Bedtime Stories from Kolyma.

Yesterday a package arrived which turned out to be a Christmas present from jamessal, Russian Literature since 1991 (thanks, Jim!), and I’ve already started reading it; rather than a general survey (“chapters with a large number of unknown authors’ names can easily overwhelm the reader”) the authors discuss “twenty-eight prose texts, three plays, and ten poetic oeuvres,” which makes for a meaty read. Evgeny Dobrenko’s chapter “Recycling of the Soviet” includes an account of what sounds like a wild novel, Мифогенная любовь каст [The mythogenous love of castes, pub. 1999-2002] by Pavel Peppershtein and Sergei Anufriev, in which party organizer Vladimir Dunaev, shell-shocked at the beginning of WWII, ends up in a forest where he lives on hallucinogenic mushrooms and participates in the war only in delirium; Dobrenko writes:

The narrative of The Mythogenic Love of Castes unfolds as a reworking of children’s images in a narcotic nightmare in which a war turns into unspeakable violence that nonetheless reads like a child’s game. This veritable hybrid of terror and a game turns out to be a window into reality. As Peppershtein recalled, he “as a child learned how to fall asleep to Shalamov’s Kolyma Stories, which were read on the BBC after the View from London broadcast. They worked like a tranquilizer, although – or indeed because? – their content was horrifying.”

What a thing to experience as a child! (I wrote about the Shalamov book here.) Here’s the Russian version of the BBC memory:

Он вспоминает, как в детстве научился засыпать под “Колымские рассказы” Шаламова, которые читались по Би-би-си после передачи “Глядя из Лондона”. Они действовали как транквилизатор, хотя — или именно потому что? — их содержание было ужасным.

Incidentally, Peppershtein’s parents were Viktor and Irina Pivovarov, but neither the English nor Russian Wikipedia article explains when and why he changed his name. The same is true of another Moscow Conceptual artist, Andrei Monastyrski (English, Russian Wikipedia): when and why did he change his name from Sumnin? And where is the stress on the unusual name Sumnin? So many questions!


  1. Stu Clayton says

    And where is the stress on the unusual name Sumnin?

    And in Rasumichin, the name of Raskolnikov’s friend ?

  2. John Cowan says

    Perhaps to dissociate himself from his famous father, said by WP to be one of the leading painters of Moscow Conceptualism. This could either be because he does not want to be overshadowed by his father, or because he profoundly disagrees with him about politics or art. Cf. the historian David Wallechinsky (the Book of Lists guy), who resumed the original form of his surname to distinguish himself from his famous father, the novelist Irving Wallace; again, his exact motive is not publicly known, though they have collaborated on a number of works.

  3. Stu: The stress is on the penult in Razu-MI-khin. By the way, you’ll be interested to know that Sloterdijk is cited more than once in this book.

  4. Stu Clayton says

    I find one group of quotes from Sloterdijk in a Google extract. from the book. I know this (group of ideas) of his, but as usual the authors apparently don’t mind serving up baffling English sentences, provided they are “translations” from German.

    The following quotes are part of a discussion about San’kia by Prilepin. I’m guessing they are from the English version of Im Weltinnenraum des Kapitals.

    # Writing about subjectivity and agency, Sloterdijk concluded that “correctly understood subjectivity … always implies the capacity to act.” Yet, this transition from subjectivity-as-potentiality to subjectivity-as-practice has one important precondition: “subjects upgrade themselves to action-capable agents by advising themselves, persuading themselves and giving themselves the sign to shed inhibitions and act” #

    I wonder what “giving themselves the sign” means, and what the original German is. At any rate, “giving themselves” is contradicted by a sentence in the following paragraph.

    # It is crucial that within this understanding of subjectivity, “the signs to shed inhibitions” rarely come from within: these signs are indeed products, carefully crafted, packaged, and disseminated. #

  5. Мифогенная любовь каст was all the rage in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I’ve tried to read it more than once. Still getting there.

    Victor Pivovarov is a major name (and a fine artist) so it’s no wonder his son, an artist and a writer on the side, took up an alias. According to one source, he derived “Pepperstein” from Mynheer Peeperkorn, his favorite character in The Magic Mountain.

  6. Interesting, thanks!

  7. @Stay Clayton: Both occurrences of “sign(s)” were probably “Zeichen” in German, the direct cognate. However, the first one probably should have been translated as the alternative cognate “signal.” The phrase, “signal to shed inhibitions and act,” is perfectly idiomatic, while “sign,” as in the translation, is marginal. I think the apparent contradiction may be there because the author was to play on two slightly different senses of Zeichen.

  8. Stu Clayton says

    @Brett: What’s the point in citing another author when the meaning of what is quoted must be guessed at ? Does that help the citing writer to explain his own ideas ? Clearly not. It is merely a formulaic “appeal to authority”, an occasion for name-dropping. Writing like that does nobody a favor. It’s sophomoric – the kind of thing a college sophomore cobbles together for a homework essay.

    I have been reading Sloterdijk in German for 30 years. I have read nearly every book he has published, some of them more than once. The English renditions of the few Sloterdijk passages given by Dobrenko and Lipovetsky make no sense. Not for such has Sloterdijk been awarded so many prizes (see the Auszeichnungen section of the German WiPe article on him). If D & L can’t convey to the reader what he has written, they shouldn’t try.

    By the way, Sloterdijk’s English is itself pretty bad. He occasionally quotes an English expression, and gets it wrong much of the time.

    I long ago gave up trying to translate Sloterdijk. I use his ideas in my own way. That suffices.

  9. Stu Clayton says

    D & L’s book is not about Sloterdijk. They should paraphrase his ideas, and cite him as the source. The gibberish “translations” are a distraction.

  10. I long ago gave up trying to translate Sloterdijk.

    Yeah, I know. But it’s too bad, Stu! It would be an ideal project for you to write in bits & pieces, maybe on the train, and self-publish on Amazon. EVERYBODY complains about his English translations, there must be a gigantic market. You can do it as an anthology and call it Beam Me Up Slottie.

  11. J.W. Brewer says

    I take it Пепперштейн is an otherwise unattested surname? Wouldn’t “Peppershteyn” be a more conventional transliteration, if you weren’t going to semi-Anglicize to Pepperstein?

  12. J.W. Brewer says

    Hmm, so should Мифогенная be translated “mythogenic” or “mythogenous”? I would vote for the former, on the theory that they’re just synonyms without any subtly nuanced difference in meaning, the former seems to be sufficiently more common in English (not that it’s that common in absolute terms) as to be standard, and the latter is not euphonious or otherwise possessed of offsetting advantages. But maybe I’m missing something?

  13. No, they’re both OK, I just happened to pick one and Dobrenko the other. I enjoy variety!

  14. J.W. Brewer says

    Yet you didn’t make the mushrooms hallucinogenous …

  15. Only God can do that.

  16. John Cowan says

    Well, the poet says that only God can make a tree, but biologists and historical linguists and computer programmers have decisively refuted that.

  17. Phonemes are made by fools like me …

  18. Wouldn’t “Peppershteyn” be a more conventional transliteration, if you weren’t going to semi-Anglicize to Pepperstein?

    No, -shtein is the conventional transliteration.

  19. J.W. Brewer says

    OK, -shteyn must just be a variant I’ve seen with some frequency around NYC, which I suppose is good for those who enjoy variety.

  20. And you may be thinking of Gary Shteyngart.

  21. J.W. Brewer says

    Among others, but it’s easy via a moment’s googling to learn about non-celebrities like NYC municipal employee Igor Goldshteyn who was alas indicted last year for allegedly abusing his position by reselling government-owned cell phones on ebay and pocketing the proceeds.

  22. -shteyn would be the YIVO transliteration, but I think -shtein or -shteyn might be equally likely in a conventional Yiddish-through-Russian transliteration. In my experience, the use of either form in the US is suggestive of post-1971 migration, with Jews of pre-war origin being much more Germanophile in their spelling habits.

  23. That makes sense.

  24. A quick glance at Goldstein / Goldshtein / Goldshteyn in raw genealogy data shows:
    – 67,000 Goldsteins in immigration data, and more Goldsteins in pre-WWII Census data than in modern resident directories
    – 21 Goldshteins in immigration data (various epochs) but almost all of them in contemporary resident directories rather than in the old Census files
    – 10 Goldshteyns in immigration records, all in the 1980s and 1990s, and 576 Goldshteyns in public directories, all contemporary

    Needless to say, a century ago immigrants changed surnames with great ease (and then blamed Ellis Island clerks for the changes LOL), but now they pretty much gotta go with whatever the old country provided. And transliterating Cyrillic Й as Y has become a government rule there.

  25. And transliterating Cyrillic Й as Y has become a government rule there.

    It surely has. Virolainen becomes Virolaynen—an impossible combination in Finnish, and so on.

  26. semi-Anglicize to Pepperstein?

    Goldshtein is often Anglicized to Goldstone, so Peppershtein should become Pepperstone.

  27. He goes by Pepperstein outside Russia but it’s only an artistic/professional alias. If he were to change his legal name to Пепперштейн in Russia, he could ask that it be transliterated as Pepperstein in his passport, rather than the default, Peppershteyn, on the grounds that he is already known internationally under the former name.

  28. “Meaty book“—I’ll have to borrow that phrase. We’re finally at the the doctor’s: Robin’s finishing up, I’m told; I’m in a quiet waiting room with comfortable chairs and a kitschy picture on the wall. I had to run to a bank we passed; otherwise, I’d have had over an hour to read. Instead: a minute to breath and leave this comment, not even a proper email (I can hear Robin talking with nurses on her way out). Jeremy, don’t forget you have your own Meaty present arriving in the coming days. If I could, and I can’t for too many reasons to explain, I’d make everybody eat this present. Hope all is well!

  29. There’s an ongoing Pivovarov exhibition at one of Moscow’s new museums (I saw it a few days ago). The title of this image (with apologies to the photographer for not giving proper credit) is “Pasha, a dog and errant lights.” A portrait of the would-be artist and writer as a very young man,

  30. Just some nitpicking – “sign” and “Zeichen” are not cognates. The English cognate of “Zeichen” is token, “sign” is a loan from Latin signum, which isn’t related to “Zeichen”/”token.

  31. @Hans: Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking there.

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