Menard’s Severyanin

Variaciones Borges recently published the latest installment of the Pierre Menard translations that I’ve been slowly working on. (Sincere thanks to Daniel Balderston for asking whether I had any more of those Menard pieces in the works. I did and I do.) This one re-frames a poem by a self-styled genius, ego-futurist Igor Severyanin, whose… Continue reading Menard’s Severyanin

Life of Ivanna

The most ironic aspect of the 2021 documentary Life of Ivanna is Ivanna’s dream of having her own place, which actually pushes the film along its main trajectory. This claim requires a little context. Ivanna is a twenty-six-year-old Nenets mother of five living, at the beginning of the film, on the Taimyr Peninsula in the… Continue reading Life of Ivanna

Grand Inquisitors

Excerpting Dostoevsky’s “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor” for my Introduction to Russian Culture (lower level general education class), I find two relatively recent translations available online in a reasonable format for class. One is the Pevear and Volokhonsky version, which provides the whole chapter, the other a slightly condensed version of David McDuff’s 1993 translation… Continue reading Grand Inquisitors

Cold War Women’s (Reproductive) Rights

My reasoning is by analogy and somewhat backwards. If Mary Dudziak is right about Cold War civil rights (and I believe she is), then what one would expect to happen after the end of the Cold War would be a lessening of the federal government’s pressure on states to behave well. The Voting Rights Act… Continue reading Cold War Women’s (Reproductive) Rights

Sergei Loznitsa’s Donbass and the Senses of Provocation

When news broke that Russian forces had launched, on April 8, 2022, a missile attack on the Kramatorsk train station, which was filled with thousands of fleeing women and children at the time, the Russian Ministry of Defense issued a statement calling it a “provocation.” The Russian Foreign Ministry took the same line earlier with… Continue reading Sergei Loznitsa’s Donbass and the Senses of Provocation

Teaching Russian Culture: weeks 1-3

In an earlier post I explained a revised approach to a course I’ve taught for many years, Introduction to Russian Culture, a general survey for undergraduate students, many of whom have little background with the topic and most of whom are fulfilling a world civilizations requirement. This is a course I’ve taught at two institutions… Continue reading Teaching Russian Culture: weeks 1-3

Tolstoy versus God on Humor

I’ve been thinking lately that Tolstoy’s relative lack of a sense of humor might have something to do with his habitually assuming the perspective of God. This is unlike Dostoevsky, whose humanism includes at least some of the absurdity of our place on earth in it. This can be funny (“funny Dostoevsky” — kha, kha,… Continue reading Tolstoy versus God on Humor

Translating Identifying As

(Available as a podcast here.) This is a very strong essay by my friend Alta Ifland at East West Literary Forum. It becomes especially powerful when one reads the Russian translation by Tatiana Bonch Osmolovskaya, where the key phrase “identify as” feels as strange and culturally specific as Ifland claims. The meta-phenomenon she identifies (not… Continue reading Translating Identifying As

Teaching Russian Culture through Artifacts

A couple of months ago, I decided to make my Russian culture survey into an artifact driven class. Rather than lead with the history and then place the culture on top of it, as I used to do it, using the cultural component almost like examples, I would lead with the cultural artifacts, and then… Continue reading Teaching Russian Culture through Artifacts