VERA KOKOSHKINA.

Because of my diverse set of interests, plus my dogged insistence on looking up references to even the most minor names I run across in a text, I sometimes happen on striking coincidences that bring together utterly different realms, and I am about to recount one such happenstance. (A warning for those who dislike literary gossip: this post involves literary gossip.)
I’m reading an extremely interesting book, Time of Troubles: The Diary of Iurii Vladimirovich Got’e: Moscow, July 8, 1917 to July 23, 1922 . Very few diaries exist from the period of the Russian Revolution and Civil War (those foolish enough to set down their views of current events during that time of violence and starvation tended to sensibly destroy them once the all-encompassing vigilance of the Bolshevik rulers became apparent), and this one survived only because an American, Frank Golder, was in Russia in 1922 and persuaded Got’e to let him smuggle it out of the country (Got’e [Готье], by the way, is a Russianized form of Gautier—his great-grandfather, “Jean Dufayet dit Gautier,” was a French immigrant during the reign of Catherine the Great, and the family had owned the main French bookstore in Moscow for over a century). It’s fascinating to see this grumpy forty-something historian reacting to events as they happen; on Oct. 13, 1917, he writes “Moscow is full of rumors about a citywide strike and bolshevik manifestations—either on the 15th or the 20th. Is this the frightened fantasy of the terrorized townsman or is something really being prepared?” It turned out, of course, that the latter was the case, and within a couple of weeks he is writing about gunfire within earshot of his apartment at No. 4 Bol’shoi Znamenskii pereulok (a few blocks west of the Kremlin). On November 6 he mentions a visit by “V. E. Kokoshkina,” and a footnote tells us that she was married to Vladimir Kokoshkin, the brother of Fedor Fedorovich Kokoshkin, a name well known to students of the Russian Revolution—he and his fellow Kadet and member of the Provisional Government Andrei Shingarev were murdered in their hospital beds in January 1918 by Bolsheviks, one of the first clear signs of the brutality that was about to descend on Russia.


I didn’t think there would be much if anything available on Fedor’s unknown brother, but I googled anyway, and was rewarded with this Russian page containing basic information on both him (1874 – 1926, Brussels) and his wife, Vera Egnatevna (1879 – 1968, France). Armed with this, I googled some more and got a hit on Vera’s name from Brian Boyd’s Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years, a book I own. What was she doing in a Nabokov biography? It turns out that twenty years after her visit to Got’e, she was living in Paris with her daughter Irina Guadanini. Now, Irina Guadanini is a name well known to Nabokov aficionados; she was his last serious lover, for whom he nearly left his devoted wife Véra in 1937. Brian Boyd describes their meeting thus:

The reading [in Paris, on January 24, 1937] was not just a literary event. In the crowd were a woman called Vera Kokoshkin and her thirty-one-year-old daughter, Irina Guadanini. Knowing that Irina was strongly attracted to Sirin, her mother had approached him after his February 1936 reading in Paris, complimented him assiduously, and invited him back for tea. He had accepted and had been amused by Mme Kokoshkin’s acting the procuress for her daughter. Now once again she took matters in hand, and invited Nabokov for dinner with [Ilya] Fondaminsky and [Vladimir] Zenzinov [editors of the emigré journal Sovremennye zapiski, where Nabokov/Sirin's great Russian works appeared].
Her plans worked. Irina was an attractive blond with the strikingly regular features of classical statuary, a cultured woman, observant, playfully derisive, with a fine memory for verse. She was soon frequenting cafes and cinemas with Nabokov. By February an affair was under way.

By summer’s end, Nabokov (whose wife had found out about the affair) was determined to break it off, but Irina came down to Cannes to try to change his mind: “Though Nabokov had asked her not to come, her mother had persuaded her to try.” He told her he still loved her but would not leave his wife; it was the last time they met. (You can read more gossip about this and other aspects of Nabokov’s love life here.)
Two snapshots from what must have been an interesting life; I wonder if Vera ever wrote her memoirs?
(Incidentally, googling Irina’s name in Russian gets two different patronymics, Fedorovna and Yurevna, neither of which fits with Vladimir Kokoshkin; was she the daughter of a previous husband of Vera’s? Still more mysteries to be solved…)

Comments

  1. Not just literary gossip, but scurrilous, scandalous gossip to boot.
    I am amazed at how interconnected the lives of these people are. Is it because they all belonged to the same social class? How does an ordinary modern peasant or dressing gown get to move in the equivalent circles in our postmodern era?

  2. Bill Walderman says:

    “murdered in their hospital beds”
    According to Ronald Grigor Suny, The Soviet Experiment (Oxford and New York 1998), p. 65, this was the work of a few sailors; “Lenin reacted with shock, but when the culprits were protected by their mates, he decided not to pursue the case.”

  3. I assure you that whatever shock Lenin may have expressed was purely tactical in origin (murdering people in their beds doesn’t look good when the revolution is still a tender shoot); he cared no more about human life than you and I do about ants (assuming you don’t have tender feelings about ants). Even as a young man he opposed efforts at famine relief in 1891 on the principle that the more people died, the better.
    Orlando Figes (A People’s Tragedy, p. 536) writes that “the Bolshevik leaders, who at first condemned the murders, later sought to justify them as an act of political terror.”

  4. I am amazed at how interconnected the lives of these people are. Is it because they all belonged to the same social class?
    Yes, the literate, educated, socially acceptable class in tsarist Russia was very small, and they do all seem to have known each other. Reading memoirs, you see the same names cropping up in all sorts of different connections.

  5. ALso hanging out in that crowd was Mike Nichols, the American movie director.

  6. I am amazed at how interconnected the lives of these people are … social class … How does an ordinary modern peasant or dressing gown get to move in the equivalent circles in our postmodern era
    There are still such circles, but overlapping them there are also networks, as there were then of course: literary and political ones, to name but two. Perhaps today’s networks have more interconnections, due to transportation, the internet and so on – I’m thinking of the claim that everyone is “connected” in some way to everyone else by 7 links, on the average – even if the links are of the type “I once mowed his lawn as a summer job”.
    What do a hat, a bathrobe and a carpet-frayer have in common? Seeing certain interconnections is to a large extent reliant on having them presented to you as such, as Hat’s book does. There are surely many, many more that have merely not been set out systematically.
    As to “moving” in such circles – moving is not done so much any more, since it’s time-consuming. Instead, you correspond with them, call them, read their articles or watch them on television.

  7. Seeing certain interconnections is to a large extent reliant on having them presented to you as such, as Hat’s book does.
    Nein doch. The book I was reading made no such connections, and did not even give V.E. Kokoshkina’s full name; I had to do all the heavy lifting myself. Nobody gave me any presents.

  8. Well, then thanks are due to you. Somebody has to do some work around here, or we won’t see the interconnections.

  9. I think that was my point, wasn’t it?

  10. marie-lucie says:

    I think that these interconnections arose in the context of a capital city (or cultural capital) with a small educated upper class versus a large uneducated work force. You see this also in the works of Balzac for nineteenth-century France. Of course his characters are fictional, and include people at all social levels and in different regions, but in Paris the aristocrats all know each other as they meet at the theatre and the opera and in various salons, and newcomers of the same class join them when they arrive from their provinces. Some of them also know each other from having been at school together (this is before the advent of universal education, when some of the upper class were sent to boarding schools as teenagers). Of course most of these people have enough resources to live without working, so they have a lot of leisure for socializing with their peers.

  11. For some horrific interconnections, with adultery, wife-swapping, suicide, inc*st, lying etc., here is a diagram of the relationships between Marilyn Monroe, her shrinks and lovers, and their shrinks – going back to Freud. It’s from Luciano Mecacci , Freudian Slips. The casualties of psychoanalysis from the Wolf Man to Marilyn (the German title has “disasters” instead of “casualties”). The book neutrally describes the goings-on between psychoanalysts and their clients, and between each other. There are more diagrams in the book like the one I put up.

  12. My theory is that psychoanalysis caught on in Hollywood because of all the Austro-Hungarians (including Austro-Hungairian Poles) there.
    The dead hand of Austro-Hungary controls the world, I tell you.

  13. Robotic agents of evil, speaking a programming language.

  14. Mike Nichols (rather like Matt Lucas) has no body hair; even his eyebrows are wigs.

  15. A copy of Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City just fell into my hands (I’m interested in Daniel “Make No Little Plans” Burnham), and in the opening pages was surprised to find out that a certain Harriet Monroe was at the wedding of Burnham’s architectural partner John Root. When Root’s first wife died, he married the bridesmaid Dora Monroe, who was also Harriet’s sister.

    Later, in her memoir, A Poet’s Life, she described Root’s marriage to her sister as being “so completely happy that my own dreams of happiness, confirmed by that example, demanded as fortunate a fulfillment, and could accept nothing less.” But Harriet never found its equal and devoted her life instead to poetry, eventually founding Poetry magazine, where she helped launch Ezra Pound toward national prominence.

    Will all of the authors who turn up in LH threads turn out to be interconnected with the famous?

  16. Yes, and they all knew Kevin Bacon (or Francis Bacon, in the case of Shakespeare).

  17. even his eyebrows are wigs
    There’s more. From today’s “The Unbelievable Truth” panel game on Radio 4, I learned that a merkin is a female beaver-wig, used e.g. by Kate Winslet in a recent film. In the OED, I find a hint that perhaps travelling wives were spared the worst:

    1886 R. F. Burton tr. Arabian Nights’ Entertainments X. 239 For the use of men they have the ‘merkin’, a heart-shaped article of thin skin stuffed with cotton and slit with an artificial vagina. 1962 E. Wilson Night Thoughts 203 Said Philip Sydney, buttoning his jerkin ‘Allow me, darling: you have dropped your merkin.’

  18. I wonder if Vera ever wrote her memoirs?
    Did you notice from the endnotes that her diary (presumably unpublished) is in private hands? And that Vera and Irina edited Vladimir’s memoir for Novii Zhurnal in the ’60s? Search turns up brief excerpts of the last here and here.

  19. At JE’s link for Mike Nichols, this sentence caught my eye:

    May and Nichols were known at the time as the world’s fastest humans, due to the speed with which they could spout out improve lines.

    Should that be “improvised”, or is it Hollywood slang for “improvised lines”, prounced “IMprahv lines”?

  20. or, because of the final e, as “IM-grove”

  21. as *in* “IM-grove”

  22. Vera and Irina edited Vladimir’s memoir for Novii Zhurnal in the ’60s? Search turns up brief excerpts of the last here and here.
    Thanks very much; I’ll have to see if there’s a copy at the Russian Center at UMass.

  23. “Improv” is the normal spelling, I think. It’s a standard term in the biz for a type of comedy of which N&M were one of the first masters.

  24. Sounds like a job for the Hat to dig up the diary, translate and publish it.
    I love diagrams.
    Odd really. I’m in no way artistic and I don’t as such think in images, but I nevertheless find it very hard to learn without graphic representations.
    Perhaps I’m just stupid.

  25. Two of the first masters.

  26. marie-lucie says:

    Sili, you are not stupid. It you are, so am I, and I am not. So there.

  27. That’s a great diagram, Stu.
    Since he seemed pretty awful afterwards imagine what Frank Sinatra must have been like before he was analyzed.

  28. I’m not sure this is right, but…
    I think of ‘a diagram’ as a visual representation of primarily verbal information, whereas ‘a drawing’ is also representing visual information. So a diagram (a subway map) can still be very useful to people who aren’t too interested in visual info.

  29. The Internet allows like minded to gather on the same lawn, easier and with speed. In the old days before Bell invented the blower, each group would migrate to the center of their core interest. A starting point was family connections, then prep school then Uni then the daily pleasures, and the riddle of life would grade them into like minded endeavours, Soldiers with merchants of death, pen pushers with other pen pushers, so on and on, So the literary set would gather in their own rookeries [ upscale of course ] finding comfort in that there were others that saw life through similar prisms, along weeding out the illiterate hangers on.
    It is amazing how some got together, it seems like it was osmosis of the ether .
    Of course some would rather call them cliques.

  30. marie-lucie says:

    Without looking in a dictionary, I would say that a diagram is more abstract than a drawing. For instance, a subway or road map is usually two-dimentionsal, superimposed on a map of the actual city or landscape, which could be called a drawing as it respects the actual features on the ground. But each subway car also shows a more abstract, one-dimensional linear diagram of the subway line it travels, with only the stops and exchange points identified by name. Similarly some maps made for motorists do not show the landscape at all but separate individual representations of each road as a line showing only the distances and exits, regardless of the actual shape of the road with respect to the landscape it goes through. Those more abstract representations are diagrams. A genealogical tree is also a diagram, and so is the “Marilyn Monroe” representation mentioned above. They only show relationships, not concrete features as do drawings.

  31. Here is a link to the Monroe diagram in better resolution (double-click the image to get it larger).
    Loewenstein “analyzed” both Sinatra and Lacan. I wonder if he got similar results?

  32. Mecacci calls these diagrams “personal constellations”.

  33. Or rather “person constellations”.

  34. I love these diagrams, but what is the significance of “hopping”.

  35. “hopping onto” would have clearer

  36. The word “onto” seems to have moved into the furthermost back corner of my vocabulary. I made a similar mistake this week, translating auf den Luftballon blasen by the ambiguous “blowing on the balloon”. I wonder if this is due in some way to the fact that one and the same German word auf means “on” with the dative, and “onto”/”on(to)” with the accusative. As if I’d gotten so used to using one word for both meanings that I am tending to do the same in English ?!

  37. Can one “jump on a horse” with the meaning “jump onto a horse”, or does that sound like “jumping up and down on a horse” ? “Leap on a horse” is unexceptionable, surely ?

  38. Wonder if Stu has worked up one for his aieuls back in the Volunteer state? Is it true the star swingers shine brightly in them thar hills?

  39. My aïeux wuz clean-living folks. Only psycho they ever saw wuz that Anthony Perkins feller.

  40. Good one, Hozo. I done missed the moonshine first go-round.

  41. This is just to say that I finally sold my Uygur textbook set to someone who saw my comment here. I ot a nice price, though I had been hoping to make a real killing on an extremely rare book.
    Don’t tell Hat, because he’ll be trying to collect a fee.

  42. It’s to be found in 11 libraries in the US and can’t be bought.

  43. I have no idea of the meaning of auf den Luftballon blasen, but “blowing a balloon up” and “blowing into a balloon” both sound like more natural activities than “blowing on a balloon”.

  44. As I originally wrote, “blowing onto a balloon” (as if it were a bowl of hot soup) is a strange thing to do, but that’s life.
    Crown, in a discussion of English phrasal verbs like “blow up”, had said that “blow a balloon up” and “blow up a balloon” mean the same, the transposition of the preposition leaving the meaning intact, “as with German separable verbs”. I then showed that this is not the case in German, using the examples er bläst den Luftballon auf and er bläst auf den Luftballon, which mean different things.
    But suppose you had just painted a funny face on the balloon, using fingernail polish because there was nothing else around. You would blow onto the balloon to dry the polish before giving the thing to your kid.

  45. can’t it be just blowing a balloon, brevity is that über alles something :)
    in my language it would sound like that anyway, shar (balloon, from Russian shar, sharik – round) uleekh (to blow)

  46. blow up i thought is connected with explosions, no?

  47. read, one does not blow a balloon, or anything else, in polite company. It would not create brevity, but levity at best, and a police charge for indecent conduct at worst.

  48. Not true. You can blow a fuse, or a punchline, or the gaff, or the whistle, or your top.

  49. strange slangs, i didn’t mean anything like that
    should have checked urban dictionary first of course, it says about balloon fetishism, then goes on about sphering something, gah
    shouldn’t have read that too

  50. Okay, strike “or anything else”. Still, in polite company it is inadvisable to blow your top.

  51. In the branch of mathematics called algebraic geometry there is something called “blowing up” — an operation which makes a new geometric object out of an old one in a certain way — I won’t try to describe it. I have never been sure whether the image behind the name is of something being exploded or of something being inflated. The reverse operation (which there is less occasion to mention) is of course called “blowing down”.

  52. I have encountered the mathematical expression “blowing up” while reading, without knowing exactly what it meant. Is this something that can be done in order to do “surgery”?

  53. You can blow a popsicle stand, but per Urban Dictionary, it’s very uncool.

  54. should have checked urban dictionary first of course, it says about balloon fetishism, then goes on about sphering something, gah
    shouldn’t have read that too
    And this is why I don’t use urban dictionary unless I really, really have to. There are so many things in the world that I am so happier not knowing.

  55. I have never been sure whether the image behind the name is of something being exploded or of something being inflated.
    Wikipedia says, “The metaphor is inflation of a balloon rather than an explosion.” This confirms what I believed (less dogmatically): you inflate the singularity into a curve. It does not, however, give any history of the term, so I wouldn’t call it certain.
    Is this something that can be done in order to do “surgery”?
    I’m no expert, either, but I think maybe it’s the other way around: you use surgery (making a new manifold by replacing singular neighborhoods with “equivalent” smooth ones) to accomplish the blowing-up.

  56. eventually founding Poetry magazine, where she helped launch Ezra Pound toward national prominence
    I happened the other day upon a $1 copy of Women Editing Modernism (an expanded version of the author’s dissertation), which pulls together a single revision of the roles of Monroe, Anderson, Heap, H.D. and Moore in bringing lots of the moderns to international prominence. And aims in particular to get past the old story of Harriet Monroe as Pound’s foil and Alice Corbin Henderson as nobody.

  57. m-l, here are some abstract drawings. They aren’t diagrams. I’m fairly sure I’m on the right track about the difference: diagrams convey verbal and math info (“Marilyn Monroe was analyzed by Anne Freud”, “the GNP of Sweden is very low compared to Norway”) whereas drawings have the added ability to impart visual information (and obviously I can’t give verbal examples, but if you look at the Suprematists’ drawings and try to describe them you will soon find that words aren’t adequate).
    Architects blow things up all the time; so do photographers.
    Grumbly, I didn’t say that altering the word position of trennbare verbs in German didn’t affect the meaning; you misunderstood me.
    “Leap on a horse” is unexceptionable, surely ?
    What are you, Errol Flynn? It’s all I can do to scramble up the side of a horse, with my daughter helping me. Some people use stepladders, but I’m too vain. The only way I could jump on a horse would be if it were already lying flat on the ground.

  58. I made a mistake: according to my diagram (which faithfully reproduces the one in Mecacci’s book), Loewenstein didn’t analyze Sinatra, but rather Arther Miller. In addition to Lacan.

  59. inflate the singularity into a curve
    As I remember it (if remember is the right word for something I never attempted to deal with), surgery (of the algebraic topology kind) did not involve singularities. I got the impression it had to do with excising the interiors of two bounded submanifolds, then pasting the resultant boundaries together by means of a manifold with exactly those boundaries. I thought this was done to alter certain homotopy groups – or maybe to show how to modify the manifold without altering those groups. In the dusty vicinity of this mental attic jumble are the words “cobordism” and “homeotopy”.
    I hope empty will put in a word of clarification here – perhaps replacing one half-understood porridge in my mind by a quarter-understood handful of organic, uncooked oats.

  60. There is a WiPe entry for surgery theory! The introduction shows me I was not far off:

    the idea is to start with a well-understood manifold M and perform surgery on it to produce a manifold M’ having some desired property, in such a way that the effects on the homology, homotopy groups, or other interesting invariants of the manifold are known.

  61. this Russian page has Irina’s volume of poetry for sale, published in Munich in 1962, print run 200 copies. The blurb mentions in passing that she was Kokoshkin’s stepdaughter. That explains the different patronymic.
    An Irina Kokoshkina is also mentioned in the memoir of Veronika Polonskaya, wife of the actor Mikhail Yanshin and lover of Mayakovsky. If it is the same Irina, she was living in Russia in 1929. And another Russian book (2004) mentions an improbable parisian claim that Nabokov was still a virgin when he met Irina.

  62. diagrams as opposed to drawings
    As I’d use the words in everyday conversation, a diagram is a picture of what’s happening in a process, or a ‘skeletal’ picture of the relations between things, whereas a drawing is a picture of what some thing or things look/s like.
    Speaking always-provisionally, the difference being between representations of process or relation and representations of objects and/or emotions, respectively.

    Or:
    diagram : drawing :: map : photograph

  63. That would make Crown’s daughter a footman, as I undertand.

  64. The metaphor [of 'blow up' in algebraic geometry] is inflation of a balloon rather than an explosion.
    I think the wikipedia article author’s point here is that the tangent space is (algebraically) continuous, that is, the tangent spaces projected by a ‘blow up’ are continuous with respect to each other, rather than an assortment (or set) of discrete spaces.
    -
    MMcM, the wikipedia article you link us to remarks the example that “the blowup of a point in a plane replaces the point with projectivized tangent space at that point”.
    I don’t think the ‘blow up’ of a “singularity” can be “a curve”; it (the “blow up”) would have to be all the curves (or volumes, or whatever tangential spaces the ‘blow up”s parameters determine) that are tangential at that given “singularity”. That, anyway, is what I’m able to figure out from the article “tangent space”, linked in the article “blow up”.

  65. What is “algebraically continuous” supposed to mean? “Continuous with respect to each other” doesn’t make any mathematical sense either.
    “Continuous”, “tangent space” etc. are everyday mathematical expressions with precise meanings. They are not up for speculation. Musings in the manner of Badiou, say, try to build on and expand these precise meanings, not replace them. Unlike that wacky Lacan stuff.

  66. To clarify: that wacky Lacan stuff about imaginary numbers.

  67. diagram : drawing :: map : photograph
    Yes, that sums it up succinctly. To call a piece of work ‘diagrammatic’ in architecture is a huge insult, it means not fully developed (visually or as an idea).

  68. My daughter is a footperson, Emms, as you well know.

  69. Here’s a link to a brief dicussion of the wacky Lacan stuff , the kind of thing that Sokal parodied so well. The last paragraph is:

    In the works of Lacan, one finds many other abuses, e.g. on mathematical logic, physics and knot theory. It seems reasonable to assume that, far from providing honest and useful analogies, these references allowed Lacan to impress his non-mathematical audience with a superficial erudition and to put a varnish of scientificity on his discourse.

  70. And another Russian book (2004) mentions an improbable parisian claim that Nabokov was still a virgin when he met Irina.
    For “improbable” read “ludicrous.” Nabokov was a womanizer from an early age; according to his biographer Brian Boyd, he “discovered the joys of sex” in the company of Lyusya Shulgina (“She was Valentina Evgenievna Shulgin on the dotted line, ‘Tamara’ in his autobiography, ‘Mary’ in his first novel, but on his lips she was always ‘Lyussya’”) in 1915 at the age of sixteen.
    Thanks very much for finding that sale listing. It includes the odd phrase “с которым у нее был бурный роман в 1937-х г.,” which I assume is a typo for “в 1937-м г.”
    It saddens me a bit to read discussions of mathematics that once would have been meat and drink to me but are now incomprehensible. Sic transit gloria.

  71. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: m-l, here are some abstract drawings. They aren’t diagrams.
    Absolutely. I guess my definition of “drawing” was too limited. But the reasons these are not diagrams is not that they have no resemblance to perceivable objects but that they are not representations of relationships which are distinct from those in the drawings (eg the lines or rectangles or other figures in those drawings bear a relationship only to each other, not to an outside reality, even an abstract one).
    diagrams convey verbal and math info (“Marilyn Monroe was analyzed by Anne Freud”, “the GNP of Sweden is very low compared to Norway”)
    I would not put it quite this way, because a diagram must be supplemented by verbal information in order to be interpretable in an actual case. An arrow linking the circles representing MM and AF, without adding the words “analyzed by”, indicates only some type of relationship but leaves us in the dark about what this relationship is. In fact the arrows on the “psychoanalysis” diagram represent several types of relationships, the nature of which needs to be explicited by words (“analyzed by, lover of”, etc). Similarly, a representation of the relative GNP’s of two countries (eg by two lines or geometric figures of different sizes) needs additional verbal description of what each figure represents and what the type of relationship is between them. So a diagram represents a general relationship in a very spare and striking visual manner, which makes it useful for immediately grasping that a relationship exists, but it does not in itself convey all the information necessary to know what elements the relationship applies to.
    whereas drawings have the added ability to impart visual information
    But depending on the drawing, there may be too much or too little information for the relevant relationship to be in evidence (but that is not necessarily the purpose of the drawing).

  72. Ok, I have to back down about “algebraically continuous”. There really is such a concept.
    But, deadgod, if you actually know what these things are, why don’t you just explain them briefly? Instead of writing things like “I think the wikipedia article author’s point here”, and “That, anyway, is what I’m able to figure out from the article ‘tangent space’”. And you put “singularity” in quotes, as if you weren’t quite sure what was meant by it.
    I find it hard to imagine how one could know what “algebraically continuous” means, and yet apparently be unsure what a singularity is. But it’s possible, I suppose.
    To clarify: empty is a mathematician, MMcM is or was one (I think). I studied algebraic topology, set theory and mathematical logic, but mostly I get by with graph theory and relational algebra (for databases, an example being SQL).

  73. It’s fair to say that MMcM appears to be that amiable kind of polymath who doesn’t try to play mathopoly.

  74. As I remember it (if remember is the right word for something I never attempted to deal with), surgery (of the algebraic topology kind) did not involve singularities. I got the impression it had to do with excising the interiors of two bounded submanifolds, then pasting the resultant boundaries together by means of a manifold with exactly those boundaries. I thought this was done to alter certain homotopy groups – or maybe to show how to modify the manifold without altering those groups. In the dusty vicinity of this mental attic jumble are the words “cobordism” and “homeotopy”.
    As far as I know, “homeotopy” is not a word, even in mathematics. Some winter evening maybe I will tell a story about the pronunciation of “homotopy”.
    Yes, Stu, when you do surgery (on a p-dimensional sphere in a (p+q)-dimensional manifold), you remove something something (the product of a p-dimensional sphere and a q-dimensional disk) and replace it by something else (the product of a (p+1)-dimensional disk and a (q-1)-dimensional sphere) that has the same boundary (the product of a p-dimensional disk and a (q-1)-dimensional sphere).
    If this sounds mysterious to most readers, I can’t help it.
    There is some mixed metaphorage going on, because although topologists may refer to part of this operation as “cutting” they never seem to refer to the other part as “sewing” or “putting in a suture”. We tend to say “gluing” (or “glueing”).
    As to why anyone would do this, I’ll resist the temptation to say anything.
    Blowing up is pretty different, and for the most part the two notions belong to separate realms. But they do have something in common if you look at surgery in a certain way.
    “Singularity” can have several precise meanings in mathematics. Surgery is for the most part concerned with objects (“manifolds”) that have no singularities. Blowing up is something you can do to a nonsingular object and get another nonsingular object. But you can also do it to a singular object and get something that is nonsingular, or in some sense less singular.
    “Blowing up” is used in a more casual way in mathematics to mean something like “becoming infinite”. For example, the logarithm function log(x) blows up at x=0. Here the metaphor is surely explosion, not inflation.
    I hope empty will put in a word of clarification here – perhaps replacing one half-understood porridge in my mind by a quarter-understood handful of organic, uncooked oats.
    A bowl of grumbly stew, maybe.
    I should be working, so tha’s one more reason (along with the futility of communication) to end this here.

  75. I do pity the poor, impoverished Swedes, but I suppose that they deserve it.
    Crong should get his daughter a cute footperson uniform and teach her to stand at attention, bow and tug her forelock, say “m’lord”, etc. She would be the envy of her school and might possibly get international attention once she goes on Facebook.
    Diagrammatic can be good, sketching the key points without losing them in a mess of detail. I think a lot about historical maps, and while most of them are too sketchy, others are not sketchy enough, and almost all include irrelevancies and leave out important things. If I had a million dollars I would hire people to make the best map ever.
    Seroff’s “Modeste Mussorgsky” is the best Russian gossip I know — Borodin was an unbelievable character, a competent listenable composer and productive research chemist who lived in a huge apartment with about twenty friends and relations he was mostly supporting. (Rimskly-Korsakoff’s letters and memoirs and Moussorgsky’s letters are also good. Of the Russian composers of that era who are still lsutened to, only Rimsky-K and Tchaikowsky were properly trained; Musorgsky, Balkirev, and Borodin were basically self-taught.

  76. “homeotopy”: See? Porridge! I briefly confused the words homotopy and homeomorphism. Of course I do know the difference.
    There is such a thing as a homeotopic group, I discovered:

    a homeotopy group of a topological space is a homotopy group of the group of self-homeomorphisms of that space.

    The WiPe entry on homotopy has a nice little animation showing a coffee cup being deformed into a doughnut, and back again.

  77. There’s also a theory that Baudelaire was a dirty-minded vergin purely from incapacity. Caveat emptor.

  78. yes, and they all knew Kevin Bacon
    I never knew Kevin Bacon, but I partied with John Malkovich back before he was bigtime (my husband knew him in college). So, checking degrees of separation, we find that Malkovich has a Bacon number of “1″. Looks to me like two degrees of separation.

  79. I’m not sure ‘purely’ is the right word to use there.

  80. “primarily” then, instead of “purely”? But can’t you be dirty-minded, and still a virgin simply for lack of opportunity? There would be no incapacity involved. Then, you lose your virginity and remain dirty-minded. Still no incapacity in sight.

  81. LH, you may enjoy this review of the Russian translation of Boyd’s biography, critical of Boyd and more so of the translator. So really funny XXI Russian newspeak passages towards the end of the article.
    в 1937-х г.
    yes, it a typo, and I wouldn’t use г. where -х or -м is used. I think, it’s either в 1937 г. or в 1937-м.

  82. they do have something in common
    A search for them in conjunction turns up a few things like, “Blowing up is a simple surgery.” So I think it’s a matter of finding the right specialization where they overlap (perhaps in slightly different senses than elsewhere). Mind you, I’m not laying any claim to such a specialty; the precision of my understanding of the two terms has without doubt worn away over the years.
    Since we’re also on drawings, there are visualizations of blow-up maps here and here, that are somewhat more interesting than the one in Wikipedia.

  83. So Malkovitch has a Nij number of 1.

  84. Like me.

  85. marie-lucie says:

    There’s also a theory that Baudelaire was a dirty-minded vergin purely from incapacity. Caveat emptor.
    Whose theory? I have never heard anything of the kind. Perhaps there was some incapacity late in his life, together with other bodily ailments.

  86. M-L, I could answer “somewhere on the internet” and that would certainly be true. Or I could refuse toi answer on grounds of confidentiality and privacy concerns. Or I could confess that sometimes when I make things up, I ascribe them to “someone”.
    In fact, however, the theory is that of Félix Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) a friend or of Baudelaire, as cited in Janna Richardson’s 1975 Penguin bilingual “Selected Poems”.
    The oafishness of Theophile Guatier rather belies his art for art’s sake ideology, if you ask me.

  87. Thanks, Sashura, I enjoyed that a lot. I was prepared to bristle on Boyd’s behalf, but this is a reasonable observation:
    Брайан Бойд — из той культуры, где очень четко соблюдается заповедь Христа: «И да будет у вас — „да“, а нет — „нет“, что сверх того, то от лукавого». Набоков весь из «сверх того». Набоков — избыточен, барочен, пышен, поэтому для описания его жизни потребны сухость и деловитость. Поэтому там, где Брайан Бойд — фактограф, там он великолепен! Становится видно, как Набоков преображал жизнь в искусство, как переделывал факты жизни в тексты своей «парчовой прозы».
    [Brian Boyd is from a culture that very precisely observes Christ's commandment "But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." Nabokov is all "more than these." Nabokov is surplus, baroque, luxuriant; for that reason, a description of his life must be dry and businesslike. Therefore, where Boyd is giving a factual account, he is marvelous! It becomes clear how Nabokov transformed life into art, how he remade the facts of his life into the texts of his "brocaded prose."]
    Since he appreciates the hard work Boyd put into discovering and laying out the facts of N’s life, I can accept his strictures on Boyd’s inadequate plot descriptions, though I think he’s too hard on Boyd. And the translation does sound dreadful.

  88. Actually, Matthew 5:37 appears not to be about communication as such, about being frugal or extravagant with words in general. It is an injunction to answer questions with “yes” or “no” when interrogated, and not take any kind of oath.
    Does eveyone know biblos.com ? It contains an enormous wealth of language materials relating to the bible: multiple translations in English and 39 other languages, the Hebrew OT, concordances, thesauri, commentaries …

  89. hard on Boyd
    he is, yes, I think it’s this familiar ‘what-can-they-know-that-we-don’t-know-already’ syndrome of being protective of your own culture.

  90. J. W. Brewer says:

    Hat, for the question of Irina’s patronymic, go down one more paragraph in Boyd from the excerpt you quoted, where he says the Kadet who was famously shot was her stepfather’s brother.

  91. you put “singularity” in quotes
    I was responding to MMcM’s “you inflate the singularity into a curve”, which I took to be mistaken, and to the article she/he linked us to. Hence, both direct quotation of MMcM’s “singularity” (the article says “point”) and reference to that article and the article to which it directly links (“tangent space”).

  92. “footperson
    footperchild

  93. M’s a male person, god.

  94. Stumbly: thanks for the biblos.com tip – I was just preparing a stand-up sketch in French and wanted to use biblical references.

  95. a stand-up sketch in French
    Yeah, it’s good for all kinds of things – needling Hat, identifying suspected biblical references in Swedish pornography texts etc.. Not knowing the bible, how else would I find things?

  96. Hat, for the question of Irina’s patronymic, go down one more paragraph in Boyd from the excerpt you quoted, where he says the Kadet who was famously shot was her stepfather’s brother.
    I know that, but what does it have to do with the patronymic? Irina’s father was certainly not the brother.

  97. OT: “Anecdota” in old Greek or Latin simply meant “unpublished writings”, but apparently once that name was attached to Procopius’s “Secret History”, which consists almost entirely of scurrilous anecdotes, the book’s title acquired a new meaning.
    Does anyone here know anything about the status of the the Secret History? Standing alone it’s obviously malicious and almost unbelievable, but then, Procopius was the great historian of his time.

  98. J. W. Brewer says:

    I apologize for stating the apparently obvious but had thought that Boyd’s reference to Vladimir K. as Irina’s stepfather would directly answer the question posed in the original post as whether Irina was the issue of a prior marriage of her mother. I realize on further reflection that I don’t actually know how Russians handle (or handled back then) naming conventions in a stepchild situation, so my original inference that her actual or original father was not Vladimir K. but rather named either Yuri or Fedor (but presumably a different Fedor than the step-uncle) may be inaccurate.
    I can’t tell from Boyd’s recounting of the anecdote whether Fondaminsky/Zirinsky were actively trying to facilitate marital misconduct on Nabokov’s part (which I would find disappointing at least as to F.), or simply themselves being used by Irina’s mother.

  99. Like me.
    AJP and his Pannic entourage are always number one with me, but as far as degrees of separation, alas, we’ve never met. I await the next Hattian meetup.

  100. LH,
    if you are keen to pursue your search for Irina’s parents your best bet might be in joining the Nabokov community on Russian LiveJournal. LJ, or ЖЖ as it is known in Russian, is the most popular blog platform there. The Nabokov community counts over 40 members. I thought of asking them, but then decided that you may want to do it yourself. The link is here.
    One of them links to a recent Boyd interview with Radio Liberty Washington correspondent Abarinov who wrote several articles on Nabokov recently. Ask him?
    Oh, and if you have concerns about spam etc. check Wiki and news reports about LiveJournal.

  101. It’s not a burning enough interest for me to join the community, I’m afraid. Just a mild curiosity. If you want to ask, though, I’d be grateful!

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