Wednesday, 10 December 2014

At a group exhibition taking place in the Centre for Creative Practices (15 Pembroke Street Lower, Dublin 2), our colleague Dr JOHN MURRAY is showing some of his paintings from MINSK, Belarus. Everybody welcome to have a look until 20 DEC.

New Václav Havel documentary

The Department, together with the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Ireland, invites you to a free screening of a new documentary film on the life and work of Vácav Havel, dissident playwright, philosopher, politician and statesman, and first President of post-Communist Czechoslovakia/the Czech Republic. We are privileged to be able to host one of the very first screenings of this new film outside of the Czech Republic. The film will be shown in in Czech with English subtitles tomorrow night, Wednesday, 10 December, at 7.30 p.m. in the Robert Emmet Theatre, Arts Building. Everyone welcome.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Polish and Russian cinema in Dublin this week

It never rains but pours ...
So, starting today, there are three cinematic events to partake in.

First up, the 9th KINOPOLIS - the Polish Film Festival, running from 6-9 November 2014 at the IFI, screening a selection of feature films (The Word, Papusza, Jack Strong and The Mighty Angel), animated filsm and documentaries by Paweł Łoziński. and

Second,  there will be a screening of the Polish film "Ida" organised by the Department in celebration of Poland's Independence Day. The Film night takes place next Tuesday, 11 November, from 7-9pm, in the Museum Building (Room M20) at TCD. The film will be shown in Polish with subtitles, and the screening will be preceded by a short talk by Dr Aneta Stępień.

And finally, tomorrow, Friday, 7th November, the IFI premières the new film 'Leviathan' by Russian filmmaker Zvyagintsev. The film will run through Thursday, 13th November.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

And ... we're back!

Dear all,

Welcome back to the Department and the new (academic) year!

This semester, we again have an exciting range of evening classes on offer, both in the various languages of the Department (Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Polish and Russian), and also in Czech literature & culture (19th the present) and Russian culture (beginnings to the early 20th c.). Please see the Departmental website for details.

And we are starting back our traditional pub nights every second Wednesday during term time in Kennedy's Pub in Western Row near Lincoln Gate.

The dates for the first semester are:
  • 1 Oct 2014
  • 15 Oct 2014
  • 29 Oct 2014
  • 12 Nov 2014
  • 26 Nov 2014
  • 10 Dec 2014 
Those for the second semester are:
  • 21 Jan 2015
  • 4 Feb 2015
  • 18 Feb 2015 - following the Departmental Open Day (4:30-5), and the Russian Evening in the Atrium (7:00-9:00)
  • 4 Mar 2015
  • 18 Mar 2015
  • 1 Apr 2015
Pub nights start around 8:30-9pm, usually on the ground floor level. The pub takes food orders until about 9:30.

So come along and meet the language assistants, old and new, evening and day students of the Department, during an evening of chats and stories (and maybe some scrabble) in whatever Slavonic language you speak. See you there!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

"Exploring Paintings from Russia" at the National Gallery

The National Gallery of Ireland has announced a new lecture series entitled Art from Diverse Cultures, which aims to explore art from various countries and to appeal to the many different cultural groups present in Ireland. 

The first talk is provided by art historian Wanda Ryan Smolin and will be "Exploring Paintings from Russia".
Time and date: Sunday 5th October at 3:00pm
Location: the Gallery Lecture theatre

The event is free and booking is not necessary. For further information please contact the Education Department at the National Gallery of Ireland. 

Monday, 11 August 2014

Love Songs of the Russian Thaw

A romantic interlude now, with fresh translations of love poems by two of the most popular bards (poets / singer-songwriters) of Russia's Thaw period. The poems were translated for a poetry evening organised by Trinity College Dublin's Russian and Slavonic department.

"I Love You Now" was written by Vladimir Vysotsky to his wife Marina Vlady. The French daughter of Russian emigrants, winner of a best actress award at Cannes for 'The Conjugal Bed', Marina Vlady reconnected with her Russian heritage in the more tolerant atmosphere that followed Khrushchev's Thaw, becoming a juror at the 4th Moscow International Film Festival in 1965. Meeting the popular Vysotsky while in Russia, the two were married in 1969 and carried on a long-distance relationship for ten years before Vysotsky's death in 1980. This relationship made it possible for Vysotsky to travel abroad to France, the USA and Mexico among other places, broadening his perspective and cultural reach beyond what was available to his contemporaries and leaving us many recordings of his banned songs in Western performances. His wife's importance as a cultural ambassador for the USSR protected him somewhat from the Soviet authorities and their suspicion of his subversive songs. In 'I Love You Now' Vysotsky reflects the uncertainty and intercultural/linguistic issues of their marriage. The clip is illustrated by footage of Vysotsky and Vlady.


I love you now - not secretly, out loud!
Not "after... until" - I burn in your light!
Sobbing or laughing, but I love you now!
I want no past; future's out of sight.
"I loved": a grave holds less despair!
It clips my wings and hobbles hopes.
Though the poet of poets might declare
"I loved you - and love still, perhaps..."

Thus they speak of wilted things -
Condescending pity for the lost.
Thus they speak of dethroned kings,
Regretful for a thing that's past;
For urges stripped of urgency,
When "I love you" loses currency.

I love you now - vows can't explain,
My time is now - I won't cut its vein!
This time, ongoing, while the moment lasts-
I fear no future and I breathe no past.
I'll come to you over sea or land,
Chained or headless, I'll come still!
Only don't mistakenly demand
To 'I love you' be added 'always will'.

That "always" has a bitter taste,
Forged signatures and rot and waste,
A get-out clause, a 'just in case',
Dull poison at the glass's base,
And a slap in the present's face,
Where 'I love now' in doubt is placed.

My French dream overflows with time,
The past's not so, the future's scarier
I'm pilloried in the stocks and I'm
Called up to the language barrier.
The language gap! A state defective!
Together we can leap this fence,
I love you even when it's tense:
In the future and the past perfective.

For discussion of Vladimir Vysotsky's political significance, click here.

"Rain Whips My Face and Collarbones" by Bella Akhmadulina shows the work of the most famous female poet of the era. Called 'the best living poet in the Russian language' by Joseph Brodsky, Akhmadulina (of Tartar/Russian/Italian heritage) was a close friend of Bulat Okudzhava, and her work was often suppressed due to her support of many artists persecuted by the Soviet regime, including Boris Pasternak, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Sergei Paradjanov. She declared herself apolitical, however (itself a radical stance at the time), and recited her poems of love and human relations to sold-out stadiums in the 1960s, before moving on to discussions of philosophy and religion. By the time of her death in 2010 she had many awards in her homeland and the status of a national treasure.

BELLA AKHMADULINA (Untitled 'Rains whips my face...' - 1955)

Rain whips my face and collarbones,
Over masts the thunders rip,
You have come upon me
Like a storm upon a ship.

What will be will be
I do not seek to know,
If I'll be flung up into joy
Or smashed against sorrow.

I'm frightened and elated
Like a ship riding the wave,
I don't regret our meeting
I do not fear to love.

Daniil Kharms : Tumbling Biddies

A new translation of 'Tumbling Biddies' ('Vyvalivaiushiesia Starukhi') by Trinity's own Brigit McCone, followed by a short cartoon in which the biddies tumble chaotically from a stack of Russian classic literature - a nice twist on Kharms' radical demolition of the traditions of Russian prose.

A surrealist and absurdist avant-garde Anglophile (ironic as his own work anticipates later English surrealists such as Monty Python), who took his name 'Kharms' from the Russian pronunciation of 'Holmes' (as in Sherlock), Daniil Kharms (1905 - 1942) is known for his dark and twisted children's literature (resembling a Russian Roald Dahl), but also wrote work for adults that was far ahead of its time: the absurdist play 'Elizaveta Bam', a novella 'The Biddy' ('Starukha' - a disrespectful word for an old woman) and Russian Futurist poetry and sketches with 'The Union of Real Art' (OBERIU) which he himself founded.

In the 1930s, the wild experimentation of the Russian avant-garde and their attempts to reimagine life and ideology from the ground up, began to be persecuted and suppressed as anti-Soviet. A simpler, more obvious style of realistic propaganda, "Socialist Realism", took over and Kharms found himself arrested and exiled to Kursk as an anti-Soviet writer, forced afterwards to write his children's stories anonymously. In 1941, Kharms was arrested on suspicion of treason and confined in a psychiatric ward, where he died in 1942 during the Nazi blockade of Leningrad (St. Petersburg), probably of starvation.

'Tumbling Biddies' combines a taste for the surreal and absurd with what seems a comment on the casual cruelty of the Stalinist period, and on the desensitised apathy of onlookers to the many disappearances and deaths that characterised the time. Perhaps, after all, the meaninglessly repeated casual cruelties of a Kharms story best express the climate of the time:

Tumbling Biddies

 An old biddy, out of excessive curiosity, slipped and tumbled from a window, splattering herself.

  Another old biddy poked her head out to look at the splattered one and, from excessive curiosity, also took a tumble, splattering herself.

 Later, from the window tumbled a third old biddy... then a fourth... and a fifth one.

   By the time the sixth came tumbling out, I was sick of looking at them and took a stroll to Maltsevsky Market, where they say some blind cripple was given a knitted shawl.

Lectures focussing on the work of Daniil Kharms are among the topics covered by the department's evening course of lectures in Russian culture. Click on the 'Evening Courses' button to the left to find out more.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Pushkin's Contemporaries

A short post celebrating the work of Pushkin's literary contemporaries, who helped to shape and inspire his writings, featuring new translations specially created for Trinity's Russian poetry evenings.

Vasily Zhukovsky (1783 - 1852)

Oh silent sea, oh azure sea,
I'm spellbound by your depths.
You live, you breathe with turbid love,
With thoughts that never rest.
Oh silent sea, oh azure sea,
Reveal to me deep mysteries:
What moves your boundless breast?
How breathes your labouring chest?
Do the far-off shining heavens
Draw you from your earthly strife,
When, filled with sweet and secret life,
You bask in their radiant presence?
Their azure brightness floods your face,
You burn with the rising and setting sun,
The clouds are gold in your embrace,
The glittering stars and you are one.
And when the dark clouds gather round
To steal the heavenly glow,
Your waves rise up, wild howls resound,
To shatter your gloomy foe...
The darkened clouds disperse away,
But filled with past alarm,
You long raise waves of anxiety - 
And returning heaven's shining charm
Cannot bring you peace complete,
Your calm appearance is deceit.
Your deep abyss hides turbulent fevers
For love of the heavens, the ocean quivers.

Apart from his influence as a leading poet - shown by his poem 'The Sea' above and his lyrics to the national anthem of tsarist Russia - Zhukovsky was a famously skilled literary translator, bringing the work of West European writers to Russian readers from Homer's epic 'Odyssey' to leading German Romantics, crucially influencing the forms of modern Russian literature in its early development. Mentored by the famous Russian historian Nikolai Karamzin, Vasily Zhukovsky himself became tutor to the future tsar, Alexander II. He may have helped to instill the liberal ideals that inspired Alexander to abolish the institution of serfdom and earn the nickname of 'Liberator', and he certainly used his influence at court to protect and serve as patron to edgier talents like Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, Mikhail Lermontov and Alexander Herzen, even helping to buy the Ukrainian nationalist poet and icon Taras Shevchenko out of serfdom. Although the name of Zhukovsky is not very familiar outside of Russia, and his works rarely translated, it is no exaggeration to say that the Golden Age of Russian literature would not have been what it was without him.

Alexander Griboyedov (1795 - 1829)

Into what circles I'm driven by fate?
Circles of hell where my tormentors wait
To victimise me! ostracize me! Storytellers!
Gossiping traitors to love as well as
Ungainly connoisseurs, cunning laymen,
Malicious aged men and women
Grown stale on a diet of schemes and lies.
You brand me a madman with your loud cries!
You're right: he'll come through fire who
When staying just a day with you,
Breathing air with people of your kind
Would not be driven from his mind!
Away from Moscow! Out of these parts!
I seek a place for outraged hearts!
I'll go around the world in search
Get me a coach! Get me a coach!

Poet, composer, officer of a Hussar regiment and diplomatic envoy to Georgia and Persia, Alexander Griboyedov is today remembered as the author of the satirical verse comedy Woe from Wit. A snapshot of the tensions in Russia before the Decembrist Uprising of 1825 (a failed rebellion by mainly aristocratic advocates of democratic reform against the totalitarian tsarist regime), it shows the conservative, anti-reformist Famusov, the social-climbing hypocrite Molchalin and the liberal Anglophile Repetilov as typical types of Russian society at the time. Against all of them, the hero Chatsky is a sarcastic, disaffected cynic who would himself become the model for the 'superfluous man' type of Russian Romanticism. Banned by the censors in 1823, the play circulated freely in unauthorised manuscript copies (like a form of tsarist Samizdat') influencing later works like Pushkin's Eugene Onegin and Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time. Griboyedov saw his play staged only once, in an unofficial production by the garrison of Yerevan, Armenia, before he himself was murdered in an uprising against the Russian embassy in Tehran, Persia (now Iran). Mikhail Lermontov's decision to end 'A Hero of Our Time' by reporting his hero Pechorin's death on his way to Persia may be seen as a nod to Griboyedov, creator of Chatsky, the original hero of his time, played above by well-known Russian actor Oleg Menshikov (Burnt by the Sun, The Barber of Siberia).

Click here for an article about Pushkin and the musical salon culture of the Golden Age.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Belated Pride post

Newly, rhythmically and rhymingly translated just in time to be late for Pride, The Light Blue Puppy is a  classic 1976 Soviet 'cheerful, musical tragedy', animated in a distinctively fluid style using  flowing India ink, and boasting the vocal talents of some of the 1970's most beloved stars, including Alysa Freindlich (star of Eldar Ryazanov's "An Office Romance") and Andrei Mironov (star of Zakharov's "12 Chairs" and "An Unusual Miracle") . Telling the story of a light blue dog who is shunned for being different, it is a children's story encouraging tolerance and promoting positive diversity, ending in an explosion of rainbow colours. In an age of dancing with the censors, when films were regularly scrutinised for their subversive subtexts, many were quick to spot a gay theme in 'The Light Blue Puppy', who was even named one of '69 Outstanding Russian Gays and Lesbians' in a recent publication by Ganymede Press, according to Russia's leading gay internet portal: The cartoon may have played a key role in popularising the slang term 'goluboi' (light blue) to refer to homosexuals, with its theme of the lonely, bullied puppy longing for a flamboyant and self-confident rescuer and mentor being one that spoke to the experience of many Russian gays during the Soviet era's criminalisation of homosexuality.

Based on a book by Hungarian author Gyula Urban which featured a black puppy (serving as a metaphor for the plight of African-Americans in the United States), Yuri Entin, the creator of 'the Light-Blue Puppy', has explicitly stated his pro-gay sympathies and that he
never intended the cartoon to be read as a satire of homosexuals, saying:

"Believe me, never in my life would I have done it if I could imagine what it would be associated with. It's literally hitting below the belt. I have a huge amount of acquaintances of non-traditional orientation, they are wonderful people that I have the tenderest relations with. And so I would never have allowed myself to mock them." Source (in Russian).

Many pro-gay groups celebrate the story, with the 'Planet Krasnoyarsk' club in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, staging their own musical theatrical version in 2000, while a  children's ballet production in the Ekaterinburg theatre was cancelled by director Alexander Novikov in 2010 for being "saturated with paedophilia and homoeroticism" despite the fact that the story never actually references homosexuality at any point. For a complete list of Russian-language articles on the significance of 'the Light Blue Puppy' in gay culture, click here.

ABOVE: a montage of footage from Sergei Paradjanov's 'Sayat Nova' set to the music of FireX

The most famous victim of Soviet anti-homosexuality legislation was the bisexual Armenian-Georgian film director Sergei Paradjanov. Already controversial for his celebration of the ethnic traditions of Ukraine and Armenia in his masterpieces 'Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors' and 'Sayat Nova' / 'The Colour of Pomegranates', he served 3 months (of a five year term) on a conviction for homosexual acts with a KGB officer in 1948 and in 1973 he was sentenced to five years of hard labour (serving four) for the alleged rape of a male communist party member and the 'propagation of pornography'. His claim to have given sexual favours to 25 party members, made to a Danish magazine and serving as grounds for the arrest, was seen by many as another in a long line of the director's scandalous provocations, with some commentators even questioning whether his homosexual inclinations were more than a countercultural pose. Andrei Tarkovsky and Mayakovsky's muse Lilya Brik were among the Russian artists who campaigned for his release, while his post-prison reunion with his friend Vladimir Vysotsky was reportedly tearful. The renowned poetess Bella Akhmadulina said on his behalf "he was guilty of being free". In prison, Paradjanov created hundreds of drawings and collages, many now displayed in the Paradjanov Museum in Yerevan, Armenia. His mature (post-1964) films have a lush, camp aesthetic that conflicted with the demands of socialist realism, and 'Sayat Nova' also features daring gender-bending in its use of Georgian actress Sofiko Chiaureli in a dual role as both the young poet and his mother in this sequence.

Openly gay imagery disappeared from Russian culture in 1933 when Stalin criminalised homosexuality. However, classic films from the 1940s which celebrate the brotherhood of students and workers' collectives through intense male bonding, such as 'Attestat Zrelosti / The Certificate of Education' (the most suggestive clips of which are shown above, unsubtitled) have been cited, and in some cases celebrated, by modern Russian audiences for their homoeroticism. Similarly, the films of the 1980s and 1990s by director Alexander Sokurov have been labelled homoerotic for featuring sensual imagery of physical closeness and affection between men, often scantily clothed, although without explicit sexuality in these relations. Sokurov himself has dismissed these claims as the product of diseased Western imaginations. The first Russian film to have openly homosexual themes is 2004's comedy drama "You I Love".

The most famous gay Russian is probably the composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, whose sexuality is well attested in his own letters, once suppressed by Soviet censors, as well as his brother Modest's autobiography. His sexuality has been edited out of the proposed screenplay for an upcoming Russian biopic, Tchaikovsky, to be directed  by Kirill Serebrennikov, under pressure from Russia's prohibitive anti-gay-propaganda laws, a move which is controversial.  The writer Yuri Arabov has claimed that he 'will not sign his name to a film that advertises homosexuality' and that discussion of homosexuality is 'outside the sphere of art' in this interview. Tchaikovsky's sexuality continues to be celebrated abroad, including by Matthew Bourne's award-winning production of 'Swan Lake' with male swans (pictured). The importance of Tchaikovsky to the gay movement in Russia may be attested by the decision to call St. Petersburg's major organisation for gay social events 'The Tchaikovsky Fund'. Other famous gay and bisexual figures in Russian musical culture include Sergei Diaghilev, director of the 'Ballets Ruses' and Nijinsky, their most famous dancer, as well as the later ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev, and the contemporary openly gay dancer, singer and director Boris Moiseev.

Finally, in literature, the first openly gay novel in Russian was Mikhail Kuzmin's 1906 novel 'Wings' which compares the main character's final acceptance of his sexuality with growing wings. The poet Gennady Trifonov spent 4 years in prison in the 1970s for circulating openly homosexual poetry. Marina Tsvetaeva, one of the most famous poets of the Silver Age, had a lesbian affair with the poetess Sophia Parnok, and frequently referenced her bisexuality or lesbian desire in her poetry, discussed here. For a full discussion of gay themes in Russian literature, click here.

Happy belated Pride!