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  Philologica 7 (2001/2002)  


(Shershenevich — Pasternak — Kushner)




This piece is a response to an alternative reading, suggested by Dr. Maksim Shapir, of an agrammatical infinitive sequence in a poem by Vadim Shershenevich as discussed in my paper on his infinitive writing:

To lie down — the streets. To sit down — a front garden. // To jump up — skyscrapers star high.

My readings of these lines strove to reconcile its ungrammaticality with the assumed necessity to plausibly assign the substantive actants (streets, garden, skyscrapers; the unnamed speaker) to the infinitive verbs. Dr. Shapir’s argument was that the relationship between the predicates and the nouns is of more general nature, based on their semantic-spatial similarity (“low” — “middle” — “high”).

Testing Dr. Shapir’s interpretation against my body of examples of Russian infinitive poetry prompted the development of a more sophisticated model of relevant syntactic patterns (presented in detail in the article, exemplified with the verb liubit’ ‘to love’). Dr. Shapir’s interpretation proved applicable to a special subset of structures, namely, those that focus not on assigning actant roles (I dubbed these cases “subordinative”), but rather on metaphorically equating infinitive predicates with other entities, be they predicates or nouns (“equative” cases). Some of the telling examples of “equative” structures are as follows:

(a) To love some others is a heavy cross (Pasternak);
(b) And you teach passionate ones impassivity <...> <i. e. > To love life like an eternal game (Merezhkovskij);
(c) To love and at the same time to hate <...> That is jealousy (Kukol’nik);
(d) To love is to walk, the thunder hasn’t fallen silent, // To trample on loneliness, to ignore shoes (Pasternak);
(e) To love // means <...> to chop firewood (Maiakovskij);
(f) The word “love” is substituted by the words <...> to ignore shoes somehow, // And even: to love means firewood (Kushner).

Of the two major types of infinitive structures — “subordinative” and “equative” — the latter is unmarked, while the former is marked, although much more widely spread. The markedness consists in the fact that assigning actants is a particular case of the more generic equating (that is, correlating as such).

In the context of Shershenevich’s entire poetic œuvre, my “subordinative” readings seem still to hold, but Dr. Shapir’s alternative reading is an insightful addition to the overall typology of infinitive writing.



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