Nacht-kluba.

I haven’t even finished reading Masha Gessen’s NYRB review of Limonov: The Outrageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, a Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero in Russia by Emmanuel Carrère (translated from the French by John Lambert), but I was so amused and horrified by this passage I had to post it immediately:

At the same time, Carrère preserves the fibs and the factual errors of Limonov’s writing and adds many of his own. He has Andrei Sakharov exiled to Gorky for fifteen years in 1973—in fact, the Russian dissident was exiled in 1980 and was allowed to return home to Moscow in 1986. This is just one of dozens of inaccuracies: generally speaking, dates and figures in the book are more likely to be wrong than right. In addition, Carrère, the descendant of Russian émigrés and the son of a Kremlinologist, offers a variety of interpretations of Russian culture and language that bear the imprint of generations of distortion. Some are innocuous: he claims, for example, that “in the period following [World War II], cities aren’t called cities but ‘population concentrations’”—when in fact “population concentration” is simple bureaucratese for all cities, towns, and villages.

Some of his renditions are almost comically wrong. Carrère, for example, writes that Limonov’s father worked as a “nacht-kluba, which you could translate as ‘nightclub manager,’ but which here means organizing leisure and cultural activities for the soldiers.” In fact, Limonov’s father worked on an army base as a nachalnik kluba, which is unrelated to any sinister German-sounding word for “night,” and translates simply as “club director.” In a detailed passage, he invents a convoluted version of the collective drinking binge, which he says is called zapoi—but that is simply the Russian word for “drinking binge,” which can be engaged in alone or in a group and has no attendant rituals other than the drinking itself.

A Russian-speaking reader could spend hours criticizing Carrère’s translations of Russian words: improbably, he manages to misuse just about every Russian term he includes in the book. Add the anachronisms and misstated dates, and you are faced with a most uneasy question: How much do facts matter?

My answer to the last question is, of course, “they matter a lot,” and I pity readers who take Carrère’s “pseudobiography” as gospel truth, but I do enjoy trouvailles like nacht-kluba.

Comments

  1. slawkenbergius says:

    Of course, the term Carrère actually encountered was probably the abbreviation “nachkluba,” analogous to “nachstantsii” (station manager) or the famous “zamkom po morde” (lit. “padlock to the face,” but actually “deputy commissioner for naval affairs”).

  2. Collective zapoi is quite real phenomenon which happens when a group of workers is paid their monthly salary at the end of month and starts drinking together nonstop for several days, until all money runs out.

  3. they matter a lot

    In general, yes. But what is Carrère’s book? He is not purporting to write an honest precis of Limonov’s 12-volume pseudo-autobiography for the use of students or scholars who lack the time or the Russian to read the original. At least not seriously. What we have here, palpably, is something that bears the same general relationship to the fictional facts given in Limonov’s work that those works bear to the factual facts of Limonov’s life: some facts, some falsehoods, some truth, some grotesque misunderstandings, some bullshit, some lies.

    Or of course it could be the case (in line with the Gothic inscriptions in the neighboring thread) that the review is itself in this same tradition, and further distorts the doubly distorted story. Or even that Limonov and Carrère are completely honest and all the falsehoods are in the review. Who knows? Il n’y a rien en dehors du texte.

  4. Of course, the term Carrère actually encountered was probably the abbreviation “nachkluba,” analogous to “nachstantsii” (station manager)

    Yeah, I meant to mention that but didn’t get around to it; thanks for spelling it out.

    Who knows? Il n’y a rien en dehors du texte.

    Oh, come on, now you’re just trying to bait me.

  5. And I don’t know what you mean by “not seriously”; you could say that about any non-scholarly book full of errors and bullshit, like, say, this one. Are you saying I shouldn’t complain about Simon Winchester because no one expects (or at least should expect) him to be an expert?

  6. bait me

    Well, yes. But what Derrida actually said was Il n’y a pas de hors-texte ‘There is no ancillary text [purporting to explain or illustrate the main text for us]’, which is quite a different claim from “There is nothing outside the text”, which is what anglophones tend to believe he said. I stole Wikiquote’s convenient back-translation of the false version.

    Are you saying I shouldn’t complain about Simon Winchester

    Not at all. Winchester’s book purports to be a popular history of the OED, and it is entirely proper to say when it is wrong. But Carrère’s book is labeled a “pseudobiography”; it does not purport to be a biography of Limonov, still less a history of Russia in Limonov’s time. It is not (and this was my point) even a precis of Limonov’s books. Given its radically different purpose, what difference does it make if the “errors and bullshit” are introduced by Limonov or by Carrère? You might as well complain that not all novels set in New York respect New York’s actual geography.

  7. Except that I will bet you cash money that 90% of the readers (a safe minimum; it’s probably closer to 100%) will read it for facts about Limonov’s life, not for some crazy Frenchman’s riffs on what he imagines Limonov’s life might be like in an alternate universe, or whatever.

  8. David Eddyshaw says:

    Sunk costs fallacy, perhaps.Carrère may not have appreciated quite how vile (and fundamentally dull) Limonov was until he’d invested so much time and effort in the enterprise that he felt impelled to try the silk purse from pig’s ear thing.

    Hell is inaccurate.

  9. And nothing in Oceania is efficient except the Thought Police.

  10. David Eddyshaw says:

    @JC: Spot on.

    Conjures up a wonderful essay topic schema: “Compare and contrast the views of George Orwell and Charles Williams on …”

    I would imagine their views on Limonov would have overlapped quite a bit …

    It occurs to me that it is perfectly possible that L is a good and interesting artist, if horrible individual (such things are possible …)

    Hat? Other Russophones?

  11. David Eddyshaw says:

    I’ve just realised that Morphic Resonance has caused me to invoke an instance of Hat’s last-but-one post. It’s all meant, I tell you!

  12. It occurs to me that it is perfectly possible that L is a good and interesting artist, if horrible individual (such things are possible …)

    Possible? It happens all the time, to the extent that it boggles my mind that people are surprised by it, or resist the idea that a writer they love was a jerk, or refuse to read X because he was a sexist/racist/whatever. Art is not life. I haven’t read Limonov yet, but I will; from what I’ve read about him, I suspect that I’ll enjoy a couple of his early novels and then get bored with his shtick, but who knows? At any rate, he’s definitely a horrible individual.

  13. refuse to read X because he was a sexist/racist/whatever

    That stuff tends to leak through into the art, unfortunately. I enjoy Mark Twain very much, but not when he talks about Indians, and I tend to skip Lovecraft’s descriptions of his degraded and ignorant mongrels. Even the most relentlessly male-oriented artist just about has to mention women now and again, even if he can avoid them as characters:

    Obviously sexism is an inextricable part of traditional culture pretty much everywhere, but Gogol boils it down to a thick and malodorous essence. Not that that stops me from loving his writing, any more than Pound’s fascism stops me from loving his, but it’s hard to ignore.

         —Language Hat (emphasis added)

  14. Ken Miner says:

    That stuff tends to leak through into the art, unfortunately.

    That’s one problem. Another is the supposedly salvific power of art. If art has the power to save us (as Wilde, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Goethe and many others would have it), why can’t it save the artists themselves?

    Interpret “save” however you like: whatever it does for us.

    This is in part dealt with in Sonnet 94:

    The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet,
    Though to itself it only live and die…

    And also by Yeats’ “The painter’s brush consumes his dreams” (Two Songs from a Play).

    Auden wrote (elegy to Henry James) “There are many whose works / Are in better taste than their lives.”

  15. Sir JCass says:

    If art has the power to save us (as Wilde, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Goethe and many others would have it), why can’t it save the artists themselves?

    I bet many lives have been saved by chain-smoking, alcoholic, obese doctors.

  16. Indeed. I forget which doctor it was that said he was a signpost, showing his patients which way to go but without going there himself. But then there’s Oliver Sacks, who became a better doctor for having broken his leg.

    Art is made by the total personality of the artist, not merely the ego (which is uncreative), and is absorbed by the total personality of the consumer (for lack of a better word). But when we try to consume our own art, it doesn’t go beyond our egos, because we are always either approving or disapproving of it (and thereby of ourselves). Thus art cannot save the artist.

  17. That stuff tends to leak through into the art, unfortunately. I enjoy Mark Twain very much, but not when he talks about Indians, and I tend to skip Lovecraft’s descriptions of his degraded and ignorant mongrels.

    Well, sure, but “tends to leak through into” is not at all the same as “is equivalent to,” and the degree of leakage varies greatly from artist to artist and from work to work. I will never read Taras Bulba again, and would advise others to skip it, because it’s basically nothing but a stew of sexism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia with a Boy’s Own adventure overlay. But (and this is the crucial point) that fact does not cause me to reject Gogol; I continue to regard him as a great artist with a significant flaw, much as I regard Pound. I skip over the parts of the Cantos that rant about Jews and usury and enjoy the good parts; in the immortal words of The Band, you take what you need and leave the rest. Of course I can totally understand someone being so upset about anti-Semitism that they would on principle refuse to read Pound; I’d regret that they were missing some great poetry, but I would understand. But for someone to ssay that Pound could not be a great poet because he was anti-Semitic is to cross a vital line of demarcation, and I will fight that idea as long as I live. It is of a piece with the Soviet line that a writer with bad class attitudes cannot be a good writer. Art is not life and it is not ideology (though both life and ideology feed into it), it is art, and few people can do it well, and those people need to be supported, not hemmed in by ideological fences or suppressed for violating someone’s idea of morals.

    Another is the supposedly salvific power of art. If art has the power to save us (as Wilde, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Goethe and many others would have it), why can’t it save the artists themselves?

    Please, that’s pure sophistry, right up there with “if descriptivists think anything goes, how come they write in standard English, huh?”

  18. J. W. Brewer says:

    “Likewise also the chief priests mocking him [NB: “him” != Pound or any other art-as-salvific Romantic-cum-Modernist celebrity], with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save.”

  19. >>“zamkom po morde” (lit. “padlock to the face,”

    Off topic, but has anyone found a good English translation for the word “morda”? “Mug” is the best I can think off, but it doesn’t seem right..

  20. It’s terrible — nobody’s actually said “mug” as part of normal speech since movies were in black and white. But there’s nothing better (“kisser” is just as out of date); English simply doesn’t have the variety of colloquial vocabulary Russian does.

  21. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Possible? It happens all the time, ”

    Well, yes. Yet again the irony I heard in my head unaccountably failed to be reflected in the the letters I typed …

    It might almost be simpler to try to enumerate great artists who actually were perfectly nice people in real life. There’s something of an embarras de richesses of the other kind.

    I agree with John Cowan that the nastiness may leak into the work; there seem to be rather different ways this can come about, some of which are also artistically damaging, others much less so. (Unsurprising unless one has a true Romantic’s illusion about the salvific power of art.)

    I don’t think ethical virtue can be altogether divorced from artistic excellence though, despite there being so many cases of evident mismatch. Auden seem to have got it right: James’ work is better than his life, but in a way that actually reflects well on Henry James – he could imagine better than he could live. On the other hand Mark Twain (for whom I have I suppose a sort of blind spot, as his many fans are evidently not either stupid or insensitive, nor even all American) seems to me to wear a sort of sneer which spoils his art. (I may well be unduly influenced by his monstrous assault on Fenimore Cooper, which is so very unpleasant that it tends to contaminate my reading of his other works: “Was I ever right to see anything valuable in this jerk?”)

    Pettiness is hardly the worst of sins in real life; in art, though, it’s mortal.

  22. Well, yes. Yet again the irony I heard in my head unaccountably failed to be reflected in the the letters I typed …

    Woops, sorry — I guess I failed to engage my irony detector! But it’s a rant I tend to go off on given the slightest excuse.

    On the other hand Mark Twain (for whom I have I suppose a sort of blind spot, as his many fans are evidently not either stupid or insensitive, nor even all American) seems to me to wear a sort of sneer which spoils his art. (I may well be unduly influenced by his monstrous assault on Fenimore Cooper, which is so very unpleasant that it tends to contaminate my reading of his other works: “Was I ever right to see anything valuable in this jerk?”)

    You have taught me a lesson about the variety of human experience. I would not have thought it possible that someone could be turned against Mark Twain by his unfairness to Fenimore Cooper!

  23. David Eddyshaw says:

    As I say, blind spot … I am also almost entirely Tolkien-blind. Personally I feel I am more to be pitied than censured.

  24. Oh, I censure you not, never fear. I myself am blind to ballet and almost all musical comedy. My wife is blind to opera. We are sinners all.

  25. marie-lucie says:

    LH: nobody’s actually said “mug” as part of normal speech since movies were in black and white.

    People still use “mug shot” for the kind of photo that turns each person’s face into that of a criminal.

    Some time in the last few years I remember a nasty commenter somewhere on the internet complaining about having to see what he called the first lady’s “ugly mug”.

  26. David Eddyshaw says:

    I say “mug,” though my children would probably gleefully attribute this to the fact that my speech is not normal.
    Maybe it’s a British thing. “Ugly mug” in particular strikes me as a pretty everyday expression. (I’d like to state categorically that I was *not* the nasty commentator in question …)

  27. I enjoy both Cooper and Twain’s denunciations of him (there are two), and simply keep “Cooper” and “Twain’s Cooper” in separate nodes of my mental network, without worrying about their incompatibility. In turn, I am blind to both ballet (which bores me) and opera (which both bores me and tortures my ears), but love musical comedy when performed as theater rather than as minimally acted singing. (Now that LOOM is defunct, I can no longer see Gilbert & Sullivan with enjoyment except on the screen, though many criticized it for the use of piano and organ reductions rather than a full orchestra.) Then again, I once told someone who said she hated cheese that I liked cheese, but on investigation it turned out that the cheeses I liked were those she made exceptions for.

    As I contemplated posting on someone else’s blog (but decided it was pointless): would you buy the brilliant paintings of an artist who uses the money he gains thereby to fund his other hobby of beating up people with impunity? I wouldn’t. That’s why (in a lesser degree, to be sure) I won’t buy Orson Scott Card’s books any more, though I’ll read some of the ones I have.

  28. David Eddyshaw says:

    “simply keep “Cooper” and “Twain’s Cooper” in separate nodes of my mental network, without worrying about their incompatibility”

    There’s a lot to be said for cognitive dissonance, which in my view gets something of a bum rap from the intellectually unselfaware; I suspect human life would be insupportable without a bit of it.

  29. David Eddyshaw says:

    Indeed, I believe it is safeguarded by the American Constitution:

    Do I contradict myself?
    Very well then I contradict myself,
    (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

  30. Google translate suggestions of snout and muzzle seem to be, though not spot on, pretty reasonable.

  31. People still use “mug shot” for the kind of photo that turns each person’s face into that of a criminal.

    Well, yes, but that’s a frozen phrase; I doubt many of them would use “mug” by itself.

    Some time in the last few years I remember a nasty commenter somewhere on the internet complaining about having to see what he called the first lady’s “ugly mug”.

    OK, I expressed myself too categorically (as I often do), but it’s still very far from being the common slang term it once was — on this side of the Atlantic, anyway.

  32. Google translate suggestions of snout and muzzle seem to be, though not spot on, pretty reasonable.

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard either in the required sense; they may very well exist (he said cautiously), but they are no better than “mug” or “kisser” as renditions for морда, which is ubiquitous and unremarkable.

  33. Mug soap, i.e. shaving soap, is still around, peripherally.

  34. Never heard of it, so I’ve learned something new.

  35. David Eddyshaw says:

    The mug in question in Mug Soap seems to be the container rather than the body part, judging by the pictures of the thing on the Intertubes.

  36. David Eddyshaw says:

    Could this actually be the origin of mug-as-headfront? The Chambers dictionary at any rate is reduced to lame guessing for the etymology (“Poss. from the grotesque face on a drinking-mug.”)

  37. Auden seem to have got it right

    Auden could be remarkably prissy and petty, in the vein of “Oh, I can’t talk to X – he doesn’t pay his bills.” Yet was noticeably uncandid about the debts he owed to other poets. But no misogyny, no anti-Semitism, no broadcasts in praise of Mussolini, etc.

  38. David Eddyshaw says:

    In one of Evelyn Waugh’s (extremely readable) letters he mentions meeting Auden; they got on better than he expected. I’ve always been rather pleased by that, as both are literary heroes of mine. I’m also not entirely surprised; both were fundamentally truth-seekers, whatever rococo surface forms that may have taken (especially in Waugh’s case.)

  39. Ken Miner says:

    Please, that’s pure sophistry, right up there with “if descriptivists think anything goes, how come they write in standard English, huh?”

    How can it be sophistry? It isn’t an argument; in fact it isn’t even an assertion. It’s a question. (JC treated it as such and suggested an answer.)

    And I certainly never said “if descriptivists think anything goes, how come they write in standard English?”

  40. David Eddyshaw says:

    James Joyce springs to mind as another for whom , at least in his work, no excuses need to be made along the lines of “oh, but it’s unfair to judge him by the standards of our day: that was mainstream opinion then.”

    Ireland. I was born here,

  41. How can it be sophistry? It isn’t an argument; in fact it isn’t even an assertion. It’s a question. (JC treated it as such and suggested an answer.)

    My apologies; I took it as a rhetorical question/gotcha.

    And I certainly never said “if descriptivists think anything goes, how come they write in standard English?”

    Oh, that certainly wasn’t intended to apply to you — it was just an example of a rhetorical question/gotcha I frequently have to deal with.

  42. I suppose you are quoting Leopold Bloom?

    —Persecution, says he, all the history of the world is full of it. Perpetuating national hatred among nations.
    —But do you know what a nation means? says John Wyse.
    —Yes, says Bloom.
    —What is it? says John Wyse.
    —A nation? says Bloom. A nation is the same people living in the same place.
    —By God, then, says Ned, laughing, if that’s so I’m a nation for I’m living in the same place for the past five years.
       So of course everyone had the laugh at Bloom and says he, trying to muck out of it:
    —Or also living in different places.
    —What is your nation if I may ask? says the citizen.
    —Ireland, says Bloom. I was born here. Ireland.
       The citizen said nothing only cleared the spit out of his gullet and, gob, he spat a Red bank oyster out of him right into the corner.
    […]
    —And I belong to a race too, says Bloom, that is hated and persecuted. Also now. This very moment. This very instant.
       Gob, he near burnt his fingers with the butt of his old cigar.
    —Robbed, says he. Plundered. Insulted. Persecuted. Taking what belongs to us by right. At this very moment, says he, putting up his fist, sold by auction in Morocco like slaves or cattle.
    —Are you talking about the new Jerusalem? says the citizen.
    —I’m talking about injustice, says Bloom.
    —Right, says John Wyse. Stand up to it then with force like men.
    That’s an almanac picture for you. Mark for a softnosed bullet. Old lardyface standing up to the business end of a gun. Gob, he’d adorn a sweepingbrush, so he would, if he only had a nurse’s apron on him. And then he collapses all of a sudden, twisting around all the opposite, as limp as a wet rag.
    —But it’s no use, says he. Force, hatred, history, all that. That’s not life for men and women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it’s the very opposite of that that is really life.
    —What? says Alf.
    —Love, says Bloom. I mean the opposite of hatred. I must go now, says he to John Wyse. Just round to the court a moment to see if Martin is there. If he comes just say I’ll be back in a second. Just a moment.
       Who’s hindering you? And off he pops like greased lightning.
    —A new apostle to the gentiles, says the citizen. Universal love.
    —Well, says John Wyse, isn’t that what we are told? Love your neighbor.
    —That chap? says the citizen. Beggar my neighbor is his motto. Love, moya! He’s a nice pattern of a Romeo and Juliet.

    The Citizen is an ethnic nationalist, Bloom a civic nationalist. But when attacked as a Jew, he responds as a Jew.

  43. In many contexts the best translation of “морда” is simply “fucking face”. I would translate “Я дам тебе в морду” as “I’ll smash your fucking face”. “Morda” is a far more aggressive word than “snout” or “muzzle”.

  44. Yes, exactly. The addition of a suitable swearword is often a good solution in these cases.

  45. But for someone to ssay that Pound could not be a great poet because he was anti-Semitic is to cross a vital line of demarcation

    I delight in the fact that Harold Bloom, otherwise loquaciously contemptuous of the politically correct criticisms of Great Poets, excluded the Cantos in toto from a Best Poems anthology, on the grounds of the work being “humanly unacceptable” (his own words).

    As we say, when I am cut it is blood, when you are cut, it is tomato chutney.

  46. “I am firm, you are stubborn, he is a pigheaded fool.”

  47. It might almost be simpler to try to enumerate great artists who actually were perfectly nice people in real life.

    Langston Hughes. Among other things, I have always found it striking that Hughes mentored several women feminist writers (G Brooks, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde), without any sexual interest, and even when they were criticial of his biases as a man, and as a poet. He extended himself to taking an interest in a younger generation (Baraka in his white phase) which was not always .

    I remember his biographer, Arnold Rampersad, saying that it was easy to love Hughes after researching and writing his biography (and much less easy to love Ralph Ellison).

  48. Harold Bloom long ago morphed into a bloated parody of an earlier self which was never as great as he and various acolytes thought it was.

  49. David Eddyshaw says:

    Indeed. He’s not a patch on his great-uncle Leopold.

  50. There are probably as many decent artists as decent politicians, or even more: it’s just that neither one of them gets press. Manufactured outrage isn’t really new in politics, but the art world not only has been doing it even longer, but it can give the politicos cards and spades when it comes to manipulative techniques.

  51. J. W. Brewer says:

    I think I may have a higher opinion of H Bloom than hat does (although more based on live performance than the studio recordings, as it were) AND a higher opinion of E Pound than H Bloom does (although I find the Cantos much, um, patchier than his early stuff). I am vast, I contain multitudes.

    I do remember the grad student teaching us Ulysses (which fortunately I’d already read before . . .) when I was a college freshman rather a long time ago saying that approximately 99% of us callow overintellectual teenagers would identify more with Stephen but that L Bloom was the deeper character as we might (or might not) come to appreciate as we got a bit older. (I think “mensch” may have been the actual word used.)

  52. Could this actually be the origin of mug-as-headfront?

    The OED agrees with (and is probably the source of) the drinking-mug etymology. But it also associates mug shot specifically with mugging (in the sense ‘beating people up’, originally in boxing, but later to rob them).

    a far more aggressive word than “snout” or “muzzle”

    Sure. But they are also deeply insulting in a way that “fucking face” is not. I’d say that if I were angry (“Shut your fucking face!”), but calling someone’s nose a snout is to call him a pig, and to call it a muzzle is to call him a dog or other animal, both of which go beyond mere anger. It’s the difference between “You’re an asshole!” and my very favorite insult, “Your parents were brothers!”

  53. David Eddyshaw: It’s all meant, I tell you!

    To quote one of the people you are blind to:

    “There was more than one power at work, Frodo. The Ring was trying to get back to its master. […] So now, when its master was awake once more and sending out his dark thought from Mirkwood, it abandoned Gollum. Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire!

    Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ringmaker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.”

  54. David Eddyshaw says:

    “that L Bloom was the deeper character as we might (or might not) come to appreciate as we got a bit older”

    I remember the turn I got when reading Ulysses again and realising that I was now actually older than Bloom.

    I agree with the grad student; though Stephen is an inspired character. I think you need to be Joyce to pull off the creation of such a plausibly super-intelligent character, while letting you see just how vulnerable and immature he is.

    Incidentally, if I’ve got it straight, Bloom is actually not (halachically) Jewish at all – but Molly is.

  55. J. W. Brewer says:

    Well, probably a lot of authors are simultaneously super-intelligent yet vulnerable and immature, so how hard can it be to “write what you know”? Looks like (took a bit of googling because a common name albeit with variant spellings) that grad student finished his doctorate a year or so later and ended up eventually becoming a tenured professor at another reputable university — his webpage doesn’t list any publications within the last decade though. Don’t know if that means he’s stopped publishing or just stopped updating the webpage . . .

  56. David Eddyshaw says:

    ‘Well, probably a lot of authors are simultaneously super-intelligent yet vulnerable and immature, so how hard can it be to “write what you know”? ‘

    Fair point, though it argues also for uncommon self-knowledge on Joyce’s part that he he could portray the artist as a young man with such a clear eye.

  57. cards and spades

    So the politicians just need two aces up their sleeves to win?

  58. although I find the Cantos much, um, patchier than his early stuff

    Hell yes, they’re practically the definition of patchy! There are long stretches I will never read again. As Pound is a good inoculation against the superstition of identifying the artist with the art, the Cantos are a good inoculation against the superstition of the necessary wholeness of a work of art.

  59. David Eddyshaw says:

    Not so much Cantos as Centos …

  60. Cards in this context means ‘non-spades’, I think.

  61. marie-lucie says:

    pull off the creation of such a plausibly super-intelligent character, while letting you see just how vulnerable and immature he is.

    That character sounds like Julien Sorel in Stendhal’s le Rouge et le Noir. Reading (and studying in class) this novel as a teenager, I did not realize how ironic the description of the character was.

  62. David Eddyshaw says:

    Stephen is a pretty sympathetic character, in fact. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with him (unlike Julien Sorel.)

  63. Incidentally, if I’ve got it straight, Bloom is actually not (halachically) Jewish at all

    Correct. His father, Virág Rudolf (later Rudolph Bloom), was a Hungarian convert from Judaism to Catholicism, but his mother was Protestant. He himself was baptized into the Catholic church in order to marry Molly. He is uncircumcised.

    but Molly is.

    Not unless you think that her mother Lunita was a Gibraltarian Jew, for which there is no evidence that I know of. Amalia Popper, one of the real-life models for Molly along with Joyce’s wife Nora Barnacle, was probably Jewish, though we hear only about her Jewish father, Leopoldo Popper. Popper was a partner in the freight-forwarding company Adolf Blum & Popper, which is the origin of Bloom’s name.

  64. David Eddyshaw says:

    Lunita’s Jewishness is indeed what I was thinking of. I’m basing this on stray comments from Molly’s final monologue, which admittedly leaves rather considerable latitude for interpretation. There’s evidently something about Lunita:

    he hadn’t an idea about my mother till we were engaged otherwise hed never have got me so cheap as he did

    though admittedly the context suggests sexual aberrancy (but then this is Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, so what doesn’t?)

    It being Joyce, I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that he meant Lunita to be Ambiguously Jewish, and that he meant it to be ambiguous. The idea that it was perhaps actually Molly and not Leopold who was Jewish would have appealed to him.

  65. David Eddyshaw says:

    Astonishing to think that “Ulysses” is a century old (more or less.) Like when I realised that Baudelaire is contemporary with Charles Dickens. What does the stupid calendar know?

  66. Dick waving contests over who is “really” Jewish are a huge source of friction in the present-day Jewish community. The conflicts go back well over a century, although they were probably not as intense at the time of Ulysses. (I don’t know anything about the specific conditions in Ireland, either then or now.) Many relatively secular Jews consider the “traditional” definition offensive—and I put “traditional” in quotes because the notion that Judaism is only transmitted matrilineally only goes back to Roman times; the biblical narrative clearly indicates Hebrew identity was transmitted patrilineally back in the iron age.

  67. the notion that Judaism is only transmitted matrilineally only goes back to Roman times; the biblical narrative clearly indicates Hebrew identity was transmitted patrilineally back in the iron age.

    Something else I’ve learned today!

  68. I assumed that that meant Lunita was a prostitute, perhaps for the Gibraltar garrison, but I agree that it’s ambiguous and nothing can be definitively ruled out. (In many ways, the Penelope chapter is a foreshadowing of the Wake.)

    Karaites remain patrilineal. I myself stand just barely outside all this: my wife grew up thinking of herself as Jewish (or perhaps as “the Jew”) without quite knowing what that meant (her father was a halakhic Jew but in practice just another American heathen; her mother was a serious Bible-believing Christian who did her best to bring up her children the same way), and was shocked when she came to New York to discover that the technical definition excluded her. I pointed out that the Law of Return does not (not that she has any interest in aliyah): if you were Jewish enough to be persecuted, you are Jewish enough to be a citizen of Israel. A slight deviation in my life could easily have imbrangled me directly in all this: my first and only two serious girlfriends (and most of my closest friends) are Jewish, as is my other significant other, though I myself “appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people”, as Tolkien put it.

  69. One quirk of the current arrangement is that it tends to produce (halakhic) non-Jews with Jewish surnames, and Jews with Gentile surnames. I fall in the former category – and some cousins of mine, with a famously Norwegian surname, in the latter.

  70. David Eddyshaw says:

    “the notion that Judaism is only transmitted matrilineally only goes back to Roman times; the biblical narrative clearly indicates Hebrew identity was transmitted patrilineally back in the iron age.”

    Indeed yes. Ruth, just to start with, in a line of Hebrew descent nobody is likely to call peripheral.

  71. David Eddyshaw says:

    Of course, if one decided that Judaism were transmitted, regardless of actual practice or culture, through both male and female lines, pretty much everybody would be Jewish, except maybe in deep Amazonia or Papua New Guinea, where a few stone-age gentiles might yet lurk.

  72. And that would solve one of the world’s longstanding problems.

  73. And to tie it back to Limonov:

    “The exact circumstances of Limonov’s departure are unclear and have been described differently. Reportedly, KGB secret police gave him a choice either to become a snitch, or leave the country.

    Although neither he nor Shchapova were Jewish, the Soviet Union issued him a false Israeli visa to do so, but soon after the pair arrived in the United States. Limonov settled in New York City, where he and Shchapova soon divorced.”

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

  74. Well, it turns out I was wrong about Molly’s mother Lunita: her surname was Laredo, the name of a long-established family of Sephardim who fled Spain in 1492, settled in Morocco, and moved to Gibraltar after the British took over. There they were still technically illegals by the terms of the treaty, but tolerated. Joyce’s notebooks show that he knew about the Laredos, who appear in a list of Gibraltarian Jewish families. So Molly was a daughter of the regiment, born in defiance of absolute barriers of nationality and religion strongly enforced on both sides (possibly a class barrier too, though it is unclear if her father Brian Tweedy was a major, a sergeant major, or merely a drum major). Something must have happened to her mother to make her identify herself so strongly with her father’s side.

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