Potets (The Sweater) by Alexander Vvedensky

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This masterful animation by Alexander Fedulov is of the Russian Absurdist Alexander Vvedensky’s poem “Potets,” “The Sweater” or, rather, a neologism for “He Who Sweats,” referring to “death’s dew.” I had previously translated Vvedensky’s powerful prison prose (which stands up well, I think, in comparison to Kafka and Camus) as well as a different long poem, “The Meaning of the Sea” (as yet unpublished). I suggest reading the former to get a sense of the proto-existential themes particular to all of Vvedensky’s work (“I’m dying…. I’m dying.”) From his late 20s, Vvedensky (1904-1941) faced repeated arrest, perishing in transport to one of Stalin’s Gulag concentration camps. His insistent trochees of course represent a sense of the absurdity and powerlessness before such impersonal forces of doom.

Fedulov’s work here is a prime example of Russian animation’s long and honored tradition. His imagery, inspired by Vvedensky’s other poems, such as “The Meaning of the Sea,” speaks well for the work as a whole and I will only offer my translation of a few of the beginning verses (through minute 3:00 of film) as a way into the poem; its insistent driving rhythms, what Frost had called “sound sense,” say most of what can be said about life’s irrevocability.

“The sons cease their dancing — you can’t have fun forever, and quieting down sit silently by the father’s extinguished bedside. They look into his fading eyes. They want to repeat everything. The father expires. He becomes engorged like a cluster of grapes. We are afraid to keep looking at what is called his face. The sons covertly and silently enter each into his own superstitious wall.” So ends Part 1 (of 3) at minute 7:00 with the following message slowly revealed in materializing letters: “The Sweat is the cold perspiration that is produced on the forehead of a dying man. It is the dew of death; that is the meaning of The Sweat.”

And here is the beginning of Part 1:

The sons stood by the wall, their feet sparkling
shod in spurs. They turned joyful and intoned:

Divulge to us, oh dearest father,
What is the meaning of a Sweater.

The father, sparkling with his eyes, replied:

My sons I say, do not confuse
Day’s end with daughter of spring.
The Sweat is terrible, grey and blue.
I’m your father, angel, and saint.
I’m acquainted with his cruelty,
My own death is drawing near,
On my head can be seen gaping
Tufts of hair, bald spots, melancholy.
And if life continues then soon enough
None of the following will remain,
Neither falcon nor a single hair.
Just to know that death is nigh,
Knowledge, sight is woe and blight.

The sons, having rung the church bells,
Began to thunder into their tongues.
We’re asking about something else entirely!
We are wearing out our thoughts like imps.
Will you just tell us already father,
What is the meaning of a Sweater.

And the father exclaimed: the Prologue!
In the Prologue, the main thing is God.
Now my sons you must go to sleep
So that your answer comes in dreams….

The verse sections alternate with scenario-like prose paragraphs in the manner of a play (which are acted out as interludes in the animated film without being sounded). An example from the beginning of part 2: “The father hovers over the writing table, but do not think that he’s a spirit.” And a bit later: “The father ceases to speak in verses and lights up a candle, holding it in his teeth like a flute. At the same time he slides into the armchair like a pillow.” And so forth; until the final words: “But of course, we knew all this from the beginning.”

See the complete text of “Potets” in Russian. For full credits on the film, see the notes at Vimeo. For more on Vvedensky, in addition to Alex’s translation of his prison prose mentioned above, see also “Vvedensky in Love” by Thomas Epstein and Eugene Ostashevsky’s translation of “The Demise of the Sea.” And for more on Alexander Fedulov, see the Russian-language blog maintained by his son, Kirill Fedulov.

2 Comments

  1. Reply
    Ty Maag 14 May, 2013

    Awesome post, thanks! Besides the Vvedensky translations in the OBERIU anthology, NYRB recently published An Invitation for Me to Think.

  2. Reply
    Alexander Cigale 14 May, 2013

    Hello. Ty, and thank you for the compliment. It is nice to know someone CAN hear my “screaming” in virtual space. Feel free to drop by my FB page for more links to translations from the Russian. Here’s the Vvedensky I mentioned, published since: http://www.maydaymagazine.com/issue4transcigalemeaningofthesea.php, and more of the prose in my translation will be in next issue of http://www.lanaturnerjournal.com/issue-5/contents. Very happy that NYRB was adventurous enough to do an entire book by Ostashevsky! Would love to hear whom from the Russian you would like to see featured in this space??? as I’ve been remiss these past two years and am about to resume posting.

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