Pechorin going places?

November 11, 2011

Pechorin is the ‘hero’ in Lermontov’s novel, A Hero in Our Time.  It’s a strange book, a series of small stories set in a shifting time-frame of multiple narratives.  We learn of Pechorin’s exploits from people who knew him and tell tales, and from lengthy excerpts from his journal, found by one of the narrators.  The setting is the Caucasus, an exotic locale where Imperial Russia meets the mysterious Orient, and seeks to subject it to military authority.  Thus, we have a mixture of Romanticism, Realism, and fictional experimentation.

I must confess, after hearing of this book for so long, I was a bit under-whelmed.  Not that I didn’t enjoy it a great deal, but I am a little jaded with the romantic-cynic-rake-Don Juan hero type.  The novelty of the style was refreshing, despite the irritating and deprecatory notes by the translator, V. Nabokov, which I couldn’t keep myself from reading.  There was something about it that was very direct and powerful:  definitely not a ‘typical set piece’ of ‘tales of the people.’

Pechorin is one of a long line of army officer rakes.  Army life, besides the effect of the pool from which it draws its recruits – often the idle sons of the rich and aristocratic – is mostly boring and routine:  the thrill of battle is sharp and infrequent.  What’s a young man to do with his time but gamble, drink, womanize, and, if the spirit is in him, engage in duels and other futile expressions of personal vanity.  Pechorin is unusual for the depth of his alienation from normal life, his lack of empathy, his egoism – perhaps narcissism is a better word – and his commitment to his sensibility.  He’d rather die in a stupid duel than compromise his ideas on life.  He is heedless of morality, lives for the moment, and cares nothing for the consequences of his actions.

Is he a Byronic hero or a ‘superfluous man’?  I tend towards the former in Pechorin’s case, but so what?  Why is a Byronic hero a positive type?  Thus my lack of enthusiasm.  No, I’m not plunking for simple, utilitarian morals and calculation, but after these egoistic, self-absorbed grand characters, Dostoyevsky’s men of humility, humiliation, and spiritual redemption are looking better and better.  On the other hand, the title, ironic as it is, indicates that Lermontov was thinking of a man and his feelings rendered superfluous by society…maybe.

The more I think about this book and the film Going Places, the more I feel that there is a connection.  Is Pechorin the spiritual ancestor of the two hoods in Blier’s film?  That doesn’t reflect badly on Lermontov at all, but it shows what we have come to.  The Byronic hero, rejecting norms, morality, the ‘superman’ has been democratized and completely watered down.  There is no comedy in A Hero; Going Places is actually funny at times, but mostly, it’s one long jeer.  In our modern urban industrial world, everyone is alienated, everyone can be a Pechorin – just take to a selfish life of crime and flick your nose at society.  More than a century of social critique and rising consumerism has reduced Lermontov’s social discomfiture and rebellion to this weak and paltry ‘rebellion’ of the lumpen

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Let’s be passionate

October 26, 2009

passionate-about-your-work

I hear a lot about passion these days.  People ask one another, what’s his/her passion?  People want to be passionate about their work.  What if you are only “passionate” about screwing off?  I have a lingering suspicion that all this stuff about “finding your passion” is yet another attempt by the IWM (International Work Machine) to co-opt our energies into meeting its needs.  Work, work work …it’s what you LOVE!


Work Ethic

July 28, 2009

hamster_wheel

A fable from Zamyatin’s We:

Record Thirty-four:

Keywords:  The Released, A Sunny Night, Radio Valkyrie

The Three Released – a story that every schoolchild knows.  It’s a story about three ciphers who, for the sake of experiment, were released from work for a month:  to do what they wanted to do and go where they wanted to go.*  These unlucky types loitered around the place they usually worked and peeped inside with hungry eyes.  They stood in plazas for hours at a time; they performed the very movements that were appointed to that hour of the day as needed by their organism: they sawed and planed the air, they rattled invisible hammers, thumping on invisible blocks.  And, finally, on the tenth day, they couldn’t bear it anymore:  linking arms, they walked into the water and to the sound the March, they plunged deeper and deeper, until the water ended their torment…

* This was long ago, back in the third century after the Table.


la vie quotidienne…

January 24, 2009

Does anybody really understand this book?

pris1

I am fascinated by commuting, at least by mine.  Of course, in my thoughts always is that other commute, endlessly replayed in my inner television mind…

The view of the World Trade Center site that is glimpsed from the PATH train as it pulls into the WTC station is rapidly being obscured by construction.  I have caught it just in time!

Open use of a video camera is liable to lead to a delayed commute because of questioning by wary police officers, thus my inexpert clandestine camera work.


Protestant slave ethic

September 2, 2008

In celebration of Labor Day, I must call to your attention this earlier post on the subject of toil.  And this snippet from a Labor Day commentary in the NYTimes is enlightening also (my emphasis):

But what’s different from Weber’s era is that it is now the rich who are the most stressed out and the most likely to be working the most …higher-income folks work more hours than lower-wage earners do.

This is a stunning moment in economic history: At one time we worked hard so that someday we (or our children) wouldn’t have to. Today, the more we earn, the more we work, since the opportunity cost of not working is all the greater (and since the higher we go, the more relatively deprived we feel).

In other words, when we get a raise, instead of using that hard-won money to buy “the good life,” we feel even more pressure to work since the shadow costs of not working are all the greater.

I’m a bit dubious about the assertion that lower income people are not working more to keep afloat, but the point this commentary makes is interesting.  Yes, the International Work Machine keeps the hamsters running on those wheels!  Does it all come from a lack of confidence about what is “the good life?”  Back to those philosophy books!

Do not work harder than required to work,
Young men should sit around and drink all day;
Laze, laze, ignore the pressure not to shirk.


Halt, Dynamos!

April 4, 2008

A Dynamo

Do not work harder than required to work,
Young men should sit around and drink all day;
Laze, laze, ignore the pressure not to shirk.

Though poor men may apply to be a clerk,
Because their jobs are not exciting they
Do not work harder than required to work.

Rich men, who sell and buy, eat at Le Circque,
And take their “business trips” to Saint-Tropez,
Laze, laze, ignore the pressure not to shirk.

Old men around retirement age who lurk
At desks and hope no tasks will come their way
Do not work harder than required to work.

Smart men, in school, who learn with blinding smirk
That coasting through a class still earns an A,
Laze, laze, ignore the pressure not to shirk.

Don’t visit every world like Captain Kirk;
Picard knows that the bridge is where to stay.
Do not work harder than required to work.
Laze, laze, ignore the pressure not to shirk.

From Holy Tango of Literature, by Francis Heaney, one of the funniest books I have read in a long time. The author takes the names of great figures in English literature, makes anagrams of their names ( “holy tango” is an anagram of “anthology”) and provides hilarious pastiches of their work. Halt Dynamos is an anagram, if you didn’t guess, of Dylan Thomas, and this is a spoof of one of his best known poems, “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.