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FROM THIS SEASON'S ISSUE: Commencement 2014


Ukrainian Identity and Mykola Kulish’s Sonata Pathétique

Mykola Kulish, Ukraine’s most famous 20th-century playwright, was known for his formal experimentation and dismissal of contemporary conceits. He was also among many Ukrainian writers forced to couch any reference to Ukrainian national identity in a teleology of socialist revolution, culminating, inevitably, in a Bolshevik victory. Kulish was able to find loopholes in devices of characterization, setting, and allusion all the same. In Kulish’s 1930 play, Sonata Pathétique, neither Soviet triumph nor pure Ukrainian nationalism is fully exempt from satire, as Kulish pokes fun at the national cult of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, widely considered to be the founder of modern Ukrainian literature and language. The work is centered around the conflicts between Ukrainian and Russian forces following the 1917 Russian Revolution.

Labyrinth

I “Here the Minotaur roamed, and was fed by human victims.” – Thomas Bulfinch, The Age of Fable Here’s a story you’ve probably heard: A fresh-faced youth sets forth from Troezen on his way to Athens. Brave man that he is, consumed by the desire to prove himself, he takes the land route (more dangerous than the sea), encountering various brigands and marauders along the way. He defeats them all with ease, and arrives at Athens an established adventurer. He is instantly recognized by his father, the king. But all is not well.

First Aid

I have in my hands a textbook on post-atomic birth defects in Japan. The Effects of Ionizing Ra- diation From the Atomic Bomb on the Bodies of Japanese Children by R.W. Miller, M.D., Univer- sity of California Press, 1968, is a volume that I cannot, in good conscience, recommend. In black and white photographs, it portrays many variations of our species’ form. For example, here is a little girl who is perhaps three years old. She is wearing a dark striped dress and has her hair untied. The two sides of her face do not meet as you’d expect. Her eyes are far apart, and under each is a nos- tril. She has no nose, only a fleshy nowhere, an inch or two wide, that comes down smoothly from the forehead. You may be relieved to know that at least this child is not mentally deficient, as many of the children depicted in The Effects of Ionizing Radiation From the Atomic Bomb on the Bodies of Japanese Children are. “Intelligence: Normal,” says the caption. But then again, you realize, why should that come as a relief?

Notes From
21 South Street

Twilight of the Libraries

In a famous episode of the television show, The Twilight Zone, Henry Bemis, “a bookish little man whose passion is the printed page but who is conspired against by…a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of the clock,” miraculously survives a nuclear blast. The lone survivor, he despairs until he discovers that the entire book collection of the public library has been saved as well. Finally, the bibliophile can truly pursue his passion, uninterrupted by anything or anyone, with, as he declares “all the time I need, and all the time I want.” However, after arranging all of the books that he intends to read into perfectly ordered stacks, and situating himself on the steps of the library to begin his literary fete, his glasses slip from his nose and shatter on the stone.

Poetry

Syllogistic

I. 
Self-deception police wear red
 slippers and yellow suits Comet-gliding
 through rain Nodding diplomatically to the dog, never acknowledging you Hiding parking tickets in side mirrors, bovine
 contortions as you chew, the trapeze-like idiocy
 of your laugh Arraigning you for existential
 exhibitionism: to engage in philosophical despair

Fiction

The Moth Garden

There was something about Peter’s clothes that attracted the moths. It was his scent, he thought. It had changed: there was some new chemical he released into the air. His most recent bedmates had commented on the aroma of his skin. “Like Sweet Tarts,” one had said. “Like dill,” said another.