Tag: Nabokov

Where Have You Gone, Samuil? A Journey Through Identity and Exile with Vladislav Khodasevich (Borscht Report #9/Group Writing)

 

When it comes to pre-WWII Russian literary critics and poets, Vladislav Khodasevich is not well known, particularly in the West. Compared to someone like, say, Bunin or Tsvetaeva, he’s been largely ignored. But Khodasevich deserves attention, both as a skilled memoirist and poet, and as one of the few who chronicled the whole journey of his generation through the realities of WWI and the White exile, grappling with issues of right, honor, and Russian identity, especially for those who carried non-Russian blood in the vast multiethnic empire. 

Born in Moscow in May of 1886, Khodasevich was the son of a Polish nobleman and a Jewish woman. Unlike the union of Vera and Vladimir Nabokov, though, theirs was not an unusual act of mutual tolerance. Jacob Brafman, Khodasevich’s maternal grandfather, was a famous convert from Judaism to Orthodoxy, who wrote The Book of Kahal, a forerunner to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He entered the law faculty of Moscow University in 1904, then switched to history and philology the next year, staying on until 1910. It was during his time at the university that Vladislav met Samuil Kissin, a law student and aspiring poet from Orsha who was a year older than he. Twenty years later, he said Kissin, whom he affectionately nicknamed Muni, was “как бы вторым «я»” (like my second self) and reflected on how “we lived in such a faithful brotherhood, in such close love, which now seems wonderful to me.”

Despite his training, Khodasevich did not want to be a historian or a philologist, but, like Kissin, a poet, and dropped out in the final year of his course. He frequented Moscow’s literary salons and cafes, and published articles and poems for famous literary magazines, like Golden Fleece and Libra. Although he was the descendant of a noble family, his father had come to Russia impoverished, and Kissin, who hailed from an observant Jewish merchant family (he was trained in Hebrew and the Talmud at home during his childhood) actually had a much more secure financial position, though he was always willing and happy to support his friend along with himself. 

Всегда вместе: Vera and Vladimir, An Unusual Literary Love Story (Borscht Report #4)

 

It was a love story centuries in the making. While Russian authors have written some of the greatest, and most beloved, love stories ever told, their personal lives tend to be far from any romantic ideal. Tolstoy tortured his wife of 48 years, forcing her to read of his numerous affairs and hatred for her in his diary, Mikhail Bulgakov was thrice wed, and Ivan Bunin invited another woman to live with himself and his second wife while in French exile. Hardly a track record that inspires confidence. 

Quote of the Day: Spurious Symbols

 

“The notion of symbol… has always been abhorrent to me… The symbolism racket in schools… destroys plain intelligence as well as poetical sense. It bleaches the soul. It numbs all capacity to enjoy the fun and enchantment of art… In the case of a certain type of writer it often happens that a whole paragraph or sinuous sentence exists as a discrete organism, with its own imagery, its own invocations its own bloom, and then is it especially precious, and also vulnerable, so that if an outsider, immune to poetry…, injects spurious symbols into it…, its magic is replaced by maggots.” — Vladimir Nabokov, Strong Opinions, 1973

I found this quotation in another work, The Beauty of the Infinite, by David Bentley Hart, which another Ricochet member sent me to aid in my understanding of Orthodoxy. I wish I might have had that quotation readily at hand in more than a few English classes in my schooling years. Both Nabokov and Hart take great issue with the needless dissection of the beauty and flow of language in vain quests to unearth hidden meanings, while ripping the context of the language itself to shreds, and utterly failing to appreciate works on their own (and complete) merits, or on their own beauty and form.

Beware the Ides of March

 

Caesar: The ides of March are come.
Soothsayer: Ay, Caesar, but not gone.
— Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 1.

The word ides is derived from the ancient Roman calendar and comes from the Latin idus, which, as Oxford explains it, means “a day falling roughly in the middle of each month (the 15th day of March, May, July, and October, and the 13th of other months) from which other dates were calculated.”

In the beginning of Shakespeare’s excellent play, Julius Caesar has this premonitory exchange with the soothsayer: