Forum / The Second Century of Velimir I

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    Jun 27, 03:38pm

    Tomorrow, Tuesday 28 June 2022, marks the centenary of the repose of Velimir I, the King of Time.

    Velimir Khlebnikov was the leading theoretician and practitioner of Russian Cubo-Futurism, one of the Russian poetic groups to succeed the Russian Symbolists in the years between 1905 and 1917 (and distinct from their other contemporaries the Acmeists).

    Timing is not everything, but it is at least coincidental that in observance of the centenary and the commencement of the second century of Velimir I, I've recently come across and begun to read Velimir Khlebnikov: A Critical Study by Raymond Cooke and The King of Time (selected writings tr. by Paul Schmidt and ed. by Charlotte Douglas).

    As Cooke explains in his study, Khlebnikov (Xlebnikov) was devoted to "linguistic renovation", both in terms of salvaging poetic diction and in coining and creating new linguistic forms for poetic purpose. In these efforts I suspect he was up to the same undertaking as Joyce was (roughly contemporaneously) in much of Finnegans Wake.

    In sections I've not yet gotten to, Cooke goes on to investigate Khlebnikov's mathematical and numerological investigations, which seem to resonate at least partially with the mathematical aspects and/or underpinnings of Alfred Jarry's Exploits & Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician.

    I mention these items because of the growing conviction that the labors of "linguistic renovation" that began to dawn by the end of the 19th century CE continue to this day and may require at least as much dedicated exploration across the decades of the next century, perhaps more so, in truth and in fact.

    While most of Khlebnikov's efforts at linguistic renovation are addressed specifically to Russian and Slavic poetic practice, they still surely have some bearing upon poetic practice in other and related linguistic domains. (See again Calvert Watkins' excellent study in historical linguistics How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics.)

    With such tools and resources at our disposal, we have no excuse for sitting on our hands.

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    David Ackley
    Jun 28, 03:12pm

    Thanks for the heads-up Edward, will have to check this out.

    A question: Is there any language innovation possible? Now or even then? Joyce's uses were, by his own acknowledgement, adaptations of previous writings e.g. in Finnegan's Wake, the "portmanteau," words follow from Lewis Carrol's which, if one thinks of it, are simply inventions based on how words are often created from combinations of two or more other words.

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    Jun 28, 04:00pm

    David: thanks for the query, which I now attempt to address.

    One problem may arise from my own usage: when I characterized Khlebnikov's practice as "linguistic renovation", I was likely using a term that I have not found in Cooke's critical study.

    Khlebnikov is famous/notorious for coining neologisms: to quote Cooke here--"Khlebnikov's coinages can result in the juxtaposition of disparate elements, a kind of verbal synaesthesia" (21), commonly put to "metaphoric purpose", as Cooke goes on to admit. (E. g.: in a prose fragment, VK "invented" the word vremysh, combining vremya [time] with kamysh [reed] to get "time-reed" [the passage translates: "and there was a lake where instead of stone there was time, and instead of reeds there rustled time-reeds"], also p. 21.) Cooke goes on to credit VK with portraying not a "landscape" but a "timescape", quoting again: ". . . which also features a 'time-cottage' (vremataya izbushka) and a path which seems to stretch into the fourth dimension, bearing the prints of "days, evenings and mornings" (p. 22). --As VK would commonly remark: et cetera et cetera et cetera.

    I'm still not enough of a student of Joyce to say how he arrived at his numerous coinages, here I can only repair to a sample page of text from FW for illustration (Penguin ed., p. 299): "Scholium, there are trist sigheds to everysing but ichs on the freed brings euchs to the feared. Qued? Mother of us all! O, dear me, look at that now! I don't know is it your spictre or my omination but I'm glad you dimentioned it! My Lourde! My Lourde! If that aint just the beatenest lay I ever see! And a superpbosition! Quoint a quincidence!"

    Joyce was taken with puns and punning as a sonic strategy (Cooke has not remarked at length [yet--I'm not quite halfway through his study] at VK's taste for puns), while he exhibited the linguistic familiarity to bring in words from several other languages (I think I saw some citation that Joyce incorporated words from over forty different languages throughout the FW text).

    Whether in terms of "renovation" (VK seems to've spent much time with Slavic language dictionaries compiling lists of etymologies for numerous word roots and affixes, and even wound up assigning semantic values to individual letters) or "innovation" (JJ's introduction of puns, neologisms, foreign loan words), I think their common goal was to "derange the sense" of literary language and poetic diction, not to make works unintelligible but in hopes of enlarging meaning and semantic scope.

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    David Ackley
    Jun 29, 12:20pm

    Linguistics is definitely not my field, but your explanations are convincing insofar as the formal strategies are concerned. Although the two are not really separable, form and content that is, I do wonder what if anything is gained in terms of expanded content by such strategies. There is an autoreferential quality in Joyce's useage that seems to keep referring you back to language itself--as opposed to, say, life--that seems a bit self-defeating. Finnegan's Wake is purported to be the dream--or night--world that stands over against the day-time exploration of daily life of Ulysses. But in some way, at least for most readers, its language play seems to make it as inaccessable as the subconscious itself.

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    Jun 29, 07:00pm

    Thank you, David, and your points are well made.

    Here, I can't help but think of Bresson's comment (Bresson: Without a Trace, 1965) "Speaking makes us think. Thinking doesn't make us speak."

    With this sole concession to film (but in this case a film concerning one of the medium's most gifted practitioners), the broad challenges of language and "pure" linguistic expression (without musical accompaniment, e. g., perhaps even for purposes of argument even strictly with non-dramatic use, for good reasons that Bresson himself explicitly cited with respect to "aesthetic contamination" coming from uncritical appropriation of stage/theatre conventions in film across the 20th century) for any and every kind of writer persist, especially given all the challenges literature faces in zero-sum form from so many temporal competitors ("film" [increasingly, simply "computer animation"], music, sports, visual arts, et cetera).

    Additionally, I remain a bibliophile not merely for sentimental or atavistic reasons. "Screen-reading" (as with THIS text in THIS very moment) I will insist at least to my death is NOT commensurate with printed text appearing on paper: "the book" remains a peerless technological feat of its own, and it comprises the form for text reception that is second to none, no matter the virtues of internet wizardry and what it does for text proliferation.

    Returning briefly to Khlebnikov and Joyce: VK's interpreter Raymond Cooke tells us that VK envisioned his task as little less than recovery of "a universal language" and a "transrational language" (see VK's address "To the Artists of the World [1919]). However fanciful, idealistic, dreamy, or unwieldy his approach, it is perhaps not unrelated (or not too distantly related) to the project of JJ as enunciated by his interpreter Anthony Burgess (in Re Joyce, 187): "His aim . . . is the creation of a universal myth, to which all cultures and languages are relevant."

    Although Burgess gives little weight to JJ's appropriation of insights to be derived from G. B. Vico's New Science (3d ed., 1744), from his article for the "Vico and Joyce" conference of June 1985, Peter Hughes ("From Allusion to Implosion: Vico, Michelet, Joyce, Beckett") concluded that "[l]ike Finnegans Wake Michelet's Vico is an unending allusion to stories and histories about resurrection and rebirth." It is worth recalling, too, Vico's acknowledgment that languages are subject to corruptions just as eras and states are and thus require "regeneration" in the aftermaths of "unpoetic ages", which arguably we live in now and which arguably JJ (and VK) anticipated we would be living in, for reasons they were aware of and for reasons they could not suspect. (Vico's New Science is well worth Joyce's [and our] efforts, considering the major parts of the text consist of Book II: Poetic Wisdom and Book III: Discovery of the True Homer.)

    I have strayed, no doubt: but these many contributions have left me with the growing conviction that "linguistic (and literary) renovation" will remain front-and-center tasks for all writers meet to these challenges for decades to come.

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