Sunday, 10 November 2013

Unclaimed skills

During my long life I have acquired a number of professional skills that once were useful but have proved to be of no value in the long run.

For instance, I can recite Russian poetry for hours. I once recited Russian poetry for at least an hour while waiting for a delayed flight. My audience didn't understand Russian, but they were fascinated by the sound of it. I frequently recite Russian poetry for myself. Otherwise, it's a useless skill.

I can also sing bawdy Russian songs. I once impressed a younger male colleague who had compiled a collection of dirty Russian verse, but wasn't familiar with some of my repertoire. Another time, at a Slavist conference in Denmark, a friend and I entertained the participants well after midnight, until we got a round of beer on the house because the owner liked his guests to have fun.

Generally, my profound knowledge of Russian literature, bawdy or not, is of no consequence. In Stockholm, I used to teach two optional courses, on nineteenth and twentieth century Russian literature. I have stopped using Russian texts in my research because reviewers complain that texts unfamiliar to readers make my research less relevant (!). So much for trying to be international.

My profound knowledge of Swedish literature is rather pointless these days. Although I have managed to smuggle Pippi Longstocking into my syllabus this year, and although I always bring Sven Nordqvist's picturebooks into class, it does not make any difference. My Bahktin-inspired studies of Selma Lagerlöf are of no interest for anyone. Generally, my engagement with literary theory is superfluous. The last course I taught in Sweden before I collapsed and went on sick leave was “Contemporary theories of the novel” where I treated Imre Kertesz' Holocaust novel Fateless as a displacement of myth, examined heteroglossia in Coetzee's Life and Times of Michael K. and combined Alice in Wonderland and The Magic Mountain in the same class from a Jungian perspective.

My Alice studies are, by the way, also irrelevant. Nobody is impressed by Alice studies in the UK. I am donating my whole collection, about two hundred and fifty volumes, in various translations and with various illustrations, to the Homerton library,

Which reminds me of translations. This is what I used to do for a living. Already in Sweden, translations from Swedish into Russian were not in great demand, apart from an occasional short story or a political manifesto. Now Russian and Swedish are two useless languages which at best make me slightly exotic in my colleagues' eyes. Not to mention Norwegian and Danish.

I don't regret all these things in the past, because they have made me what I am now. But it is one of life's paradoxes that the only thing that proved decisive for my present situation is a foreign language I learned in school.


Philip Nel said...

Thanks for this, Maria. I suspect that, as we age, we become more aware of our unclaimed suitcases of facts, appendices that our scholarly evolution has rendered superfluous. For me, these include Don DeLillo, the typeface Futura, and the history of Corona (Queens, NY). There are others, and will be more, some of which I will remember, and others of which I will not.

A good idea for a future blog post!

BLAZIC, Miilena Mileva said...

Dear Masha,

we have the similal life. But Julia Kristeva said that people like you and I we are happy immigrants.

I would like to thank you, because your academic writing influecend myself, my students and your impact factor is absolutly international.

You influenced also, not just my personal interest, to e. g. Jack Zipes etc.

I am absolutly gratefull to you, your relevance and impact factor in the field of international children's literature.

Inspite of other academic you have altruistic attitude and invited us to international network.

Best wishes, from Milena Mileva Blazic

Linnea Hendrickson said...

Thanks for this, Maria. How much that was once important to us becomes irrelevant as we age, times, change, and we move on. You've given me much to think about. My husband's typewriter collection (over 60 typewriters) needs dusting.


Maria Nikolajeva said...

Oh, a typewriter collection! I used to collect coffee grinders. Also in the past