Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Every time Putin opens his mouth...

...America gets five students of Russian

Alexander Genis, a Russian-American writer, has been to the Summer meet of the language students and professors at Middlebury College, Vermont. Novaya Gazeta published his thoughful report on what is going on with Russian studies in America. 

He has a word or two to say about Solzhenitsyn, the most famous Russian who had lived in Vermont, and many more on Robert Frost, much loved and translated in Russia.

I found two passages from Genis’ article especially interesting, and amusing too.

At one of the workshops Genis asked postgarduate students to name their favourite Russian ‘book.’

...I cautiously walked into an auditorium to see postgradute students, who didn’t look at all like philologists. The girls were pretty and none had glasses, the boys were big and muscular.
“What is your favorite Russian book,” I asked, to open the discussion.
“The Lady with the Dog,” said one girl.
“The Lady with the Dog,” echoed another.
“The Lady with the Dog,” agreed a boy.
“Geopolitics of Russia,” coldly said another, with a crew cut.
“OK,” I said. And, realising I have used an English borrowing, quickly added an awkward Russian “Ladnen’ko.”  (Note: ладненько, from ладно)

I wholeheartedly support the majority choice. Chekhov’s short story is my favorite too, even if it’s not quite a ‘book.’ The force of what Genis is saying is revealed in another striking passage on President Putin’s contribution to the promotion of Russian abroad.

I haven’t been here for ten years and immediately noticed the change for the better. In the number of students, Russian summer school outshone both Chinese and Arabic. 
When I complimented one of the professors, he replied: “What do you want? Every time Putin opens his mouth we get five more students. The tide changed at the time of the Georgian war and grows stronger with each, so to speak, exotic law or, shall we say, judicial trial.
“Slavonics," we sighed, "is the daughter of the cold war. We should be glad that it’s only cold.”

The Russian version of this article is here,
The Novaya Gazeta article is here
Read The Lady with the Dog by Chekhov here (Constance Garnett translation), 
Wikipedia article about Alexander Genis here
Middlebury College summer language programmes here.

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