Ripples in language

Dmitri Prigov, 18-я азбука: Камень и круги на воде (18th Alphabet: Stone and Circles on Water), courtesy of the Centre for Artists’ Publications, Weserburg, Bremen and the Estate of Dmitri Prigov. Photograph by Bettina Brach.

Дмитрий Пригов, 18-я азбука: Камень и круги на воде (Dmitri Prigov, 18th Alphabet: Stone and Circles on Water), courtesy of the Centre for Artists’ Publications, Weserburg, Bremen and the Estate of Dmitri Prigov. Photograph by Bettina Brach.

Stone and Circles on Water (Камень и круги на воде) is the eighteenth in Dmitri Prigov’s series of poems built around the Russian alphabet, or azbuka, and the work that for me most clearly encapsulates Prigov’s “iterative poetics,” about which I’ve recently written in Russian Literature. I’m posting a photograph of the work here (courtesy of Bettina Brach and the Centre for Artists’ Publications, Weserburg, Bremen), along with an edited version of my remarks on the piece in the hope that this extraordinary work of art might reach a broader audience.

Prigov’s book describes and depicts a stone dropped into a pool. The book or work of art overlays five textual iterations, five carbon-copies––each with a circle of increasing diameter cut out––on top of the original typescript sheet, inverting their order so that the nearly illegible bottom layer precedes the others, while the original layer lies at the bottom and is visible only through the smallest hole at the centre––the point where the stone hits the water. Prigov thereby utilizes the samizdat mode of small-scale multi-copy reproduction as his mode of production. The samizdat mode of reproduction necessitates thin paper, which here allows the overlaid layers to show through each other, further adding to the smudged look of the text and so to the illusion of the blurring produced by a ripple passing over formerly smooth water. The stone’s trajectory is described by the vertical movement of the text down the page from a to ia (a to z). The text describes the stone striking the face of the water in the center before touching the bottom of the pool at the bottom of the page––a movement emphasized by the columns of alphabetically ordered initial letters and the “ėto” that follows in most lines (an effect made possible by the zero-kerning of the type-script medium). Just as the work gains power from the intersection of its inter-media iterations––at the point where the vertical axis of the text and the outward and circular axis of its visual appeal meet––so the moment of the stone’s impact becomes a metaphor for such intersections, a unique instant in time frozen between iterating movements and between the two-dimensional image and three-dimensional sculpture produced through the medium of the samizdat book.

About Jacob Edmond

Jacob Edmond is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He is author of A Common Strangeness: Contemporary Poetry, Cross-Cultural Encounter, Comparative Literature (Fordham UP, 2012). His articles have appeared in journals such as Comparative Literature, Contemporary Literature, Poetics Today, The China Quarterly, the Slavic and East European Journal, and Russian Literature. He is editor (with Henry Johnson and Jacqueline Leckie) of Recentring Asia: Histories, Encounters, Identities (Brill / Global Oriental, 2011), and editor and translator (with Hilary Chung) of Yang Lian’s Unreal City: A Chinese Poet in Auckland (Auckland University Press, 2006). For more, see: http://www.otago.ac.nz/english/staff/edmond.htm http://otago.academia.edu/JacobEdmond https://commonstrangeness.wordpress.com/
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