Emigres and Outsiders
TLS May 13, 2016
from Commentary, introduction by Luke Parker to "On Generalities," a talk by Vladimir Nabokov:
This condition--what we might call a poetics of future perfect--treats the present as it will have been remembered or memorialized. In the story "A Guide to Berlin" (1925), Nabokov's narrator imagines "some eccentric Berlin writer in the twenties of the twenty-first century, wish to portray our time", for whom "everything, every trifle, will be valuable and meaningful". For Russian emigres of the 1920s, tipped by Trotsky into the dustbins of history, the notion of an eventual vindication was comforting. After all, a posthumous critical redemption had long been the imagined asylum of under-appreciated artists, gifted and talentless alike.
In "A Guide to Berlin", one émigré tells another: "I think that here lies the sense of literary creation: to portray ordinary objects as they will be reflected in the kindly mirrors of future times; to find in the objects around us the fragrant tenderness that only posterity will discern and appreciate in the far-off times when every trifle of our plain everyday life will become exquisite and festive in its own right: the times when a man who might put on the most ordinary jacket of today will be dressed up for an elegant masquerade".
from Freelance by Bryan Cheyette:
To use Zygmunt Bauman's distinction, rather than heterophobia (the hatred of difference) it was "proteophobia" (anxiety caused by uncategorizability) that turned "the Jew" into a heady mixture of fear and desire.
TLS April 29, 2016
from Emily Wilson's review of Beyond Greek: The beginnings of Latin Literature by Denis Feeney:
The traditions of oral epic, and later (from the eighth century onwards) the creation of Greek literary texts, allowed people who spoke different dialects and were vastly dispersed in space to identify with a common heritage. Feeney argues that literature did much the same thing for the Romans .... Roman literature allowed the diverse citizens of what was eventually a vast empire to maintain a sense of "connected identity". Feeney refers to this process as participation in "the worldwide web"; the internet analogy is not pursued in any depth, but hints at the globalizing consequences of making literature for the Romans.
The Tim Berners-Lee of Roman literature was one Livius Andronicus. The story, as told both by Feeney and by the Romans themselves, begins in 240 BC, when Livius Andronicus created a Latin play translated from an Athenian drama, which was performed at the official games to celebrate Roman military victories--the Ludi Romani.... [Feeney] emphasizes that 240 was, "so far as we know", the first time that a translation of any Athenian dramatic script had been staged. Many other ancient cultures were heavily influenced by the Greeks and aware of their literature, including the Romans themselves for many generations. But nobody, until Livius Andronicus, had translated it. The Ludi Romani had been held for generations, and nobody before 240 seems to have felt that the occasion demanded Latin drama in the Athenian mould. So why did it happen, and why then?...
The answer must have to do with Rome's extraordinary rapid and very recent military success.... For the first time, the Romans had control over the whole of the Italian peninsula. Feeney argues that they used the Roman Games as part of a "new international dialogue", asserting their power and cultural credibility to the rest of the Mediterranean world....
Feeney points out that it took the Russians at least three generations to turn their awareness of French, german and Italian literature into a thriving native literary tradition. The Romans managed it much faster, because of some rather unusual cultural conditions.
Perhaps the most important of these is the existence in Rome, already in the third century BC, of a tradition of bilingual education. Elite Romans read Greek literature in the original language, unlike the elites of many other ancient cultures....
Roman elite men hired Greek men, often enslaved but highly educated immigrants, to tutor their sons. These Greek immigrants were in fact the first Roman authors, and the inventors of Roman literature. Livius Andronicus himself may have been originally a slave, and was certainly a tutor in an elite Roman family. It used to be commonly argued that he produced his translation of the Odyssey as a crib, to help his boys struggle through the original.... Livius Andronicus' own mode of translation in the Odyssey ... suggests a lively domesticating style, using a native Italian metre (Saturnians), rather than adapting the Greek hexameter, and converting the Greek "Muse" into the native equivalent (Camena). Feeney argues that it is essential to remember that Livius himself was not a Roman insider, "Hellenizing" Roman traditions; as a Greek living in Rome, he straddled two traditions, and if anything, he should be seen as Romanizing his own literary heritage, rather than writing as an insider to Rome. All the early Roman writers/translators had complex national and ethnic identities: Naevius spoke Oscan, Greek and Latin; Ennius, the first great poet in Latin, claimed to have "three hearts" for his three languages (Oscan, Latin and Greek), but he was probably also a native speaker of Messapic. The choice to convert Greek literary forms into Latin was a way for these cosmopolitan outsiders to straddle at least two of their own linguistic identities, and to find a place for themselves within the dominant culture. It is no coincident that classical Latin literature, unlike Greek literature, is almost entirely composed in the standardized language of the Roman metropolis-elite, rather than a mash-up of local dialects. This global language, and this literature, was manufactured by people from outside the system.