TRIPLE PAY.

Having finished my rereading of Platonov’s Kotlovan (see this post), I find myself more moved than ever by the ending, but I don’t really have anything more to say about the novel as a whole, so I’ll quote this section from A Companion to Andrei Platonov’s The Foundation Pit, by Thomas Seifrid:

Reading Platonov is a matter of learning to set aside expected clichés and perceive what is truly there.[…] It was for this reason that the typists who had to prepare Platonov’s manuscripts for publication would request triple the normal rate of pay—not because of his handwriting, which was clear enough; but because it was impossible with his texts, as it was possible for other writers, to remember an entire phrase by looking at its first few words. Every word had to be checked painstakingly to make sure the typescript followed what Platonov had written.

If you think about it, that’s a pretty impressive tribute to a writer.

Comments

  1. Have you read Chevengur? [Чевенгур] Is is translated into English?
    I was excited that you mentioned Platonov and that you liked Kotlovan. It’s one of my favorite books, but in the US it’s almost impossible to find anyone who read it or knows anything about Platonov. At least now I can recommend Chandler’s translation…

  2. If you think about it, that’s a pretty impressive tribute to a writer. [“it was impossible with his texts, as it was possible for other writers, to remember an entire phrase by looking at its first few words. Every word had to be checked painstakingly to make sure the typescript followed what Platonov had written”]
    Having thought about it, I am inclined to disagree. Confused, poorly phrased texts present the same difficulty. In any case, I wouldn’t look to typists for reliable critical evaluation of a writer, whether appreciative or deprecating. Josh Miller in his comment here seems to have the same take.
    There are always people eager to opine on things about which they know zilch. My mother used to refer me to books written by particle physicists who believed in God, because she thought I would more likely be swayed by their authority than that of a preacher. It was a nice try, but it didn’t work. Curious notion, that of “authority”. It’s like a bacterial infection, spreading from the original scratched finger to cover a whole body of opinion.

  3. Have you read Chevengur? [Чевенгур] Is is translated into English?
    I have, and I have written about it in several posts (1, 2, 3). You’ll be happy to know Chandler is working on a translation. (There is an existing one, but it’s long out of print.)
    In any case, I wouldn’t look to typists for reliable critical evaluation of a writer, whether appreciative or deprecating.
    Good lord, I wasn’t suggesting getting critical evaluation from the typists; I doubt they gave a damn about the literary qualities of what they were typing. And I submit to you that if most texts they dealt with presented the same difficulty, they wouldn’t have asked for extra pay to deal with Platonov. Most bad published writing is eminently predictable.
    Josh Miller in his comment here seems to have the same take.
    For anyone coming to this thread post-deletion, “Josh Miller” was a spammer who left a misspelled, barely literate comment.

  4. Most bad published writing is eminently predictable.
    I would agree if you mean “predictably bad”, because that would be tautologous. I would disagree if you mean “predictable in detail”. I thought it was the great works of realism that are supposed to be “utterly compelling” because they move along the lines of what one is familiar with, i.e. they are in a general way “predictable”.
    Perhaps what you meant is that the typists were clever enough to screw higher wages out of their employers. They reasoned like this: “my boss thinks that Platonov is the bee’s knees. Let’s see how much honey we can press out of him for believing that, because this stuff is damned hard to type”.
    So what you are saying is that Platonov is an impressive writer because he makes it easy to exploit capitalist literati ? Have I got it right this time ? If not, wherein exactly does the “impressive tribute” consist ?

  5. And I submit to you that if most texts they dealt with presented the same difficulty, they wouldn’t have asked for extra pay to deal with Platonov.
    This may be the point at which you and I are thinking very differently. Perhaps you are assuming that some kind of preselection has been made, so that “the bad stuff” would at least be expected to sell. I, in contrast, am imagining any and all manuscripts which are just difficult to type. The typists would want to have higher wages for these manuscripts, regardless of who had written them. Their chances of succeeding with their demand are good only when something else comes into the picture: the publisher’s thinking “wow, this is Finnegan’s Wake”, or “wow, this is The Foundation Pit”.
    So my take is simply that any worker will demand higher wages for doing work that is more difficult than usual. That’s not a tribute to difficulty.

  6. Oh dear, I guess I’ll have to retire from the literary circuit now, for referring to “Finnegan’s Wake”.

  7. The following epitaph has been proposed for Mr. Grumbly. Does it meet with your approval ?

    Not death that brought him to his knees –
    It was misplaced apostrophes.

  8. Thanks for the links!

  9. For anyone coming to this thread post-deletion, “Josh Miller” was a spammer who left a misspelled, barely literate comment.
    Ha, I saw his comment, but I didn’t check his link, so it never occurred to me that he was a spammer. I thought it was quite an effective rebuttal to your point.
    Reminds me of this.

  10. Finnegan’s Wake has its own problems for typists, though nowhere near as severe as those posed by Finnegans Wake, of course. In particular, how to render the mysterious expression “thanum an dhul” (spelling varies); in particular, what is the initial “t” or “th” doing there?

  11. narrowmargin says:

    The last part of the song where Tim Finnegan says, “D’ainm an diabhal”, means Your soul(s) to the Devil and comes from the Gaelic.
    Courtesy of Wikipedia.

  12. narrowmargin says:

    However, in other versions of the song, Tim says “Thunderin’ Jaysus” or “Thanum an Dhul”.
    Ibid.

  13. Most bad published writing is eminently predictable.
    I think it’s fairly obvious what the reference to typists means here: the originality of Platonov’s writing, no cliches, no standard or set expressions. That’s why I agree with Hat – it’s quite a tribute.
    I touch-type myself, in English and in Russian, and I’ve worked with typists’ pools a lot. When you retype you don’t catch letters or words, but the whole block of text. When it’s clichéd, it just flows into your fingers naturally, it’s like tying shoelaces – or like predictable texting on mobile phones. When the text is original, you can’t do it like an automaton.
    And it’s not true that typists were dumbrains, when typewriters ruled, they were often well-educated people and keen readers.

  14. And it’s not true that typists were dumbrains
    Who claimed or suggested that ?? As I have argued here, the higher wages were a tribute paid by the employer to organized labor, but not by the typists to literary quality.

  15. not you, Stu, but Hat: I doubt they gave a damn about the literary qualities of what they were typing.
    I’ve learnt quickly to write neatly in long-hand as a cub reporter, because otherwise typists would simply refuse to take my copy. And later I learned to listen to them if they had any comments.
    In the film Autumn Marathon (Осенний марафон) the translator of English poetry Buzykin privately employs a typist who is so impressed with the translations – ‘your poems’ she says – that she falls in love with him.
    Dostoyevsky is said to have had terrible fights with type-setters who sneakly ‘improved’ his writing. Had they had their way we probably would have lost the green monkley – зеленую облизьяну, Dostoyevky’s folkism-neologism, that was returned to Russian through the humorous mention in the Autumn Marathon.

  16. thanum an dhul
    The Irish word is anam (soul) not ainm (name). The second word is usually rendered on (= don, “to the”). The third word is indeed diabhal in standard Irish but the source here is clearly a variant form such as deabhal.
    @john cowan
    I’m not sure “t-” at the beginning of a noun is properly called prothetic as the sound has always been there but was formerly part of the article (Old Irish int etc.).

  17. John Emerson says:

    On Platonov, what’s in question is redundancy and I think Hat is right. If you read genre fiction you can skim because the writing, plot, and characters are all generic. You look for new twists and are glad if you find any at all. In ordinary pre-post-modern realist fiction you can still skim some, because a lot of stuff is the same old thing. In Platonov you can’t, or rather, if you skim you’re going to miss everything,
    Platonov uses tons of cliches, though, he just uses them wrongly or where not expected
    The redundancy criticism has been applied to Vivaldi and Telemann, who produced hundreds of pieces by working formulaicly. “Not 700 symphonies, but the same symphony 700 times”. There’s decreased redundancy through haydn and Mozart and Beethoven, and maybe Wagner and Brahms, and then at the beginning of the 20th c. pieces increasingly became unique in form and style.

  18. Excellent analogy. Copy a couple of bars of Telemann and you can fill in the next few dozen yourself. Try that with Webern sometime.

  19. I’ve heard it said of Beethoven (this is my paraphrase of something heard long ago) that, although his music is not predictable, it seems inevitable in hindsight, so to speak: a passage will end in the only possible way, even though you don’t see it coming.

  20. John Emerson says:

    The PDQ Bach color commentator on Beethoven’s Fifth expressed amazement at his introducing a whole new theme at the very end of the last movement.

  21. PDQ Bach color commentator
    Oh, I’d forgotten that. That was very funny.
    The term color commentator may need explaining to Hat’s round-the-world readership.

  22. Null: It was Leonard Bernstein who said that, but you may have heard it from me, because it’s one of the bits I quote/paraphrase.

  23. cm: At last! Thank you.
    /me basks in newfound enlightenment.

  24. can’t say about typists, but typesetters (surely an analogous profession in this sense, since they also had to quickly render other people’s words) could be influenced by what they “read” in the process of setting and were often quite perspicacious “readers,” to the point of being influenced by revolutionary texts … Darnton I think has talked about this… of course, then there are the other kinds of typesetters who corrected/edited according to their own ideas of what the text should say. I’ve always wondered what those setting the Futurists’ texts thought, whether Mayakovsky or Khlebnikov had to have words with their typesetters…

  25. I’m sure they did. The Gudok (steam engine whistle) newspaper in 1920s was the hub of a literary group with Mayakovsky, Katayev, Bulgakov and Ilf&Petov as members – they had their own printshop.

  26. John Emerson says:

    At least one author began as a printer and sometimes saved a step by writing his pieces directly in lead type.

  27. Bret Harte? It’s said that John Mansir Wing did that too (hired as a compositor, then given some light editorial work, which he did at his station). I imagine it was common for one-man small-town newspapers, too. But from the Thorne on, the distinction is kind of blurred.

  28. Yes, in their early days Ilf and Olesha shared a room (read: closet) in the Gudok typography, which apparently shook with the action of the presses. I imagine that the Gudok compositors were used to the idiosyncracies of their writers (doubtless they knew they’d have to deal with an enraged tower of Mayakovsky bearing down on them if they dared change one letter, which would be an effective deterrent, I think!). MMcM’s links led me on a fun chase to see what kind of machines they’d have had at Gudok, and it’s possible that during its heyday of the mid-late 1920s they were still setting type by hand since according to this article
    http://publish.ruprint.ru/stories/9/119_1.php
    the Pervaia Gosudarstvennaia Tipografiia got the first Linotype in Russia “at the beginning of the 20th century”, while according to the BSE
    http://bse.sci-lib.com/article070501.html
    the first Soviet Linotypes began production in 1932, the year after Russian literature famously ended according to Olesha. Not sure whether Gudok, popular as it was, would’ve been important enough to rank a foreign-made linotype before 1932…
    Would composing in type be like the Ginger Rogers comment – how she did everything Fred Astaire (i.e. writer composing by writing down words) did, just backwards, and in high heels? (Although the high heels somewhat mar the analogy, since I can’t think what the writing/composing equivalent would be.)

  29. Gudok is still going strong with 240,000 daily circ., though not in the building, Khlynovsky tupik, 8, where the old printshop was.

  30. I see they still have the USSR coat of arms on the masthead. Does this represent their political orientation, or is it simply tradition?

  31. tradition, it’s not coat of arms, it’s just the medal – орден Трудового красного знамени (order of the Red Banner of Labour), fifth or sixth in the old Soviet hierarchy of civilian medals. Soviet papers were awarded such medals as an organization, an institution and tradition was to put the image of the medal next to the paper title, to show it’s rank and achievements. Pravda had two Orders of Lenin, top medal, and something else, I think. Medals were usually awarded to commemorate anniversary since the paper’s founding.

  32. Thanks!

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