Latin or Arabic?


June 17, 2017 by AK

The Russian word шапка “hat” is ultimately derived from Latin cappa “head-covering” according to Vasmer. The likely route is via Old French and Middle High German. Čapka (Czech) and czapka (Polish) begin with a “tch” sound because in Old French, “ch” was pronounced much as it is in modern English, as “tch.”

In Turkish, şapka – approximately homophonic with the Russian word, except for the stress – also means “hat.” Vasmer’s sources suggest the Turkish word is a Slavic loan.

However, the only Turkish etymological dictionary I have found online, by Sevan Nişanyan, derives şapka from Arabic şabaka(t) “fish net or net of any kind” or “headgear,” similar to Aramaic şibkā. Modern Hebrew has סְבָכָה and biblical Hebrew had שְׂבָכָה (sabakah in both cases) for “lattice, network.”

Clarification on Caesarism


June 17, 2017 by AK

Michael Anton wrote at least three posts in 2016 to discuss the applicability of Trump(ism)-Caesar(ism) parallels to the American situation. In doing so, Anton relied on Leo Strauss’ work, particularly his Restatement on Xenophon’s Hiero, a response to Eric Voegelin and Alexandre Kojève. That’s what I alluded to in my previous post.

Next time, call him Nero


June 14, 2017 by AK

Tim Newman quotes a tweet by Oliver Kamm occasioned by this NYT story:

New York’s Public Theater lost financial support from two high-profile corporate donors, Delta Air Lines and Bank of America, on Sunday amid intense criticism of its production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” which depicts the assassination of a Trump-like Roman ruler.

To which Kamm responded:

Arts subsidy from tax revenues matters. If it’s up to corporate sponsors, controversial productions won’t get made.

So Trump as Caesar is the epitome of controversial, the apex of courageous and the acme of original. At this realization, boredom set in. Suddenly succor came from unexpected quarters:

Criticism of the play reached a fever pitch on Sunday when Fox News reported that it “appears to depict President Trump being brutally stabbed to death by women and minorities.”

They know how to turn a phrase, the folks at Fox News. But how come that no one mentioned the God Emperor Trump meme? As for “Empress Melania,” it sounds about right: there were a few imperial consorts with Greek names in the 200s and 300s.

Geographically, Slovenia is made up of bits of three Roman provinces – Noricum, Dalmatia and Pannonia – and of Venetia et Histria, a region of Roman Italia. The capital, Ljubljana (Laibach), stands on the site of Emona, a city in ancient Italia, but Melania’s native Novo Mesto is just across the border in Pannonia or Dalmatia.

Roots and routes: Mandelshtam on Khlebnikov


June 12, 2017 by AK

To add to my recent note on Anselm Kiefer’s new Khlebnikov-inspired exhibition and to my earlier posts on the poet (Jakobson reading K.; Bobeobi 0, 1, and 2), two excerpts from Notes on Poetry by Osip Mandelshtam (1923):

Modern Russian poetry did not fall out of the sky but was foretold by the whole poetic past of our country – did not Yazykov’s clicking and tutting foretell Pasternak, and is not this example alone enough to show the way poetic batteries converse with each other by reciprocal fire, not caring at all for the indifference of the time separating them? There is always war in poetry. It is only in the periods of social idiocy that there is peace or a truce. Root growers, like army leaders, rise in arms against each other. The roots of words are warring in the darkness, taking away food and earthly juices from each other. The struggle of Russian, that is, secular unwritten speech, of domestic root-speak, the language of the laity, with the written speech of the monks, with the Church Slavonic, hostile, Byzantine written language, – the struggle is having an impact to this day.

Mandelshtam goes into much detail on the opposition between the language of the intelligentsia, of the monks, of “Byzantium,” and the conversational, colloquial language, the “Bible of the laity.” As a reminder, Mandelshtam is generally considered one of the first-rank Russian poets of the 20th century. His views on Khlebnikov might have changed later but he kept rereading the older poet’s work.

Back to the article, skipping several paragraphs:

When I read My Sister, Life by Pasternak, I feel that pure joy of worldly speech freed from outside influences, of Luther’s menial, day-wage speech. This is how Germans rejoiced in their tiled houses, opening for the first time their fresh – smelling of printing ink – Gothic Bibles.

Reading Khlebnikov can compare to an even more magnificent and instructive sight: this is how a righteous language could have developed, unburdened and unprofaned by historical misfortunes and coercions.

Khlebnikov’s speech is so secularized as if neither monks nor Byzantium nor the written language of the intelligentsia had ever existed. This is a perfectly secular and worldly Russian language, sounding for the first time in the history of Russian bookish literacy. If one accepts this view, there no need any longer to consider Khlebnikov a sorcerer and a shaman of some sort. He marked out routes for the development of the language.

Elsewhere, Mandelshtam compared Khlebnikov to a mole who had dug out tunnels for the future, enough to last a century. More on this later, I hope.

June 12 protests


June 12, 2017 by AK

Jim Heintz and Natalia Vasilyeva report from Moscow

Thousands of anti-government activists challenging President Vladimir Putin’s rule were protesting across Russia on Monday, with police arresting main opposition leader Alexei Navalny outside his Moscow home before he could reach the main demonstration and scores of others.

It seems we’re talking about tens of thousands across the country, of whom only a few percent are activists in the common sense of the word. It bears repeating that the protesters’ focus is systemic corruption rather than any particular official’s transgressions. Some are angry at the house demolition program spearheaded by the Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin under the name of “renovation.” Its critics argue that the “renovation” business is a particularly dangerous strain of systemic corruption.

Although city authorities had agreed to a location for the Moscow protest, Navalny called for it to be moved to Tverskaya Street, one of Moscow’s main thoroughfares. He said contractors hired to build a stage at the agreed-upon venue could not do their work after apparently coming under official pressure.

He’s published some of his correspondence with potential contractors to back up his claim. A section of Tverskaya was supposed to be reserved for pedestrians anyway during the Day of Russia festivities:

Tverskaya, known in Soviet times as Gorky Street, was closed off to traffic on Monday for an extensive commemoration of the national holiday Russia Day, including people dressed in historical Russian costumes.

It looks like the protesters managed to rain on the authorities’ parade in Moscow. From Pushkin Square down to the start of the street at the Okhotny Ryad intersection, Tverskaya appeared packed with people, and it’s probably a safe bet the protesters made up three-quarters or more of the crowd. There are also reports of an unusually large number of young people – unusual, that is, for the rallies of 2011-15, but repeating the pattern of the March 26 protests.’s correspondent estimates that the crowd consisted of two parts: the larger made of people aged 16-25, and the smaller, 45+. The number of detainees is said to be 750 in Moscow and 900 in St. Petersburg, which indirectly indicates that more than merely a few thousand people took to the streets.

Flying stones


June 10, 2017 by AK

This 1989 painting (the one on the left, Falling Stones I) by Nikolai Vechtomov (1923-2007) resembles an older work of his, from the 1960s, shown at the Thaw exhibition that ended in Moscow yesterday. Unfortunately, I cannot find the earlier work online, bust it’s probably oil on canvas and has “stone(s)” in the title. Both paintings make me think of Arrival, the 2016 film starring Amy Adams.

Goodthink for teens, from Harvard to the Kremlin


June 9, 2017 by AK

In some ways, this is creepier than all the Putinist propaganda. The lady is advertising her services as a goodthink coach for teenagers. Her lengthy ad, posing as a New York Times piece, begins with a reminder:

Earlier this week, Harvard University revealed that it had rescinded admissions offers to at least 10 students who shared offensive images within what they thought was a private Facebook group chat. The students posted memes and images that mocked minority groups, child abuse, sexual assault and the Holocaust, among other things.

It is easy for parents to be left wondering, “What were they thinking?”

I’m left wondering, “Who snitched?” Also, “Why and how?” And, “Does Harvard hire people to snoop on shortlisted candidates?” Then, reconstructing Harvard’s value system, “Does Ruthless Rhymes humor sound like a leper’s bell now?” I thought outré black humor was therapeutic; turns out it’s on Harvard’s odious substances list, likened to crack cocaine.

The author’s recipe for the safety of the young is to avoid thinking prohibited thoughts and uttering prohibited utterances:

Adults need to shift the conversation around teens’ social media use away from a fear of getting caught and more toward healthy socialization, effective self-regulation and overall safety. This would be all the more important if a bill that was just overwhelmingly passed in the House becomes law. The bill could make it a felony — punishable by 15 years in jail — if teens send consensual nude photos of themselves.

It seems to me that Ana Homayoun doesn’t mind the bill at all despite its inhuman absurdity. Not surprisingly, perhaps: as a consultant “on life strategies for teens” and millennials, she may reasonably expect the passage of the bill to improve demand for her tutoring. For the time being, she’s dispensing “practical real-life advice on how to promote social media wellness in an always-on digital world.” In other words, how not to run afoul of the thought police patrolling Facebook round the clock – by avoiding crimethink and practicing duckspeak. 

In the analog age, Soviet kids learned early on how to avoid getting busted for insufficient enthusiasm. Mastery of the skill came at a cost: some ended up internalizing prescribed beliefs, while others resorted to doublethink in order to function in the dysfunctional late-Soviet society. Some of this schizoid modus pensandi carried over into the post-Soviet world and seems to be one of the reasons why millions of Russians blamed Obama for the crisis of 2014 while acknowledging the Russian government’s rottenness. 

For reasons that may have to do with the collective subconscious, Russians aren’t blaming the woes of Eurasia on Trump as much as they did on Obama, which looks like a troubling development to the watchmen up on the Kremlin towers. It’s an opportune moment for Ana Homayoun to start marketing her services to Moscow policymakers and puppet masters. Alarmed by the teenage turnout at the anti-corruption protests in March, the Russian parliament looks set to ban minors from such rallies. As usual, the prohibition would be ursine and counterproductive. Ana Homayoun’s Practical Strategies for Purposeful Learning – for purposefully learning to love the Big Brother – might be considered a worthwhile alternative or at least a supplement.

This Big Brother, of course, is merely a personification of Always-On Wellness – more of an aunt than a bro. A very slightly mustachioed Aunt Eliza.

The long slide into deep doo-doo continues


June 8, 2017 by AK

Following up on my April 19, post.

Three Duma deputies have submitted a bill that would require Russian internet providers to disable all services (such as anonymous proxies and VPNs) that refuse to prohibit access to websites and applications blocked by Russian courts or other de-facto censors. Russia would first request these proxies, VPNs and such to block access to the “outlawed” sites and apps. Naturally, most would refuse as this is impracticable, so the Russian censors would then tell providers to block them.

I have to keep reminding myself that my bile is too precious to be wasted on mannikins, no matter how harmful. But the harm inflicted cannot be simply laughed off. 

Kiefer and Khlebnikov


June 6, 2017 by AK

From the website of the Hermitage museum, St. Petersburg:

In 2016, Anselm Kiefer, inspired by his visit to St. Petersburg, created a new exhibition project specially for the Hermitage Museum. It is in the triadic space of the colossal Nikolaevsky Hall of the Winter Palace that Kiefer chose to display around 30 new works dedicated to the Russian futurist-poet Velimir Khlebnikov (1885-1922).

As an art project, Für Chlebnikov is much older than 2016: it went on display in the White Cube gallery in Hoxton Square, near Old Street, as early as 2005. If I understand correctly, Kiefer keeps adding new works to his Khlebnikov corpus. Some were shown in a courtyard of the Royal Academy in 2014, and some are on permanent display at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. The Nikolaevsky hall, built in the late 1790s and restored after the 1837 fire, hosted an exhibition of Zaha Hadid’s work in 2015.

The Hermitage explains the Kiefer-Khlebnikov connection in this manner:

One of Khlebnikov’s central ideas is that major pivotal naval and terrestrial battles endlessly repeat every 317 years. This foresight was for Kiefer a thread to reflect on themes of war and peace, the fugacity and finitude of all human aspirations and the mercilessness of fate.

This is not how I would introduce one of the most influential Russian poets of the 20th century. Khlebnikov’s odd numerology might have been as important to him as Biblical chronology was to Newton and spiritualism to Yeats, and his quirky theories of time might have been inseparable from his poetic insights. Nevertheless, his poetry deserves the first word, ahead of his other pursuits.

By the way, the number 317 appears to have a literary pedigree: it’s a rearrangement of three, seven, ace, the three magic cards from Pushkin’s (and, later, Tchaikovsky’s) Queen of Spades.

The first snowfall of June


June 3, 2017 by AK

Searching YouTube and Google images for snow in Moscow “June 2” (in Russian) and the Russian #weathergonemad tag on Instagram should turn up enough results to give one an idea of yesterday’s snowfall in Central Russia. A chance event is not a valid argument against a theory based on long-term trends and averages. The fact that the snow came in October and failed to melt at once but stayed until March or even April, and that there were snowfalls in mid-May and in early June, is not yet serious evidence that the global warming is not happening. Nevertheless, there’s an eerie, end-of-times feel to these atmospheric oddities – the summer snow, the freak winds in Moscow, the tornadoes in Tatarstan.


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