Category:

Blog Archives

Autograph of Alexander Blok

MeyerkholdCover

Sometime ago, while preparing books for visitors, I opened the first issue of the magazine Love for Three Oranges, January 1914, and was surprised to see Alexander Blok’s autograph on the title page. The slim, almost homemade, magazine was published by Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874 – 2 February 1940), a brilliant and provocative Russian theatre director, under the nom de guerre Doctor Dapertutto, and the playful, theatrical, and sometimes clownesque nature of the magazine didn’t immediately associate in my mind with the tragic figure of Blok.

Autograph 4One of the most famous Russian poets, Blok (1880-1921) was born in St. Petersburg to a refined, cultivated family of Russian gentry. The son, grandson and a son-in-law of the university professors, he was, by the definition of another poet, “the pampered child of a good home, who had been caressed by “tender women”, who, however, saw himself as an “orphaned outcast, and began to write most of his poems in the name of the man who was desperate, unsheltered, and buffeted by the wind” *Blok, student
Poet of doom and gloom, he enjoyed the unsurpassed admiration of his contemporaries, and perhaps of one or two generations thereafter.
It is impossible to convey the bewitching music of his poetry in translation, but I’d like to give this small example:
A night, a street, a lamp, a drugstore
A meaningless and dismal light
A quarter century outpours -
It’s all the same. No chance to flight.
-
You’d die and rise anew, begotten.
All would repeat as ever might:
The street, the icy rippled water,
The store, the lamp, the lonely night.

Or another version of the same:
Some night and street, some chemist's lantern
Is bringing senseless weary light.
Well, nothing changes, that's one pattern,
Live extra twenty-five and find.

You die to start a life all over,
All things repeat as did before.
That night, cold waters at quay border,
That light, that street, that chemist's store. (October 10th, 1912) 

Personally, I have never fallen under the spell of Blok’s poetry, even in my youth, clearly preferring to him Gumilev and Khodasevich at the beginning, later Pasternak and Mandel’shtam. But I happen to know people who could cite Blok’s poems by heart for a long time nonstop. Cultivated and highly intelligent women and men, they regarded him with almost divine reverence and admiration, not quite comprehensible to me. Even Nabokov wrote that Blok was “by far the greatest poet of the first two decades of this (20th) century”**
The inscription on the title page says: “to much esteemed Alexander Alexandrovich Smirnov as a token of sincere devotion. A. Blok.”
The addressee of this autograph was three years Blok’s junior and his complete name-sake. At 31, Alexander Smirnov (1883-1962) was a well-known and well placed philologist, specialist in Celtic, French and Spanish literatures of the Renaissance, professor at St. Petersburg University, closely acquainted with, and well established in, the circles of the poets of the Russian Silver Age. Alexander Smirnov 2
At times I think that one of the more interesting aspects of work in the Special Collections is that intoxicating thought of the many hands that had leafed through this or that old book and with whom you therefore are “in touch” throughout times and across continents. In this case, we happen to know the principal actors: Blok, Smirnov, and Meyerhold. In January 1914 they were all young, immensely gifted, looking forward to the future. The World War will begin only at the end of July***, then the atrocities of the revolution and the Bolshevik coup d’état would pounce upon them and everybody else in Russia, and their lives will be forever changed. Blok will stop writing and will drink himself to death soon thereafter; Meyerkhold will be arrested, brutally tortured by Stalin’s henchmen and finally executed in 1940; and only Smirnov will be living a long and seemingly uneventful life of a respected professor and scholar, loyal to the Soviet regime. But this small book, jolly and pert, is our window onto the world of a hundred years ago, where we can be very close to the trio of colorful characters, seemingly just one touch removed.Multicover 2.docx

*Kornei Chukovsky, “Alexander Blok as man and poet”, Ardis, 1982
**Vladimir Nabokov, Eugene Onegin, III:525, 1951-55
*** World War I started on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918

Tagged with:
Posted in "In one touch"--books with autograph, Rare Book Collection, Special Collections

Teaching Spotlight : Professor Johanna Kramer, March 2014

Energetic, youthful, admired by her students, Professor Johanna Kramer is our guest for the month of March.

JohannaPhoto

Professor Kramer, please, tell us about yourself.

I am an assistant professor in the English Department. My area of specialization is Anglo-Saxon literature and culture. In my research I am most interested in Old English religious literature, especially homilies and saints’ lives, the transmission of patristic theology into vernacular poetry and prose, and popular religious texts and practices.

My first book, Between Earth and Heaven: Liminality and the Ascension of Christ in Anglo-Saxon Literature, a study of the ways in which the theology of the Ascension is taught and visualized in a wide range of Anglo-Saxon texts, will be published at the end of March by Manchester University Press.

 

At MU, I teach classes that concern the early Middle Ages, Anglo-Saxon England, and the history of English, for example, Women in the Early Middle Ages, World of the Vikings, Introduction to Old English, and History of the English Language as well as graduate seminars on various topics in Anglo-Saxon and other medieval literature.

How did you incorporate Special Collections into your teaching?

I take almost all of my undergraduate classes for visits to Special Collections. I take my students so that they can have at least minimal exposure to actual medieval materials. I want them to see what different types of medieval manuscripts look like (liturgical, biblical, philosophical, etc.), get a basic sense of manuscript production (both codicology and paleography), and recognize different writing surfaces (papyrus, parchment, even clay). Since I teach in an area—medieval literature—in which primary sources in their original form are not very accessible to students, showing them some of the wonderful materials we have at SC is a small way in which I can have students share the same space and even get in physical contact with manuscripts that were produced a thousand or more years ago. This way, students also become more alert to the fact that the original formats in which we find texts are radically different from the neatly edited and translated versions that students read in class. Aside from seeing what various medieval codices and scripts look like, students get the opportunity to see some of the beautiful illuminations and other depictions that accompany texts, be it a whimsical decoration of an initial, a miniature showing a biblical scene (like the Ascension at the opening of Acts), or a woodcut in an early printed book (like the cityscape of Nürnberg).

What outcomes resulted from your class visits? What were the effects on your students?

Students are typically blown away by what they see. The immediate encounter with medieval manuscripts really opens up their perspective of what “a book” is or looks like. Students tend to be especially intrigued by items that get them close to the human side of manuscript production. Thus, for example, many students love the notarial registry (La Turade), a well worn, leather-bound notebook with lots of professional notarial entries in varying scripts made at different times. Students may have a sense of elaborately decorated medieval manuscript, but the quotidian nature of an item like this registry is exciting on a different level and connects students on a more human level across a vast gap in time to the individuals who were originally writing these texts. Similarly, therefore, they love seeing marginal notes or little pointing hands drawn in the margins of manuscripts where medieval readers took note of remarkable passages (which makes students think twice about what they might write into the margins of their own books!). Another aspect that always impresses students is the sheer materiality of manuscripts. Seeing hair follicles and the remnants of veins in parchment, feeling parchment—both the silky, paper-thin kind and the thick, rough, and stiff kind—noting holes in the parchment, all of these aspects speak to the physical nature of the making of a book and the “live” origins of its component parts.

Johanna Kramer and children, January 2014

What advice would you give to faculty or instructors interested in using Special Collections in their courses?

There might be some hesitation to take a class to SC when an instructor does not expect the students to do a particular project or use specific holdings. In my view, there is always a benefit of taking students, whether a research project follows or not. Exposing students to resources that are unfamiliar to them is a valuable service we provide through our teaching. Equally, in my classroom instruction, I introduce students to select scholarship in my field, whether they end up incorporating it in a paper or not. Just knowing that this kind of scholarship exists and knowing that one could be interested in it and get excited about it is worthwhile demonstrating to our students. It’s part of our responsibility as teachers and scholars to model such interest and excitement for our students, and we can do that by showing them the widest possible range of resources, including the wonders of SC.

 

 

Posted in Classes, Learning through Special Collections, Special Collections, Spotlight, Teaching with rare books

Teaching Spotlight, February 2014: Rebecca Mouser

 

Dr. Rebecca Mouser, a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English is our guest for the Teaching Spotlight this month.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Rebecca

I am a postdoctoral fellow in the English department. My research focuses primarily on oral tradition in the Middle Ages; my recent dissertation explores oral tradition in the fourteenth-century alliterative romances such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Morte Arthure. Outside of my studies, I mostly spend my time with my two dogs, Isabelle (a Boxer) and Hermann (a German Shepherd).

dog

While at MU, I have taught several literature courses, including English 1210 (Introduction to British Literature), English 2100 (Writing about Literature), English 3200 (British Literature: Beginnings to 1784), and English 4210 (Medieval Literature: The Age of Chaucer).

manuscript2
Chaucer's Boece, Fragmenta Manuscripta # 150,

In each of these courses, I stress the material culture of the various time periods as well as the historical and literary culture. We often discuss oral tradition and the development of literary texts. My hope is that students can see that the text goes beyond the page, and that the artifacts that survive can help us to interpret that larger text.

 

What materials or collections did your students work with?

 

My students usually view and work with a variety of manuscripts from the twelfth through fifteenth centuries. We discuss the development of various writing materials such as parchment as well as the various inks used. The manuscripts are both individual leaves of parchment and codices. I tend to bring my students to view the material culture of the Middle Ages (pre-16th century).

 

What outcomes resulted from you class visits? What were the effects on your students?

 

During my last visit to Special Collections, my students composed essays about the experience. Many of them stated that seeing the actual manuscripts helped them to conceptualize the Middle Ages as an actual place in time rather than an abstract idea of pastness. They really enjoyed learning about various ingredients used for ink as well. One student in particular chose a final writing project where she could work with digital manuscript images in her exploration of the idea of “fate” in Chaucer’s works. Overall, most of my students are excited about the experience and express the desire to return at some point on their own.

 

What advice would you give to colleagues interested in using Special Collections in their courses?

 

I think that the most important advice I would have is to take students to Special Collections, even if you are not yet sure of what you hope they will discover. The librarians are extremely helpful in setting up the session, providing ideas for what materials to view as well as brainstorming assignments. I always provide my syllabus before the session to help them to cater to my class. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Classes, Special Collections, Spotlight
Archives

Special Collections and Rare Books


Find Us on Facebook