Poshlost


Poshlost

"Poshlost" is an untranslatable Russian word (пошлость) defined as a kind of "petty evil or self-satisfied vulgarity" (Alexandrov 1991, p. 106). At more length (and with a more scholarly romanization) Boym (1994, p. 41) writes,

:"Poshlost' "is the Russian version of banality, with a characteristic national flavoring of metaphysics and high morality, and a peculiar conjunction of the sexual and the spiritual. This one word encompasses triviality, vulgarity, sexual promiscuity, and a lack of spirituality. The war against "poshlost' "is a cultural obsession of the Russian and Soviet intelligentsia from the 1860s to 1960s.

Early examinations of "poshlost" in literature are in the work of Nikolai Gogol. Gogol wrote (of Pushkin), "He used to say of me that no other writer before me possessed the gift to expose so brightly life's "poshlust", to depict so powerfully the "poshlust" of a "poshlusty" man [poshlost' poshlogo cheloveka] in such a way that everybody's eyes would be opened wide to all the petty trivia that often escape our attention." ("The Third Letter à Propos "Dead Souls", 1843, quoted and translated by Davydov, 1995; see below for his transliteration "poshlust").

In his novels, Turgenev "tried to develop a heroic figure who could, with the verve and abandon of a Don Quixote, grapple with the problems of Russian society, who could once and for all overcome 'poshlost,' the complacent mediocrity and moral degeneration of his environment" (Lindstrom 1966, p. 149). Dostoyevsky applied the word to the Devil; Solzhenitsyn, to Western-influenced young people (Boym 1994, p. 41).

D. S. Mirsky was an early user of the word in English in writing about Gogol; he defined it as "'self-satisfied inferiority,' moral and spiritual" (Mirsky 1927, p. 158). Vladimir Nabokov made it more widely known in his book on Gogol, where he romanized it as "poshlust" (punningly: " + lust"). Poshlust, Nabokov explained, "is not only the obviously trashy but mainly the falsely important, the falsely beautiful, the falsely clever, the falsely attractive" (Nabokov 1944, p. 70). Nabokov (1973) also listed :"Corny trash, vulgar clichés, Philistinism in all its phases, imitations of imitations, bogus profundities, crude, moronic and dishonest pseudo-literature—these are obvious examples. Now, if we want to pin down poshlost in contemporary writing we must look for it in Freudian symbolism, moth-eaten mythologies, social comment, humanistic messages, political allegories, overconcern with class or race, and the journalistic generalities we all know."

Azar Nafisi mentions it and quotes the "falsely" definition in "Reading Lolita in Tehran". [http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,12084,1039915,00.html] Davydov (1995) lists literary characters whom Nabokov named as exemplifying the term in "Nikolai Gogol": "Polonius and the royal pair in "Hamlet", Rodolphe and Homais from "Madame Bovary", Laevsky in Chekhov's 'The Duel', Joyce's Marion Bloom, young Bloch in "Search of Lost Time", Maupassant's 'Bel Ami', Anna Karenina's husband, and Berg in "War and Peace"."

Nabokov often targeted "poshlost" in his own work; the Alexandrov quotation above refers to the character of M'sieur Pierre in "Invitation to a Beheading". Another notable literary treatment is Fyodor Sologub's novel "The Petty Demon".

See also

*"Sobornost", another untranslatable Russian word, referring to spiritual community (Boym 1994, p. 3) and thus opposed to an aspect of "poshlost"

References

*cite book | last = Alexandrov | first = Vladimir | title = Nabokov's Otherworld | publisher = Princeton University Press | year = 1991 | id = ISBN 0691068666
*cite book |last = Boym | first = Svetlana | year = 1994 | title = Common Places: Mythologies of Everyday Life in Russia | publisher = Harvard University Press | isbn = 0-674-14625-5 | url = http://books.google.com/books?id=B7_uBFThxD4C&pg=PA48&dq=Boym+poshlost&sig=NQH1KHMx4UDEF_0v1m2N3vE54Xg#PPA41,M1 | accessdate = 2007-12-27
*cite book | last = Davydov | first = Sergej | year = 1995 | title = The Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov | chapter = Poshlost' | editor = V. Alexandrov (ed.) | publisher = Routledge | pages = pp. 628–632 | id = ISBN 0-8153-0354-8
*cite book| last = Lindstrom | first = T. | authorlink = Thais Lindstrom | title=A Concise History of Russian Literature. Volume I: From the Beginnings to Chekhov| location= New York | publisher= New York University Press | year = 1966 | Library of Congress Catalog Card Number = 66-22218
*cite book | last = Mirsky | first = D. S. | year = 1927 | title = A History of Russian Literature: From Its Beginnings to 1900 | edition = 1999 edition | publisher = Northwestern University Press | isbn = 0-8101-1679-0 | url = http://books.google.com/books?id=Pys__ZDJN6QC&pg=PA158&vq=moral+and+spiritual&dq=Mirsky&sig=DWx7IRW5Wn5C8qTqGWqm-pGduUI | accessdate = 2007-12-27
*cite book | last = Nabokov | first = Vladimir | year = 1944 | title = Nikolai Gogol | publisher = New Directions Quoted by Boym (1994), p. 301 n. 37.
*cite book | last = Nabokov | first = Vladimir | year = 1973 | title = Strong Opinions | publisher = McGraw-Hill | pages = 100 A longer extract is available on line in a "Time" [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,712044,00.html article] (Dec. 1, 1967) about the original interview, which was with Herbert Gold in the October 1967 issue of the "Paris Review".


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