KARA-BARAS! OR, THE INTERTEXT.

Jamie Olson of The Flaxen Wave has a post about “intertextual” poems that depend for their existence on an earlier poem, to whose structure they adhere closely. This is of course a form of parody, and I doubt one could draw a hard and fast dividing line, but I would say that a parody is purely parasitical: if you’re not familiar with the original, you won’t get much out of the parody. An intermediate case is Lewis Carroll, whose marvelous parodies are so brilliant and memorable in their own right that they entirely eclipse the originals, which have mostly been forgotten (e.g., “You Are Old, Father William” and its source, Southey’s “The Old Man’s Comforts and How He Gained Them“); they are still, however, primarily intended to be funny. Olson is writing about Timur Kibirov, a contemporary Russian poet he has been translating, and in particular his “Кара-Барас! Опыт интерпретации классического текста” (“Kara-Baras! An Experiment in Interpreting a Classic Text”), which is based on Kornei Chukovsky’s 1921 children’s poem “Мойдодыр” (“Moidodyr”), in which “every line in Kibirov’s poem refers to an original line in Chukovsky’s, with plenty of puns along the way”:

In Kibirov’s opening lines, however, it is not the Chukovskian bedspread (одеяло) that flees from the unwashed boy, but an undefined “ideal” (идеал – perhaps Soviet communism?) that flees from the figure of the poet, who has replaced the boy as speaker of the poem. But then Kibirov corrects himself by switching to the plural – ostensibly for the sake of rhythm, though we know he’s up to something else – so that it becomes “ideals” that have abandoned him («Идеалы / Убежали»), taking with them “the meaning of life” and even his girlfriend, who hops away like a frog. What else goes with them? Well, let’s see: the Orthodox faith, secular humanism, Gnosticism, atheism, and the post-structuralism of Derrida and Foucault, just to name a few. And who steps in to clean the boy, so to speak? Logos! The Word of God! The divine and “ancient” figure, who is “forgotten” and “barely alive,” dispatches his minions – gnawings, regrets, and insights – to set the poet back on the righteous path; predictably, they succeed.

As you can see even from this summary, there is far more going on here than simple parody or humor for humor’s sake, and Olson says, quite sensibly, “this is one poem that I have no intention of ever tackling. It defies translation.” (Bonus: The post has a comment by Sashura that is very informative about Russian bathing and sponges.)

Comments

  1. Kibirov is a great master of intertextualism. (If the “text” in “intertextual” is taken to refer to any artifact of a verbal culture, not just some poem.) See his large poem “Сквозь прощальные слезы” (1987?) and M.L. Gasparov’s comments (Gasparov discusses the Russian anapestic trimeter along the way.) Also see Oleg Lekmanov’s note on Kibirov.

  2. Thanks for the links!

  3. How did you obtain anything at the “comments” link ? I first got gibberish in my Firefox browser. Looking at the html source, I saw that it looked like a Microsoft Word document.
    So I saved the linked resource to disk, obtaining a zakl.htm. After renaming it to zakl.doc, I could open it with Word and see the Russian text.

  4. “How did you obtain anything at the “comments” link ?”
    I changed the encoding to Cyrillic (Windows-1251) from the default Unicode (UTF-8). It seems to be a MS Word document converted to HTML. It’s the final chapter of Метр и смысл by ML Gasparov (not to be confused with BM Gasparov, whose work on Saussure has been recently discussed here). The whole book was once available as a MS Word file at one Russian site, but no more.

  5. Alexei, I’ve mailed you a fix for the problem I had viewing the Gasparov excerpt in Firefox and IE on Windows.

  6. Thank you, Stu.
    BTW, Kibirov references Yevtushenko’s Lonjumeau and “take Lenin off the banknotes” in Сквозь прощальные слезы (choose the KOI-8 encoding):
    Летка-енка ты мой Евтушенко!
    Лонжюмо ты мое, Лонжюмо!
    Уберите же Ленина с денег,
    И слонят уберите с трюмо!
    That must be the Finnish dance Letkajenkka, for some reason popular in the Soviet Union in the 1960s (quoted in Moscow-Petushki too.)

  7. Trond Engen says:

    the Finnish dance Letkajenkka, for some reason popular in the Soviet Union in the 1960s
    Popular here too, as jenka, well into my early teens in the early eighties. It’s a good way to keep warm in the schoolyard on a cold winter’s day. For that very reason I danced it with my daughter on a November morning last year, but I stopped just short of it this when waiting for somebody to open a door this Tuesday. Now I’m home with a cold.

  8. This is apparently the most famous/popular example of Letkajenkka, if anyone else is curious; I’d never heard of it. Here‘s a more, shall we say, musical example.

  9. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks for the links, LH. I was curious to see the dance, and I was disappointed that the first link had the music (which had me dancing in my chair) but the screen stayed black. The second one (an excerpt from a film) does not give the impression of a dance that would warm you up. Perhaps in high society the dance has lost its folksiness and vigour. I was taken aback by the zombie-like atmosphere, with the Dracula-looking male character (I hesitate to say dancer) apparently hypnotizing the young woman.

  10. Trond Engen says:

    Here it is in all it’s glory.

  11. M-L if you want to see a modern-days Jenkka example, then check in this video from Tangomarkkinat festival after about 35 seconds (in the opening moments of the clip, the Finns are mostly dancing Humppa which is far less known abroad). A cool example of indoor Humppa, at the Tangomarkkinat as well, is in this clip if you are interested.
    In todays’ Russia, Letka-Enka as they spell it is mostly the stuff of kindergarten matinees.
    BTW “Лонжюмо ты мое, Лонжюмо!” is also a reference to Esenin’s Shagane / Shaganeh from his Baku cycle:
    Шаганэ ты моя, Шаганэ!
    Потому, что я с севера, что ли,
    Я готов рассказать тебе поле,
    Про волнистую рожь при луне,
    Шаганэ ты моя, Шаганэ

  12. Trond Engen says:

    I swear, that apostrophe wasn’t me. It’s that over-zealous spellchecker in Android.

  13. marie-lucie says:

    Takk, Trond. It looks like fun, especially if you are around 10 years old!
    Dmitri, it’s nice to see so many adults enjoying themselves unselfconsciously in public places! Indoor Humppa looks and sounds like Finnish tango, people having fun without too much style.

  14. Still wondering about the right definition of “intertext”, and how the clause of “close adherence” allows numerous insertions of the author’s own words, and / or cultural references to other texts?
    If that’s the distinction, then shouldn’t we hand the “interpretation of a classic text” laurels to Psoy Korolenko for his “Sofa and Bed” project for closely adhering to the subtiters of an old silent movie – or, if *both* the insiration and the result must be *poetic*, then how about Psoy’s “Катерина, молодица”? :) :) it’s time to put the proverbial “copper bowl” (hmm, how would Jamie Olson interpret “медный таз!” there ;) ?) on Kibirov’s shallow rifmopletstvo IMVHO :) :)
    M-L,
    nice to see so many adults enjoying themselves unselfconsciously in public places! :) here goes the stereotype of ever-brooding Finns, yes. Of course N America’s tango maniacs aren’t locked in dramatic sadeness either :) and the US and Canada have their share of wild dancing flashmobs too (aka guerrilla milonga). But the problem is, most of those video clips are confined to facebook. Like this crazy video, complete with improvised poetry and some acrobatics, which takes place in museums, plazas, and bridges of Tucson.

  15. John Emerson says:

    Intertextuality is the standard way of writing Chinese poetry, or one standard way. It’s quite conscious and is highly prized; it was said of Tu Fu (China’s greatest poet in most accounts) that every word and phrase of every poem is a reference to one or more earlier poems.
    There’s also a stereotyped form of poetic correspondence between friends where the answering poem has to mimic the original poem’s rhymes, tones, and forms, etc., while saying something different that is a response to the first poem.

  16. Here a Walking on the Ritz style tap dance version of Letka-Jenka by Vladimir Shubarin.
    Mr Trololo – Eduard Hill (Эдуард Хиль) also did a version. I can’t find a video of him singing Jenka.

  17. In the original Chukovsky’s poem there is the Crocodile who swallows the mad sponge and then shouts at the boy to go and wash himself, which he does.
    The Crocodile must be the same Turkish-speaking, cigar-smoking Crocodile from another popular children’s poem, The Crocodile (Крокодил).
    What I’ve been trying to find out, without result, is whether there is a link between Chukovsky’s Crocodile and the popular song Krokodilla, which was first a military march and then a jazz number. It is mentioned in Grossman’s Life and Fate, Charlie Chaplin moon-steps and sings it as The Nonsense Song in Modern Times and J Five made a rap version recently. Does anyone know more?

  18. Thanks for the mention of my boring excursion into Russian sponge world.
    This is the 80s hit Mochalkin Blues. ‘Mochalki’ is slang for ‘girls’.

  19. Alexei K: Longjumeau is by Voznesensky.

  20. “Longjumeau is by Voznesensky.” Yes, I always confuse the two guys’ poetry . As a friend of mine says, I’m no experts on brands of crap. Much as I admire Yevtushenko’s individualism and anti-Stalinism and his effort to popularize less known 20th century Russian poets, I can’t think of a single poem by either man I could honestly call good.

  21. I can’t think of a single poem by either man I could honestly call good
    Hehe, I was arguing almost along the same lines (only without bringing up feces ;) ) in the previous LH thread where Voznesensky came up, and then Sashura knocked me down with “Million of Scarlet Roses” LOL.
    How they say it in credit card ads? “… Priceless!”
    Yevtushenko read poetry in my high school when I was a senior there, exactly the age when I was most maniacally devouring, and composing, poems. Even in such a hyper-attuned condition, I found Evtushenko pathetic. Off the top of my teenage head, “у американки в ГУМе // дырка на коленке // она читает // стихи Евтушенки” my $%$&#

  22. Cmon, boys, a lot of grips have a lot of gripes re Yevtushenko. (read Aksyonov’s ‘That Mysterious Passion’.)
    But I can forgive all for Babiy Yar. (a reading at Yad Vashem) It saved Russian honour as much as Le Monde’s ‘nous sommes tous americains’ did for Europe.

  23. Another great shot, Sashura! I must add that I firmly believe that even the most artistically unimpressive poets usually have at least one redeeming verse, something which immortalizes them no matter their failings.

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