19 August 2017

Bakhtin in Saransk / Бахтин в Саранске

Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin / Михаил Михайлович Бахтин 

Bakhtin in Saransk

Capuchins with their rosaries clacking.
Saracens with their dawdling dances.
Gross giggle of Gog and Magog.

‘M.Bakhtin’, the Saransk students stated,
in disgust at their coursework ratings,
‘isn’t much of a pedagogue’.

Though Bakhtin was not superstitious, 
he knew this grey-suited official
was no imp of a student sprog—

‘The dean’s office has something on you,
but meanwhile your alter ego 
gets this town into dialogue’.

It’s the world capital for trachoma.
The bedbugs have made it their homeland.
Couple of factories. Chemical works.

It’s where pudgy no-hopers and nasties
manufacture alkalis and acids,
and engender their rickety whelps.

Where the crucified Deity’s temple
is no more than a small heap of rubble.
Tall weeds in the sanctuary.

Some old git of a watchman, not sober,
rises up like a clit in the hole for
a door that has nowhere to lead.

Here, spuds have gone bad by the shedload,
icons burned, and books have been shredded, 
folks have dropped by to do you know what.

Which is why, from decay, dusty matter,
charred coals and fabric in tatters,
here is humus, as much as you’d want.

People say, ‘sacred sites stay settled’.
So Chrysostom’s gold lips have been fretted
and turned into compost, pure grade.

In this place, what had been putrefaction
now miraculously finds resurrection—
it’s sending forth shoots, the dead grain.

An inscrutable joy filled the soul of
Professor Bakhtin; he recalled how,
in some idiot dream long ago,

Golosovker appeared with a yoke on.
And suddenly meaning awoke from
all thе bother, thе fuss, thе ado.

It all jelled. This town in Mordovia.
That ridiculous carrot-like penis.
Stars. The universe. And all the rest.

And the wrinkles were smoothed from his forehead.
But a mob of Mordvins was appealing
for permission to retake their test.

(Translation © 2017 G.S. Smith)

From: Чудесный десант (The Miraculous Raid, 1987)

The celebrated literary thinker Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975) was arrested with his informal circle of associates in December 1928, just after completing his Problems of Dostoevsky’s Art (published 1929), with its key concept of dialogism. He was exiled rather than imprisoned, first to Kazakhstan, then in 1936-7 to Saransk, the capital of the Mordovian Republic, about 400 miles east of Moscow; at the time its population was just over 50% ethnic Russian. In 1945 he went back and taught there at the Pedagogical Institute until he retired in 1961. He was in fact a valued Head of Department (Russian and Foreign Literatures) and teacher, and a highly productive scholar. In particular, his Rabelais and his World (as the first of his works to be translated into English was called in 1965; in Russian The Work of Francois Rabelais and the Folk Culture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance), to which the first stanza of Loseff’s poem alludes, was largely written in Saransk. See N.L.Vasilev, ‘Mordovskii universitet v sudbe M.M.Bakhtina’ in M.M.Bakhtin v sovremennom mire (Saransk, Izd-vo Mordovskogo universiteta, 2016), 28-33, with abundant bibliography.
Yakov Emmanuilovich Golosovker (1890-1967) was an eminent philosopher and classicist, famous for his translations into Russian of Ancient Greek lyric poetry and German philosophers. He was arrested in 1936 and spent three years in Vorkuta; he was allowed to return to Moscow in 1942. The ‘yoke’ he is imagined to be wearing here refers to an extended metaphor in Chapter IV, ‘Thesis and Antithesis’, of Golosovker’s Dostoevsky and Kant (1963), where the philosopher’s antinomies (from the Critique of Pure Reason) are said to be ‘ingenious constructions made of four swinging yokes’. See A.V.Korovashko, ‘K interpretatsii stikhotovoreniia Lva Loseva “Bakhtin v Saranske”: Semantika i kontekst’, in M.M.Bakhtin v sovremennom mire, 200-202.

Бахтин в Саранске

Капуцинов трескучие четки. 
Сарацинов тягучие танцы. 
Грубый гогот гог и магог. 

«М. Бахтин, — говорили саранцы,
 с отвращением глядя в зачетки, — 
не ахти какой педагог». 

Хотя не был Бахтин суевером,
но он знал, что в костюмчике сером 
не студентик зундит, дьяволок: 

«На тебя в деканате телега, 
а пока вот тебе alter ego —
с этим городом твой диалог». 

Мировая столица трахомы. 
Обжитые клопами хоромы. 
Две-три фабрички. Химкомбинат. 

Здесь пузатая мелочь и сволочь 
выпускает кислоты и щелочь, 
рахитичных разводит щенят. 

Здесь от храма распятого Бога 
только щебня осталось немного. 
В заалтарьи бурьян и пырей. 

Старый ктитор в тоске и запое 
возникает, как клитор, в пробое 
никуда не ведущих дверей. 

Вдоволь здесь погноили картошки, 
книг порвали, икон попалили, 
походили сюда за нуждой. 

Тем вернее из гнили и пыли, 
угольков и протлевшей ветошки 
образуется здесь перегной. 

Свято место не может быть пусто. 
Распадаясь, уста златоуста 
обращаются в чистый компост. 

И протлевшие мертвые зерна 
возрождаются там чудотворно, 
и росток отправляется в рост. 

Непонятный восторг переполнил 
Бахтина, и профессор припомнил, 
как в дурашливом давешнем сне 

Голосовкер стоял с коромыслом. 
И внезапно повеяло смыслом
в суете, мельтешеньи, возне. 

Все сошлось — этот город мордовский. 
Глупый пенис, торчащий морковкой.
И звезда. И вселенная вся. 

И от глаз разбегались морщины. 
А у двери толкались мордвины,
пересдачи зачета прося.