NABOKV-L post 0017099, Wed, 24 Sep 2008 13:34:11 -0300

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[NABOKOV-L] Slovo, the Word, Discourse and Oleg
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Dear List,

I had been curious about Nabokov's apparent search for a godly and unique "prime word" ( or, as with numbers, for a succession of "primes"?) and recently quoted Brian Boyd's (RY) comments on Nabokov's short-story "Slovo" (The Word), written in January 1923: "he wakes up to real life with no recollection of the magic word. "

Today I found J.A.V.Haney's, 1992, commentaries on IT ( Igor's Tale) offering an interesting explanation about this Russian term - as it was used in a title:"Slovo o pulku Igoreve".
Such references might be of interest to those who, like me, speak no Russian. It has ressonances with our present discussion with lay (mine) mentions to Saussure's "signifiers"; also to VN's apparently irreverent inclusion, in TRLSK , of the name Olga Olegovna Orlova, or to Oleg in PF.
(Perhaps Matt Roth would care to add a comment on this work, its translations & VN?)

Here is the excerpt from J.A.V. Haney's text as it is available in the internet:

"This title["Slovo o pulku Igoreve"], as given in the first edition, may not have been part of the twelfth-century text[*]. The word slovo appears frequently as a genre designation in Old Russian literature, but it is difficult to know precisely what was meant by it. It seems safe to assume that a slovo was intended for oral presentation, that its themes were not primarily lyrical, but political, and above all moral and philosophical. It is close to the Greek logos and Latin sermo. It might be translated as 'discourse' and be less misleading than other possibilities: a "song" implies fixed melos and more than the metrical accompaniment which the poem was likely to have had; a "lay" suggests not only a song but also much more of a narrative structure than the Slovo seems to be. The "tale'" would suggest more fiction than is the case, while "poem" overemphasizes the formal aspects of the work, which is nonetheless a poem [...] The word pulk is an ancient borrowing from Germanic. It has several meanings, including: campaign, trcop, battle, encampment, and folk--its English cognate."

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[*] : This Commentary necessarily comprises a complex array of literary, historical, textual and linguistic information relating to a work probably composed in the twelfth century and copied out as we know it in the fifteenth, then presented in its first modern edition nearly two centuries ago. It has been discussed enigmatically ever since [...] These strophes are not divisions marked in any of the sources for the poem but instead represent the supposition that the poem is constructed with alternating passages: some in the Igor poet's own time (the even-numbered strophes) and the others in a style used by the poet to evoke more ancient times (the odd-numbered strophes) [...]. Any lineation of the text is a matter of hypothesis. The manuscript source for the first edition of the work and for the copy made for the Empress Catherine II, our only surviving sources for the Slovo knew no such divisions. It was apparently written in "run-on" fashion, without divisions of words, let alone such phenomena as strophes or stanzas. We can be rather certain, in fact, that the scribe who laboriously copied out the tale, probably in the early fifteenth century, did not know that it was a poem, so different were its language and prosodic principles from the standard of his own time.[...] In the Old Russian text they were not by 1185 pronounced finally in a "word," but that they had assumed their ultimate roles within the word is less clear[...]. Modern usage obscures history and has unfortunately afforded the opportunity for nationalism to raise its ugly head [...] Old Russian is the language in which the Slovo was written, and it depicts incidents that took place in a land called Rus.[...] It must be remembered that in all likelihood the Slovo was intended for oral recitation, whether it was first written down or whether even orally composed and then committed to parchment The anonymous poet could assume from his twelfth-century audience a familiarity not only with the Kievan Rus of the late twelfth century, with its peculiar flora and fauna, but also a familiarity with the political events of the time, be they the local squabbles of the descendants of Oleg [...] The listener knew that the princes of the Kievan area were weak and but dimly shared in the glory of the "golden age" that ended with the death of Vladimir II Monomakh (in 1125). That listener also presumably knew the story of the Rus land and people from the dim and distant tenth century. A poet's sly hints and allusions, his irony and his metaphors, however recondite they seem to the twentieth~century reader, were immediately intelligible and, one may assume, enjoyed.[...] [...] Though the poet could likely have assumed that his audience would know the genealogies of the princes who figure in the Slovo the modern reader needs an introduction[...] All claimed descent from Prince, later Saint, Vladimir I, who ruled in Kiev from 980 into 1015 and made Christianity the state religion. Vladimir's reign divides the pagan and Christian eras, the 'two ends of time' recognized by the poet and given such thematic importance [...] Igor Sviatoslavich was born in 1151. He was the eldest son of Prince Sviatoslav Olgovich (son of Oleg), and he was prince in Novgorod-Seversk from 1179 until 1198 when he succeeded his cousin Iaroslav Vsevolodovich as prince in Chernigov. Igor ruled in Chernigov until his death in 1202. The poem makes no mention of Igor's father, but it is much concerned with his grandfather, Oleg Sviatoslavich[...] The descendants of Monomakh were from 1113 until the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century the real rulers of Rus, while the descendants of Oleg (including Igor, his brother Vsevolod and his various cousins such as Sviatoslav of Kiev and Iaroslav of Chernigov) ruled less important territories and were subject to the whims of the princes of the Monomakh line. (J.A.V.Haney)

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