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The “Latin Gerundive” as Autobiographical Imperative: A Reading of Mandel'shtam's Journey to Armenia

  • Jane Gary Harris


Journey to Armenia, Osip Mandel'shtam's most autobiographically engaged masterpiece of the 1930s is no ordinary journey.2 Written in Moscow during the summer of 1931, a year after his six-month sojourn in Armenia and Georgia, this contemplative journey adheres to an “itinerary” shaped by the path Mandel'shtam followed both in his quest for truth—“that truth which helps us to form a better sense of ourselves in tradition”—and in his search for a method to articulate that truth—a “method of creative cognition, a suitable means of gaining a sense of life.” His “method of creative cognition” mediates between the poet's contemplation of contemporary reality and his meditation on the mystery of creation, or the creative impulse, whose origins he seeks in the deepest structures of language and legend, whose eternal principles he ponders in the organic phenomena of nature, and whose multiplicity of expression he experiences in the art, architecture, and archaeology of Armenia.



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1. References to Journey to Armenia are cited, first, from the Russian text, Mandel'shtam, Osip,Sobranie sochinenii v trekh tomakh, ed. Struve, Gleb P. and Filippov, Boris A., 2d ed. (4 vols.;Washington, D.C.: Inter-Language Literary Associates, 1967–1969), 2:138–69 (hereafter cited asSS), and, second, from the English translation by Harris, Jane Gary and Link, Constance, Mandelstam, The Complete Critical Prose and Letters (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1979), pp. 344–76 (hereaftercited as CPL). Unless otherwise noted, all other references to Mandel'shtam's work are cited fromthese texts; in general most quotations from Mandel'shtam are from CPL, although occasionally Ihave made some changes.

2. For another very interesting assessment of Journey to Armenia, see Gifford, Henry, “Mandelstamand the Journey” in Journey to Armenia (San Francisco, Calif.: George F. Ritchie, 1979),pp. 733 . In general, however, almost nothing has been written on Mandel'shtam's prose of the1930s, with the exception of Razgovor o Dante. For more details and bibliography, see the followingbooks: Baines, Jennifer, Mandelstam: The Later Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1976); Przybylski, Ryszard, Wieczny gose boga: Esej o poezii Osipa Mandelsztama (Paris, 1980); Ronen, Omry, An Approach to Mandelstam (Jerusalem, 1983); Struve, Nikita, Ossip Mandelstam (Paris, 1982). See also articles by Grigory Friedin, Jane G. Harris, Charles Isenberg, Yuri Levin,I. Petrova, Omry Ronen, Dmitry Segal, Kiril Taranovsky, and Roman Timenchik, among others.See also the introduction and notes to CPL. Critical commentary on the prose of the 1920s has beenlimited to “Egipetskaia marka “: see Isenberg, Charles, “Associative Chains in‘Egipetskaia marka,'” Russian Literature, 5, no. 3 (July 1977): 257–76; Segal, Dmitry, “Voprosy poeticheskoi organizatsiisemantiki v proze Mandel'shtama,” in Russian Poetics: Proceedings of the International Colloquium at the University of California at Los Angeles, September 22–26, 1975, ed. Eekman, Thomas and Worth, Dean S., UCLA Slavic Series, vol. 4 (Los Angeles: University of California, 1983); idem, “Literatura kak okhrannaia gramota,” Slavica Hierosolymitana, 1, no. 5–6 (1981); West, Daphne,Mandelstam: The Egyptian Stamp (Birmingham, U.K.: University of Birmingham Department ofRussian Language and Literature, 1980).

3. See Pushkin's, Aleksandr Puteshestvie v Arzrum vo vremia pokhoda 1829 goda (Paris: Lifarja.1935) or the English translation by Ingemanson, Birgit, A Journey to Arzrum (Ann Arbor, Mich.:Ardis, 1974).

4. Briusov mastered the Armenian language enough to do not only linear translations for acollection of Armenian poetry he edited in 1916, but also a historical study as well; see Letopis’ istoricheskikh sudeb armianskogo naroda (Moscow, 1918).

5. Poetic freedom in Fourth Prose incorporates ethical, esthetic, and political freedom. Indeed,only in Fourth Prose does Mandel'shtam recognize his Jewish consciousness as the moral imperativeor moral impulse behind his poetic consciousness and associate his ideal iijiage of the poet with hisimage of the raznochinets and the Jew. For more details, see CPL, pp. 27–31, 661–62. See also,Segal, “Literatura kak okhrannaia gramota,” passim.

6. While Mandel'shtam refers to, and correctly describes the meaning of, the Latin gerundive,the example he uses: laudatura est, is actually a future active participle rather than the gerundive,which would read: laudanda est. I cannot say that I understand the reason for such a change, but Iam tempted to see it as an “error” rather than as an intentional or functional “misquotation” oralternative. This usage certainly does not fit the category of “alternative interpretations,” such asthat pertaining to Bergson in “On the Nature of the Word” or to the reworking of the Arshak-Shapukh legend mentioned at the conclusion of this article.

7. Unless otherwise indicated citations to Nadezhda Mandel'shtam refer to her memoirs, Hope Against Hope, Max Hayward, trans. (New York: Atheneum, 1970).

8. It is possible that Mandel'shtam had available to him Victor Langlois, Collection des historiens anciens et modernes de l'Arminie, vol. 1 (Paris, 1867), which contains not only Moise de Khorene, L'Histoire d'Arménie en trois livres, but also the five books of Faustus de Byzance, who relates theArshak-Shapukh legend (book V, chap. 7) that Mandel'shtam creatively retells in the eighth and lastchapter of Journey to Armenia. Langlois also includes chronological tables of the dynasties, kingsand patriarchs of Armenia.

9. A Persian legend refers to Ararat as the cradle of the human race, while the Judeo-ChristianBible credits Ararat as the sacred land of the covenant. See Gen. 8:4: “The ark landed upon themountains of Ararat.” Ararat, it should be noted, was the Hebrew name for Armenia, not merelyfor Mt. Ararat. In her introduction to 100 Armenian Tales and Their Folkloristic Relevance (Detroit,Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1966), p. 30, Susie Hooganasian-Villa states:Another theory popularly held by the Armenian folk, is found in the writings of Moses ofKhoren, the Armenian Herodotus who lived in the fifth century A.D. Moses of Khoren, whosesources and accuracy have been questioned in recent times, related that the brave Haid, thefounder of the Armenian nation, rebelled against the Babylonian Bel during the civil wars amongthe Sumerian states, moved northward with his son Armenach and his followers, and settled inthe Ararat region. Haid, according to legend, was the great-grandson of Japhet, son of Togormah,and thus related to Noah. The belief that the original Garden of Eden was situated in thevalley of the Araxes, surrounded by the Euphrates, Tigris, Kura and Araxes Rivers, strengthensthis theory. The Armenians proudly remind the world that Noah's ark rested on Mt. Ararat.

10. Ivan Ivanovich Shopen (1798–1870), a Frenchman by birth, served as a government officialin Russia. He was sent to the Caucasus by General Ivan F. Paskevich, commander of the Russianarmy in the Caucasus, with whom Pushkin traveled in 1829. He was best known as a Russianethnographer and historian of the Caucasus. Mandel'shtam may have known his Novyia zametki na drevniia istorii Kavkaza i ego obitatelei (St. Petersburg, 1866), which contains the history of Mosesof Khoren, Tsar Vagtang, and others and detailed notes on linguistic and phonetic variations ofwords and word roots.

11. Nikolai Iakovlevich Marr (1864–1934) was a specialist in Caucasian archaeology and linguistics,whose significant contributions to those fields have been obscured by his eccentric theoriesregarding language as a phenomenon of social class. Marr's “Japhetic theories” were presented insuch works as lafeticheskie elementy v iazykakh Armenii (St. Petersburg, 1911–1918), Osnovnye dostizheniia iafeticheskoi teorii (Leningrad, 1925), Iafetskii Kavkaz i tretii etnicheskii element v sozdanii sredizemnomorskoi kul'tury and Iazykovaia politika iafetskoi teorii i udmurtskii iazyk, the latterbeing undoubtedly familiar to Mandel'shtam since he mentions Marr in connection with his Japhetictheories and travels between “Udmurt” and Leningrad.

12. Josef Strzygowski (1862–1941), well-known art historian and specialist in Christian churcharchitecture, believed that the Armenian church was the model for all Christian church architecture.See his Ursprung der Christlichen Kirchenkunst (Leipzig, 1920). An English translation by O. M.Dalton and H. J. Braunholtz, Origin of Christian Church Art: New Facts and Principles of Research, was published in 1923 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923). “It was Armenia which in the fourth centuryfirst introduced for use as a church the square building with single dome and abutment by axial anddiagonal niche-buttresses” (p. 58), and “The model of this type is the Hripsimeh Church, and suchcomplete examples are only to be found in Armenia” (p. 63) and “Armenia provides the connectingbridge [between eastern and western church architecture] by bringing the niche-buttress ipto theproblem” (p. 66). For a more contemporary and rational treatment of Armenian art, see Der Nersessian, Sirarpie, Armenian Art (London: Thames and Hudson, 1978).

13. See Strzygowski, Origin of Christian Church Art, p. 63: “the Hripsimeh church…. Thistype is the most singular which occurs on Armenian soil. It has no favor beyond the Armenianborder, unless S. Peter's at Rome can be regarded as an example. Thus, Mandel'shtam's visit corroboratedhis reading.

14. See also Kuzin's memoirs about his acquaintance with Mandel'shtam, which, although theyadd little to what Mandel'shtam tells us himself, confirm names, places, and common interests andclarify the references to Kuzin and his work with cochineal. Kuzin, Boris S., “Ob O. E. Mandel'shtame,” Vestnik russkogo khristianskogo dvizheniia [Paris], 3–4, no. 140 (1983): 99129 . Mandel'shtam cites several works of Goethe in Journey to Armenia, including The Sorrows of Young Werther, Wilhelm Meister, and Faust. In his Notebooks of 1931–32, he also mentioned: “I had onlyone book with me, Goethe's Italienische Reise in an expensive leather binding, as worn from use asa Baedeker” (SS, 3:168; CPL, p. 396). It was at this time that Mandel'shtam was also intrigued bythe work of the botanist, Aleksandr Gavrilovich Gurvich, whose monographs on “mitogenic rays” and the physiology of plants and the theory of the embryonic field of the cell were published in bothGerman and French as well as Russian. Mandel'shtam states in chapter 3, “We were discussing the‘theory of the embryonic field,’ proposed by Professor Gurvich.” See, for example, Gurwitsch, Alexander(with Gurwitsch, Lydia), Die mitogenetische Strahlung, zugleich zweiter Band der ‘Probleme der Zellteilung (Berlin: J. Springer, 1932).

15. Ginzburg, , O literaiurnom geroe (Leningrad, 1979), p. 7.

16. CPL, p. 344. What Mandel'shtam refers to as “tombstones” are actually cross-stones(khatchkars in Armenian), stone slabs or stele carved with inscriptions or designs or both, oftenincluding the cross, symbol of faith, or the rose, symbol of everlasting life, or the fish, symbol ofChristianity. These stone slabs are made of basalt and range in size from two feet to ten feet. Whilesometimes used as markers to commemorate the dead, they are just as frequently erected as markersfor other purposes and may even be embedded in church walls; others stand freely. Mandel'shtam's reference indicates either a lack of knowledge of this subject or disregard for the significance of thesestele so as to support his own themes and imagery in Journey to Armenia. This statement is notuntypical of Mandel'shtam's work as a whole (see n. 6 above). For further details on Armenianmarkers, see Ordjanian, Anahid V., Armenia: Crossroads of Culture (New York: Columbia UniversityPress, 1980). I am also very much indebted to Professor Nina Garsonian of Columbia University forsharing her knowledge of Armenian history and culture with me.

17. For more information on Bergson and the Acmeists, see Elaine Rusinko, “Acmeism, Post-Symbolism, and Henri Bergson,” Slavic Review 41 (Fall 1982): 494–510; on Bergson and Mandel'shtam,see Freidin, Grigory, “The Whisper of History and the Noise of Time in the Writings ofOsip Mandelstam,” Russian Review 37, no. 4 (1978): 421–37, and Harris, Jane G., “Mandelstamian‘Zlost': A New Acmeist Esthetic?Ulbandus Review (Columbia University), 2, no. 2 (1982): 112–30.

18. I am not sure what this citation really means and, so far, have been unable to find anyonewho can clarify it satisfactorily. In the context of Journey to Armenia, it seems to help to illuminateand connect the themes of the sources of language and legend. See the latter half of this article.

19. Signac, Paul, D'Eugéne Delacroix au néoimpressionisme (Paris, 1899) was written in defenseof the postimpressionists’ use of color and contrast and, hence, to the glory of Delacroix. Signaccites numerous passages from Delacroix's journals, including his 1832 Voyage au Maroc, to prove hispoints: for instance, Delacroix's “L'ennemi de toute peinture est le gris.” Signac claimed that thehighly criticized techniques of postimpressionist painting were almost all formulated by Delacroixand were, therefore, “traditional and normal.” Delacroix's journals include extremely detailed observationsof everyday life, of people and places visited, and of ceremonies and customs, as well asphilosophical meditations on his observations.

20. See Segal, “Voprosy poeticheskoi organizatsii semantiki v proze Mandel'shtama,” “Mandel'shtam's prose is constructed on the principle of asymmetry…. Hence, the above-noted‘absenceof organization’ of Mandel'shtam's prose, its‘fragmentary nature,’ its abundance of‘unnecessary,’ accidental details, the absence of completion, of circularity. “

21. Although Segal, ibid., is referring mainly to Mandel'shtam's Egyptian Stamp, what he saysalso applies to a great extent to Journey to Armenia: what Tynianov considered the material of poetry (semantic groups) became in Mandel'shtam's prose a constructive principle. The author's personal, everyday experience of existence in aparticular historico-cultural situation connected with a given space and time serves as the materialfor his prose (the dominant elements).Accordingly, Mandel'shtam's prose is, first of all, “poetically organized” at the very lowestlevels of expression (including the levels of phonetics and syntax) and second, overcoming thepoetic personality has always endowed this prose with a very significant supplement: the living voice, conversation, dialogue with the reader.See also treatments of “Egipetskaia marka” that help to illuminate the poetics of Journey to Armenia: Isenberg, “Associative Chains “; Segal, “Literatura kak okhrannaia gramota “; and West, Mandelstam.

22. For more on Mandel'shtam's interest in science and esthetics in the 1920s-1930s see Mandel'shtam's own comments in “Around the Naturalists “; also, Daphne West, “Mandelstam and theEvolutionists,” Journal of Russian Studies [University of Strathclyde, U.K.], no. 42 (1981): 30–38;see also CPL, notes. Many poets were interested in scientific and technical themes during this period;see, for example, Nikolai A. Zabolotskii's “Torzhestvo zemledeliia” or Vladimir Narbut's so-callednauchnaia poeziia, among others. For more information on Soviet scientific debates over environmentaldeterminism in biology, see Joravsky, David, Soviet Marxism and Natural Science (New York:Columbia University, 1961) or The Lysenko Affair (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,1970) and Zhores Medvedev, The Rise and Fall of T. D. Lysenko (New York: Columbia UniversityPress, 1969). Medvedev states (p. 7):In 1929–32 a sharp dispute arose in biology, and particularly in genetics. It involved the problemof inheritance of acquired characteristics and the reality of the gene as a hereditary substance.The proponents of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, a scanty number of Lamarckistsor neo-Lamarckists, grouped themselves around the Timiryazev Biological Institute. Their opponents…. were Marxist scientists who united around the Natural Sciences Section of theCommunist Academy.

23. For examples of Armenian fairy tales in English translation, see Hoogasian-Villa, 100 Armenian Tales. Many of the fairy tales collected in this volume conclude with “From the sky fell threeapples: one to the story-teller, one to me, and one to the person who has entertained you.” See also,Leon Z. Surmelian, Apples of Immortality: Folktales (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of CaliforniaPress, 1968).

24. I am grateful to Grigory Freidin for his comments on this article and, in particular, forpointing out several interesting features of Mandel'shtam's language, namely the use of the archaicismsand “Dal'-icisms” and their marvelous sound effects.

25. Urartu (or Urardhu) is the Assyro-Babylonian name of a kingdom that flourished betweenthe Araxes and Upper Tigris rivers from the ninth to the seventh centuries B.C. Although the peopleare of uncertain ethnological origin, their kingdom was known to the Assyrians as Urartu and tothe Hebrews as Ararat. The Armenian people (of Indo-European origin) are said to have enteredthis area during the time of the Assyrian incursion, in the late eighth to the seventh centuries B.C.An independent Armenian state was established in the second century A.D. After the thirteenthcentury A.D. it was dominated by one or another of its powerful neighbors; however, a strong senseof independence gave rise to the nationalist movement in the ninteenth century. Thus, Mandel'shtam's “Ararat sense” must be interpreted to mean “Armenian sense,” not merely an attraction toMt. Ararat, and also a sense of freedom and independence, as well as recognition of his spiritualand poetic covenant.

26. For a full version of the original legend, see Faustus de Byzance, in Langlois, Collection des historiens anciens et modernes de I'Arménie, book V, chap. 7.

27. Tsezar’ Vol'pe, the editor of Zvezda, lost his job for allowing the Arshak-Shapukh legendto be included in the publication of Journey to Armenia in 1933. See Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Abandoned, Max Hayward, trans. (New York: Atheneum, 1974), p. 410.

28. Anioush means the place of the forgotten ones or unpersons in Armenian. The actual nameof the fortress, according to Faustus de Byzance, was the Castle of Antmesch.

29. For further biographical details, see N. Mandelstam, Hope against Hope and Hope Abandoned. See also Kuzin's memoirs, noted above, and the memoirs included in volume 4 of Pamiat'. ktoricheskii sbornik vospominanii, ocherkov (Moscow, 1979; Paris, 1981), pp. 282–340. Althoughinteresting, these memoirs do not really add much to our knowledge of Mandel'shtam's life in theearly 1930s.

30. See 55, 1:213,217,250–51.

The “Latin Gerundive” as Autobiographical Imperative: A Reading of Mandel'shtam's Journey to Armenia

  • Jane Gary Harris


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