Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Novgorod photo post.

I started a OCS language learning log on the HTLAL forum, but since you aren't supposed to post photos over there, I will continue to post things related to that subject here as well. And since there has been some talk of Novgorod in my log, I thought I should post some photos from our one-day trip there last fall. If any of the names are wrong, please feel free to correct.

Novgorod is one of Russia's oldest cities, from back in the days when there wasn't even a Russia, but a Kievan Rus' consisting of princely states. Especially in Novgorod the Prince's power was quite limited; the veche (town assembly, prominent in Novgorod) and the boyar duma (council) had considerable power as well. A displeased veche could actually throw out a Prince; there was no autocracy, and because Rus' suffered from political instability this has been used as an excuse for autocracy later on। Rus' can seem quite civilized actually। There was less corporal and capital punishment, less torture and women's conditions were better. Compared to what? To the brilliant West of course ;)

The city was founded in the 10th century - perhaps the 9th according to Wikipedia, but I'm quite certain our Professor claimed it was the 10th. The problem can be that those who wrote about the city did so centuries later (notably Nestor in Kiev, which is quite far away), when Novgorod was already one of the biggest and most important cities. They may therefore have supposed that any important things that took place in their prehistory must have taken place in Novgorod. However, Novgorod is literally "the new city", and there is an even older city not all that far away: Staraja Laduga. So what may have been referred to as Novgorod in later writings can have been Staraja Laduga. Archaeology can only back up claims of the city's existence to the 10th century.

In 1951 a lot of old writings were found in Novgorod, written on birch bark. Someone provided me with a link to photos of these in my log. According to estimations, there may be more than 20,000 such writings in Novgorod, but it's hard to find out since the city is most likely standing on top of quite a lot of them.

Sources: Wikipedia and a book from our university, "Older Slavic texts" by Bjørnflaten (my professor) and Walter G. Moss' A History of Russia.

The Kreml of Novgorod.

Statue inside the Kreml.

Софийский собор. Built in 1045-1050. That's OLD.

(Very cuddly) dogs playing inside the Kreml. :)

Dog in dire need of attention.

Swedes being boiled.

I can't remember exactly where these different churches were, but I think these ones are outside of the Kreml.

Church of St. Paraskeva Piatnitsa on the Marketplace. 1207.

And a monastery close by.

Спасский собор Юрьева монастыря. 1119.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

More on my new infatuation.

(No, it's not the iPad.)

As I mentioned earlier, I have had an iPad2 at my disposal during the last week. Since I am already the owner of a Kindle, I have always had some trouble imagining what I would use an iPad for. Halfway through the week, I realized what they were made for: reading language related PFDs. OF COURSE! The Kindle is no good for this; it can read PDFs, but the screen is too small and you have to flip it over, and each PDF page is then cut up into three Kindle pages. Not ideal when you are dealing with documents containing tables and pictures.

But just look at this...

Incidentally, in this photo you can glimpse a new cultural magazine that is being published in Norway. Yay! The country is not dead yet!

Now I'm sad about having to return this thing :-(

The document displayed on it is a new Old Church Slavonic tutorial that I found. It's meant for people who want to read prayers and such in OCS (cause it's heresy to translate these texts :P), but it seems very thorough and I am just reading through it right now, currently at page 70 or something like that. There are lots of exercises but I'm not doing them now, because it would only get me stuck somewhere and I would most likely not finish reading the actual text. It's a good book though, and the exercises look good, so I will try to do them later.

Delightfully sinister, don't you think?

In order to make preparing for exams somewhat less painful, I have also dug up my old bloc notes from France and done some fiches de révision. These things shouldn't be underestimated - provided you actually look at them after making them. And they kind of make me feel like an actual student again!

I would also like to go ahead and recommend a book that was recommended to me some years ago, К истокам слова.

This is a great book on etymology, for a non-specialized audience. Something that amazes me with many Russian nonfiction books is how easy they are to read. The authors actually go to the trouble of writing complete sentences and of not leaving out a lot of information, supposing you will get it yourself. I don't know how many of the examples presented in this book I will actually remember, but it's fun to read and you get a general picture of how words can be formed and change over time. I have only read half this book, but I hope to finish it before my Slavic language history exam ;)

Is your background important?

This is a post where I hope to get some participation from any readers I may have. This blog is way too particular to attract any great amount of people, but I figure there must be some people who have something to say.

What I want to know, is what kind of background you have with either reading or languages (or both). If you are very interested in literature, how much contact did you have with books when you were a child, when did you start reading, etc., and what kind of languages were you surrounded by? If you are today fluent in four languages, did you grow up in a multilingual environment or are you the only one in your family who has an interest in languages? Those kinds of things. I will provide an example by answering myself.

Before I could read, I did have some weird kind of attraction towards books. I would play librarian with one of my friends and tell her what the books were about, without being able to read the title, or by just looking at the cover. I'm not sure I read all that much as a child though, I'm not sure I read more than others (I was part of a book club though and always read the books I got), but I did probably write more than other children. My mother used to talk about my older brother who would read and write for hours and hours when he was a child, and I tried to copy him because it sounded like such a sensible and intelligent thing to do. Since my mother is a teacher of English and Swedish, she had a great deal of English books at home, but I was always convinced that I would never ever learn that language (I can remember the exact position I was standing in, the form of the book I was holding, the room I was in, when I was six or so years old and thought "this is impossible"), so I would just sit and look at the words.

Then I learned English as by magic. But I didn't show any great interest in languages that early. I didn't start learning any until I realized I should be able to read books in French when I was 18, since I had studied that language in school for years. And when I started putting books and languages together it was a done deal.

One can safely say that I was surrounded by books as a child, and to a certain degree by at least one language, but how about the rest of you?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Oh szív! Nyugodj

Most of the people who usually take up my time are not around right now, so I'm spamming the blog. I thought it was about time I posted something related to Hungarian, and I also wanted to "keep" this particular video that my Hungarian language partner showed me: Óh szív Nyugodj, a poem by József Attila, "sung" by Ágnes Vanilla.

Fegyverben réved fönn a téli ég,
kemény a menny és vándor a vidék,
halkul a hó, megáll az elmenő,
lehellete a lobbant keszkenő.

Hol is vagyok? Egy szalmaszál nagyon
helyezkedik a csontozott uton;
kis, száraz nemzet; izgágán szuszog,
zuzódik, zizzen, izzad és buzog.

De fönn a hegyen ágyat bont a köd,
mint egykor melléd: mellé leülök.
Bajos szél jaját csendben hallgatom,
csak hulló hajam repes vállamon.

Óh szív! nyugodj! Vad boróka hegyén
szerelem szólal, incseleg felém,
pirkadó madár, karcsu, koronás,
de áttetsző, mint minden látomás.

Fegyverben réved fönn a téli ég,
kemény a menny és vándor a vidék,
halkul a hó, megáll az elmenő,
lehellete a lobbant keszkenő.

Hol is vagyok? Egy szalmaszál nagyon
helyezkedik a csontozott uton;
kis, száraz nemzet; izgágán szuszog,
zuzódik, zizzen, izzad és buzog.

De fönn a hegyen ágyat bont a köd,
mint egykor melléd: mellé leülök.
Bajos szél jaját csendben hallgatom,
csak hulló hajam repes vállamon.

Óh szív! nyugodj! Vad boróka hegyén
szerelem szólal, incseleg felém,
pirkadó madár, karcsu, koronás,
de áttetsző, mint minden látomás.

Mostly Russian literature.

The Easter holidays are coming to an end :-( I never manage to read as much as I want to doing any holidays, but I do have the impression that I have done something - besides playing Bejeweled - this week. I haven't been able to finish a book, but that's because I've been reading half of the Fountainhead. It's equally inspiring this time, so I consider it time well spent.

In relation to this, I wanted to mention books on literature and biographies. Since we are reading Three Sisters (in Russian) by Chekhov in class, I thought I should 1) Reread Three Sisters and pay more attention to it this time around, and 2) Read up on Chekhov. I have found that I actually enjoy reading about authors; usually it creates something of a stronger bond to them. Reading about Tolstoy (Married to Tolstoy) had the opposite effect since he turned out to be rather unsympathetic. Reading about Chekhov, on the other hand, greatly encouraged me to read more of his works. When I started studying Russian I read 10 of his novellas in simplified form and was not very impressed. Yeees, simplified literature usually isn't all that good, but the simplified Idiot by Dostoyevsky that I read was actually excellent, so never say never. Then I also read Three Sisters in full, and honestly found it quiiite boring... but that's the point of reading about authors and about works of literature; it usually adds many perspectives and makes you see things you hadn't noticed before.

After reading Walter G. Moss' essay The Wisdom of Anton Chekhov I find myself intrigued by him, and my respect for him as an author has greatly increased. Sadly, the essay by Moss seems a bit... rushed. Like it was thrown together last-minute. This kind of disappointed me since I'm a fan of his historical books.

Delightful reading, I tell you.

But I also wanted to talk about another book, The Cambridge Introduction to Russian Literature. I found it while looking for something on Russian literature, and then our teacher recommended it to us, so that pushed me even further into its welcoming arms. Or pages. I have now read a fourth of the book, and it's very good. However, I'm not really sure it's an introduction... I don't think you get all that much out of it unless you have read a great deal of the classics that are mentioned. I would say the level of this book is rather high, it can be quite abstract and... not really all that straightforward. It's organized around themes - some more understandable than others - but I am of the opinion that you should know both some Russian and some Russian literature before you read this book. But when you do, it's most likely going to be great.

Many years ago I found a book in my mother's collection. I have had a tendency to take books from her bookshelves and put them in mine, and now a lot of those books are residing with me in Oslo. This particular book, Pushkin, Balzac and Heine by Kurt Friedlaender (from 1949, originally written in German), I picked out because I was reading a lot of French literature at the time, but my mother just said "but that's ABOUT the authors, and it's boring". I guess this kind of stuck with me because I actually never opened the book. Now, 10 years later, I opened it and realized it's very easy to read and very interesting! I'm reading about Pushkin of course, and I plan on continuing with Balzac later on. Does anyone have anything to say about Heine? I'm now close to nothing about German (or Germanophone) literature. I know I should read Stefan Zweig's The World of Yesterday, but I haven't been able to find it yet.

And as a closing note, is this a horrible failure at a classy multilingual design, or is that Slavic thing there actually correct in some other Slavic language? I wouldn't know since I only know Russian. As far as I can tell the Hungarian should be Levelezőlap.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Some new pearls for my collection.

This year for my birthday I got some books! This may be a bit difficult to believe, but I don't get books all that often, I mostly just buy them myself.

And no, the books on linguistics (Linguistics - An Introduction to Language and Communication and Women, Men and Language) are not course literature. They will constitute my self-study this summer when I'm not taking any summer classes. Thom in Paris was kind enough to send me the Despentes books (Baise-Moi and a collection of short stories entitled Mordre au travers) that I simply can't wait to start reading! They are perfect additions to my small Despentes collection. The book on top, Art Poétique, is a book I always imagined as extremely dry and boring whenever it was mentioned in literature class in France. As I was writing an essay on Anna Akhmatova for my Russian literature class, I started thinking about Boileau and decided to check out his Art Poétique (instead of just reading about it) on GoogleBooks, and realized it was highly amusing and actually fun to read! So, thank you eBay for this tiny little book!

And how delightful is not this absolutely beautiful Russian tea cup? I can safely say it's the most awesome teacup I have. Thank you Sasha!

Since it's my birthday today I thought I should do something that I sincerely want to do, and the one thing I could think of was to read the Fountainhead. Yesterday I picked out my "Book Book", a relic from when I was younger and much more diligent. Doing a year or two or three or four I used to write two pages on every book I read in a book entitled "Bokboken" (The Book Book, and I even created a website based on it, "The Library"), and I was quite surprised when I realized yesterday how much I actually wrote in this book. The sad thing is that I can't find the first such book I filled. I'm really hoping it's hidden somewhere and not lost forever. This second book contains 164 reviews, on 328 pages... numerated, and with an additional index so that I can easily find the book I'm looking for. The reviews date from the 28th of January 2004 to the 10th of August in 2006, with very little posts from my time in France (autumn 2004-summer 2005). Before and after that the average time span between reviews is two days. And now I'm struggling to read one book a week.

The reason I wanted to find this book again was to find out what I wrote about the Fountainhead back then. I was quite conscious of the fact that my opinion of books changed over time, so I wanted to preserve my instant impressions so as not to be fooled into believing I liked or disliked a certain book later on. Reading these "reviews", I realize how severe a critic I was back then. And how absolutely right I was about how opinions change over time. Upon completing the Fountainhead (on March 25th 2004), I wrote "Overall, I like this book, but not that very passionately, not as much as I could have liked it. [...] There is probably quite a lot to complain about concerning the literary quality and the characters. For example, Roark and Dominique seem far too similar. Both of them annoyed me in the beginning because of their indifference (which reminds me of some of today's youth), but as for Roark, this passed rather quickly. [...] But the feeling of disappointment is still there." Hah!

Well, I re-read The Secret History not that very long ago, and thought that I loved it just as much as the first time, but when I finished reading that one on the 23rd of May in 2004, I wrote "I'm in love. But just a bit. I love everything about this book, but still there is something that stops me from calling it a new favorite." Yet I call it an old favorite now.

I am going to try to pick up this habit of writing about books again.

Other than that, I have a iPad 2 at my disposal during the holidays, so naturally I'm spending far too much time playing Bejeweled ^^

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ayn Rand.

Since I finished another essay I thought I could afford another blog entry. Because this is important.

As I suppose most of you already know, Atlas Shrugged is being turned into a movie. A movie that actually looks really good and promising - which is hard to imagine considering the magnitude of the book. Luckily for me, it was ages ago since I read Atlas Shrugged, so any inaccuracies won't be that painful. To be honest, I didn't actually finish it. Rand's books are notoriously difficult to read because they exhaust you emotionally, and this book is over a thousand pages long so there's room for lots of exhausting material. Rand does not like her characters to be happy. What I read (800-900 pages or so), however, was brilliant. Naturally, I'm going to finish it one day. The movie that is out now is, after all, only part one, so I figure I have some time.

It can be difficult to adapt to the actors that have been chosen to play characters from a book, since you already know what those people looked like in your head. I must say, however, that the actors appear to be extremely well-chosen for Atlas Shrugged. Dagny may be a little bit too beautiful and soft around the edges - I can't really remember - but Rearden is perfect.

I think I discovered Ayn Rand when I was 15 or 16. Perhaps 17. I can't remember who mentioned the book to me or how I ended up reading it, but I borrowed it at the library and I remembered it was huge and had a somewhat weird cover. This was in high school, when we didn't have all that much to do and I could spend a lot of time reading. And I remember falling ill. I think it was a throat infection of some sort, I'm quite prone to those. Since I come from a family that waits until we start to decompose before we go to the doctor, I was in a rather miserable state and could absolutely not sleep because of the pain, so I read The Fountainhead until 5 a.m. or something like that and forgot about how miserable I was. Ever since then I have loved Rand's books, and it's only a shame that there are so few of them.

In Russia, I stumbled upon We The Living in Dom Knigi on Nevskij Prospekt. I think I just cast a glance towards a pile of books and noticed that the name of the author was very weird-looking in Russian. Then I realized that name was Ayn Rand, who is actually Russian to begin with. And how appropriate to read her first book, set in St. Petersburg, in Russian! I very much enjoyed the book, even if it does not reach the same standard as the Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged.

In other news, HBO is turning A Game of Thrones into a TV series. This is also very, very interesting.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Dangerous literature.

There is definitely a reason why I have to keep a list of the books I read. In my last update I completely forgot to mention the most recent book I read: Uten en tråd (Without a Stitch) by Jens Bjørneboe!

This is not a fabulous work of literature. It does not compete in the same league as his Moment of Freedom, Powderhouse and The Silence, which are all part of a trilogy, but it's worth reading anyway.

The title of the book provides a hint as to what it's about: sex. The story is that of a 19-year-old girl (Lillian) who suffers from inhibitions when having sex and who cannot achieve an orgasm with a man. One of her friends tells her to go to a doctor who specializes in the area. We get to follow Lilian's treatment with this doctor and a subsequent backpacking trip in Europe where she puts some of what she has learned to practice.

Except for the very beginning this book is highly amusing. The beginning loses some force due to it being a bit too serious; you don't really get the feel of the rest of the book, which is really quite sarcastic. It was written as a criticism towards conservative sexual morality that turns sexuality in general and feminine sexuality in particular into something shameful. A recurring theme is Lillian seeing the face of her mother and grandmother at inappropriate times, and the doctor asking her how she can be so ashamed when she isn't harming anyone.

Perhaps I should mention that it was written in 1966 and was banned by the authorities? It was actually the last book that was ever banned in Norway, and what happens when your book is banned? You get lots of attention! As a side note, I think it was John Cleese who thanked Norway for banning Life of Brian...

"Banned in Norway!"

What I liked most about Without a Stitch was actually the text found at the end, "Instead of a defense speech", which is an attack on Norwegian society and double standards. Why is unlimited violence and sexual violence towards women permitted (he mentions some other publication involving women and baboons that was not banned), whereas sexuality seen from the point of view of a woman is so despicable?

Right now I'm very much in the mood for classics, so I think I'm going to stay in the 19th century for a while. When I come back, I will read more of Bjørneboe's books.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


This blog has been somewhat silent recently. One could say I went on a holiday called "writing ridiculous amounts of essays". Soon I will go on another holiday called "start working full time and prepare for exams", while naturally neglecting all my languages.

The good news are that my class on Slavic language history got me interested in taking things a little bit further and learning Old Church Slavonic. In this class we are reading snippets in OCS, but I wouldn't say we are actually learning it. I thought it would be fun to do so, so I'm currently doing my best to get an overview of the verbal system. It feels incredibly weird to have different past tenses all of a sudden, and to have past tenses that change according to person and not just according to gender.

Luckily, it is quite easy to find material for Old Church Slavonic as long as you understand Russian. One of my teachers at University also provided me with some very useful links.

Old Church Slavonic dictionary, parts 1 2 3

The Laurentian Codex.

Different versions of Повесть временных лет.

Some English translations of the texts.

And a Russian/old church Slavonic bilingual version here.

Even though I have been very busy, I haven't missed one single book for the 52 books in 52 weeks challenge. I must say this was an excellent idea, and it doesn't matter that much that I may not be reading the longest books around... right now I'm halfway through Knut Hamsun's Sult (Hunger), which I'm enjoying very much. Unfortunately, the main character is something of a moron (I just can't stand people who cannot plan ahead) but it's brilliantly written. It's not the fastest thing I've ever read though, since the language is neither Norwegian, Danish or Swedish, but rather yet another variant of the three.

I thought I would say a couple words about the other books I have read so far.
Magda Szabó's The Deer - absolutely brilliant, just like The Door. Magic.

Maskeblomstfamilien by Lars Saabye Christensen - Also proves that there is a great amount of excellent literature in Norway. A very dark story about... gender I guess. There's even a Wikipedia page about this book, with the following description "The novel is about a troubled boy and his voyage to a total and certain downfall after his father dies young, and his mother consequently becomes mentally ill. The book is written in the author's highly poetic style, and is distinctive in its enigmatic issues and obscure messages."

Ирина Муравьёва's Любовь Фрау Клейст - GAAH. The only reason I actually finished this book was that it was in Russian, and if it hadn't been in Russian, I think I would've thrown against the wall a long time ago. The language kind of put up a barrier between me and the poor prose. Simply a very unbelievable story, written in what I suppose is supposed to be an innovative manner. It's not innovative, it's stupid and messy. And almost nothing that happens in the book is even slightly believable. I'm losing faith in modern Russian literature. Seriously.
La fête interdite by André-Marcel Adamek - This had so much potential! And by saying that, I think I've said it all. I love Carnival stories, stories about freaks, stories about this kind of environment with small mountain villages (which very much made me think of Le Roi Sans Divertissement by Jean Giono), but it took the author more than half the book to get it started. Only then did I actually get involved. Such a shame.

Sofi Oksanen's Stalin's Cows - Now... why is it Purge that gets all the attention when this book is so much better? I wasn't actually sure I wanted to read another Oksanen book straightaway since the first one I read was quite... heavy. Then I found this book on sale (a classic, I know) and started reading it immediately since I think I may be able to use it in one of my never-ending essays. And it's brilliant. It should be read.

Other than that I could just continue with my old habit of posting a picture of my recently purchased books। Six books for something like €12. Exactly, you can't say no. And how freakishly appropriate isn't the Deforges book?