April 22, 2013

Pushkin on a Chechen not acting Checheny

Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) was the first world-famous Russian writer.

Yet, his work is notoriously hard to translate. Nabokov, arguing that translating the literary pleasures of Pushkin out of Russian was hopeless, labored for years on an absolutely literal (i.e., not literary) translation of Pushkin's long poem Eugene Onegin as an aid to students learning Russian: it was printed with the left hand page in Pushkin's Russian and Nabokov's translation into English on the right hand page. Edmund O. Wilson's attack on Nabokov's translation set off a famous literary feud.

Chechen feuds, however, tend to be less literary and more literal. Chechens acting Checheny fascinated Russian writers, including Pushkin. From Margaret Ziolkowski's book Alien Visions: The Chechens and the Navajos in Russian and American Literature:
Another, later, narrative poem by Pushkin, "Tazit" (1829-30), is devoted to the conflict between conventional Chechen mores and an inexplicably more enlightened consciousness. "Tazit" tells of a young Chechen who returns to his aul and his father, Gasub, after thirteen years ... Tazit returns at a crucial moment, immediately after the slaying of his older brother, whose death he is expected to avenge in accordance with the strict requirements of customary law. 
The young man proves a disappointment to his father, though, for he is incapable of fulfilling any of the traditional expectations of Chechen culture. In fairy tale-like manner, Tazit has three opportunities to demonstrate his commitment to Chechen ways, but on each occasion his failure to do so is more pronounced. 
First, he refuses to take advantage of the opportunity to leap from a boulder and rob an Armenian merchant. ... 
Nor can he explain why he does not capture an escaped slave with a lasso. 
Finally, and most cravenly from Gasub's perspective, Tazit does not chop off the head of his brother's murderer when he has the chance. "The murderer was alone, covered with wounds, unarmed," he squeamishly objects, and his appalled father can only conclude: "You're not a Chechen -- you're an old woman / A coward, a slave, you're an Armenian!" 
Gasub apparently has his own set of ethnic stereotypes.


Alcalde Jaime Miguel Curleo said...

Was struck by the deliberate remark by the garrulous uncle from Maryland on The Today Show, identifying the malign mentor as an Armenian. I never encountered a Muslim Armenian once in about two decades living around Glendale, Calif. but the Chechen (or honorary Chechen) pugilist was able to fall under the spell of one in freaking Cambridge...

Anonymous said...

made me think of this song for some reason

Anonymous said...

"You're not a Chechen -- you're an old woman / A coward, a slave, you're an Armenian!"

I did construction work with an Armenian, Davo, for a couple of years.

Once somebody stole his car. He gathered his (all female) roommates and went searching. They came to a four way stop intersection at right angles with the the thief and Davo's car. The girls all started pointing, the thief thought they were flirting with him and didn't drive through the intersection, giving Davo time to get out of his roommate's car and approach the thief, who was startled and started running. Davo chased him two blocks, caught him and beat the shit out of him, yelling "This is for making me chase!". When he was done, he told the thief "Give me money in your wallet, and I will not call police." The thief complied, and Davo walked back to his car about $50 richer.

Twice I got into nasty fist fights with him because of arguments about retaining walls.

He never moaned and complained about the Turks or the genocide, but one rainy day in April he did say "Is bad day, April 19th".

To the Caucasians, that is a wimp.

My respect for the Russians, especially the Cossacks, is boundless. They have the world's longest frontier, bordering hordes of viscious tribes, and a large population of Jews undermining them from within, and yet they still managed to make of themselves a great White people.

Off-Brown Bomber said...

Maybe the way it went down was this dapper old Armenian guy in a wheelchair waving a cigarette holder sidled up to him and sez, "Tamburlaine--we need muscles like yours to beat the Crusaders/ZOG/Ronald McDonald"

slumber_j said...

Shoulda called it "The Great Gasub."

One thing I haven't seen mentioned about the climactic firefights is that Watertown was the ideal theater for them, given that it's hugely Armenian. Just like the Old Country!

Anonymous said...

FYI Pushkin was an 1/8 African.

Anonymous said...

Few comments:

- Pushkin's verses are so perfect, they are almost impossible to translate. No one came even close to his perfection in Russian literature.

- Nabokov's translations are disasters. He totally borked Alice in Wonderland and at least had a sense to not even try with Pushkin.

Anon at 4:21 PM:
Russians ... still managed to make of themselves a great White people.

In truth, Russian view themselves as unique entity. Neither Western, not Eastern, "Eurasians". As in the popular "Moscow is the third Rome". Interestingly enough, this view is somewhat supported by genomics that shows 10-20% of Mongoloid ancestry.

Glossy said...

"I never encountered a Muslim Armenian once..."

From the Wikipedia page on religion in Armenia:

"In 2009, the Pew Research Center estimated that less than 0.1% of the population, or about 1,000 people, were Muslims."

Actually, 1,000 people would be about 0.03% of their population. And I bet most of those people don't even identify as ethnic Armenians.

A predictable fact about religion in the Caucasus: Christians (not just Armenians; Georgians and Ossetians too) have below-replacement TFRs. Muslims like Chechens have above-replacement TFRs. The level of clannishness is about the same across the religious divide.

TFR is depressed by feminism, which expresses itself as higher ed for women, more women in the workplace, open and vicious competition among women in the looks arena (giving birth is bad for the figure).

Islam is better than Christianity at resisting feminism.

Anonymous said...

Ha if your standards for girls is as low as your standards for "greatness" in "white" people (if your neighbors were 10 percent Mongol you wouldn't call them white believe me) you must not suffer from the isteve 45 year old virgim anomie.

Rob said...

What always baffled me about Nabokov was that he didn't keep the translation of his own novels to himself. Both his son and Michael Scammell worked on the English translations of several of them.

How did that O stray into Edmund Wilson's name? I think you momentarily confused him with this guy.

Chicago said...

Have they had their first Gay Pride parade in Grozny yet? If not then fly Hillary Clinton there to demand it. It's about time they caught up with the modern world.

Alcalde Jaime Miguel Curleo said...

They're spread throughout the entire Ottoman/lower USSR area obviously, but being Christian is the central point for the ones inside formal Armenia. When he said "Armenian" I figured he meant someone via Armenia but rooted in the breakaway province next to it (or possibly Iran). Who knows, maybe he's dyslexic and was trying to say "American"

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 5:12 PM

"this view is somewhat supported by genomics that shows 10-20% of Mongoloid ancestry. "

Not really unless you're talking about Russian Far East: Haplogroup C-M217


Glossy said...

OK, fertility vs. religion in detail:

Georgia: population 4.5 million, 97% Christian. TFR was 1.68 in 2012.

Armenia: population 3.3 million, 99% Christian. TFR was 1.5 in 2011.

Azerbaijan: population 9.2 million, 96% Muslim. TFR was 2.38 in 2011.

Chechnya: population 1.3 million, overwhelmingly Muslim. TFR was 3.12 in 2012.

North Ossetia: population 0.7 million, 62% Christian, 29% pagan, 4% Muslim, the rest irreligious. TFR was 1.93 in 2012.

Dagestan: population 2.9 million. 83% Muslim. TFR was 2.06 in 2012.

Ingushetia: population 0.4 million, overwhelmingly Muslim. TFR was 2.42 in 2012.

Kabardino-Balkaria: population 0.9 million, 55% Muslim, 25% Christian, 17% irreligious. TFR was 1.85 in 2012.

Karachay-Cherkessia: population 0.5 million, 48% Muslim, 19% irreligious, 16% Christian, 12% pagan. TFR was 1.61 in 2012.

Anonymous said...

Autosomal DNA studies do show some East Asian admixture in Russians, but it is less than 10% in most of them.

Anonymous said...

>Yet, his work is notoriously hard to

Yeah, into English. Big deal! American sitcoms, for example, are hard to translate _out of_ English. I've watched Frasier in English, German and Russian, I know. Such statements are only supposed to make Pushkin's work or the Russian language appear as being more "ethnic" and "other" than they really are! Pushkin is a great European poet, not some ethnic itinerant storyteller who sings utterly untranslatable oral epic poems in an unwritten language spoken by 200 people max.!

Anonymous said...

A new translation of Pushkin into English was first published roughly 10 years ago, then reissued recently. The guy who did it was a dual Russian-Government major at Harvard who took Russian for fun (having already learned several other languages before then), and whose command of English (I can attest) was superb. It's probably the best translation we'll get for some time.


--Erich Schwarz

Dutch Boy said...

I'm no Chechen but I don't think I'd hesitate to plug my brother's murderer no matter what shape he were in.

Anonymous said...

He probably blamed an Armenian because they always blame Armenians.
- crappy weather, Armenians
- bad hotdog, Armenians

Anonymous said...

A new translation of Pushkin into English was first published roughly 10 years ago, then reissued recently. It's probably the best translation we'll get for some time.


Yes! Those are fantastic translations, of the "as good as it gets" variety. If anyone is curious, there are few Youtube videos where the translator reads in both languages.

Anonymous said...

You are wrong, the boy is not Chechen and the father is not Chechen. When the boy was small the father left him with a Chechen so that he would be raised as one. When the boy returned he acted like a true Chechen which the father didn't like.
What Pushkin is trying to show is how important honor is for Chechen, no matter who it is, even your brothers killer, you cannot draw your sword on an injured and unarmed man. The father who isn't Chechen sees this as cowardice.