Oblomovism & Invisible Tears

In 1971, as he was about to leave the country, my American literature teacher, David Walker, hosted me at his inner city Christchurch flat for an evening of talking books and drinking wine. He’d just returned from a staff farewell and invited me round to say goodbye – or rather, I’d invited myself. I’d loved his poetry course, quoting Whitman, Dickinson, and Allen Ginsberg’s America, complete with the F-bomb, or atom bomb, take your pick. That a lecturer would even say “fuck” in a classroom, let alone call that language literature, poetry, was a revelation back then.

After he left the country, I pursued him by letter, someone who had read my prentice poems when badgered, was a poet himself, and was prepared to stay in touch, which we did, on and off until his early death in 2008, aged sixty-six. Among the many things he taught me, and shared, was an early list of recommended readings in poetry and prose; these to be considered, if I wanted to learn something of what it takes to write and write well.

That’s how I came across Goncharov’s Oblomov; amongst the many tips he gave me, it was the one I have been slowest to take up. I read many others, and did try once back then to get into this novel, but was too green, too immature I guess, to be needful of the Russian’s gift. I never forgot his recommendations, and years later, in Cambridge, wandering the university city, I found a secondhand bookshop and bought the 1954 Penguin Classic edition, translated by none other than the wonderful David Magarshack, the brilliant Jewish linguist who had emigrated to the UK in the 1920 from Riga, in what was then, Russia.

I was already in this translator’s debt, having read his renderings of Gogol and Dostoevsky years earlier; his move to England ensured that he would escape an almost certain fate at the hands of the Nazi invaders in 1941, and their very willing anti-Semitic Latvian collaborators. So here was a brand plucked from the fire indeed, and now I had my Goncharov.

For whatever reason, in June of 1992 and onward, Oblomov – fittingly – slumbered unread, comfortable in our London bookshelves, hidden deep with hundreds of other volumes that were packed into deep cartons and shipped back to New Zealand five years later. There he remained until liberated to more comfortable sleeping quarters on bookshelves in two more houses, for thirty years more, until yesterday. Truly, a book has seldom matched it contents with its travels and domicile.

This sleeping giant has now been rescued for me by the work of another Jewish man of letters – the Viennese polymath Egon Friedell – whose Cultural History of the Modern Age: the Crisis of the European Soul (Volume 111) has also been liberated from a shorter, but equally deep slumber, wherein I recognised the name “Oblomov”, as I was scanning the sub-headings of Chapter III. This amazing man, sadly, did not escape the Nazis and accelerated what was undoubtedly his fate, by leaping from his upper story window in Vienna in March, 1938, as the SA knocked on his door downstairs.

Friedell’s discussion of Goncharov’s creation centres on his assertion that the aim of the novel is “the revelation of Oblomovstchina, Oblomovism” wherein Goncharov has presented Russia, “an entire nation with a national hero embodied in a poetic symbol. Oblomov is more than an immortal human being, he is the diagram of the race. He is, and the burden of this fact so weighs on him that it does not permit him to arrive at action” (165). Oblomov is frozen into inaction and immobility, yet his “blank slate” allows all the other visitors to his bedside where he hides, to reveal their their inner worlds of vanity, ambition, and greed.

Oblomov is no saint, but his apparent sloth allows Goncharov to mirror and reveal the soul of Russia, page by page. I see this only now, that I have – at last, like a sleeping giant myself, in my seventy fourth year unto heaven – begun to read the book. Not that I have gone far enough – at page thirty seven – to venture much more than some tentative observations, but even one of the early exchanges between our sleeper and the visiting writer, Penkin tells us that we are – in Goncharov – in the presence of genius.

Penkin is a cruel, self-satisfied satirist of those beneath him, and in his critique of such “realism” (mirroring Goncharov’s views, I’m sure), Oblomov skewers those such as his visitor, who have no “true understanding (of life), no true sympathy, nothing of what one can call real humanity”. Penkin enjoys putting the boot into “thieves and fallen women”, and Oblomov is merciless. “What you feel in their stories is not ‘invisible tears’, but visible, coarse laughter and spitefulness” (35).

The charge sheet drawn up by the bed-ridden Oblomov is all to do with a lack of humanity,”you want to write with your head only” (he) almost hissed. “Love him”, he chides Penkin, “he is a man like you”. Such writers, says Oblomov “forget the human being, or are incapable of describing him”. To such descriptions of vice and filth as Penkin revels in, his increasingly exasperated friend lashes out: “please don’t pretend that your exposures have anything to do with poetry”.

Then comes what I consider at this early stage in my reading journey what may well be Goncharov’s credo, uttered in frustration by his powerful creation: “Give me man – man!” Oblomov said. “Love him!” Penkin can’t understand this at all, and persists in demanding punishment to be visited upon his own unfortunate creations, these fallen people who should be treated as outcasts in society.

This is way too much for Oblomov, so much so, he jumps to his feet and confronts the other man. “Cast him out! And how do you propose to cast him out from human society, from nature, from the mercy of God!”, he almost shouted, his eyes blazing (36). Penkin tells him he’s going a bit too far and Oblomov, seeing this, comes to himself, his more usual type; he yawns, lies back on the couch and both men lapse into silence. Order is restored, but everything between them is changed.

I have read this passage several times since this morning, copied and printed it off, underlining in yellow marker some of what is quoted above. What happened today is that fifty years after David Walker pointed me towards this Russian genius, I’ve finally taken the hint – and not a moment to soon. We may be weak and dilatory beings in our lifetime of wanderings around the room, the house, the street, the city and the world, but great literature always remains and if we are fortunate – not clever, not wise, but fortunate – we may find it before its too late.

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22.2.2021: Remembrance.

Thanks for your loving thoughts e hoa. It’s a hard day & not sleeping well.


Two doors down a digger is smashing concrete behind a refurb villa where they’ll jam two or three townhouses.
The swampy earth of St Albans shudders. It is kind of triggering but as I know what it is, I can roll with it, to pun.


I’ve been better. Moving is upheaval, hard to feel a sense of ease, of rest, when everything must go, that is, be moved.


I’ve re-read some of Shaken Down 6.3 (now revised down to 6.2), but I feel “three” breathes better at the end of the line, than “two”.


I walk the dog and meet another elderly walker in Packe Street Park, with her arthritic old hound that barely waddles.


I sat there in this small garden park maintained by volunteers, under a grape vine, waiting for 12.51pm, to pray.


The kuia had been battling EQ-fucking-C for eight years to get her place fixed. Those of us who did not die in the quakes (myriad tremors) have nevertheless all had our lives shortened by PTSD = Quake Brain.

Still I am grateful and I give thanks. I could complain about the incompetence of some and the venality of others, but I choose to celebrate the ones who have stood by each other all these years.

Just don’t use that abomination “impactful” in my hearing, or blather, “it is what it is”. 😂 I reply, “Well, the effect on me is, it isn’t what it isn’t”. Doh! 🧐

As you can see, my brain is fried, my heart is tired, but “I ain’t dead yet, my bell still rings”, as sang Bobby Dylan ‘bout the Early Roman Kings.

Love you too, O Son of Blake, O Brother of Jim.

Jeffrey

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22.2.2121: Remembrance.

Thanks for your loving thoughts e hoa.
It’s a hard day & not sleeping well.


Two doors down a digger is smashing concrete behind a refurb villa where they’l jam two or three townhouses.
The swampy earth of St Albans shudders. It is kind of triggering but as I know what it is, I can roll with it, to pun.


I’ve been better. Moving is upheaval, hard to feel a sense of ease, of rest, when everything must go, that is, be moved.


I’ve re-read some of Shaken Down 6.3 (now revised down to 6.2, but I feel “three” breathes better at the end of the line that “two”.


I walk the dog a meet another elderly walker in Packe Street Park, with her arthritic old hound that barely waddles.


I sat there in this small garden park maintained by volunteers, under a grape vine, waiting for 12.51pm, to pray.


The kuia had been battling EQ -fucking – C for eight years to get her place fixed. Those of us who did not die in the quakes (many) have nevertheless all had our lives shortened by PTSD = Quake Brain.

Still I am grateful and I give thanks. I could complain about the incompetence of some and the venality of others, but I chose to celebrate the ones who have stood by each other all these years.

Just don’t use that abomination “impactful” in my hearing, or blather, “it is what it is”. 😂 I reply, “Well, the effect on me is, it isn’t what it isn’t”. Doh! 🧐

As you can see, my brain is fried, my heart is tired, but “I ain’t dead yet, my bell still rings”, as sang Bobby Dylan ‘bout the Early Roman Kings.

Love you too, O Son of Blake, O Brother of Jim.

Jeffrey

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Self-talk. C-19 Blues

 

 

 

 

I don’t normally feel like this

this isn’t normal

It’s like my head wants to explode

it does but it won’t

 

How do you know, you’re not me?

we’re all in this thing together

That just leaves me twice as lonely

that’s a feeling we all share

 

I wake up and dread walks in

that’s a gut feeling

I have this mad idea to run

if you do I’m coming with you

 

There’s this conflict I’m avoiding

that’s because you don’t need stress

Maybe not but the email’s waiting

it can wait what’s one more email?

 

I can’t even think about it

what’s your body trying to tell you?

Even thinking makes me tired

thinking’s work we do inside us

 

I’m just going round in circles

from the self we can’t escape

What if this goes on forever?

that’s an ever never comes

 

Next you’ll tell me try deep breaths

nothing further from my lips

Then you’ll say “this too shall pass”

only if you say it first

 

2014-08-26 14.42.27

 

 

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman

7.May.2020

 

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Covido-rambling, St Albans, 7 May 2020.

Hari cattle

Hari meets the local cattle herd, rus in urbe.

 

It’s hard to get bored on a morning ramble with Hari, around St Albans (Edgeware now to some). He’s never bored and like any Jack Russell, ready for the chase, the scraps on the pavement, unwary neighbourhood cats and any sparrows silly enough to ignore his approach, straining on his lead. His muscles bulge as he hauls the expandable towrope out to full stretch, his Hari-named harness, Union Jack-patterned to salute his origins, threatening to choke him huffing and grunting.

 

Hari (it’s Māori for happy, joyful) lives up to both his name and his namesake’s breeding line, the Rev Jack Russell, who in 1814 named a terrier bitch Trump (unfortunate these days, but hardly the poor dog’s fault). The English clergyman was looking to breed foxhunting dogs, and Hari – with no fox in sight around here – carries on the tradition with anything that moves. Sadly, that has included our other four-footed furry whānau member, Mako, a gorgeous short-haired black and while cat who came to us as a stray, around a year before Hari’s puppy entrance to the den last year. By rights, possessing ahi ka roa (territorial rule by prior occupation),  he should be in charge.

 

IMG_5387

Mako up in the nectarine tree in pre-Hari days

Hari,  of course has never recognised this and once he clapped eyes on Mako, chased him, as Jacks do. This has necessitated the installation of a second cat door at the front of the house, the old entrance into the living area (where the dog now rules) having become a no-go zone for the cat. This situation has resolved itself – if such a verb is appropriate – into a feline-canine standoff, where our house now functions in something resembling the city of Berlin before Mauerfall in 1989. We live in hope, as did the Berliners, until the wall finally came down.

 

meeting

The early days of confrontation.

 

So it remains essential – especially in these dog days of Covid-19 Lockdown – that I get Hari out of the house for his exercise and my own sanity. To say he loves it would be failing miserably to convey the intensity of his bursts of joy, as we exit the gates twice a day and head off to the park, or down to the river. The gates, by the way, are part of a fenced-off property necessity for owners of Jack Russells and JR-Fox Terrier crosses, like our boy. These dogs are diggers and escapologists, the complete package, the whole ninety-nine yards, and suffer a very high mortality rate as road-kill if they escape and charge off to terrorise any small animals that heat up their radar. What sight is to us, smell is to Jacks and Hari is onto them all, in a flash.

 

This morning’s ramble had us going round St Albans Park, where owners are routinely ignoring new signs to keep their dogs on leads, to avoid engagement with other owners should the dogs get involved with each other, as they do. We’re talking a scrap here, or a tangle. Hari loves chasing the swallows that swoop low around us and drive him mad, when the lead snaps to its end and he can’t pursue them further. I hate having this restriction on him, but it has to happen.

 

I’ve seen him chase a magpie in another park (in the days when I used to let him off the lead) and unless the bird had got pissed off and landed, and faced him down, Hari would have raced across a very busy Ilam Road. When his blood gets up, he won’t come back. Yes, yes, I know, I can sense the JR Advisory Group out there telling me I’m doing it wrong, but the statistics are my guide. I’m hanging out for the re-opening of the fenced City Council Dog Parks, like The Groynes near Casebrook and Victoria Park up in Cashmere, where you can take your dogs and let them go.

 

Escape plan

Hari puts Escape Plan B into action by the cabbage tree.

 

But today, it’s Level Three and we’re doing the wander around the blocks, down side streets – Canon, Purchas, Packe Street (to the lovely semi-wild park) – crossing the road to avoid other dogs, giving approaching walkers their  space. While Hari sniffs and chases shadows, I listen to the cries of spur-wing plovers out there somewhere, muse on the sight of a harrier hawk over St Albans Park, inner city flyers all, and the legions of finches and all small birds chasing the seedtime harvest of autumn here before winter sets in. Yesterday a pīwakawaka flew right down to me and circled my head. Hari went nuts of course, but I rejoiced, the fantail a sign to me that life  – not death – is ascendant, and the faith that resides invisibly in my heart – battered, triggered, PTS-deed-off as I am – will keep me in this moment, for one more day.

 

Writer dog

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https://www.thecoconet.tv/know-your-roots/tales-of-time/tales-of-time-pacific-spitfires/

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Morning walk Covid-19

Morning walk Covid-19

I saw two spur-winged plover
on the wing


No, it was not the windhover
it was was a better thing


Three piwaiwaka fanning me
with grace


Tree-to-tree above the stream
where mallards glide


on this deep troubled well
in time in space


a natural salvation
face-to-face


and wing-to-wing.

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Winders and the Wharfies

 

portotago-payrise

 

https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/115757994/port-boss-six-figure-salary-increase-has-inflamed-situation-for-workers

 

While Winders sits upon his arse
and wharfies toil in weathers
the million dollar ruling class
won’t lift a fucking finger

to give the raise the union says
is piffling when you reckon
sixteen percent of Winders cut’s
a cool six hundred thousand.

Just think of that, this fat fat cat
who purrs while still presiding
on navvies offered two per cent
of bugger-all of nothing.

Of such obscene and galling
stuff the poor must swallow
daily, the heart of revolutions
once, perhaps tomorrow, maybe.

How can he sleep, this Winders
man, if man we still can call him,
when he’s content to fill his nest
and watch his workers struggle?

What did we do, how did we come
to such a gross deception,
when acronyms like CEO
entitle men to mansions?

The parable of Lazarus
I offer now to Winders
that while he’s on this side
of death, a judgment fast

approaching, he gives a share
that’s equal, fair, to men
who make his living, those
wharfies’ backs he’s riding.

 

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman

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Stukas – for Terry Eagleton

Stukas       (for Terry Eagleton)

Stuka poem

The day we fall in love

with the Stukas of experience

dawns fine: out of a refugee

 

run sky, the crosses fall.

You bear yourself along

the road with all you

 

own at noon. The sun seems

somehow German, as the moon

was French last night.

 

The hour we meet in person

the fascists of conviction

can’t be told: they’ll trial

 

their new-made weapons on

your ground (they sense a hole

your Fuhrer wants to hide).

 

In the meantime, it is both

inadvisable and not worth

the candle to avoid what

 

waits: you just can’t buy

what falls from your personal

sky in the swastika shape.

 

@ Jeffrey Paparoa Holman   2006

 

 

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Night Patrol with Hari.

Baby patrol: alarm at 1am for pee time.

Back to bed, pup in cage.

5am, alarm: Bob Dylan track, Pay in Blood blast outta my phone.

Up and attem.

Mako is in lounge but jumps out window when I turn light on and he hears doggie squeaking, “Daddy!”.

Hari out to pee, brrr!!

Time to get up, feed pup, cat comes back, feed cat, lie down on couch at 5.30am with puppy snuggles and wait for Jeanette to get up and fetch paper.

No, Hari is not there yet.

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