I just got a package from Amazon that turned out to contain a gorgeous paperback copy of Marshall Berman’s All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity (the cover is this one, not the gray one shown at the Amazon page), a book I’ve been wanting to read for almost three decades now. What’s more, it arrives at the perfect moment, since its longest chapter (over a hundred pages) is on Saint Petersburg, and a section of that chapter is on Bely’s Petersburg, the very novel I’m now reading in Russian. There was no indication of who was kind enough to send it; I offer my fervent thanks to the anonymous donor, and assure them that the book will warm and brighten this dark, cold month!
Update. It turns out the book was a gift from Noetica, who writes to inform me of the fact and suggests that I tell people “that this silent southerner still exists” and (excellent news) that he will be “back soon!” So I can now direct my thanks to him in particular, and I look forward to his reappearance in the Languagehat Café.


  1. I’d be interested to hear what you think. I took a class with Berman at CCNY back in the late 70s, probably the only poli sci class I ever took, and found it extremely enlightening. Money quote: “Capitalism just can’t predict demand accurately.” I would now respond: quite right, but neither can anything else.
    I also read his at-the-time only book, The Politics of Authenticity, which I recommend, or at least my twenty-something self would strongly recommend it. I’ll have to dig it up some day (almost literally) and see how it holds up.

  2. Yeah, that’s a fantastic book. Petersburg, though, I’m becoming somewhat disappointed with. At first, of course, you’re completely overwhelmed by his mastery of prose style–but then the narrative itself takes over, and it’s just not very interesting. (I’m less than half of the way in, but I’ve found it hard to pick the book up again after putting it down for a while. Maybe the end will be more rewarding.)

  3. marie-lucie says

    I am glad to hear that Noetica will be back soon.

  4. I’m so glad about Noetica.

  5. I have composed a bit of commemorative doggerel for Noetica’s imminent return:

    With noustrophedic art he plows,
    Scanning tradition’s furrowed brows
    For thoughts from which he scours the moss.
    He then applies judicious gloss,
    So precious shards yet hardly seen
    Acquire intelligible sheen.

  6. I question “from which”, Grumbly.

  7. Why? “Scour a piece of metal”, “scour the rust from a piece of metal”. No? Or do you balk at the idea of thoughts covered in moss?
    I call.

  8. Or are you suggesting that I should have written “thoughts from whiches” ?

  9. Now I see what you’re up to. You’re trying to provoke a reaction showing that I myself am not judicious, sheeny and cool. Well, I am too, when I want to be, so there!

  10. Languagehat Café?
    I was starting to think it was a very boisterous bar.

  11. My mistake, but I’m glad you’ve explained it. I understood it as scouring the moss for thoughts, rather than scouring the thoughts of moss. I’d never thought of thoughts as being like pots and pans from which we remove baked-on grease. Or moss (à chacun son goût). It’s an unusual image, Stew.

  12. à chacun son goût
    To each their goat

  13. Some ofus dislike all forms of goo.

  14. At first skim I thought it was the moss that was being gleaned/cleaned/saved for posterity.
    I like moss, and I know that you do, too, AJP. The thought of anyone, even Noetica, coming along with a scouring pad after one has been lovingly, patiently, applying the yogurt or the urine could be enough to send one in search of a new metaphor.
    But Stu wanted to rhyme something with gloss.

  15. I now see little chance of someone protesting that my pome isn’t doggerel at all, since you guys are still moping about the moss. Maybe it’s only algae that would need scouring off. So change “scours” to “cleans” – or “plucks”, if that’s more friendly to the inspissated little tufts of chlorophyll. Jeez.

  16. Other ofus like goo.

  17. But the gloss is for the thoughts, not the moss, okay? This moss is getting far too much attention. Soft-hearted liberals, the lot of you.

  18. I’m a viscous, hard-hearted liberal.

  19. Viscous, and at the same time kind of vicious.

  20. David Marjanović says

    Money quote: “Capitalism just can’t predict demand accurately.” I would now respond: quite right, but neither can anything else.

    Capitalism can at least make demand :^)

  21. David Marjanović says

    Boisterous bar? Perhaps, but one without background music. Fortunately.

  22. Welcome back, Noetica!

  23. Capitalism can at least make demand
    No, it’s bodies (and their imaginations) that do that.
    Capitalism is a structured context for the meeting, frustrating, confusing, and exploiting of “demand”, rather than its ‘Agent’– as this exploited mass sees things.

  24. I appreciated “pome” and “mope”, Stu.

  25. “To each their goat”?
    Some of us prefer to return to our mutton.

  26. “Cultivate your goat” — Voltaire.

  27. “Goativate your cult” — Pan.

  28. Cronk, I know you don’t like Hamsun, but what about Bjoernson?

  29. Bare in mind (bear in mind) that I’m not expert*, but I think he’s very underrated in English-speaking lands: “He won the Nobel prize, but who remembers Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson nowadays”, kind of thing. Whereas he’s very respected here.
    I only dislike Hamsun as a person, sort of like Descartes. But he’s very interesting, especially his early life.
    * = I’ve never read a thing.

  30. I just read “Captain Marsala”. Not at all what I expected, I’d heard that B.B. wrote sentimental novels about peasants. It’s quite an odd book and according to B.B.’s note, some of the oddness comes from the fact that it really happened.

  31. B.B. actually played a role in the settlement of Minnesota. Some of his disciples and translators settled here, and he was a liberal who believed that America was the hope of the future. Norway was pretty feudal, drunken, and poor back in his day, which is one of the reasons why Joyce went there. There was a Norwegian vogue in Europe just as there was an Irish vogue in the English-speaking world.

  32. When I said “why Joyce went there”, “went there” was apparently metaphorical rather than literal, and it seems that I literally meant “why Joyce learned Norwegian”.

  33. Yes, I didn’t know that. Sort of like the vogue for Japan twenty years earlier. I think if JJ had learnt Norwegian simply to read Ibsen in the original (not much reward in that, in my opinion) he would at least have been sensitive enough to get the name changed from A Doll’s House to A Doll’s Home.

  34. … but I’ll check out Captain Marsala.

  35. The internets tell me that Joyce’s opinion of Ibsen was entirely different than anyone else’s (not mostly an author of problem plays, not mostly a moralizer, but a competitor with Dante), and that he maintained that opinion ot the end of his life.

  36. Lie and Kjelland are queued up.

  37. I think they have some good contemporary writers too. (Don’t ask me, I don’t read them. Trond probably knows)

  38. The real title-problem with Scandihoovian plays is Miss Julie, which in its context should be Lady Julie. Just saying.
    Mencken tells us that there was once a tramp steamer called the Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson; longshoremen in anglophone lands rechristened it the Be-jesus Be-johnson.

  39. Joyce’s opinion of Ibsen was entirely different than anyone else’s…a competitor with Dante
    In Joyce’s Stephen Hero , protagonist Stephen Daedalus writes a paper about Ibsen and runs afoul of his college president who is also the Censor of the Society where he intends to present the paper. Stephen considers to be a “profanity” “the antique principle that the end of art is to instruct, to elevate, and to amuse.” In the ensuing discussion, the Censor represents Dante as being a “lofty upholder of beauty” with a “high moral aim–he ennobles the human race: the other degrades it.” Daedalus counters that “The lack of a specific code of moral conventions does not degrade the poet” and quotes Aquinas “Pulcra sunt quae visa placent, claiming the beautiful is “that which satisfies the esthetic appetite and nothing more…”
    Years ago I saw Vanessa Redgrave in Ibsen’s “Ghosts”, but at the time didn’t see anything outrageous about it.

  40. Did you see this comment at Sig’s blog:

    cette traduction homophonique de [Raymond] Queneau : “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” devenant “Un singe de beauté est un jouet pour l’hiver”…

  41. From what I’ve read it may actually be by François Le Lionnais, Queneau’s co-writer and also a mathematician, from the end of the second Oulipian Manifesto, from the 1960s. There’s more about Oulipo here. Quite interesting, I thought.

  42. There are more of them here.

  43. The well-known Humpty Dumpty one is here. I may just be interested because my daughter’s doing English homophones and homographs (words with 2 meanings, both spelled the same) at school.

  44. Turns out that the best biographical piece on Queneau is here and Language had already provided a link to it.

  45. to return to our mutton.
    is it a proper English idiom? when I used it as a back translation from Russian – вернемся к нашим баранам (let’s go back to our rams), meaning let’s go back to business, I got blank stares?

  46. No it’s not. They both sound jolly funny, though.

  47. No it’s not. They both sound jolly funny, though.

  48. is it a proper English idiom?
    No, it’s a joky semi-translation of the French “revenons a nos moutons,” which otherwise has no existence in English (in other words, there is no expression “let’s return to our sheep”); it’s interesting that it has been naturalized in Russian, reflecting the greater penetration of French culture there.

  49. Ah, grêt! I thought it was of Greek origin, but now I see the light – thanks. Just looked it up and found a lively Russian-English thread on the subject which includes these joky paraphrases: ревернемся к нашим баранам или вернемся к нашим мутонам
    French penetration:
    I can’t imagine that French penetration in Russian is greater than in English or American, but I think there had been more adoption of French in Russian, than competition. It is not just language, but a way of expressing oneself, which also moulds the way one thinks. I read Pushkin’s correspondence with Vyazemsky re the first Russian translation of Adolphe in 1830s. Both see the translation as a hugely important step in the development of Russian as a language, even though Adolphe had been known in Russia for years in French.

  50. I can’t imagine that French penetration in Russian is greater than in English
    Good point! But of course the massive French penetration of English occurred a thousand years ago and is reflected primarily in vocabulary; English/American culture has few reflections of the classical French culture Russia was steeped in for two centuries. (I myself was steeped in it thanks to the fierce but benevolent attentions of Mme Ruegg, almost half a century ago.)

  51. English/American culture has few reflections of the classical French culture
    …don’t agree at all. Voltaire was the first to introduce the French to Shakespeare. And just think of Nouvelle-France, Lafayette and Jefferson (not to mention Chanel, Gene and Grace Kelly and Jane Birkin, oh, and Hemingway too). It is often underestimated how much English ideas (or rather the French idea of them) of naturalness, self-reliance, enterprising, individualism and personal liberty influenced French thinking in C18th. The ‘pursuit of happiness’ was originally introduced by John Locke, picked up by the great French philosophers and then adopted by the Founding Fathers. Alistair Cooke has several ‘Letters from America’ devoted to French-American love affair. I am on my third consecutive reading of the most beautifully written Robert and Isabelle Tombs’ ‘That Sweet Enemy’, now with a pencil, a блокнот (bloc-notes) and a wad of stickies. It is mostly about Britain and France, but has whole chapters about France and America. Pop media commentators mostly snigger about franglais, but the influence goes both ways in many subtle ways.
    Sorry about my verbosity, I’m only Russian. Gotta go and decorate the Christmas tree now.

  52. Sashurochka! You have mistaken my meaning! I said there was little influence of classical French culture on les anglo-saxons, not the reverse. And there’s no need to apologize for verbosity, not in this crowd (though I refrain from naming names, or monikers, so as not to bring a blush to the cheek of any of our loquacious commenters).

  53. okay then, I’m a bit lost, but we all agree that we love Marie-Lucie?

  54. Absolument!

  55. You’ll never get the French to listen to The Archers, Sash.

  56. John Cowan says

    It turns out there are quite a lot of ghits for “Let us return to our muttons”.

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