comments from people who find spoken Shakespearean to be completely intelligible. I admire their erudition but I don’t share it).
    yes, there’s a lot to appeciate in the structure of the plays and individual parts but the language has changed so much that I just can’t appreciate them. I might appreciate it in a modern translation but that mostly seems to be off the table.

  124. I wouldn’t call that overrating Shakespeare. Isn’t it rather being hypocritical about what you need to know to be able to understand him ? When people are boastfully casual about their appreciation of the plays, that’s hardly a reflection on Shakespeare.

  125. Bathrobe says:

    But of course it’s the fault of the Finns who are doing it
    mab, he did mention that “one of the most foul-mouthed agitators happened to be a Russian. In my own country.”
    I agree that Panu was overwrought. But I’m not sure that we can just put aside this ‘upsetting little incident’ and go back to discussing literature.

  126. I’m currently in Mongolia, a country which nurses an almost fanatical hatred of the Chinese.
    Well, the Vietnamese too have been very wary (with good reason) of Chinese imperialism for centuries, but they’ve also adopted a tremendous amount of Chinese culture. You can dislike a country’s politics while admiring its cultural achievements.

  127. michael farris says:

    @grumbly, you’re roughly right if you’re being exact and all (but my personal disenjoyment of Shakespeare during school has colored by perception of him ever since – US English teachers have a _lot_ to answer for).
    @mab I really sympathise and feel for your current weather state. If I could send some of the excess rain plaguing Poland your way I surely would.
    Interestingly I find my subjective experience of heat is very different in different places. Anything above 32 C in Poland and I’m knocked out, but I can easily withstand 40 C in places like Bulgaria, Spain or Greece (maybe the sea helps).

  128. Recently Hat did a blog on a graduate student who was retranslating Plato “so that American philosophy students could understand him”. From the evidence on offer – Jowett and the new stuff – I ventured to say that I preferred Jowett. It turns out that the students “had difficulty understanding Victorian terms in Jowett”. This grad student was especially eager to blast a freeway through “Victorian English” so that his audience could get to their degrees faster.
    Is it any wonder, then, that many people find older literature to be accessible only with difficulty ? When the educational system has fed them with texts from which all old-timey orthographical and lexical “irregularities” have been bleached out ?
    I think there is a relatively new development in Germany, as regards quotes in secondary literature in philosophy and sociology ( I’m not sure about this, because I came late to the secondary, academic stuff). Used to be, quotes were from modernized editions of the works of pre-20th century writers, and only these editions were easily available. Now original editions are out there with the low-fat ones, and Kant, Nietzsche etc. are quoted as they were originally published. Luhmann’s books are a good example. The four-volume Gesellschaftsstruktur und Semantik formicates with footnotes containing original quotes in Italian, French, German, Spanish, and English from the 16th century on.

  129. US English teachers have a _lot_ to answer for
    Amen !

  130. It would be interesting to hear from someone (other than Panu) who knows about Finnish politics. I can’t quite get a handle on it. How political is the average Finn, for instance?
    I’m aware from hearing from friends who have been to Finland that there is a general dislike for Russia (Winter War, loss of Karelia etc.) and, as I’ve said above, Finlandisation must have been a drag – “Finlandisation” meaning the period during the Cold War when Finns had to watch what they said about the USSR and tailor their foreign policy accordingly. On the other hand, Finland hasn’t suffered as much as, say, Poland or Chechnya from Russian/Soviet imperialism and Finland is probably the least likely of Russia’s neighbours to be invaded.
    Panu’s statement about the bizarre Russophile culture of Finnish Putin-worshippers calling Estonia a non-state rings true, because I’ve come across some of these weirdos on the Net. Out of interest, I sometimes used to observe the fights over hot political controversies on Wikipedia article talk pages so I know that a prominent member of the so-called Finnish Anti-Fascist Committee (more like a pro-Soviet, pro-Putin outfit) is busy at work on the Estonian pages. On the other hand, how significant are these guys in the real world? It looks like they have trouble getting even a thousand votes. That’s the problem with politics on the Internet. Everything seems more extreme than it is in real life. So it would be nice for someone clued-up to tell us what sort of issues dominate Finnish politics and how worried the average Finn really is about Russia.

  131. Like Michael, I missed this row.
    One thing I know about Panu is that he teaches at Finland’s Swedish-speaking university in Turku (aka Åbu, to Swedes) — Finland has a significant Swedish-speaking minority — and that would account for his harassment by the Finnish nationalists he mentioned. I didn’t know that that was a problem; there’s so much interesting stuff going on around the world that we never hear about.
    When Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, the consulate of the latter was overwhelmed by Finns who wanted to join the fight on the Ethiopian side.
    I guess I’ll never hear any more about this, now. He implies that they never got any further than the consulate; had they reached Ethiopia, it would at least have made a good book.

  132. It’s easy to tell the someone to ease up if you come from a place that isn’t subject to the same threats.
    It may be easy, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Besides, Finland, however unfortunate its history with Russia, is not actually under threat of invasion these days. Panu’s fears obviously have much more to do with his experience with “that neo-nazi gang I mentioned, which includes Russian immigrants” than with national interests. He’s the famous “liberal who got mugged.”
    But I’m not sure that we can just put aside this ‘upsetting little incident’ and go back to discussing literature.
    So… I should convert the blog into a forum for discussing the impact of hegemonic cultures over smaller, threatened ones? Or should it be specifically a “Why Finns Fear Russia” blog?

  133. And yes, U.S. English teachers have a lot to answer for. That is obviously not Shakespeare’s fault.

  134. Interestingly I find my subjective experience of heat is very different in different places. Anything above 32 C in Poland and I’m knocked out, but I can easily withstand 40 C in places like Bulgaria, Spain or Greece (maybe the sea helps).
    Yeah, I’ve noticed that. In Moscow it can be 88 F, low humidity and not a cloud in the sky — weather that would be heavenly in New York — but here we’re dying. My latest theory is that it unbearable because there is little air conditioning (and no respite) and because of the horrible air quality (leaded gas). Today is (so far) the worst in air quality. At my dacha all you see is white smoke through the trees, and there is a gauzy cast to everything, even inside, as if you were looking at the world through a white screen.
    On the row: well, obviously I’m a bit sensitive to blanket attacks on Russians. It’s not that I think the place isn’t going to hell in a hand basket (it is), and that there isn’t a threat of it dragging down other nations on the way. But because there are millions of fine, sensible people trying to do what they can to stop that.
    Also, I’d hate for people to judge Americans based on, say, Sarah Palin. Ya know?

  135. I’d hate for people to judge Americans based on, say, Sarah Palin
    Ouch. But she did get farther than she would have without any support …

  136. it would at least have made a good book
    Less surprisingly, thousands of Egyptians went to the Ethiopian consulate there to volunteer and I imagine a number actually went.
    Thousands of African-Americans organized as well with the intention of going, but ran afoul of the State Department. In the end, only two served there (and with no affiliation with P.A.R.A), airmen John C. Robinson of Chicago, the Brown Condor, and Hubert Fauntleroy Julian of Harlem, the Black Eagle.

  137. not something easy for Americans … to understand (don’t know about the Brits)
    You’re no doubt right about a genuine understanding of an existential threat, but similarly strong anti-British rhetoric was not at all uncommon among Irish-Americans, particularly in the ’70s and ’80s.

  138. only understanding bits and pieces … spoken Shakespearean to be completely intelligible
    David Crystal has a short popular book on how the truth is somewhere in the middle.

  139. I didn’t have a lot of Shakespeare thrown at me in school — Julius Caesar and one of the comedies — and when it was thrown it was not hugely hyped.
    Twice in the last few years my wife and I have been invited to some friends’ house to read Shakespeare aloud. You know, sit in a circle in the parlor after dinner, each with a copy of The Tempest or whatever it might be, assign parts somehow, and then wade right in. I won’t boast of my ability to decipher the text in real time, because I definitely miss a lot of fine points, or even not so fine points. As in, wait, what just happened? But (and this is a bit boastful — sorry) I do find that much of the time I am able to breeze through a speech without stumbling, putting the emphasis in most of the right places and staying in character. The meaning may sink in not quite in real time, or sometimes it will evade me completely until I stop and think or reread or ask someone; but the sentence structure and the emotional tone are things that I can usually pick up on the fly. I think that when it goes well it feels a bit like downhill skiing (but I’m not a skier).
    I guess I’m saying, among other things, that for me the sound of the language is so intoxicating that I’d hate to see it updated.

  140. For me as well, and I’m pretty sure Shakespeare would feel the same way.

  141. More like cross-country, in my opinion.

  142. Likewise.

  143. Oops, that “likewise” was aimed at Ø and Hat (I had a feeling this would happen). For me, the language is the most appealing thing in Shakespeare.

  144. Very well. If you guys think that Shakespeare is more similar to downhill than to cross-country, I can only assume you’re not including the histories. And I can’t see A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a skiing metaphor at all. Croquet, maybe.
    On another note… since I can’t post comments on your blog for some reason, MMcM, I’ll say it here if Language doesn’t mind: I was wondering if sometime you’d be interested in writing about truffles.

  145. I can’t post comments on your blog for some reason, MMcM
    And yet every Chinese spammer in creation can. I think he’s dissing you, Kron.
    I join our coronal friend in encouraging MMcM to post about truffles, or indeed anything else that takes his fancy.

  146. I turned back on anonymous comments. I guess it won’t be any worse, since the comment spammers have figured out how to get Google accounts.
    I try to clean it out once a week or so. Which I am sure is less than LH has to do.
    I’m quite embarrassed to admit that a while ago I missed a comment from Dave of Balashon about his kusemet research that LH linked to last week. I had turned off notifications when I got busy and the inbox was only telling me of more spam to clean out.
    I’m not sure anyplace we go has fresh truffles rather than just truffle oil in their dishes. Maybe I need to apply for a grant to do research someplace posher. We have ordered them in season from Dean & Deluca on occasion. I’ll put on my thinking cap for a blog post angle.

  147. These are pretty good as a snack, but I think the “truffle” pieces are regular mushrooms soaked in truffle oil. (Oh, and oyster mushroom isn’t Pleutorus, but Pleurotus, which looks like ‘ribbed ear’, so I’m not sure how ‘sideways‘ comes out.)

  148. Crown, I’m not comparing Shakespeare to any kind of skiing. The play is the environment. The act of reading aloud is the skiing — yes, let’s make it cross country. Sometimes you stumble or even fall flat on your face. Sometimes you zoom down a slope with that go-with-the-flow feeling that I tried to describe, taking pleasure simultaneusly in the beauty around you and in the fact that you are not stumbling. Somtimes, I suppose, depending on the play, there will be a certain amount of trudging along on the level.
    The ski analogy is particularly apt in one way, now that I think of it: the people we were reading with that night are lifelong skiers and natural athletes. If we had been skiing with them instead of reading, it would have been the other way round, with my wife and me stumbling along and our friends being as patient as they could.
    Yes, I can definitely see A Midsummer Night’s Dream as croquet. Or perhaps as miniature golf with flamingos instead of clubs.

  149. I’m seeing the duel at the end of Hamlet on skis, with rifles.

  150. The stuntmen could be recruited from The Tower Hamlets Rifles .

  151. Shakespeare’s great at turning a phrase, but the actual plays themselves? Mediocre (I use to think “utter dreck” when I first encountered them in HS, but later on, I got acquainted with other plays of that period, which tended to be even worse). His plots are formulaic and, to my modern sensibilities, the pacing and tone seem off when he drops in bad puns in the middle of dramatic sequences, breaking the tension with ill attempts at comedy.
    Oh, and Bathrobe, welcome to the Borg. Prepare to be assimilated. ;)

  152. Bathrobe says:

    Thanks. I’ve been at this borg for several years now and I’m still successfully posting out-of-tune comments :)
    I’m going to risk Hat’s displeasure by posting the following concerning the recent fracas on this thread:
    —————————————–
    So… I should convert the blog into a forum for discussing the impact of hegemonic cultures over smaller, threatened ones?
    Hat, the very extremeness of Panu’s position makes it one of the most interesting topics to be brought up on LH in a long time: “Is the rejection of a literary tradition that has been consciously used as a coercive form of ‘soft power’, arguably embodies illiberal values, and stifles other smaller traditions ever a valid option?” It sure beats the hell out of “Alliteration in Pushkin”. It shocked poor mab languishing over there in Moscow, and it seems to have shocked you, too, with its vehemence. The immediate response is to just dismiss the guy, but it’s certainly a topic worth discussing, even if it does start from an extreme position. After being hit in the head with that, it’s hard to go back to sedately discussing how nice it is that all Russians learn Pushkin at school (although I notice the thread has veered off into the comparative safety of Shakespeare).
    At any rate, that is what I meant to say.

  153. bruessel says:

    “These are pretty good as a snack, but I think the “truffle” pieces are regular mushrooms soaked in truffle oil.”
    I’m surprised they’re allowed to call it “Wild mushroom and black truffle flatbread” when it doesn’t actually contain truffles, doesn’t that contravene some kind of Trades description act?
    There is a restaurant here in Brussels called “La Truffe Noire” where you can eat real truffles at astronomical prices.

  154. I met an American English-teacher on a plane back in the 70s. If I remember correctly, she told me that it was no use teaching black students because they can’t speak English and they are not interested in (or could never appreciate) Shakespeare.

  155. Bathrobe: “It sure beats the hell out of “Alliteration in Pushkin”.”
    Well, then you would have loved the old days when Usenet was basically the only place for discussion on the internet. If you were interested in, say, Greece, and went to soc.culture.greece, you were immediately assulted by a huge whiff of the kind of extremism Panu displayed. So, you quickly leave and decide to check out soc.religion.buddhism, surely a more peaceful and measured place. And it’s the same thing! Nasty insults and vehement denunciations hurled everywhere! The Chinese this, the Japanese that, the Thai this, the Tibetans that! Horrible.
    And it is insulting to suggest, as I believe you did earlier in this thread, that if someone is discussing alliteration in Pushkin, it sorta means that they not only are ignoring the political dimensions of his work, but are also unaware of them.
    Anyway, I’m glad those Usenet days are over and was so happy when I found Hat’s blog!

  156. This is just an anecdotal contribution, but growing up in the eastern part of Ukraine in the late 80s and early 90s, most of my reading was in Russian, at home as well as in school.
    Although Ukrainian language and literature were taught every year, instruction was very ineffective (my Ukrainian teacher — in Ukraine — was first generation Dagestani). Most readings were fairy tales and children’s stories (as opposed to Russian lit classes, where the readings came from the canon of “serious literature” as early as 3rd-5th grade).
    Apart from Shevchenko, who is — in stature — the Ukrainian Shakespeare, I have seen little evidence of a shared Ukrainian literary tradition among Ukrainians I know. Compared to Russian books in Russian, Ukrainian books in Ukrainian are much harder to find in the US, although the Ukrainian diaspora is sizable.
    Although the voices claiming that Ukrainian is “not a language” do come from the fringe, they are uncomfortably numerous and appear reliably in most threads even remotely pertaining to Russia-Ukraine relations. While this is nowhere close to a perfect analogy, I haven’t seen anyone in the US, no matter how radical, claim that, say, Spanish or Arabic are “not languages” or “have no grammar.”
    A related observation: discussions about ethnic and international policy with Russians often seem to start much closer to “shoot them all” than similar discussions with Americans from similar social backgrounds. Otherwise cultured and liberal Russians can easily phase-shift into Ann Coulter land when particular subjects are mentioned.
    Finally, even measured discussions among cultivated and educated Russians occasionally drift into a kind of fatalistic machismo that would be difficult to imagine existing, say, here on this blog. A common sentiment is that one has to “отвечать за базар,” i.e. that those who speak up and speak out should expect to pay for their words. Not because one disagrees with the speaker, but just because actions come with associated costs, and one should be prepared to get hit on the head with a brick or shot in some dark alley by an anonymous stranger for expressing a contrary opinion. That, as regrettable as the deaths of journalists are, they are predictable and perfectly natural and reflect a lack of foresight and circumspection on the part of the journalists themselves.
    So although there are several outrageous comments above, I found the complete discussion very thought-provoking. I’ll have to add my name to the list of those who consider efforts to totally separate literatures from the political and cultural environments in which they exist to be an uncomfortable pursuit.

  157. And it is insulting to suggest, as I believe you did earlier in this thread, that if someone is discussing alliteration in Pushkin, it sorta means that they not only are ignoring the political dimensions of his work, but are also unaware of them.
    I don’t believe I suggested that, and if it seems that way I certainly didn’t mean it.
    I’ve seen a lot of hate and insult-spewing on the web, mostly of the unreasoning and disgusting variety. I felt Panu’s discussions were different because they at least gave reasons and background to what he was saying. That’s a far cry from 99% of the chauvinist comments you read on the web.
    Anyway, I’ll let this topic lie from now on.

  158. Ok, albornoz–damn, had no idea that that was how you say bathrobe in Spanish–let’s let this topic lie.
    And sorry if I mis-read your earlier post.

  159. You can hear Nabokov reading “Exegi Monumentum” here. (His translation and the original — well, not the original original, but Pushkin’s interpretation — Sashura quoted it back when the Kalmyk came up. My being reminded of it should not be taken as a statement one way or another about imperialism.)

  160. michael farris says:

    I think Wimbrel’s post is excellent and insightful.
    I, for one, found panu’s comments to be interesting and while I wish he’d toned down the rhetoric about 5% I didn’t find him really usenetish at all.
    It is important, I think, for linguists and literature enthusiasts alike to remember a few things:
    Few languages with tens of millions of speakers got that way without squashing a whole lot of smaller languages.
    Literature in English, Russian and Spanish maintains it’s health to a non-trivial degree by siphoning off authors who might be writing in different languages given a differnet glottopolitical set of circumstances.
    Too often literature in non-major languages is ghettoized into folklore and claptrap while talented authors who might be able to write in them choose to hitch their wagons to a larger language.

  161. MF, since when is the suggestion to burn books ok?
    Panu’s posts here, and even Albornoz’s with his anti-Chinese rants, should have no place here.
    We Filipinos are proud of the beautiful Catholic churches we have. But we are well aware of the conditions under which they were built. For some gringos to keep pestering us about the aweful Spanish were, and not even allow us to speak about the beauty of those churches, is totally annoying and mis-placed.
    Also, are you suggesting that Hat neglects smaller languages on this blog?

  162. marie-lucie says:

    MF: Few languages with tens of millions of speakers got that way without squashing a whole lot of smaller languages.
    This sort of anthropomorphizing of languages gives the impression that there is something about the dominant languages themselves that causes the problem, and similarly that there is something about the “small” languages that cause them to be weaker and unable to resist the push toward the dominant language. Whether a language becomes dominant or not depends on accidents of history and geography, not on the intrinsic merits of the language itself. I remember reading a quote by a 16th or 17th century English writer, to the effect that “our language is of no use to us outside of our island” – at that time hardly anybody in continental Europe had a need or a wish to learn English, and nobody could have predicted the world-wide future of the language, linked to historical developments, not to its own development as a language.
    Literature in English, Russian and Spanish maintains it’s health to a non-trivial degree by siphoning off authors who might be writing in different languages given a differnet glottopolitical set of circumstances.
    Similarly, it is not the literature itself that “siphons off” authors, but the authors themselves who might have a choice but choose to write in the dominant language. Quite often they do so because they want to address a much larger audience than just those who speak the same, sometimes very localized language.
    In one of Frantz Fanon’s books (a writer from one of the Antilles – French Caribbean islands) he recalls a conversation with an Indonesian writer, before Indonesia became independent, or perhaps shortly afterwards. The Indonesian says something like: “You are lucky: they taught you French – a language that is spoken in many countries – so you can address millions of people around the world. But me – they taught me Dutch! Who can I address in Dutch?” He did not seem to be thinking of addressing potential readers in one of the languages of Indonesia, even one spoken by millions more people than Dutch: he wanted to be read all over the world, not be limited to the small geographical areas where Dutch is spoken.

  163. michael farris says:

    JR, I did have a book burning party once (it sounds worse than it was….) but yeah, that’s part of the rhetoric I would have liked to have been toned down.
    I do sympathize with the Phillipine churches issue.
    At the same time, how many ambitious, gifted writers in the Phillipines choose to write in a Phillipine language? (I really don’t know, I’m curious about the state of literature in Tagalog, Cebuano etc). I used to want to learn Tagalog (weird and wonderful grammar) but the kind of tagalog I would be interested in reading didn’t seem to exist, it was all pilipino, or taglish or purist tagalog….
    Hat’s heart is in the right place (as are his linguistic politics almost all of the time where ‘right’ means ‘the same as mine’). But I think he has a blind spot or two (don’t we all?). In his case, taking Soviet policy on minority languages at face value is definitely a blind spot.

  164. michael farris says:

    marie-lucie, there you go being a reasonable linguist again. I was using a provocative metaphor that I don’t take literally.
    At the same time, I stand by my main point. In glottopolitical terms, everyday people have to make linguistic choices in a rigged game.
    I find it interesting that Scandinavian authors, despite the widespread knowledge of English in their countries mostly choose to write in their own small languages and are still often able to reach a global audience.

  165. marie-lucie says:

    Soviet policy on minority languages
    To my knowledge, there has been more than one policy, or perhaps there has been a policy which started very well (lots of linguists studying minority languages, making up writing systems, etc) but which later remained on paper while what was actually happening was quite different.

  166. marie-lucie says:

    MF: I was using a provocative metaphor that I don’t take literally.
    But many linguistically naive people do take it literally: “English is a killer language”, etc., so it is better not to encourage such an interpretation.
    Scandinavian authors …
    I think that the socio-cultural position of those authors is quite different from those in India or Indonesia or Africa, for instance, where there is wide linguistic diversity within countries, so authors writing in their own languages do not reach the whole country, even if there is widespread literacy, which is rarely the case. Even though there are local differences such as the two official varieties in Norway, the Scandinavian countries have homogeneous and literate populations, and the written version of each of the languages is often quite intelligible to readers in the other countries, widening the audience of each author.

  167. MF: I’m gonna go to bed soon, so I’ll try to address the Philippines stuff later.
    But as far as Scandinavian authors go: They have lots of support from the state. There are more Dutch speakers than all the Scandinavian languages combined. Yet, in the US, there are only like 2 Dutch departments in our universities but maybe a dozen Scandinavian departments. And those departments have pictures of the King and Queen of Sweden and what not hanging on their walls. So, I am guessing that that has something to do with what you mention.

  168. Literature in English, Russian and Spanish maintains it’s health to a non-trivial degree by siphoning off authors who might be writing in different languages given a differnet glottopolitical set of circumstances.
    …and in other circumstances writers might have chosen Hutsul rather than standard Ukrainian, or Svan rather than Georgian. Even Panu admires Fazil Iskander, who AFAIK mostly writes in Russian rather than Abkhazian.
    I’m pretty sympathetic to those who want to promote Ukrainian and Belarusian (it’s quite obvious why those two languages rather than, say, Armenian were vulnerable to assimilation by Russian). But for those tempted to “big up” Ukrainian language and culture by saying that the Russian language/Pushkin/Dostoyevsky/Tolstoy et al. suck, here’s an anecdote from Richard Ellmann’s biography of James Joyce which might explain why ”Ulysses” is (mostly) in English rather than Irish:
    Joyce gave up [Irish lessons] because Patrick Pearse, the instructor, found it necessary to exalt Irish by denigrating English, and in particular denounced the word “Thunder” – a favourite word of Joyce’s – as an example of verbal inadequacy.

  169. It’s me again, back to defend Russians… Wimbrel’s post is quite accurate, but I would stress again two things. The first is that he (I think Wimbrel is a he) is describing one strain of Russian thought/behavior. True, it’s a strain that has been nurtured by the creeps in power, and it has been so aggressively put forth that for awhile I thought it might be time for me to roll up my caravan and head home. But it’s only one strain. Thinking it’s “all Russians” or “typical of Russians” would be like thinking that all Americans are the nutcase American right wing. Alas, that’s a part of American culture, as what Wimbrel and Panu write about is part of Russian culture today. But there’s more going on.
    The other thing is that Ukraine, Ukrainian language and literature are a special case for Russians. For centuries Ukraine was “Little Russia,” and then during the Soviet period, the Russification policies there were, I think particularly horrendous and the prevailing view in Moscow was that Ukrainian was a joke language. In recent years, Ukraine’s flirting with NATA membership made them Enemy #2 (after Georgia), and the media has been full of the most appalling, condescending, belittling portrayals you can imagine. No one has ever heard a cogent, sensible case for Ukrainian literature and language. So you find “otherwise liberal and cultured Russians” sneering at using the preposition “v” instead of “na” with Ukraine – something I have fought about for years now. Please understand that I’m not defending this position. But I think you’d find the average Russian more likely to accept the greatness of Estonian than the greatness of Ukrainian. The propaganda onslaught against Ukrainian has been constant.
    I have to say that what I condemn the present government here for most of all – even more than the corruption – is how they have sown hatred. It has calmed down a bit now, but for years it seemed like all you saw or heard was hatred. This month we hate the Estonians, then we hate the Moldovans, then the Kosovars, then the Georgians, then the Ukrainians, and always the Americans and the “west.” You can’t imagine the so-called talk shows, with people weeping over the statue in Tallinn or over Serbian monasteries in Kosovo. It was unrelenting, and there was never another point of view. Ever. Some people, of course, knew it was crap, but others were affected by the onslaught. It’s a crime to sow hatred like that.
    I’d also like remind folks that Panu was not arguing for a discussion on the misuse of Russian literature or even a discussion of the connection between politics and literature. He was insisting that works by Turgenev, Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Herzen, Chekhov et al are somehow “guilty” of the Gulag. Or “guilty” of suppressing minority literature.
    Whatever the literary value of the Russian classics, they too are stained with the blood from the Gulag victims… Russian classics are an impressive collection of literature, but when they are promoted to the detriment of other literatures, they are as much a killer of small languages and their literatures as anything… It is my opinion that as interesting Russian classics may be, I would gladly burn the lot of them if that could resurrect as much as one of the people who met their premature deaths in the Tsarist katorga and in the Stalinist repressions. If the price of the resurrection of those people would be the complete disappearance of the Russian language and culture from the face of the earth and the annals of history, I for one would gladly pay it.
    Those authors and those books and that language are not guilty of anything. It’s the people who misused them who are guilty. Sorry for the pathos, but it’s really not the Russian language or Tolstoy risen from the grave doing all these bad things.

  170. But many linguistically naive people do take it literally: “English is a killer language”, etc., so it is better not to encourage such an interpretation.
    Yes! Here in Russian people are constantly writing about “the attack” or “the incursion” of English. They cite English loan words used on TV, etc. But I always say: The American and British ambassadors don’t call Channel One and dictate language policy. Izvestiya does not send their newspaper to AP to change “opros” into “ekzit pol.” Microsoft did not insist that Options be translated as optsii. Russians are taking words from English, not having them forced on them.

  171. Thanks, MMcM.
    Does anyone know the history of tiramisu? Even I guessed the name was Venetian, having read some detective stories that were set in Venice, but the internet has surprisingly little to say other than it’s not very old.
    I’d never heard of the Tower Hamlets Rifles, but somewhere my mother’s got a swagger stick from the Artists’ Rifles. I always kind of liked the idea of a special army regiment for artists. They weren’t as sissy as you might expect, unfortunately.

  172. But as far as Scandinavian authors go: They have lots of support from the state. There are more Dutch speakers than all the Scandinavian languages combined. Yet, in the US, there are only like 2 Dutch departments in our universities but maybe a dozen Scandinavian departments. And those departments have pictures of the King and Queen of Sweden and what not hanging on their walls. So, I am guessing that that has something to do with what you mention.
    Whatnot? The king & queen of Norway are whatnot?
    Actually, I think the Netherlands gives more direct support to artists & writers than “Scandinavia” does, if you mean Norway, Finland, Sweden & Denmark (I don’t know about Iceland or the Faroes). In my experience people in Norway seem to read Norwegian contemporary authors first & English-language authors second, both in the original. Not many people I know read much Danish or Swansk for fun, and virtually nobody reads Finnish or Samisk.

  173. Hat, the very extremeness of Panu’s position makes it one of the most interesting topics to be brought up on LH in a long time: “Is the rejection of a literary tradition that has been consciously used as a coercive form of ‘soft power’, arguably embodies illiberal values, and stifles other smaller traditions ever a valid option?” It sure beats the hell out of “Alliteration in Pushkin”.
    I’m surprised you feel that way. I personally find the topic you prefer intensely boring; if I didn’t, I would be writing a different blog altogether. You are certainly free to start your own blog on the topics you prefer, or (if that seems like too much trouble) there are many, many blogs out there focusing on nationalistic topics of that sort. I have no intention of doing so, so if you find “Alliteration in Pushkin” tiresome, you’re in the wrong place.

  174. Alliteration has always appealed to me, because repetition of sounds rings bells whose tolling would not peal so pleasingly otherwise.

  175. In his case, taking Soviet policy on minority languages at face value is definitely a blind spot.
    Once again, I ask: what the fuck? I’ll place my knowledge and understanding of Soviet policy on minority languages against yours any day; exactly where did I take them at face value? Do you think those editions of books in and about minority languages are a myth? Am I imagining I have some of them myself? Or is simply mentioning official Soviet policy and pointing out that it had real-world results like preserving some threatened languages tantamount to being a stooge of the Kremlin? I hate this kind of Manichean view of things: either you hate everything connected with X or you’re a blind X-lover.
    I’m well aware of the negative effects of Soviet rule, both on Russians themselves and on the other unwilling subjects of the USSR, thank you very much. I’m sure I have my blind spots, but that’s not one of them.

  176. I’ll have to add my name to the list of those who consider efforts to totally separate literatures from the political and cultural environments in which they exist to be an uncomfortable pursuit.
    I have never totally separated literature from the political and cultural environments in which it exists; if you’ll read my recent post on Platonov’s Kotlovan you’ll see that I recommend reading up on political and economic history in order to more fully understand the book. What I do separate are literary values and political values. In other words, I utterly reject the idea that we must judge a writer or a book by the political values they reflect or espouse. Once you go down that road, you wind up burning books or cutting yourself off from most of the world’s great literature. Virgil wrote propaganda for Augustus, Shakespeare wrote propaganda for the Tudors, Dostoevsky was an anti-Semite, Pound was a fascist, Hemingway was a male chauvinist pig, blah blah blah. I don’t care, in terms of literature. I probably wouldn’t want to hang out with most of the Great Authors for long, but I’m glad they existed and wrote what they wrote. I can understand how people can feel otherwise, but I don’t think those people truly appreciate literature.
    Panu’s discussions were different because they at least gave reasons and background to what he was saying
    So? His “reason” was that he was threatened by a fascist gang with Russian members. That’s a childish reason to dismiss an entire literature. I feel sorry for him, as I feel sorry for all people who are victimized by thugs, but I don’t take his visceral reaction, understandable as it is, seriously as a worldview.

  177. It’s high time for me to retract my comment that I understand what Panu was saying, and that he was justified in saying it – given what he went on to say in later comments. So I retract it. The later stuff of his was pure anger-stoking. Also, the whole tone of this comment thread is zum Kotzen, due to more than just Panu.
    In particular, I find it hard to credit how many people have seized this opportunity to insinuate that what Hat makes of his blog is not good enough for them. The charge is apparently that he does not display sufficient interest in nationalist butt-biting and vituperative Postmodern Culture Politics, nor provide enough scope for others to display theirs. What a load of impudent baloney !

  178. Heh. Thanks, Grumbly, I appreciate the support. It’s not really that many people, but yeah, I’m surprised too. It’s my blog, folks, and I write about what I’m interested in!

  179. That said, I should add that I welcome people bringing up whatever they like in the comment threads, and if they want to discuss political implications or whatever, that’s fine, as long as they don’t insult other commenters (as distinguished from attacking their ideas). But if you express ideas I dislike, I will cross swords with you. And if you run away in a cloud of wounded feelings and random insults, I will consider you a loser at the game of life.

  180. I agree, it’s impudent. Hat’s blog is the best thing yet to have come out of the twenty-first century. It’s a work of art, and anyone who doesn’t value it for what it is is missing the whole point.

  181. It’s a work of art
    In fact, I’m putting it up for auction at Christie’s next month. Don’t tell anyone!

  182. I remember reading a quote by a 16th or 17th century English writer, to the effect that “our language is of no use to us outside of our island”
    In an odd coincidence, Mori Arinori wrote a very similar thought promoting the use of English (or Simplified English) in Japan. See quotation here (pg. 181f; come on, Google or Internet Archive, time to get the original digitized) and contemporary reaction here.

  183. Yet, in the US, there are only like 2 Dutch departments in our universities but maybe a dozen Scandinavian departments.
    Aren’t the latter in places with large Scandinavian-American communities?
    Of course there are also Stuyvesants and Cronkites and Van Cleefs, but did they, let alone the Roosevelts and Vanderbilts, have Oliebollen?

  184. It’s a work of art in the age of post-mechanical reproduction.

  185. Them’s Krapfen ! Filled Berliner are one variety, but this kind comes out at Carneval, and at Christmas.
    The origin of the word is not in dispute, but my own field work has revealed new information about the origin of their popularity. You see, they increase mobility. When eaten in the appropriate quantities, little “handles” form around the waist, making it easier to move people around.

  186. Berliners filled with flaming mice.

  187. i agree with Panu’s comments in many ways, just still love Pushkin, Tolstoi,Lermontov etc
    never liked much Dostoevsky except his Zapiski iz mertvogo doma and Nabokov except his Russian novels though
    and you are really unwelcome if you’ll get deleted is my perception, so, hope, Panu still will comment sometimes and serve as like ushat of water, cooling
    hi, B! hope you enjoy your stay in my country, i would love to meet you while home, just am not confident in my haircut and the haircut day is thursday and i’m leaving friday, alas

  188. Dear Mr. Hat,
    Yes, I have read the post about Kotlovan. I have been reading your blog regularly for years now, periodically sticking my nose into the conversation in the comments and making an occasional fool of myself.
    I am not insisting that you judge writers by their values. I see no reason to hide that I, personally, do do it in some cases, when I am revolted to discover that beliefs or opinions I find disagreeable when stated directly make for pleasant and diverting fiction when gussied up with romance and adventure (i.e., I don’t read much mainstream American fantasy).
    Nor am I suggesting, however obliquely, that you, personally, engage in some kind of intellectual mummery. That would be an obvious insult. But many others do do it, and I do find it disquieting — in an abstract and moderate way — that others rationalize reading and enjoying books I find unpleasant by claiming to possess the skill of double-think.
    In a nutshell, my position is as follows: I have a pile of about a hundred books on the floor right now. Four or five are in Ukrainian, and the rest are in Russian. Yes, there are fewer people writing in Ukrainian, and Ukrainian books do come out in smaller editions. On the other hand, my Russian is fine, but my Ukrainian needs sustenance. So while it’s unobjectionable to say that Turgenev, et al., had no hand in making today’s Russia, by buying more Turgenev I am voting with my money. I consider it important for myself to remember that. Not because I hate Turgenev et al., or Russian literature, or Russians en masse, but because my own reading time is limited and it takes conscious effort to balance Russian reading with Ukrainian reading.
    If I may hazard an analogy, I’m sure that Wal-Mart carries many fine products of excellent quality. However, I choose to shop at smaller stores: not because their wares are significantly better, or because I have a silly vendetta against Wal-Mart, but for the simple reason that if I didn’t maintain constant awareness of what it is I’m doing, I would sooner or later end up shopping at Wal-Mart to the exclusion of all other merchants.
    I am sorry to see a conversation I consider important and even necessary spoiled by acrimony. It is your prerogative as host to channel or even suppress discussion in ways that please you. I am very glad that you have cultivated an erudite audience of commenters and tolerate their conversations, even when you yourself find those conversations intensely boring.

  189. I’m sorry if it sounded like I was saying that alliteration in Pushkin is boring, or even that the LH blog is boring. Of course it’s interesting. But even if I don’t agree with Panu’s conclusions (or the unrestrained passion with which he expressed them), I found the topic that his rant raised an interesting one. Read gave one of the sanest responses (agreeing with many of Panu’s comments but still professing to love Pushkin et al), but both mab and Wimbrel had very interesting things to say, things that I don’t have much knowledge of or perspective on.
    As I said, I don’t intend to pursue this, or even JR’s accusations of ‘anti-Chinese rants’ (which I looked for in vain). I can appreciate that Hat doesn’t want his blog to degenerate into a nationalist hate session, and I wasn’t suggesting that. Merely that this topic does have merit for discussion. However, I will withdraw and shut up.

  190. And my thanks to read for her wishes. I hope that she manages to get a haircut she’s confident in on Thursday. I may also be leaving (temporarily) on Friday, so a chance meeting at the airport is not totally out of the question :)

  191. Bathrobe, I’ve been meaning to mention that certain German tv channels this year (primarily arte) have been showing a fairly large number of documentary films on people and places in Mongolia. I don’t watch tv regularly, but at the times when I do switch it on I catch one of these films, often as not.
    I don’t know what the reasons might be for this slew of Mongolia films. Avoiding the dreaded word “interesting”, I want to say that altogether they give me a feeling that I am no longer completely ignorant about the country.

  192. Well, I’ll just jump in here one last time to repeat myself one last time. You guys are making Panu’s argument sounds rational. It wasn’t. He was blaming books and dead authors for policies of other human beings centuries later. His concerns about Russia and Russians today are sensible; his chauvinistic hatred of Russia, Russians and Russian culture is not. It’s abhorent.
    I suppose I should only speak for myself, but I think I can say that all of us who abhor Panu’s hate-filled ravings are deeply sympathetic to smaller nations whose language and literature were not allowed to develop during the Soviet period and/or suppressed.
    And frankly, how dare you all attack Hat the way you have! I mean, do you know Hat? Have you read his blog? Can you actually point to any post that is filled with Great Culture Chauvinism? Come on! And while I’m on a tear — it’s not even 10 am, my eyes are watering and I’m hot and sick from the smoke — reread the “moderate” descriptions of Russians posted here. Instead of Russians, fill in Estonians, or Armenians, or Ukrainians, or Germans, or Jews, or French. Aren’t they also filled with stereotypes and generalizations, a blanket characterization of a nation that you would reject if it were your own?
    End of rant.

  193. Hear, hear.

  194. i so love how Bichevskaya sings this song Chernyi Voron
    so great, the best song about death imo, just one needs to omit reading most of youtube comments there
    so, B, just call out for me in the salon if you are flying by MIAt
    i’ll try to figure out you, wow, it’s going to be a mysterious flight
    a few days ago on the Baidrag river crossing i saw two very tired and miserably looking young foreigners, my cursed shyness prevented me from saying hi to them and asking them whether they are okay, hope people get nice impressions of my country and people, i’m so not helpful in that regard

  195. i’ll try to figure out you
    He’s the one wearing a bathrobe.

  196. So while it’s unobjectionable to say that Turgenev, et al., had no hand in making today’s Russia, by buying more Turgenev I am voting with my money. I consider it important for myself to remember that. Not because I hate Turgenev et al., or Russian literature, or Russians en masse, but because my own reading time is limited and it takes conscious effort to balance Russian reading with Ukrainian reading.
    I have no problem with that whatever. If I were in your position, wanting to beef up my Ukrainian, I’d do the same.
    It is your prerogative as host to channel or even suppress discussion in ways that please you.
    I’m not channeling or (for heaven’s sake) suppressing discussion; where do you see any suppression going on? Panu suppressed himself. I’m merely taking part in the discussion, which I hope you’ll agree is my prerogative as much as anyone else’s. And the acrimony was entirely brought by Panu.
    I can appreciate that Hat doesn’t want his blog to degenerate into a nationalist hate session, and I wasn’t suggesting that. Merely that this topic does have merit for discussion. However, I will withdraw and shut up.
    For heaven’s sake, don’t withdraw and shut up! I too think the topic of nationalism and literature is worth discussing, and I’m happy to have it discussed here; however, anyone who conflates the two in as obnoxious a way as Panu did is going to get pushback. That’s not suppression, it’s debate.

  197. I should add that I don’t mind vigorous, even acrimonious, debate, and I have no problem with being told my ideas are full of crap as long as they are correctly characterized; sometimes I even wind up agreeing. What I do object to is being criticized on false grounds (like my allegedly taking Soviet claims at face value, or my allegedly suppressing dissent), especially at the hands of people who have been reading the blog long enough they should know better. But just for the record: I love Russian literature, and I despise the Soviet regime (even more than I despise the ones that preceded and followed it).

  198. j. del col says:

    This morning NPR had a report that is somewhat germaine to this thread. The new Dostoyevskaya station on the Moscow metro is decorated with paintings based on events in Dostoevsky’s books. Some psychologists have expressed concern that the paintings will make passengers afraid to ride the subway and might even cause some to kill themselves–or off a pawnbroker. I’m not making this up. (except for the jibe about the pawnbroker) You can see the artwork on the NPR website.

  199. I heard that report! It gave me a good laugh.

  200. michael farris says:

    “What I do object to is being criticized on false grounds (like my allegedly taking Soviet claims at face value”
    Okay, since I seem to be being lumped into the hat-attackers, I’ll admit to basing that comment on a single quote. But in my defense, if I had to write a single sentence and a half summing up Soviet linguistic policy, it would not be “(the Soviet government) promoted the shit out of minority languages and literatures. They invented “national epics” when there weren’t any to hand and published them in huge editions.”
    That’s the face that they presented to the world, what really happened was something rather different (and inventing national epics seems more like sabotage than promotion to me but I’ll let that pass).
    On the other hand, I didn’t mean my comment in an especially negtive or critical way. I have kind of assimilated to Eastern European arguing style (where arguing is generally considered a good thing) of exaggerating an opinion or expressing it in a provocative way to …. provoke a reaction. Maybe I should tone that down some.
    Finally (to a general audience) I do want hat to remain hat and post on what interests him and never suggested otherwise. I found the Pushkin alliteration post more than averagely interesting, I didn’t have anything to say or add to it, but I’m glad he posted on it. Part of what I like about the comment threads he hosts are their eclectic, free ranging and boisterous discussions therein.
    I did (and still do) think there are some interesting arguments around the edges of panu’s ideas, but the collective, hereditary blame he’s into kind of poisons his whole well. Finding out he’s probably a Swedophone was interesting as there’s apparently a lot more mutual hostility between the two groups of native speakers than ever makes it in the new beyond the borders of Finnland.

  201. I’m not sure they’re really hostile to one another, it sounds more like it’s the neo-nazi Finnish nationalists who don’t like the Swedish speakers. Neo-nazis often seem to have trouble learning languages, whereas the native Swedish speakers I’ve met in Finland were bilingual in Finnish.
    A Swedish Swedish-language speaker — a physicist — once told me he found the Finnish dialect of Swedish very beautiful.

  202. michael farris says:

    “but the collective, hereditary blame”
    that should be ‘collective, hereditary and retroactive blame’….

  203. michael farris says:

    For what it’s worth, apparently Finns (suomi speakers) are way over-represented in the readership of HBD sites.
    Not wanting to get into another squabble, I’ll leave it to someone else to defien HBD for those that don’t know, preferably Emerson since he was/is an author at one.

  204. The Dostoevskaya thing was on The Observers last month with a link to a YouTube of the station.

  205. (They also has several pieces on the blue-bucket driver-protesters, who got a mention in The Nation some months ago.)

  206. That’s a fairly hopeless portrait of Dostoevsky, he didn’t look anything like that angry socialist-realist caricature. They ought to have used a photograph. Otherwise, as you see in the video, what a great station! I love all the other murals and the b&w reflective surfaces. All cities should have a Dostoevsky subway station.

  207. But in my defense, if I had to write a single sentence and a half summing up Soviet linguistic policy, it would not be “(the Soviet government) promoted the shit out of minority languages and literatures. They invented “national epics” when there weren’t any to hand and published them in huge editions.”
    But I wasn’t summing up Soviet linguistic policy, I was responding to a specific claim that the Soviets suppressed minority literatures. Everything I said was true. If I’d been responding to someone claiming that the Soviets were champions of minority literatures, I’d have pointed out the other side of the coin. If one had to produce a full and balanced account of every issue on which one wanted to make a point, discussion would become impossible. And discussion becomes very difficult if one sentence written to make a specific point is pulled out and treated as if it were intended as a full account of the issue. So yeah, Eastern European arguing style doesn’t help.
    That said, I certainly don’t see you as a hat-attacker!

  208. Eastern European arguing style (where arguing is generally considered a good thing) of exaggerating an opinion or expressing it in a provocative way to …. provoke a reaction.
    Finally some portable positive spin ! In future, when someone objects to my sarcasm, I can casually, disdainfully murmur: “I see you are not familiar with the eloquential traditions of Eastern Europe”.

  209. Grumbly, what’s next, << for quotations?

  210. Huh. That’s not what I wrote.
    I wrote: what’s next, arrows for quotation marks? (only I didn’t write “arrows”, I used them).
    Oh never mind.

  211. j. del col says:

    A.A Zinoviev summed up Ibanskian style debate this way, didn’t he?
    “You’re a fool!”
    “You’re one, too!!”

  212. I have fixed your HTML, SavageSavage.
    Remember, kids, if you want <, you must type & lt ; (without spaces)!

  213. Although, technically, what you want is «.

  214. (Character Map for the win.)

  215. My impression about the Panu affair is that people are focusing on different parts of his discourse. When he started talking about the blood of the gulags, I didn’t bother following along. It was clear that his repudiation of what he sees as vile in the Russians was all the more savage for his having earlier swum against the tide by attempting to adopt a sympathetic and understanding view of them. I simply noted the bitterness of a man whose liberal evenhandedness had been betrayed. This is the part that mab couldn’t accept, which I can understand perfectly.
    What I was more interested in were his comments on Russian literature as a kind of cultural imperialism. Hat would no doubt find life less worth living if it were to disappear, but even something as widely lauded as Russian literature has had its deleterious effects, even if only because, as Panu pointed out, all that paper and ink could have been used for disseminating other worthy authors.
    Leaving economics aside, no matter how great the finest of French wines are, if wine-drinkers drank only top French wines and spurned the rest, and if a cartel was in place that made sure that only fine French wines and a few token alternatives were available, the world would be a much poorer place. I think Panu was pointing out a similar effect with Russian literature. It was something I’d never thought of before.

  216. As for Pushkin alliteration, I agree with the poster who didn’t find analysis of sound patterns in poetry very interesting or illuminating (speaking from memory). Not that I have anything against it, but it’s just a bit ho-hum for me.

  217. I’m so glad that linguist.in.hiding mentioned the Mansi poet Yuvan Shestalov. He’s a practicing shaman now, no kidding. Those who read Russian may want to have a look at this post by Oleg Yuriev (or Jurjew — he lives in Frankfurt). Also, check out the mind-blowing shamanstvo.ru!

  218. Like Hat, here I’m the Great Defender of the Russian nation. On other blogs with Putin apologists, I’m considered a pro-Western, Russian-hating Russophobe (the redundancy is stupidity, not literary emphasis). On those blogs, where I stress the bad tendencies in Russia today, I’ve been issued death threats. (Well, like this: “You’re the first we’ll shoot.”) This is all a bit wearying.
    As far as publishing goes — please recall that we are not talking about “Russians,” we are talking about Soviets (of many nationalities) with a specific ideology. So they may have printed up Pushkin, but there “wasn’t ink left over” not only for non-Russian literatures, but also for Akhmatova, Pasternak, Mandelshtam, Bulgakov, etc etc etc. I should also point out that many of those authors survived by doing translations — from the Armenian, Uzbek, Georgian, Ukrainian, etc. Yes, of dubious quality in some cases, or rather of dubious merit as translations. But still. Akhmatova couldn’t publish her poems, but her translations from the Armenian were printed.
    I’m just sayin’.

  219. «Merci, Language !»

  220. My two belated cents here — There was no single Soviet policy on ethnic minorities and minority languages. Very roughly, there were three periods with rather different policies. First (1917-1934): minority intelligentsias ally with Bolsheviks against the old elite and imperial culture. BTW, that’s the good time for Yiddish that ZSB mentions above. Second (1935-1953): Stalinist Bolsheviks kill off the minority intellectuals who once helped destroy the old empire. Third (1953-1987): a little bit of everything. Russification everywhere; yet a large niche for writers in small languages (so Aygi could not get published in Russian but his Chuvash translations of French, Hungarian and Polish poets went out in Cheboksary).
    Vasil Bykov was a rare case, a great WWII fiction author, a decent man and yet an officially recognized, decorated, promoted and widely read Soviet writer. When I went to school in the 1980s in Moscow, I had to consume lots of Bykov for my “extracurricular” but nonetheless required reading. (He wrote in Belarusian but translated some of his books into Russian.) Perhaps were got overfed on him back then.

  221. What mab said (and how she can be so thoughtful and eloquent while breathing overheated smoke and cement dust is beyond me). And Alexei has a good summary of the phases of Soviet policy.
    In general, this has been a good and interesting discussion; I won’t exactly thank Panu for provoking it, but I’m not sorry it happened. Just because I prefer to focus on literature (partly because political arguments get boring quickly) doesn’t mean I’m not interested in the other stuff.

  222. I waited too long to add my proverbial two cents to the thread on ethnic cleansing of literature; all that I could have said was said much more eloquently by other posters. What would sum it up for me is that nationalism of any kind is not at all about freedom.
    However, there are a couple of observations I wanted to make about the original claim, namely, that Russian popular culture and everyday life is permeated by Russian literature due to the educational policies of the Soviets and other historic factors, ant that this provides an unusually thick “allusion fodder”.
    First, I would tend to think this is one of those general truths that – while still being very useful knowledge – need so much qualification that they almost cease to be useful in practice. The majority of the population, for what my personal impression is worth, is marked by this trend in such a small degree as would make it unobservable if it were not for the biased sample. All that having been said, I think that the trend is indeed there.
    Second, I think that this is not the only “allusion fodder” that seems rich in Russian language and culture. There is something that hasn’t been noticed as often for some reason. I would call it “historicism”, if I am allowed to use the term here; a propensity to see everything in (distorted) historic perspective, rather than as timeless truth or as a given. This was present in Socialist and Marxist thought from the outset (some would argue that Marxists have transplanted it from Christianity), and was even more marked in Soviet propaganda and mass education: the official position was always vindicated historically. As a result, an average Russian seemed to be more conscious of what the country’s history was or was not supposed to be. Peter the Great or Ivan the Terrible was more of a pop-culture persona than Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. What surprises me is that this seems to have been commented upon relatively rarely.

  223. nationalism of any kind is not at all about freedom
    That is very true. On the other hand, neither is internationalisation, globalisation, imperial expansion, or assimilation. None of these things is ever about freedom.

  224. primaler:
    Василь Быков isn’t good enough to be in the same sentence with Лермонтов
    Alexei:
    Vasil Bykov was a rare case, a great WWII fiction author, a decent man
    So what is it about Vasil Bykov that stirs such diametrically opposed evaluations?

  225. Bathrobe, I don’t think those are diametrically opposed statements, although, in the heat of discussion, perhaps they are a bit strong. I personally think Bykov IS a great author of WWII fiction. But I also think he isn’t a Great Author. It’s hard to compare apples (prose writer) and oranges (poet), but I guess I’d put Lermontov in the first tier and Bykov in the second. Not everyone would agree with me.
    Maxim — excellent points! People here do tend to trawl history the way Orthodox Christians read the OT, looking for signs of the coming of Christ. They fight constantly about “revision of history,” although everyone does it. Your attitude towards Peter the Great determines your attitude towards Putin. And there is a great tendency to see Russian history/literature/culture as unique — which of course it is — while seeing every other nation’s history/literature/culture as not unique — which is of course not true. The past is seen as an iron determinent of the present and future. This is one of the things I argue about here constantly. My friends say: “I can’t stand Putin/Medvedev, but — that’s the way we are. Throughout our history we have accepted the iron fist of the ruler.” I keep saying: Nations change. For a thousand years country X was a monarchy, and now it’s a democracy. They say: Oh, that’s the West. We’re unique. I say: The “west” doesn’t exist. “Europe” doesn’t exist. Look at Sweden, Germany, Italy, France….
    Well, you get the idea.

  226. Is history in Russia a welter of competing interpretations, or is there a kind of generally accepted set of historical memes (as it were) that most people work from?
    I ask this because in China there seems to be a government-authorised version of history. There are people who challenge that version (e.g., the anti-Manchuists), but in general the government has determined what is correct.

  227. None of these things is ever about freedom.
    Well, Irish, Scottish and Welsh nationalism are. I oppressed all these peoples for centuries from London. “Patriotism” doesn’t work at all in this context.

  228. There are a few memes that are constant: Peter the Great – Window on Europe – reform. But then the interpretation of that has changed over time. In the Soviet period, Russian history was portrayed as a constant battle of the people for power. The meme was “freedom-loving people fight autocracy.” Or in literature: “the little man fights power” (or: “the superfluous man was superfluous because the horrible system wouldn’t let him make a difference in the world”). Now the meme is: “Russians like a strong-arm leader.” (Historians, particularly pre-revolutionary, had more competing views.) Another more or less constant meme is “the good tsar surrounded by bad advisors.” You can imagine why that one sticks around.
    There was a recent flap over the Longin film Tsar, which showed Ivan the Terrible as a totally crazy, brutal, schizophrenic nutcase. Lately the “official” view has been: “Oh, he did some bad things, but he was the kind of leader Russians like.” In Longin’s film, the “people” weren’t so crazy about him, and his advisors were not the problem (although one of his many wives certainly was).
    Same meme about Stalin, of course. Did I ever mention that there was a TV series called — and I’m really not making this up — “Stalin Live”? No one seemed to mind the irony of the title. It portrayed Stalin as a troubled man who did some bad things but wanted the best for his country.

  229. Is history in Russia a welter of competing interpretations, or is there a kind of generally accepted set of historical memes (as it were) that most people work from?
    The latter (as far as I can judge). Things were loosening up after the fall of the USSR, but now apparently the Kremlin is once again imposing an official interpretation of history (and downplaying Stalin’s crimes—he’s back to being the great defender of the fatherland). And one of the interesting things about the historical section of the Boyle/Gerhart book is that it presents history the way the average Russian thinks of it, not the way historians in general view it (they interviewed lots and lots of people on the street, subway, etc. to make sure the quotes, historical nuggets, and other material in the book were in fact generally known). Thus it skips right from the Time of Troubles to Peter the Great, without a mention of Alexei Mikhailovich, who was extremely important historically (he began much of what Peter the Great is given credit for) but has dropped out of popular history the way all the U.S. presidents between Van Buren and Lincoln have (or hell, maybe Jackson and Lincoln—does anyone remember Van Buren any more?).
    I agree with mab, maxim’s comment is on the nose.

  230. …And mab snuck in there while I was typing my comment!

  231. What’s Ivan the Terrible known as in Russian?

  232. Иван Грозный [Ivan Grozny], where the adjective has a range of meanings from ‘menacing’ to ‘dreadful’ to ‘formidable.’ It is not true, however, as is often said, that “Terrible” is a mistranslation; it only captures one aspect of the Russian word, but that’s unavoidable, and “Awe-Inspiring” or the like would err in the other direction. The quote from Gnedich in this post shows that the adjective can have the meaning ‘fearsome, destructive.’ (Obviously “Terrible” should not be taken in its current sense of ‘really bad.’)

  233. What’s Ivan the Terrible known as in Russian?
    Ivan the Misunderstood? Ivan the I Know He May Have Gone a Bit Too Far But It’s Forgiveable Under the Circumstances?

  234. Is history in Russia a welter of competing interpretations, or is there a kind of generally accepted set of historical memes (as it were) that most people work from?
    For the reasonably educated Russians who are not historians, history seems to be a Lego box of memes indeed. Most of these building blocks are not even interpretations, rather moralistic assessments. Plus, there are frameworks and general theories. Some are amusing, like extreme Eurasianism or its mirror image, racialist Occidentalism if I may call it so. There is definitely no universally accepted interpretation of 1917.
    I don’t know anyone who takes seriously the Kremlin view (if it exists) of anything, be it Russian history or satellite navigators. The younger people I have worked with in the past 5 years tend to be simply ignorant, although open to easily digestible knowledge.

  235. j. del col says:

    Ivan Grozny–Ivan the Awesome, (more or less.)

  236. He’s grozny, which is awe-inspiring, only in the darkest sense. (I think we’ve discussed this before, and people came up with older meanings of “terrible” that are closer to the Russian sense.) We used to joke that he should be Ivan the Awesome. Awesome Ivan. Yuck yuck. You know us translators — a laugh a minute.
    (yeah, I did sneak in there, Hat. we’re sneaky, too)

  237. … but now you guys beat me out. I know we’ve discussed this before. It’s awe-inspiring in the way the OT God was awe-inspiring — terrifying in His strengh and glory.
    BTW, I do recommend the film, although be prepared for really, really, really gruesome images. But the performances are amazing, and I think it gives a sense of what pre-Petrine Moscow looked like — the muck and mud, the small rooms, the magnificent frescos, the very eastern ornate clothing and decoration.

  238. LH (and anyone else), should you find yourself in our end of the Commonwealth, Lame Duck Books is closing its Harvard Square shop. Their inventory has a depth beyond my ability to judge in 20th Century Russian Literature. Signed first edition of О.М. Брик’s Иван Грозный​, published during the War, half off its former price of $275. Same deal for everything else below $1000.

  239. Apparently you don’t have to physically visit the store. From their website:

    Lame Duck Books will be closing its shop in Harvard Square in September, and in the meantime we will be liquidating our inventory. We encourage you to pay a visit, as there are many many fine and important as well as some totally inconsequential books that do not appear on our website. For those of you who cannot come to Cambridge, please feel free to browse the website inventory, as the same discounts apply to all listed material (with the exception of a small number of consignments).

    But that’s the kind of store I don’t visit, because half off $275 is still way, way, way more than I can afford. I try to keep my book purchases (like my wine purchases) below $10 if possible. I checked out the Russian lit section, and the first item is a first edition of Akhmatova’s Anno domini (St. Petersburg: n.p., 1921) for $8,500.00. Mind you, if a few million were suddenly deposited in my bank account, that’s the sort of thing I’d go for, and this sale would make my day!

  240. I try to keep my book purchases (like my wine purchases) below $10 if possible.
    Phew, I’m glad it’s not just me!

  241. You should really be buying things on behalf of some rich Russian collectors. Someone I know used to buy architectural books in England on behalf of the Mellon museum at Yale. Because it’s such a specialised job, I think it’s well paid.

  242. You should really be buying things on behalf of some rich Russian collectors.
    Actually, I know someone who did this. Some thugish guy who became a deputy decided that his office should have an “impressive library,” and he paid my friend to buy it. He wanted it to look like a third-generation library of someone in the intelligentsia.
    Which brings us back to the first topic of this post. Of course, the thug is never going to sit down and read Karamzin. But looking like he was well-read was a strong positive value for him. That is, even if he doesn’t really share all this fodder for allusion, he thinks that that fodder and those allusions are a Good Thing.

  243. I’m trying to make Language earn more without putting in more hours. Then he’ll buy a dog, a horse and, eventually, a couple of goats. He said it was just a question of the money.

  244. Some thugish guy
    Yeah, that was my instant interpretation of “rich Russian collectors”: guys who would have me crushed in a trash compactor if I were too annoying about getting paid. I’ll earn my goats some other way.

  245. jeff del col says:

    ‘Goats’ or ‘groats?’ or greatcoats and boats with oats?

  246. jeff del col says:

    Oops, I missed AJP Crown’s reference to goats.

  247. Hat, a favorite quotation from one of Ursula Le Guin’s essays:

    [I]f people ask, “Why do you always write about men?” I reply “I don’t”, and I say it rather crossly, because the question so phrased is both accusatory and inaccurate. I can swallow some accusation, or some inaccuracy, but the combination is poison.”

    And here’s Robert S. Ramsey writing in the late 80s about Chinese minority language policy, which was explicitly modeled on the Soviet one, and which I think well expresses the way in which minorities were propped up with one hand and knocked down with the other:

    The People’s Republic prides itself on the independence and the evenhanded treatment it gives its minorities. And, with certain shameful exceptions, such as the persecutions that took place during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, it is true that the Communist government has been reasonably cognizant of the sensibilities of its non-Han peoples. But there are limits to the amount of local autonomy that it can allow. [Non-linguistic examples snipped.] Heretical teachings are as much anathema to Communist dogma as they are to other state religions. Minorities are indeed free to hear broadcasts and read books and speak in their own languages. But what about the content? Old themes and old stories have been replaced by translations of the same subject matter the Han hear, read, and say. The “folk songs” that are sung by troupes of minority performers may often be in the minority’s own language, but the themes of the lyrics are now “revolutionary”.

    Lastly, a transclusion from Nick Nicholas’s personal blog opɯdʒɯlɯklɑr, from his post on the civic nationalism of Quebec (go there if you want to follow his links):

    [A] review of Ramsay Cook’s Watching Quebec says that he makes the mistake of demonising all nationalisms, and not recognising that some of them can be progressive and civic, rather than ethnicist and reactionary. To put it more obtusely: there’s not just Hitler Nationalism, there’s also Obama Nationalism.
    Funny thing is, in one essay Cook says that Trudeau had the same kind of blinkers on (although Cook and Trudeau were fellow travellers in federalism, so Cook didn’t really say that was a bad thing). To Trudeau, nationalism meant only the reactionary Duplessis, he could not see that it can also mean the liberal Bourassa. To Cook, nationalism meant only Hitler (and he admits it in his introductory essay); he could not readily see that it can also mean Lévesque. Or that, even if Bourassa and Lévesque did good things for the people, and disclaimed any Kempek Gallôn Katholikôn rhetoric, that the threat of exclusion was not inherent in nationalism.
    [...]
    The Parti Québécois is not following the rhetoric of ethnic exclusion, except in the fevered imagination of Anglo-Canadian opinion columns. The world has changed, and Canada has changed, even if the Balkans have not: you can’t make ethnic purity a condition for citizenship. The identity PQ is defending is a linguistic one; and in fact Cook diagnosed the shift of rallying point at the time quite astutely.
    In the nineteenth century, Franco-Quebec was defined by its creed and its bonds to the parish and the soil. By the mid-20th century, Franco-Quebec was urbanised and secular, and looked like anywhere else in North America (though maybe with a generation’s delay). The only thing left distinguishing it from Anglo-Canada was its language, and that’s what it had to defend. Which is why Quebec welcomes francophone immigrants. The point is not that they’re born eating poutine and swearing “tabarnak”. The point is that francophone migrants will more easily learn to eat poutine and swear “tabarnak”. Or to put it less stupidly, that they can more readily acclimatise to a civic identity which centres on French, and which has identity markers that can be acquired, rather than bequeathed as an ethnicity.
    So the PQ brand of nationalism welcomes Haitians: I have no problem believing it does so sincerely (the world has changed and so has Canada), and the PQ can’t hope to win government if it doesn’t. The PQ brand of nationalism tries to embrace anglophones, and makes the 24th of June a National Holiday, rather than a Patron Saint of French Canadians Holiday: it cannot get a contemporary nation happening with a Catholic Saint as its patron. It’s a nationalism, but it’s not an ethnically based nationalism.

    Progressive and civic nationalisms are what the U.S. and Canada are intended to be based on, and sometimes even are. Hannah Arendt wrote this up in one of her letters during the McCarthy era (Joe not Mary) about how the American state does not identify itself with the ethnic majority and consequently treats minorities as citizens (with the obvious exception of the color-line). But I won’t quote that, because (a) I’m tired, (b) y’all are tired of reading this, and (c) I can’t find it on line.

  248. > > None of these things is ever about freedom.
    > >
    > Well, Irish, Scottish and Welsh nationalism are. I oppressed all these
    > peoples for centuries from London. “Patriotism” doesn’t work at all in
    > this context.
    I submit that they — nationalism and patriotism — are best understood as essentially the same thing: struggle for the establishment of, or preservation of, primacy of the nation or tribe over the individual and essentially all else. The direction of the struggle does not change the relationship to freedom. And struggle against, or for, oppression or status quo, depending on one’s view, is something different entirely.
    I think that this particular confusion of national struggle with liberation has been the source of much historic and contemporary evil.
    >
    > Progressive and civic nationalisms are what the U.S. and Canada are
    > intended to be based on, and sometimes even are. Hannah Arendt wrote
    > this up in one of her letters during the McCarthy era (Joe not Mary)
    > about how the American state does not identify itself with the ethnic
    > majority and consequently treats minorities as citizens (
    >
    Given the above, one would understand that I can’t accept “civic nationalism” as being nationalism at all; my preferred view makes it an oxymoron: if it’s civic, than why it is “national”; if “national” takes priority, than what’s so civic about it? Quite a bit like “socialism with a human face”: political mimicry and trying to benefit from association with a strong feeling for furthering one’s political cause and career. The cause is sometimes good, but this doesn’t change the deceptive nature of the association.
    The politics are made by hiding agendas and making things that have nothing in common appear linked. And, I believe, Quebec is actually a very good example of that. What is represented by PQ being “civic” is what I see as their tight-rope act of trying to cater to very different electorates at the same time. I suspect that it is this policy that has backfired during the election campaign of several years ago: they have become too “civic” and had the official opposition status snatched away by a seemingly more conservative party that made itself appear to be closer to the soil and the traditional PQ base. Now they are busy trying to get it all together again, and no, just the language is not enough.
    What _is_ true is that all this represents a very marked progress from the times and places where nationalism directly feeds from unabashed ethnic hatred. This — civic nationalism — is also probably the only way it could die a quite death. So, yes, the “civic” variety is much to be welcomed. But, for me, it’s still mimicry.

  249. Is history in Russia a welter of competing interpretations, or is there a kind of generally accepted set of historical memes (as it were) that most people work from?
    My impression is that it is both these things: on the one hand, there is a set of “generally accepted memes” that most people use as lego pieces, just like Alexei said. On the other hand, the lego pieces are not chosen at random: there are several competing coherent sets, broadly divided into “pro-western” and “patriotic”, there being several modification of each. Each political party is required to produce its own set, or endorse an existing one.

  250. Maxim: I concede that civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism are built on different senses of the word nation, but there simply is no other word, unless we are to deny that the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Quebec are nations at all. To call them nations brings up, to a European, Bretons or Basques or Kashubians; to call them states brings up the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Neither model fits. In any case, the two kinds of nationalism are competitive in practicae: the battle in the U.S. now, arguably for the last 150 years, is between civic nationalism and racist (i.e. pseudo-ethnic) nationalism.
    I am a civic nationalist. That means that what matters to me about my country is primarily its ideals; if it became 99% ethnic Chinese tomorrow, I wouldn’t turn a hair, provided those particular Chinese were also civic nationalists. (I might not find buying cheese so easy, though.) As a consequence, I (like Noam Chomsky) criticize my country when it doesn’t live up to those ideals, which it often doesn’t. This makes the other kind of U.S. nationalist accuse my kind of lack of patriotism, because we don’t believe in “my country, right or wrong”, but that’s just incorrect: see the Le Guin quotation below. You could call me a cosmopolitan, except that has all the wrong connotations too: I’m not a citizen of nowhere, but of somewhere, a somewhere that defines itself in non-ethnic terms.
    Of course, there’s a corrupt form of civic nationalism that claims to care about ideals, but just uses them as a new kind of cover for the same old robbery and murder. But (no matter how we appear from outside) this is not the central belief system of the U.S., still less Canada or Australia. For that matter, there’s also a non-corrupt form of ethnic nationalism: I am also very proud of my Hiberno-Deutsch heritage, without being, civically speaking, either Irish or German, or wanting to be.
    From Le Guin’s novel The Left Hand Of Darkness:

    How does one hate a country, or love one? Tibe [the Prime Minister] talks about it; I lack the trick of it. I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one’s country; is it hate of one’s uncountry? Then it’s not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That’s a good thing, but one mustn’t make a virtue of it, or a profession [...]. Insofar as I love life, I love the hills of the Domain of Estre, but that sort of love does not have a boundary-line of hate. And beyond that, I am ignorant, I hope. — Therem Harth rem ir Estraven

  251. The problem is that human beings have to belong to something, whether it’s the tribe, the empire, or something else. Perhaps you can think of a different kind of social organisation that doesn’t entail people “belonging”, but I can’t.
    And as long as people have to “belong”, there will be some kind of coercion involved. Perhaps the old empires were better than modern nation-states, but I doubt it.

  252. Maxim,
    If you want to speak a language or practise a religion or wear a special outfit or in some other way utilise the way of life of an ethnic or national group, and are restrained from doing so by the local authorities, then you may want to join a group of national freedom-fighters. Patriotism and religion may or may not be part of your interest. I don’t see that you are compromised as an individual by any of this, it’s just that people with a common interest derive advantages from banding together.

  253. Maxim: I concede that civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism are built on different senses of the word nation
    Thanks, I now understand what you mean (and I like the Le Guin quotations). Please let me take back the “mimicry” invectives then.
    However, I am convinced that the confusion around the use of “nation” is not coincidental. This is where we can bring this politicized discussion back to linguistics: it seems to me that there is a strong cultural variation in usage of “nationalism” and “nation”.
    For me, and, if I am not mistaken — I well might be — for average Russian of my background, “nationalism” means “ethnic nationalism” by default. What is meant is broad ideology with many shades, as it appeared in the XIXth century, sharing its roots with romantic movement — in essence, an attempt to use ethnic feeling of belonging and hatred for reasons of state or for political aims; the term is mildly pejorative, at least in some circles, and needs qualification (like “civic”) to attempt to be respectable. The popular usage of the word in modern Russian is also negative, mostly meaning the genocidal type; needless to say, it has been, and still is, abused by official propaganda.
    As regards English usage that I know, the only example I immediately remember that uses “nationalism” in the same sense as I would use it is the essay by Isaiah Berlin on the subject.
    Likewise, the Russian faux ami of the word “nation” means “ethnicity” rather than nationality (this is in fact a very common mistake people make when filling in visa questionnaires).

  254. people with a common interest derive advantages from banding together
    Well, my definition of “nationalism” was something more than that — something that makes those interests a central moral value and binds it with statehood (“la terre et les morts”, tending to prematurely increase the number of the latter).
    I was naive in thinking this definition is sufficiently universal to be used by default.

  255. I agree with maxim about nationalism (and “nationalism”); you can try to reclaim the word with concepts like “civic nationalism,” but to me that sounds oxymoronic. I’d rather chuck the whole thing. And to say “human beings have to belong to something” begs the question of what that something is; it’s like saying “Well, OK, he’s a murderer, but human beings have violent impulses,” or “Yes, slaveholding is unfortunate, but human beings are acquisitive.” We can “belong” to small groups of family and friends without going to the absurd and dangerous extreme of choosing to identify ourselves with millions of people we’ll never meet because we all find ourselves under the same flag and oppressed by the same bunch of corrupt thugs. Nationalism is a disease, pure and simple, and someday (I hope) we’ll cure ourselves of it.

  256. I don’t think you should tell a Welsh nationalist or a Scottish nationalist that they’re victims of a disease and need curing.

  257. I have no intention of succumbing to any such foolishness. Note I said “cure ourselves,” not “have a cure imposed on us by supercilious foreigners.” But the fact is that they/we are victims of a disease, and the sooner we as a species get rid of it, the better.

  258. I should add that I am speaking purely theoretically/idealistically; in practice I completely understand why there are Welsh nationalists and Scottish nationalists, and if I were Scots (and not an anarchist) I might vote SNP myself.

  259. don’t think you should tell a Welsh nationalist or a Scottish nationalist
    why not?

  260. Narrow nationalism as an ideology is like anything: vicious when adhered to fanatically. I can think of religions that are similar. Things like national consciousness, ethnic consciousness, religious consciousness, class consciousness can all lead to similar results. Perhaps nationalism is regarded as a disease because it has been made into a narrow principle for organising political units in the modern era, with extremely violent results. But religious affiliations have had equally violent results when used as a narrow definition for organising people. I just don’t believe that there are any ‘non-diseased’ ways of organising people’s affiliations. The problem is not the ideology, it’s people.

  261. why not?
    Well, for one thing they aren’t violent. Didn’t you live in Wales, Sashura? Welsh nationalism is all about preserving Celtic culture and not allowing it to be subsumed by other cultures that are bigger and pervasive (i.e. Anglo-American, for the most part). I don’t think that’s a disease, it’s a good thing — I’m sure we all agree. (The same goes in principle for the Basques, though I abhor the violent tactics of ETA.) I don’t think the word “nationalism” automatically means something bad. If tribes didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be different languages.

  262. There’s nothing wrong with liking one’s own culture and wanting to preserve it. The problem comes when that’s correlated with dismissing other cultures and treating the whole thing as a zero-sum game: I must defeat your culture/language/nation so that mine may prosper. And the Welsh and Scots are no more immune to that sentiment than anyone else; they just haven’t had as much chance to exercise it. When “little nations” get the chance to oppress littler nations, they do so; cf. Serbia and Georgia.

  263. I love Wales, that’s why I ask. There was a violent phase there too, meibion Glyndŵr and burning cottages and all that. There are strong parallels between what happened in the USSR in 1923-1939 – and is happening now – with Wales and Scotland. The Welsh have been amazingly successful in preserving and developing their culture and language. But the downside, at least in North Wales, is that young people can’t get into good jobs or top universities because they don’t speak good enough English.
    I am more concerned about Scotland though, from outside it looks like the SNP feeds on hatred of the English.
    I’ve looked at the Orwell essay Panu refered to. Here is what Orwell says:
    There is always a temptation to claim that any book whose tendency one disagrees with must be a bad book from a literary point of view. People of strongly nationalistic outlook often perform this sleight of hand without being conscious of dishonesty.

  264. the Welsh and Scots are no more immune to that sentiment than anyone else; they just haven’t had as much chance to exercise it. When “little nations” get the chance to oppress littler nations, they do so
    Who are the Welsh going to oppress? Or the Scots? If one of them took over the Isle of Man, the most conservative place in the British Isles, it could only be an improvement, but I think all they want is economic and cultural freedom. When Ireland got independence they didn’t hassle anyone else; they were just happy to be independent. Some nationalist movements are bad (I’m quite sure “English nationalism” would just be an excuse for racism), but not all.
    young people can’t get into good jobs or top universities because they don’t speak good enough English. Well they should learn English. That’s what everyone does in Norway. Ridiculous.

  265. Who are the Welsh going to oppress? Or the Scots?
    Exactly my point. That’s how come they can be good, healthy nationalists (barring the occasional drunken brawl). If they had somebody to oppress, they would. People are people.

  266. Who are the Welsh going to oppress? Or the Scots?
    How about non-Scots and non-Welsh resident in those countries? As Sashura says, neither Welsh nor Scottish nationalism have been free from ugly incidents and I know people who have been on the receiving end of some of them. The Scots also played a leading role in the colonisation of Ulster, so if Scotland got divorced from England it would be difficult to say which country would be “entitled” to Northern Ireland.
    The Scots already have cultural freedom. Sir Walter Scott, perhaps the greatest Scottish cultural nationalist, was a strong British unionist. When were Burns’ poems banned? As for “economic freedom”, the SNP slogan that an independent Scotland could be “just like Iceland” seems to have disappeared over the past few years. Can’t think why (heh).
    Given Ireland’s history, I can understand Irish nationalism, while despising its more extreme manifestations. Scottish history is a completely different kettle of fish.
    (This post probably sounds more ranty than it actually is. I don’t really see the point of Scottish or Welsh independence but if people want to vote for that, it’s their democratic choice. Just lay off the anglophobia and the Braveheart BS. Do you really want Mel Gibson as a cheerleader for your cause?)

  267. Well I am actually English and have been criticised in the past for excessive anglophilia, or patriotism or something like that, so I’ll keep your testimonial on file just in case it happens again.
    I see at least one problem with Scotland’s current devolution: instead of more independence, now they’re governed from Edinburgh, London and Brussels — that’s three lots of rules and taxes.
    I just read (in a biography of the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper) that there’s nothing wrong with referring to the people of Scotland as “Scotch”, it’s just an older form. I’m wondering if I dare start using it myself; I probably won’t, except in private, it will upset too many Scotchpersons. Trevor-Roper wrote about fake Scottish traditions like the kilt and tartans in The Invention of Tradition and in the posthumously-published The Invention of Scotland. He also came up with the concept of the Scottish enlightenment (Hume, Adam Smith, etc.).
    As for Ireland, it will one day be an independent nation incorporating all of Ulster; but I may be dead by then, and not from a bomb.

  268. Well, having re-read it, my message looks rather confusing (it was pretty late at night when I wrote it).
    Just lay off the anglophobia and the Braveheart BS. Do you really want Mel Gibson as a cheerleader for your cause?
    That wasn’t aimed at you, AJP, so much as notional Scottish nationalists. There’s a kind of split in the SNP between the more reasonable members and the Gibsonesque loonballs. The trouble with the Scots laying claim to a history of oppression (elimination of Gaelic, Culloden, Highland Clearances) is that fellow Scots are just as likely to be behind the oppressing as the English (see here – assuming the link works – for one example: “It was against this background that in 1598 James VI authorised the ‘Gentleman Adventurers of Fife’ to civilise the ‘most barbarous Isle of Lewis’. James wrote that the colonists were to act ‘not by agreement’ with the local inhabitants, but ‘by extirpation of thame’”). I’m inclined to agree with Groundskeeper Willie of The Simpsons in his take on Scottish history: “Brothers and sisters are natural enemies. Like Englishmen and Scots! Or Welshmen and Scots! Or Japanese and Scots! Or Scots and other Scots! Damn Scots! They ruined Scotland!”
    I just read (in a biography of the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper) that there’s nothing wrong with referring to the people of Scotland as “Scotch”
    Yeah, I suppose it’s a bit like “Lapp”. Everybody seems to think it’s offensive, no one knows why.

  269. Love the Groundskeeper Willie quote!

  270. Jeez. I had no idea this thread went on and on.
    Maybe instead of “nationalism” you want to call it pride or something.
    My other random thought: with some countries you can talk about “nationalism” or “national identity” in a comprehensible way. But a lot goes out the window with us Americans. I always throw people off when I say I’m an American, but ethnically I’m half Ukrainian and half Lemko, and I’ve lived most of my adult life in Russia. And then I usually ask: So what am I? In Russian you can make the distinction between ethnic Russians and citizens of Russia, but there aren’t hyphenated Russians: Ukrainian-Russian, Georgian-Russian. It sounds silly to them, but why should it? Some third generation Muscovite whose great-grandparents came from Armenia is not their notion of a “real Armenian.”

  271. but there aren’t hyphenated Russians: Ukrainian-Russian, Georgian-Russian. It sounds silly to them, but why should it
    I suppose it is common knowledge, but this wasn’t always the case in America, too, and could be otherwise to this day: “Any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready.” It took some time and some favorable historic circumstances for the hyphenation not to sound suspicious to Americans, too.
    To me, such things are reassuring: we are not different from anybody else in that we, too, are just a unique combination of known elements, not something cut from different cloth altogether. The average Russian’s attitude to ethnicity and nationality is not strange; just retarded, historically speaking. One is free to proclaim this a virtue, of course.

  272. Indeed, a mere fifty years ago many Americans doubted if a Catholic-American president could be a “real American”, and feared he would take his instructions from the Pope. While no such thing happened, there have also not been any non-Protestant Presidents since. Indeed, from Kennedy to Bush II all Presidents were descended chiefly or entirely from immigrants from the British Isles.

  273. John Stuart Mill on civic nationalism, from his 1840 essay “Coleridge” (revised by the author, and reparagraphed by me):

    The second condition of permanent political society [the first is self-discipline among the citizens] has been found to be, the existence, in some form or other, of the feeling of allegiance, or loyalty. This feeling may vary in its objects, and is not confined to any particular form of government; but whether in a democracy or in a monarchy, its essence is always the same; viz. that there be in the constitution of the State something which is settled, something permanent, and not to be called in question; something which, by general agreement, has a right to be where it is, and to be secure against disturbance, whatever else may change.

    This feeling may attach itself, as among the Jews (and indeed in most of the commonwealths of antiquity), to a common God or gods, the protectors and guardians of their State. Or it may attach itself to certain persons, who are deemed to be, whether by divine appointment, by long prescription, or by the general recognition of their superior capacity and worthiness, the rightful guides and guardians of the rest. Or it may attach itself to laws; to ancient liberties, or ordinances. Or finally (and this is the only shape in which the feeling is likely to exist hereafter) it may attach itself to the principles of individual freedom and political and social equality, as realized in institutions which as yet exist nowhere, or exist only in a rudimentary state.

    But in all political societies which have had a durable existence, there has been some fixed point; something which men agreed in holding sacred; which, wherever freedom of discussion was a recognised principle, it was of course lawful to contest in theory, but which no one could either fear or hope to see shaken in practice; which, in short (except perhaps during some temporary crisis), was in the common estimation placed beyond discussion.

    And the necessity of this may easily be made evident. A State never is, nor, until mankind are vastly improved, can hope to be, for any long time exempt from internal dissension; for there neither is, nor has ever been, any state of society in which collisions did not occur between the immediate interests and passions of powerful sections of the people. What, then, enables society to weather these storms, and pass through turbulent times without any permanent weakening of the securities for peaceable existence?

    Precisely this — that however important the interests about which men fell out, the conflict did not affect the fundamental principles of the system of social union which happened to exist; nor threaten large portions of the community with the subversion of that on which they had built their calculations, and with which their hopes and aims had become identified.

    But when the questioning of these fundamental principles is not the occasional disease, or salutary medicine, but the habitual condition of the body politic, and when all the violent animosities are called forth, which spring naturally from such a situation, the State is virtually in a position of civil war; and can never long remain free from it in act and fact.

    The third essential condition of stability in political society, is a strong and active principle of cohesion among the members of the same community or state. We need scarcely say that we do not mean nationality in the vulgar sense of the term; a senseless antipathy to foreigners; an indifference to the general welfare of the human race, or an unjust preference of the supposed interests of our own country; a cherishing of bad peculiarities because they are national; or a refusal to adopt what has been found good by other countries.

    We mean a principle of sympathy, not of hostility; of union, not of separation. We mean a feeling of common interest among those who live under the same government, and are contained within the same natural or historical boundaries. We mean, that one part of the community do not consider themselves as foreigners with regard to another part; that they set a value on their connexion; feel that they are one people, that their lot is cast together, that evil to any of their fellow-countrymen is evil to themselves; and do not desire selfishly to free themselves from their share of any common inconvenience by severing the connexion.

    How strong this feeling was in those ancient commonwealths which attained any durable greatness, every one knows. How happily Rome, in spite of all her tyranny, succeeded in establishing the feeling of a common country among the provinces of her vast and divided empire, will appear when any one who has given due attention to the subject shall take the trouble to point it out.

    In modern times the countries which have had that feeling in the strongest degree have been the most powerful countries; England, France, and, in proportion to their territory and resources, Holland and Switzerland; while England in her connexion with Ireland, is one of the most signal examples of the consequences of its absence. Every Italian knows why Italy is under a foreign yoke; every German knows what maintains despotism in the Austrian empire; the evils of Spain flow as much from the absence of nationality among the Spaniards themselves, as from the presence of it in their relations with foreigners; while the completest illustration of all is afforded by the republics of South America, where the parts of one and the same state adhere so slightly together, that no sooner does any province think itself aggrieved by the general government, than it proclaims itself a separate nation.

    As a modern example, I would point to the fact that the U.S. systematically uses its federal machinery to transfer wealth from the richer states to the poorer ones, and remains intact, whereas the EU has been refusing to do so (“Let the Greeks take care of the Greeks”) and is in trouble because of it.

  274. Every Italian knows why Italy is under a foreign yoke; every German knows what maintains despotism in the Austrian empire

    And, to take an obvious contemporary example, every Kurd knows why there is no Kurdish state. An excellent quote.

    As to the US vs. the EU, you’re comparing apples and oranges; the EU is not a country and as far as I can tell nobody seriously expects it to become one. Germany saying “Let the Greeks take care of the Greeks” is more like the US saying “Let Mexico take care of the Mexicans.”

  275. “Germany saying “Let the Greeks take care of the Greeks” is more like the US saying “Let Mexico take care of the Mexicans.”

    Kinda. The Germans and Greeks are in a common, supranational currency union. They are in the same supranational political union in which there is free movement between them, etc. etc. The U.S. and Mexico share a border and have treaty alliances.

  276. marie-lucie says:

    GW, a currency union and a supranational political union (with limited goals and power) do not a nation make. In spite of some common elements the countries all differ in language and traditions, and their shared history includes innumerable wars.

  277. Trond Engen says:

    I think you agree. It’s a circle. The EU don’t have the internal solidarity needed to build institutions that can mitigate economic shocks because it’s not a country* because it doesn’t have the internal solidarity defining one, and it’s not a country because it doesn’t have the shared institutions that would give a sence of solidarity. People’s views on the EU depend on which side they see the circle from and whether they believe or want the dynamics of the union to follow an upward or downward spiral. ‘Believe’ and ‘want’ are orthogonal, but since it’s such a loaded question, we (the people) tend to confuse the two.

  278. The Germans and Greeks are in a common, supranational currency union. They are in the same supranational political union in which there is free movement between them, etc. etc.

    Yes, of course, which is why JC brought them up. I was emphasizing the other (and in my view more important) side of the coin.

  279. “a currency union and a supranational political union (with limited goals and power) do not a nation make”

    And, I didn’t say that. What I was trying to express was the relationship of Germany and Greece is much different than the relation ship of the U.S. and Mexico. Period.

  280. Not in the relevant (economic) sense. Greece has no more claim on Germany’s economic help than Mexico has on that of the US.

  281. LH. Not a moral claim, but they are inextricably linked by a common currency and, more importantly, a common monetary policy.

    One of the major difficulties the Greeks suffered in the Great Recession was the inability to devalue their currency. Their monetary policy is determined by the the EMU which is dominated by Germany.

  282. Trond Engen says:

    Greece has no more claim on Germany’s economic help than Mexico has on that of the US.

    Well, that’s a judgment with many dimensions. Since I tend to think that if law, moral and pragmatic solutions are different, one or all are wrong, I’ll just go on to argue that by giving up their own currency, and thus the ability for one country to use low rates to force money into productive use, inflation to scale down excess debt and currency depreciation to export the major share of the adjustment costs to its trading partners, the Euro countries also accepted a mutual obligation to solve local problems in common. And it’s an obligation informed by self-interest since recession spreads. In that respect, Europe’s response to the recession is not even disappointing but bordering on criminal neglect. But I suppose it’s too early to condemn the common currency. Usually it takes a crisis or two to accept the inevitability of mutual obligations. It certainly did in the U.S.

    And of course, there may be many solutions and help is many different things. The moral judgments may differ on money transfers, increasing spending at home, and adjusting inflation targets.

  283. You’re right, of course, and I certainly hope the crisis pushes them in the direction of accepting the inevitability of mutual obligations. I haven’t quite gotten cynical enough to poohpooh the possibility.

  284. David Marjanović says:

    I’m with Trond. I’ve heard Sigmar Gabriel answer the question of “why is the government using our tax money to save Greek banks”: Greece is a great importer of German products, so economic trouble in Greece automatically destroys jobs in Germany. It took Merkel too long to understand this; for a long time, she wanted to let Greece go bankrupt and/or leave the € or whatever. (…and I suspect that austerity is a moral issue for her, not a pragmatic one.)

    In my experience so far, the EU does the exact minimum of what’s necessary, and does it in the last minute. Never less, never later. Here’s the latest example.

  285. You people are so parochial. What good will your little arguments be when China rules the world and Europe becomes an economic sinkhole? (Tongue in cheek but half serious).

  286. a currency union and a supranational political union (with limited goals and power) do not a nation make

    Well, that’s the issue: is the U.S. a nation? The losing side in the Civil War (so called because of its outcome) thought it was merely a currency union and a supranational political union, albeit one with a common language which itself was shared with the British Empire (as it was in those days). As I said above, the world had nations and it had supranational states in the 19C, but the U.S. didn’t and doesn’t fit either mold. There is no distinct American ethnicity.

    For that matter, is Canada a nation? There is no Canadian ethnicity either. I can’t remember where on the Web I read this, but an anglophone Canadian, a so-called “Russian” Mennonite (a descendant of Mennonites of German, Swiss, and Dutch origin who lived in the Ukraine before moving to Canada among other places) lamented, on his trip to Russia, that he could never find anything to say to people who asked “What is your nationality?” When he replied “Canadian”, they rejected that as “mere citizenship”, and when he replied “Mennonite”, they rejected that as “mere religious affiliation”. Yet he could find no other words to say “what he was” that didn’t seem horribly wrong to him. Molly Ivins (pbuh) used to say that there were six cultures in Texas: black, Chicano, Southern, freak (later changed to goth), suburban, and shitkicker.

  287. I’ll repeat my totally disregarded comment at Languagelog (pearls before swine):

    Quite a few years ago I was talking in Chinese with a black American and some (ethnically) Chinese people, when talk somehow turned to other (white) Americans on campus. I rather mischievously referred to them as his 同胞 tóngbāo (‘people of the same womb’), which is the normal Chinese term for ‘compatriot’ or ‘fellow countryman’. He thought earnestly for a moment and said, ‘They aren’t my tóngbāo‘. Which goes to demonstrate that the Chinese term 同胞 tóngbāo, usually trotted out when China talks about the Taiwanese (they are people of the same womb that haven’t been reunited with their countrymen), doesn’t apply at all to the US. In no way would people in the U.S. think of the many mixed ethnicities of the U.S. as ‘people of the same womb’.

    (Of course, tóngbāo is a rather loaded term and tends to belie the claim that all the many ethnicities in China are ‘Chinese’. I’m doubtful that the Uyghurs, for instance, would fit in comfortably with the concept of tóngbāo, at least in normal usage — I wouldn’t put it past the propagandists, however.)

  288. Maybe it wasn’t clear at the time of the Civil War (and, seriously, merely currency union and supranational political union, which fought the Mexican-American War? The coalition of the willing?), but I don’t think there is any doubt that US is now a nation. It is nicely exemplified by comical secession movements.

    Bathrobe, your anecdote brings to mind Russian word соотечественник (literally, compatriot), which I was surprised to find out is (among other thigs) a legal term defined in the special law “О государственной политике РФ в отношении соотечественников за рубежом” (The statement of policy concerning compatriots living abroad), which defines соотечественник as “Соотечественниками являются лица, родившиеся в одном государстве, проживающие либо проживавшие в нем и обладающие признаками общности языка, религии, культурного наследия, традиций и обычаев, а также потомки указанных лиц по прямой нисходящей линии.” (Compatriots are [all] the persons born in the same state, living now or ones that has lived in it, and exhibiting the commonality of language, religion, cultural heritage, traditions, and customs, as well as their progeny in the direct descendant line). It more or less captures the common meaning of the word as well. Now a tricky question. If a Bashkir family were to move abroad, whether they children would be considered соотечественники by all Russians (not only Bashkirs). There is no doubt that it’s exactly what the law says, but the popular opinion maybe quite different.

  289. “Well, that’s the issue: is the U.S. a nation?”

    I think most Americans accept the U.S. as a nation. I and, I think, many Americans consider diversity as one of our defining characteristics and take pride in being a “nation of immigrants.” However, this is not a universal feeling (see the debate about immigration reform).

    However, how a nation-state should be comprised is still an unsettled issue. When nation-states first began to develop, a number of political philosophers thought that a state should be large and diverse so that it would be self sufficient and defensible. Lately, it seems that many people feel that ethnicity (variously language, religion, etc.) should be the defining criteria.

    Often the concepts of “territorial integrity” vs “self-determination” are in conflict. It is my observation that there is little consistency as to which principle should apply. The U.S. and other international powers take either side depending on their national interests. The U.S., as an example, will assert territorial integrity as the guiding principle in one situation (like Iraq) while self determination in another (see former soviet republics).

  290. I think most Americans accept the U.S. as a nation.

    Well, sure. But that, I think, is because we are too ignorantly parochial (300 million people in this parish!) to understand what nation means to the rest of the world. I mean, I think I’m fairly edumacated on the subject, and I still don’t know what the difference is between a Ukrainian citizen who is an ethnic Russian and an ethnic Ukrainian who it so happens speaks only Russian. And can you tell by objective investigation, or do you have to refer to the individual’s own views? (Feel free to attempt to enlighten me, anybody.)

    not a universal feeling

    Definitely not. There is a minority that thinks Americans, “real Americans” are an ethnicity, and everyone else should “go back where they came from”. Per contra, to our actual “national minorities”, viz. Native Americans, the U.S. is an empire plain and simple even within its own borders. But I still think it’s true that to most of us, anyone can be an American who believes what Americans believe (more or less broadly construed). The one time we have engaged in “ethnic cleansing” (again as opposed to straight-up genocide of Natives) it wasn’t ethnic at all, it was political: the United Empire Loyalists.

  291. David Marjanović says:

    Since 1945, the feeling on whether Austria is a nation has slowly changed from “no” to “yes” and then very quickly to “what a massively uninteresting question”.

  292. If only we could get to “what a massively uninteresting question” worldwide.

  293. ” . . . to understand what nation means to the rest of the world.”

    I don’t think there is a universal understanding — inside or outside of the U.S. — of “nation” or what it entails.

  294. David Marjanović says:

    Oh, it’s not like there’s no xenophobia in Austria – quite the opposite. It just doesn’t use the word “nation”.

  295. “Oh, it’s not like there’s no xenophobia in Austria – quite the opposite. It just doesn’t use the word “nation”.

    Actually, I don’t think there is a single word in Arabic that would be synonymous with ‘nation’ in English. The closest is probably ‘qaum.’ This was used by Nasser in referring to the broader Arab people (quamiya arabia) and was the concept for his failed United Arab Republic. I don’t think the idea has much saliency today.

    George

  296. But who are the xenoi? In the U.S. they are the people who live outside the boundaries of the state, plus those who live inside but have no legal right to do so. Nobody is against legal immigration except the (extremely fringe) neo-Nazis: to be so would be open to an obvious tu quoque, or rather “heads off all around but us”, counterargument.

  297. David Marjanović says:

    US-style illegal immigration is not so much a thing in Europe; asylum seekers and ordinary legal immigrants are targeted instead, to the point that “zero-immigration” (Nullzuwanderung) is a political slogan. The most commonly given justification is “they steal our jobs” – an accusation regularly brought against illegal immigrants in the US, with about as much justification.

  298. I think some on the American xenophobic fringe would say that they favor legal immigration. But their idea of what legal immigration should be is White, Christian, English speaking.

  299. I would be remiss, in a discussion of the idea of nation, not to mention an excellent book on the subject: “Nations and Nationalism since 1780″ by E.J. Hobsbawm. In the opening chapter, he discusses the various and changing ideas of ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism.’

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