I wrote briefly about Konstantin Vaginov here, and since I’m currently engaged in reading Soviet works from 1927, I’ve finally gotten around to his magnum opus, the novel Goat Song (Козлиная песнь). I must say, I’m disappointed. Among other things, it’s apparently a roman à clef about the circle around Bakhtin in mid-1920s Leningrad, and I’m sure if you were part of that circle or knew people who were (which in the incestuous intellectual world of early Soviet Leningrad was everybody who was anybody), it was a lot of fun to read, just as I enjoy reading a short story written by a friend of mine a quarter century ago about the circle I hung out with in NYC. But for me, much of it was a fairly tedious dip into what I suppose must be called early postmodernism, with a lot of ostentatious intertextuality and toying with the puppets the author has created as characters. Of course, I may simply not have been in the mood for it, and I’ll probably give it another try someday. At the moment, however, I’m very much looking forward to the next items on the agenda, Mandelstam’s “Египетская марка” (“The Egyptian Stamp”) and Tynyanov‘s “Подпоручик Киже” (“Lieutenant Kizhe”). Then some Zoshchenko, and on to 1928: Vremya, vperyod!


  1. Will writers never tire of the etymology of “tragedy”?

  2. Not ones who keep goats, probably.

  3. I think it more likely that he wasn’t tiring of the etymology of “goat”.

  4. I like that you share with us your agenda, and so whoever wants can follow you by reading the same books and thus profit more from your comments. The next item, Mandelstam’s book will surely compensate you for the goats’ song. Besides the facsimile of the precious first edition, it can be also found as a plain text (unfortunately this comment box does not let me to post url’s).

  5. Writers are moody and should discount a book just because they currently are not in the ‘mood’. Read it later!

  6. Oh dear.

    …from Gk. tragodia “a dramatic poem or play in formal language and having an unhappy resolution,” apparently lit. “goat song,” from tragos “goat” + oide “song.”

    Apparently even in antiquity, befriending “singers who compete for a goat as a prize” was known to be inauspicious.

  7. Besides the facsimile of the precious first edition, it can be also found as a plain text (unfortunately this comment box does not let me to post url’s).
    I have it in his Complete Works, but what do you mean about posting URLs? Unless it includes an element banned because of spammers, you should have no problem.

  8. Well, perhaps this particular URL has some forbidden element. I have tried it again and the system has not let me post it. Anyway, it’s easy to find if someone needs it.
    Speaking of Complete Works, it is interesting to see that the semi-official ban on certain “suspicious” authors like Mandelstam, Ahmatova or even Bulgakov has lasted longer and was taken more seriously in the satellite countries than in the SU itself, and so their works published in their homeland until 1990 are very rarely found in Hungarian libraries otherwise well provided with Russian editions of the period.

  9. Studiolum, I sure can’t find it. Is it in google books? If it has some forbidden element that Hat has added to his filter, it will tell you the forbidden element when you try to post it. Then you can break up the forbidden element with something like “DELETE” in the middle of it, or add or substitute some letter or symbol, giving the key for what to change.
    example: if “languagehat” was a forbidden element, you could write:
    substitute “a” for @
    or http://www.languageDELETETHIShat.com

  10. You’re right. This is then the URL, broken up along the /-s:
    Besides, in the beginning “sinnegoria” you have to change the first -i- to -y-, because with -y- the system did not want to post it.

  11. komfo,amonan says

    As I am not afraid to be servicey, here’s that link in a harmless, compact format: Осип Мандельштам : ЕГИПЕТСКАЯ МАРКА

  12. FWIW,I linked it it in my URL, but alas, it’s in Russian. The google tranlate doesn’t seem to be doing too well with it either, unless Mandelshtam wrote it as a series of absurd non-sequiturs.

  13. I am depressed to hear that Goat Song has failed so far to please you, but perhaps with some effort you will get through it eventually. To a degree, it is a roman à clef, but in essence, no more so than Bulgakov’s M&M. Or Bely’s Peterburg — one doesn’t really need a key to enjoy all of them. Plus, I wouldn’t call Goat Song Vaginov’s magnum opus — the full body of his poetry deserves the designation; Goat Song it is only the first and probably longest of his four novels.

  14. Oh, I didn’t mean to say that it was no more than a roman à clef, just that I could understand why reading it was enjoyable for those who knew the real-life counterparts. I would have ignored that aspect completely if I’d been caught up in the novel the way I was in M&M or Peterburg, but I wasn’t, which is doubtless my own fault, since it comes with impressive recommendations.
    I call Goat Song his magnum opus because, let’s face it, it’s the only thing anyone but specialists knows about him. What are a couple of poems you’d recommend I try?

  15. Since it’s mostly specialists — poets, critics and linguists — who still read poetry nowadays, you must be right. I think there is a consensus among Russian poets and critics today that Vaginov the poet was one of the finest in the 20th century. It’s hard to believe it, but none other than Brodsky was fond of Goat Song and Vaginov’s work in general. I would turn to Опыты соединения слов посредством ритма to start exploring his poems, then to Звукоподобия. You can also find pearls in his early output, pre-Опыты. This seems a near-complete collection of his verse.

  16. Thanks!

  17. what a great find, his poetry, thanks for the pointer!
    i couldn’t finish Goat song too, and thought it’s not because of the novel’s merits/demerits, just the period depicted there is too depressing, to feel how all the decent people there are just that, obrecheny

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