Tuesday, February 06, 2007

S Novym godom - svetom - kraem - krovom!

It has been a longstanding regret of mine not to be able to acquaint myself with the magnificent Russian literary tradition in the original. Brodsky's exhilarating essay on Marina Tsvetaeva's "Novogodnee" (whose brilliant, joyous opening line is in the title of the post) was another occasion to reflect on this. (Brodsky is such a great essayist combining an artist's reckless courage and style with a critic's discerning, detached eye.) I have only rudimentary Russian - having studied it for only two years at high school - but I have always felt that there is a certain depth and vitality in the language that translations can't completely capture. And a great tradition it certainly is, perhaps partly explained by the horrendous social and political history of the nation.

It is very strange to think that Russia has never truly experienced an administrative system not morally corrupt, not venal, not brutal (whether or not clumsily disguised). There have been brief times of fresher air, of optimism soon to be dispelled, and never a strong and healthy civil society. Out of the darkness we have got these amazing flashes of genius and integrity. A high price certainly. And so the curious combination goes on: a magnificent nation docile under the control of cynical, ruthless pygmies. If that is a permanent Russian Sonderweg, which I don't believe for a moment, it certainly would be a tragic, fruitless cul-de-sac. But that corruption was not the image that stayed with me yesterday having finished Brodsky's essay: it was of exiled Marina Tsvetaeva and her angelic speech to stars, to Rilke.

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