submersible self-esteem

Inspired by his skills as an escape artist, Harry Houdini sought to help deep sea divers unable to extricate themselves from a pressure suit upon finding themselves in trouble. On 1 March 1921, he received U.S. Patent Number 1,370,316 for an new and improved diver’s suit. By comprising two halves with a locking joint in the middle, Houdini’s invention enabled the trapped deep sea diver to slip out of the suit quickly, while submerged. He would then have a chance to escape and reach the surface without assistance. The construction also enabled the diver to don and doff the suit without assistance.

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A more intimate application of Houdini’s invention went unappreciated heretofore:

Уже давным-давно замечено,
как некрасив в скафандре Водолаз.
Но несомненно есть на свете Женщина,
что и такому б отдалась.

Быть может, выйдет из воды он прочь,
обвешанный концами водорослей,
и выпадет ему сегодня ночь,
наполненная массой удовольствий.
(Не в этот, так в другой такой же раз).
Та Женщина отказывала многим.
Ей нужен непременно Водолаз.
Резиновый. Стальной. Свинцовоногий.

Вот ты,
хоть не резиновый,
но скользкий.
И отвратителен, особенно нагой.

Но Женщина ждет и Тебя.
Ей нужен именно Такой.

Владимир Иосифович Уфлянд, 1959

Well known by folk forever and a day
is the deformity of Diver in his suit.
It’s just as true, and well beyond dispute,
that Woman dreams of him, having his way.

Consider him,
sprung up in fetid spray,
festooned and fringed in glutinous seaweed.
He’s looking forward to a night of sensual play.
(If not this once, just down the road he will succeed.)
The Woman who a myriad wooers mooted,
she needs her Diver, not some substitute.
So rubbery, so steely, so lead-footed.

You there,
if not so rubbery,
yet clammy,
and sickening, seen tumid, pale and nude.

But Woman yearns for You,
craving your whammy,
for only your Kind puts her in the mood.

―traduced by MZ, 29 April 2009

Vladimir Ufliand, 21 January 1937 – 14 April 2007

in memoriam

This picture was taken on 5 July 1913. It shows a newlywed Jewish couple, residents of Uman. The man kept books. The woman played a piano. Their daughters were born in 1923 and 1925. The man succumbed to a cardiac arrest in 1938. The woman carried on.

Uman was occupied by the Wehrmacht on 1 August 1941. On Wednesday, 15 August 1945, Oberlieutnant Erwin Bingel recounted the events of 16 September 1941. He was under orders to set up guards on all railways in the area, and around the Uman airport, which contained the town’s Jews, herded on horseback by an armed Ukrainian militia, for a census roll call posted throughout the region. The shooters of Einsatzgruppe C, led by Otto Rasch, holder of two university doctorates in political economy and philosophy, ordered each successive row of Untermenschen to move forward to a row of tables where they had to undress completely and hand over everything they wore and carried. They were made to stand in line in front of the ditches. The Einsatzkommandos then marched in behind the line and mowed it down with submachine guns and Parabellum pistols. Thereupon, the Jewish men in each successive row were ordered to step out and take shovels with which to heap chloride of lime upon the bodies convulsing in the ditch. At last they returned to the tables and undressed to embark on the same last walk.

On the following day, Oberfeldwebel Renner and another man under Bingel’s command were taken to the Lvov field hospital with “complete nervous breakdowns”. In his postwar deposition, Bingel estimated that 24,000 Jews were killed in his sight on that day. This woman and her mother numbered among them.

                Two Formal Elegies

                                                   For the Jews in Europe

Knowing the dead, and how some are disposed:
Subdued under rubble, water, in sand graves.
In clenched cinders not yielding their abused
Bodies and bonds to those whom war’s chance saves
Without the law: we grasp, roughly, the song.
Arrogant acceptance from which song derives
Is bedded with their blood, makes flourish young
Roots in ashes. The wilderness revives,

Deceives with sweetness harshness. Still beneath
Live skin stone breathes, about which fires but play,
Fierce heart that is the iced brain’s to command
To judgment—studied reflex, contained breath—
Their best of worlds since, on the ordained day,
This world went spinning from Jehovah’s hand.


For all that must be gone through, their long death
Documented and safe, we have enough
Witnesses (our world being witness-proof),
The sea flickers, roars, in its wide hearth.
Here, yearly, the pushing midlanders stand
To warm themselves; men brawny with life,
Women who expect life. They relieve
Their thickening bodies, settle on scraped sand.

Is it good to remind them, on a brief screen,
Of what they have witnessed and not seen?
(Deaths of the city that persistently dies…?)
To put up stones ensures some sacrifice,
Sufficient men confer, carry their weight.
(At whose door does the sacrifice stand or start?)

                               —Geoffrey Hill, 1959

april showers

California leads our nation in liberty. Writing for the U.S. Ninth Circuit in Nordyke v. King, Judge O’Scannlain has opined that the right to bear arms is “deeply rooted in the history and tradition of the Republic” and “necessary to the Anglo-American regime of ordered liberty”. Concurring, Judge Gould pointed out:

We recently saw in the case of the terrorist attack on Mumbai that terrorists may enter a country covertly by ocean routes, landing in small craft and then assembling to wreak havoc. That we have a lawfully armed populace adds a measure of security for all of us and makes it less likely that a band of terrorists could make headway in an attack on any community before more professional forces arrived.

While Nordyke echoes the Heller ruling in stressing that “the recognition of the individual’s right in the Second Amendment, and its incorporation by the Due Process Clause against the states, is not inconsistent with the reasonable regulation of weaponry”, it is evident that judicial reason has parted ways with the citizen disarmament lobby. Henceforth banning legitimate means of defense shall join in odium muzzling of free speech and establishment of official religion.

siren song

She sings incessantly every waking moment. She has long since ceased to recognize faces. There is no knowing whether she is suffering. Never a whiner in her full, she gives no sign of complaining on this slide. Her erosion is a lot to envy. Five years ago being scorched into slow extinction seemed the worst lot available to man. All love meant then was wanting to assume it upon oneself. That old longing is back in force. How can she consume this degradation? Why must it remain hers alone? This privacy of laggard death is beguiling. It is worth reaching for. It will not elude your grasp forever.

poke a patriot

Keen observer of Italian realities, Perry Anderson pointed out a few years back:

In diametric contrast [to the fond dicta of foreigners] stands the characteristic tone of native commentary. Most languages have some self-critical locution, usually a wordplay or neologism, to indicate typical national defects. Germans can cite Hegel’s contemptuous description of local identity politics, Deutschdumm; the French deplore the vauntings of franchouillardise; Peruvians term a hopeless mess una peruanada; Brazilians occasionally mock a brasileirice. England seems to have lacked such self-ironic reflexes: ‘Englishry’ – the gift of Tom Nairn, a Scot – is without currency in its land of reference. Italy lies at the opposite pole. In no other nation is the vocabulary of self-derision so multiple and so frequent in use. Italietta for the trifling levity of the country; italico – once favoured by Fascist bombast – now synonymous with vain posturing and underhand cynicism; bitterest of all, italiota as the badge of an invincible cretinism. It is true that these are terms of public parlance, rather than of popular speech. But, as the familiar contempt of the phrase all’ italiana (divorce etc) testifies, the lack of self-esteem they express is widespread. The good opinion of others remains foreign to the Italians themselves.

It appears that England’s lack of terms for national self-deprecation extends both to Russia and the United States. To be sure, neither land comes short in the production of mockery either non-verbal or all too prolix. This week alone, on April Fool’s Day Russia’s performance artists rewarded their incorruptible leader Vladimir Lenin with a gaping hole in his rear, and on the next day an American jury awarded $1 to a professor fired for an essay that characterized the 9/11 attacks against the United States as defensive acts of war. But pithy epithets seem to be in short supply. On the Russian side, one finds alienated cavils concerning “this country” («эта страна») and liberal mockery of “kvass patriotism” («квасной патриотизм»). But the land of the free and the home of the brave is suspiciously bereft of such terms. We fall short of spoofing ourselves, as witness Roy Blount’s lack of traction in disparaging the Supporters of Our Troops as “flaggots” and Team America’s failure to brand its anthem, “America, Fuck Yeah!” While this country still goes without a good five-cent cigar, what it needs is a garland of four-letter words to leaven its embattled self-esteem. Any suggestions?

Update: Russian national self-loathing is well captured by the hypocoristic toponym Рашка and obscurely expressed by Judaeo-Bolshevik epithets руссопят / руссопятство.

Crossposted to [info]larvatus, [info]linguaphiles, and [info]ru_translate.