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a paragraph from my thesis (get used to it)

September 20, 2011

I’m translating the memoirs of Iurii Mikhailovich Lotman, an Estonian-born Soviet semiotician and literary critic. (I have not yet settled on how to properly transliterate his name but I hope I never get tempted by any “J”s.) Here is a decent (and amusing!) example of the meandering, blocky, charming, sometimes quite elegant prose style I have been trying to convey:

He had great influence on me. Until then I had planned to study entomology. In this endeavor I was supported by an acquaintance of Kukulevich’s, Sasha [Aleksandr Sergeevich] Danilevskii, a future professor and entomologist, the great-great-grandson of Pushkin, a descendant of Gogol’s sister, and a direct relation of the writer Danilevskii. In profile he did rather remind one of the young Gogol and of the Pushkin depicted in N. N. Ge’s painting “Pushkin at Mikhailovskoe” (Ge’s Pushkin is strange: he doesn’t much resemble Pushkin, but does look a bit like Sasha Danilevskii). It was not without the charm of Sasha Danilevskii that I decided to become an entomologist and diligently read special literature. The mysterious world of insects, which intimidated and captivated me, arouses a strange feeling in me even now—I think it is precisely insects, with their exceptionally slow evolution and startling power to survive, who will be the final population on our planet. There is no doubt that they are endowed with an internal intellectual world, but that world will always be closed to us. And so, from insects I “migrated” to Russian literature. Under the influence of Efim Grigorievich and Toli Kukulevich, an interest in literature and, more broadly, general philology awoke in me. I began to study Greek (which I have now, unfortunately, entirely forgotten).

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2011 1:49 am

    Poor Iurii! He has forgotten all his Greek. (Who had a great influence on him?)

    • linebrick permalink*
      September 20, 2011 2:18 am

      Oh, that’s Kukulevich, mentioned at the beginning and the end (in the previous paragraph he is “merry and wild” in his military uniform, breaking out of blockade encirclements and bursting into little Lotman’s apartment. What if my thesis is gay).

    • September 21, 2011 6:52 am

      Maybe if he hadn’t forgotten all his Greek he would have become a cultural etymologist and studied cicadas!

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