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The Ode as a Performative Genre

  • James von Geldern (a1)


All literature can be understood as text; it can be interpreted, but not all literature asks to be. Text describes a literary work as it moves within and between cultures; it implies interpretation and the readers’ active participation. To use the term text is to make assumptions that are not universal. While literature can bridge the many cultures that create and read it, it can also be confined to a specific frame within its own culture. It can resist bridging, just as it resists independent interpretation. Literature as performance, as an example, is intended for one time and one place. Performance looks at the literary work inside its intended environment. The meaning of the work is predicated by the occasion and conventions of its reading; the audience is asked not to insinuate its own interpretation but to participate in the one provided. Performance can be a physical realization of text in time and space; and, even when an actual performance does not take place, the term suggests an important way of reading.



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1. Intriguing work has been done on both western and Russian court celebrations: see Strong, Roy, Art and Power: Renaissance Festivals 1450-1650 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984); Rites of Power: Symbolism, Ritual and Politics since the Middle Ages, ed. Wilentz, Sean (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985); Rituals of Royalty: Power and Ceremonial in Traditional Societies, ed. Cannadine, David and Price, Simon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987); Baehr, S. L., “ Fortuna Redux: The Iconography of Happiness in Eighteenth-Century Russian Courtly Spectacles,” Great Britain and Russia in the Eighteenth Century: Contacts and Comparisons, ed. Cross, A. G. (Newtonville, Mass.: Oriental Research Partners, 1979).

2. Further titles will be given in truncated form. A reference number from the Svodnyi katalog russkoi knigi XVIII veka 1725-1800 (Moscow: Gos. bib. im. V. I. Lenina, 1963) will be given. For this poem, the number is SK3757.

3. The Horatian tradition, in which odes were neither performed nor sung, offered a tradition counter to the Pindaric. “Exegi monumentum,” for instance, laid claim to a time outside the immediate; it breached the odie frame. Poets who wished to take the ode beyond the ceremonial framework, such as Ronsard, turned to the Horatian tradition; and the Horatian model exerted an influence on Russian poets. Gavrila Derzhavin was a master at bridging the two traditions.

4. It seems that preserving odes for posterity—making a performance a text—was not something the poets thought important. Many redactions of Lomonosov’s early ceremonial poetry remain only as fragments used to illustrate his rhetorical handbooks of the 1740s.

5. Novye ody Mikhaila Kheraskova (Moscow: Univ. tipografiia, 1762) (SK7982); Filosoficheskiia ody ili pesni Mikhaila Kheraskova (Moscow: Imp. Mosk. univ., 1769) (SK8031). The second collection appeared both as philosophical odes and songs. That it was republished as “didactic” odes suggested that the notion of genre, with its associations of etiquette and ceremony, was not essential to Kheraskov.

6. For the original, broader notion of frame, see Goffmann, Erving, Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974). Theater is a guiding metaphor for Goffmann’s conception. The literature on cultural performance is ever expanding. For the original anthropological usage, the work of Victor Turner is the best source: see his Dramas, Fields and Metaphors (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1974) or The Anthropology of Performance (New York: PAJ, 1986). Geertz, Clifford provides a cogent critique of both in “Blurred Genres: The Refiguration of Social Thought,” Local Knowledge (New York: Basic, 1983). For poststructuralist perspectives, see Performance in Postmodern Culture (Milwaukee: Center for Twentieth Century Studies, 1977).

7. Pindar’s Victory Songs, trans. Nisetich, Frank J. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 105 .

8. Lomonosov, M. V., Polnoe sobrante sochinenii. 11 vols. (Moscow: Akademiia nauk, 1959), 8:82102 ; the gates are described in Opisanie oboikh triumfal’nyx vorot, postavelennykh v chesť Elisavete Pervoi. . . po vospriiatii v Moskve korony Shvedov pobedivshei vsiu Finlandiiu derzhav svoei pokorivshei i torzhestvenno v Sanktpeterburg vozvrativsheisia . . . s glubochaishim blagogoveniem ot Senatskoi kantory podnesennoe (St. Petersburg: Akademiia nauk, 1742) (SK3325).

9. Emblem books were a popular publication at the time. Emblem interpretation, as known in the eighteenth century, was a matter of one meaning for one sign. See Baehr, “Iconography of Happiness,” 110-111, on this subject. An example of a program describing and explaining emblems is Opisanie oboikh triumfal’nyx vopot (SK3325). On illuminations, see Maggs, B. W., “Firework Art and Literature: The Eighteenth-Century Pyrotechnical Tradition in Russia and Western Europe,” Slavonic and East European Review 54 (1976); Vasil’ev, V. I., Starinnye feierverki v Rossii XVH-pervaia chetverť XVIII veka (Leningrad: Ermitazh, 1960); Röling, Horst, “Illustrated Publications on Fireworks and Illuminations in Eighteenth-Century Russia,” Russia and the West in the Eighteenth Century, ed. Cross, A. G. (Newtonville, Mass.: Oriental Research Partners, 1983). The standard source for Russian fireworks displays is still Rovinskii, D. A., Obozrenie ikonopisaniia v Rossii do kontsa XVII veka. Opisanie feierverkov i illuminatsii (St. Petersburg: A. S. Suvorin, 1903).

10. Iz”iasnenie feierverka i illuminatsii kotorye pri torzhestvennom prazdnovanii vysokago dnia rozhedniia . . . gosudaryni Elisavety Petrovny . . 18 dekabria 1741 goda predsiavlenny byli (St. Petersburg: Akademiia nauk, 1741) [SK2471]; Rovmskii, Obozrenie, 226.

11. Iz”iasnenie i izobrazhenie velikago feierverka, kotoroi po okanchanie torzhestv vysokago kniazia Petra Feodorovicha i gosudaryni velikiia kniagini Ekateriny Alekseevny vseia Rossii v Sanktpeterburga na Neve reke pred imperatorskim zimním domom predstavlen byl avgusta 1745 (St. Petersburg: Akademiia nauk, 1745) (SK2467]; Rovinskii, Obozrenie, 238.

12. Likhachev, D. S., Panchenko, A. N., Ponyrko, H. V., Smekh v drevnei Rusi (Leningrad: Nauka, 1984), 2535 . Zguta, Russell, “Peter I’s Drunken Synod of Fools and Jesters,” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, 21, no. 1 (1973): 1828 . Vsevolodskii-Gerngross, V. N., Istorila russkogo teatra (Leningrad: Teakinopechať, 1929) 1:360364 . Under Peter, festival culture borrowed much from another great changer, the False Dmitrii, whose short reign in Moscow was marked by tremendous—and riotous—celebrations: Vsevolodskii, istoriia russkogo teatra 1:356-358. See. Vsevolodskii-Gerngross, V. N., Istorila russkogo dramaticheskogo teatra (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1977) 1:7679 , for other descriptions of Peter’s celebrations; and Burgess, Malcolm, “Fairgrounds and Entertainers in 18th-century Russia,” Slavonic and East European Review 38 (1959-1960): 95113 for popular festival traditions.

13. See Solov’ev, N. V., Pridvornaia zhizn’, 1613-1913. Koronatsii, feierverki, dvortsy (St. Petersburg, 1913), 18 ff. A tradition of parodie ceremony did survive into the reign of Anna, manifest in the famous marriage of the dwarves, which was dutifully praised in an ode by Trediakovskii.

14. Festivals served a similar function during the French Revolution: see chapter 10 of Ozouf, Mona, Festivals and the French Revolution, trans. Sheridan, Alan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988).

15. See Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane (New York: Harcourt and Brace, 1959), chapters 1 and 2.

16. Poety XVIII veka (Leningrad: Biblioteka poeta, 1972) 1:98-99. See also his Oda Elizaveta Petr ovne v den’ koronatsii Aprelia 26 dnia 1756 goda, 1:104.

17. This topic has been discussed in Dorovatskaia, V., “O zaimstvovaniiakh Lomonosova iz Biblii,” M. B. Lomonosov (St. Petersburg: Akademiia nauk, 1911).

18. Poety XVIII veka 1:174-175.

19. See Baehr, , “Iconography of Happiness,” 113-114; Clifford Geertz, “Centers, Kings and Charisma: Reflections on the Symbolics of Power,” Culture and Its Creators (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977); articles by Ruiz, Teofilo, Elliott, J. H. and Ralph Giesey, E. in Rites of Power; and by Kuhrt, Anelie, Price, Simon, Nelson, Janet L., and Bloch, Maurice in Rituals of Royalty. Modern practice is examined in The Invention of Tradition, ed. Hobsbawn, Eric and Ranger, Terence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

20. Feofan Prokopovich had made Russian men of letters aware of the traditional differences between historical and poetic narrative in his Ars Poetica: Feofan Prokopovich, Sochineniia (Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1962), 431 .

21. Buber, Martin, I and Thou, trans. Kaufmann, Walter (New York: Scribner, 1970), 5964 .

22. This relation has been treated in Serman, I. Z., “Poeziia Lomonosova v 1740-e gody,” XVIII vek: sbornik 5 (1962), 4046.

23. Kheraskov, N. N., Izbrannye proizvedeniia (Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1961), 78 . The same point is made by Hart, Pierre R., “Continuity and Change in the Russian Ode,” in Russian Literature in the Age of Catherine the Great: A Collection of Essays, ed. Cross, A. G. (Oxford: Meeuws, 1976).

24. See Sipovskii, V. V., “Italianskii teatr pri Anne Ioannovne,” Russkaia starina, 6(1900), 593611 ; Perets, V. N., Italianskie komedii intermedii, predstavlennye pri dvore imp. Anny Ioannovny v 1733-1735 gg. (Petrograd: Akademiia nauk, 1917).

25. In eighteenth century Russia, as in Renaissance Italy, the best scientific minds of the day were put to designing these effects: Lomonosov in Russia, Leonardo da Vinci in Italy.

26. Noted in A. A. Morozov’s introduction to M. V. Lomonosov, Izbrannye proizvedeniia (Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1965), 31 .

27. Baehr, “Iconography of Happiness,” 115. A carousel was a spectacle of dance, poetry, and sport, involving the participation of the aristocracy. It was an aesthetic refinement of medieval tournaments. For a description, see Vsevolodskii, , Istorila russkogo teatra, 1:389391 .

28. Derzhavin, G. R., Stikhotvoreniia (Leningrad: Biblioteka poeta, 1957), 178.

29. Poety XVIII veka 1:226.

30. Baehr, “Iconography of Happiness,” 112.

31. Poety XVIII veka 1:395.

32. Ibid. 1:329.

33. Ibid. 1:338.

34. Sumarokov’s first tragedies, Khorev and Hamlet, were written in 1747; his epistles on Russian language and versification in 1748.

35. Torzhestvuiushchaia Minerva, obshchenarodnoe zrelishche, predstavlennoe bol’shim maskaradom v Moskve 1763 goda (Moscow: Imp. Mosk. univ., 1763) [SK7306]; Tokmakov, I., Istoricheskoe opisanie vsekh koronatsii Rossiiskikh Tsarei, Imperatopov i lmperatrits (Moscow: n.p., 1896), 9394 ; Krasnobaev, V. V., Ocherki po istorii russkoi kul’tury XVIII veka (Moscow: Prosveshchenie, 1972), 189194 ; Baehr, “Iconography of Happiness,” 116-118.

36. “Zapiski Shtelina,” Moskvitianin na 1851 g., part I: 211.

37. See Kritika na Odu,” Sumarokov, A. P., Stikhotvoreniia (Leningrad: Biblioteka poeta, 1935), 344354 .

The Ode as a Performative Genre

  • James von Geldern (a1)


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