Friday, October 25, 2013

Viktor Shklovsky and the Sound of the Cicadas

One of my favorite Soviet writers is Viktor Shklovsky, dean of soviet literary theorists.  I've reviewed many of his books on this blog, or at least celebrated them.  Shklovsky's most important contributions to literary theory may well be over my head.  Even so, you never read one of his book without appreciating dozens if not hundreds of bon mots.  Rarely is Shklovsky anything other than poetic. Bowstring is filled with witticisms and poetic throwaway lines.  If he had been a television writer, he would have had no trouble writing the final line of every single episode of television's most prolific series, Law and Order, as well as its numerous and long-running spin-offs.  Here are a few scattered lines from Bowstring that seemed to call for careful consideration.

"When one is old, one likes to reread.  Old age will come to an end."

"A grateful crawfish or a frightened devil won't bring back the golden rings, tossed into the water by the imprudence of youth."

"Nightingales sang below my window, or maybe they weren't nightingales at all.  They don't care that they have been in exhausted in poetry;  they don't know that they've been refuted."

"I was born in 1893, before the Revolution of 1905, but was awoken by the first revolution and anticipation of the new...In our poems, we tried to guess the date of its arrival."

"The Drosophila flies are not sent into space for a vacation.  They enable the study of how the cosmos affects living organisms."

"There are names of people in my old phone book that I can't call anymore."

"[Boris Mikhailovich Eichenbaum] was poor, but he wasn't burdened by poverty."

"He was passionate about music and kept his violin, despite passionately hating it."

"He was a man of politely extreme convictions."

"The empire was coming to an end."

"He was headed toward a bright future.  I ruined his life by engaging him in an argument."

"[Osip Brik]  Not quite a soldier, not quite a futurist."

"..a moldering displeasure was quietly brewing inside.."

"I witnessed everything from the very beginning, I began to understand things much later."

"Uplifted by the wave of the revolution, without really comprehending it, we were immersed in it, and we were in love with it as a young people can be in love."

"During those years he passed his library through fire.."

"The dejected, grotesque Russia of Nicholas I stretches outside its windows.  The wind of the empire bursts into the novella's structure."

"It is possible to live without the life-sensation of one's existence."

"We were in love, we experienced death, we saw our children die, and we saw our own history unfold."

"The sound of the cicadas is not art (yet), but it has potential."

"Barefooted, Socrates rested under the plane tree, listening to the cicadas, turning its pages anew."

"Going over Tolstoy's diaries, you get a sense of looking at the blueprints of an experimental shop in a huge factory."

"The whole world was moving.  The Soviet Union was pulling the world and it was changing slowly--from our perspective, and quickly--from the historical point of view."

"Our generation of people who were sent in the wrong direction by a casual passerby because they were lost.."

"Death replaces the rows of people; it is preparing a new edition, restoring life."

"Eugene Onegin is a river, the shores of which have been described, but which hasn't been fully explored yet."

"The young Tolstoy noted that there wouldn't be enough ink or paper in the world had he recorded everything a person goes through in a single day."

"But then Socrates says how beauty can be found in the way that shoes are lined up or coats are sorted."

"We still use religious terms to say something antireligious."

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