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SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY POETRY:
4.0 RUSSIAN, GERMAN, FRENCH, AND WORLD MARKETS
by
JONATHAN VOS POST

Copyright 1996, 1997, by Magic Dragon Multimedia.
All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission.
May be posted electronically provided that it is transmitted unaltered, in its entirety, and without charge.
RETURN TO SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY POETRY TABLE OF CONTENTS


4.0 RUSSIAN, GERMAN, FRENCH, AND WORLD MARKETS

4.1 Russia

In Russian times of revolutionary resurgence, future-oriented literature of utopias and dytopiasflared up, even before the science fiction genre was securely established in the 1920's. In the 1900's, for instance, Valery Yakovlevich Bryusov (1873-1924) was the head of the Symbolist school of poetry, founder of the most important literary journal of his day Vesy (The Scales), and one of the most appreciated poets in Russia. Bryusov also published large numbers of science fiction poems, extensively translated Edgar Allan Poe, and first introduced dystopian fiction (before Zamyatin) with his 1905 fantasy "The Republic of the Southern Cross" of a totalitarian utopia dystroyed my a mysterious epidemic, as well as his SF-nal play Earth and several stories. "The tireless Bryusov, long an enthusiast of interplanetary travel, dreamed with [Boris] Pasternak and the Futurists of a scientific poetry and wrote plays on interplanetary relations (The Dictator). Perhaps most characteristic of this whole activity -- represented by an entire school of poets who called themselves the 'Cosmists' -- were some works of the most popular poet of the period, Vladimir Mayakovsky. In his poems and other writings, but most clearly in his three postrevolutionary plays, the mainspring of Mayakovsky's creation was the tension between anticipatory utopianism and recalcitrant reality. A Futurist and admirer of [H. G.] Wells and [Jack] London, Mayakovsky ... [held that] the revolution is thus both political and cosmic; it is an irreversible and eschatological, irreverent and mysterious, earthy and tender, return to a direct sensuous relationship of men with a no longer alien universe." [Darko Suvin, Other Worlds, Other Seas, New York: Berkeley, 1972]. The Russian poet Velmir (Victor Vladimirovich) Khlebnikov (1885-1922), a founder of the Futurist school and friend of Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) and Malevich, wrote: "the assembly-line poet will pass into the world of scientific imagery, of strange scientific visions, into the future of Planet Earth -- like Gastev..." [translated by Paul Schmidt, Sulfur 7, printed at Santa Monica CA: Beyond Baroque, published at Caltech, Pasadena CA, 1983]. Khlebnikov was the son of an ornithologist, and studied mathematics and natural science at the University of Kazan. He had elaborate theories about the relationship between mathematics and art. "As regards us, the leaders of mankind," he wrote in Manifesto of the Presidents of the Terrestrial Globe, "which we constructed according to the rules of rays, with the aid of the equations of fate, we reject the lords who name themselves rulers." "Twentieth century mathematician-poet-artist: Alexander Zinoviev, born in 1922 in Russia. Zinoviev was [a] professor at the University of Moscow. He is a logician, specializing in Model Theory. He wrote a lot of books on mathematical logic .... He is the author of a remarkable novel translated into French under the title Les Hauteurs Bˇantes [Lausanne: L'age d'homme, 1977]. The book describes Stalinist society and it is a diatribe against the homogeneous world and the programmed social machine. It takes the form of a platonic dialogue and a graphic poem about the ultimate end." [Alfred Warrinnier, Dept. Mathematics K.U. Leuven, Belgium, "Ultimately, Mathematics is Poetry", Humanistic Mathematics Newsletter #6]. Nikolai Makarovich Olennikov (1891-1942), in his Comic Verses, philosophizes: Not for you are passion and goldlust, It is science that entices you. Passion may fade and love is betrayed But you cannot be deceived By the bewitching structure of the cockroach. [quoted in "On the Psychology of Scientific Creativity", A. B. Migdal, Contemp. Phys., 1979, Vol.20, No.2, pp.121-148]. Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), of course, was one of the great novelists and poets to have fled the USSR, and was a professionally recognized entomologist and lepidopterist. His works contain numerous logic puzzles, anagrams, and other word play falling somewhere in between Lewis Carroll, recreational linguistics, crossword puzzles and chess. Fyodor Sologub (1863-1927) was a rural mathematics teacher, highly productive as a poet, known for exotic symbolism. Andrey Bely (1880-1934), born Andrey Bugayev, was the son of a Moscow University math professor who graduated himself in mathematics in 1903. Well known for his novel Petersburg and his memoir trilogy, he is considered by some to be the James Joyce of Russia. Ilya Ehrenburg (1891-1967), born into the family of an engineer, was a friend of Pablo Picasso. Fernand Leger, and Louis Aragon, and was a founder (with scientist Irene Joliot-Curie and others) of the international peace movement, elected in 1949 as Vice President of the World Peace Committee. Ilya Selvinsky (1899-1968) was an actor, circus fighter, dock worker, fur processing instructor, and graduate of the faculty of Social Sciences of Moscow State University. As a leader of the Constructivist movement, he was said to have brought "a scientific approach to the realm of poetry." Dovid Knut (1900-1955), born David Mironovich Fiksman, studied chemistry in Cannes, fought with a Jewish group in the French Resistance (his 2nd wife, daughter of the composer Scriabin, was killed by the Gestapo), and emigrated to Palestine via Switzerland. His poetry emphasized Judaism, and occasionally science. Wolf Ehrlich (1902-1937) died in prison, having drawn the attention of Stalin's secret police with such works as "A Spy from Mars." This poem describes a Martian disguised as human, who penetrated Earth societies and makes his presence known at the time of a universal catastrophe. Wolf died of a heroin overdose. Similarly using science fictional themes for social satire, Boris Poplavsky (1903-1935) wrote the poem "Another Planet": we slyly think that planets and the moon have been left to us by Laforgue... our pilots are gaining altitude, and we fly off to Venus -- but not the one that wrecks the charts of our life... Why are these fires burning on the bright sun's surface? No, already the fly and crawl and whisper -- they are dragonfly people... Bella Dizhur (b.1903) graduated in biochemistry from the Herzen Institute in Leningrad in 1926, published several popular science books for children, and was a "refusenik" unable to leave the USSR in the 1970's and 1980s to join her son, the renowned sculptor Ernst Neizvestny, in the United States. She now lives in New York City. Leonid Martynov (1905-1980) was the son of a communications technician whose poetry was often in the realm of fantasy and fairy tales, including the symbolic wonderland Lukomor'e (Cove) based on a traditional Novgorod epic and used by Pushkin in the poetic fairy talke "Ruslan and Ludmila." Vadim Shefner (b.1915) is a leading metaphysical poet in the 19th century tradition of Fyodor Tyutchev, who has also published several science fiction novels. Nikolai Morshen (b.1917), born Nikolai Marchenko, graduated from Kiev University with a degree in Physics. In 1950 he left Germany for the United States, where his later poetry "is on a metaphysical plane, the longing for homeland transformed into longing for a merger with the universe." Ivan Elagin (1918-1987) had an interrupted medical education, and worked forced labor as a nurse in Germany, coming to the US (Pittsburgh) in 1950. He wrote: But as for the stars, leave them alone. I no longer like the lofty style. Who can answer, for what purpose were these stars set in our sky? Silver dust floats through the universe in some unknown direction, and what does it care for us -- human dust? Konstantin Vanshenkin (b.1925) was the son of an engineer, served as a paratrooper, then studied Geology at Moscow, later entering the Gorky Literary Institute. The famous poet Andrey Voznesensky (b.1933) was an architect, and son of a hydraulics emgineer. He is known for his astonishing metaphors, often science fictional, and plays such as Antimiry (Antiworlds). Yevgeny Rein (b.1935) was a friend of Joseph Brodsky in their youth in Leningrad, became a Moscow-educated engineer who worked as a geologist, and then became a successful screenplay author. Dmitry Bobyshev (b.1936) lives in Milwaukee. He graduated Leningrad Technological Institute with a degree in Chemical Engineering, and then worked with chemical weapons. Vladimir Sokolov (b.1928) was the son of an engineer who wrote his best work at age 62, the long narrative poem "Prishelets" (The Newcomer), as a monologue by an extraterrestrial who becomes a poet on earth, and who refuses to come home when his alien masters recall him at the end of his mission, having become tied to our planet by bonds of both hatred and love. Gleb Gorbovsky (b.1931) worked in Siberia as a lumberjack, timber floater, and assistant on geological expeditions. His first four books of poetry deal with the human relationship to nature. Konstantin Kuzminsky (b.1940) lives in New York City, after having been a jockey, Black Sea hydrologist, and Siberian geologist. He edited a monumental U.S. multivolume anthology of contemporary Russian poetry. Aleksey Tsvetkov (b.1947) now lives in Munich, after studying Chemistry at the University of Odessa, then journalism and history at Moscow University, then a Ph.D. in Russian Literature at the University of Michigan. Bakhyt Kenzheyev (b.1950) graduated in Chemistry from Moscow University. His poetry is often grotesque or gothic. Nina Iskrenko (b.1951) has a degree in Physics from Moscow University and worked as an English-to-Russian translator of scientific literature. She was near the center of the avant-garde literary evenings of the 1980's. Alexsandr Soprovsky (1953-1990) survived his degree in history at Moscow, his guard duties, his transportation work, and his geological expeditions only to be killed by an automobile. Yevgeny Bunimovich (b.1954) has a degree from the Mechanical-Mathematics Department of Moscow University, and teaches mathematics at an experimental school. Irina Ratushinkskaya (b.1954) graduated the University of Odessa with a degree in Physics, was arrested as a dissident in 1976, and PEN helped to free her from the gulag. Released in 1986, she lived in England and has been writer-in-residence at Northwestern University. Many of the above individuals are profiled in the unique anthology 20th Century Russian Poetry, selected & introduced by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, ed. Albert C. Todd & Max Hayward [New York: Doubleday, 1993]. The short-story influence on Russian poetry was by way of Turgenev and Gogol, and to a lesser extent from Balzac, as many Russian intellectuals spoke French. Beyond Russia, the USSR had other poets in our genre. Stanislaw Lem, in Poland, includes poems in many of his popular science fiction novels and short stories. Bollingen Prize, National Book Award, and Pulitzer Prize winning poet Miroslav Holub's writings draw upon his Czechoslovakian education in Immunology. The Bulgarian poet Elias Canetti won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1981; many of his poems reflect his Ph.D. in Chemistry. My father's father was Harry Pasternak, from Hungary, and was believed to have been a cousin of Nobel laureate Boris Pasternak, but key documentation has been lost. Given Russia's love for literature (including Science Fiction & Fantasy), the huge population of the former USSR, and the importance of scientific education in the era of Sputnik, the Space Race, and the Cold War, it is possible that the former USSR is equal to or even greater than the United States in the production of Science Fiction and Fantasy poetry. However, there seems to be no organized school of Science Fiction & Fantasy poetry in that tradition, little awareness of Russian poetry in the outside world, and a monstrous censorship, murder, imprisonment, and destruction of poets and intellectuals such as the world has never seen before. Hence the preceding essay may be the first English sketch of the unknown wealth of Russian Science Fiction and fantasy poetry, which very much needs to be explored in detail by scholars and anthologists.

4.2 Germany

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Heinrich Heine dominate the German lyrictradition, and both had numerous poems that anticipated the science fiction and fantasy genre. Heine is most accessible in America through Heinrich Heine: Paradox and Poet, by Louis Untermeyer [New York: Harcourt Brace, 1937]. Goethe was a towering presence in the scientific as well as literary scene, owning Europe's largest private collection of minerals and publishing anti-Newtonian theories of optics. The German love of engineering and technology is reflected in poetry, with a powerful ambivalence in the tradition of Faust. Leading German Romantics F.W.J. Schelling and Friedrich Schlegal "proposed that to write great literature, modern poets must develop a new unifying mythology which will synthesize the insights of the myths of the Western past with the new discoveries of philosphy and physical science" [M. H. Abrams]. Von Schelling's Naturphilosophe movement, started in 1799, was brought to the Lake Poets of England by Coleridge. E.T.A. Hoffman was the most influential short-story developer, emphasizing "marchen" (marvel stories) rather than "fairy stories." Hermann Broch (1886-1951) insisted on the close link between mathematics and poetry, in his book Erkennen und Handeln, Essays II, Gesammelte Werke Hermann Broch [Zurich: Rhein-Verlag, 1955, with an introduction by Hannah Arendt]. His novel, The Unknown Quantity [London: Collins, 1935, and New York: Howard Fertig, 1975] has a young Physics Ph.D. in Germany pondering poetry, mathematics, science, and life. A 17th century copper medallion from Gotha, coined by Christian Wernuth, mocked Copernicus with a quatrain: Der Himmel nicht die Erd umgeht Wie die Gelehrten meynen Ein jeder ist seines Wurms gewiss Copernicus des seinen. (The sky walks not around the Earth/ Though so the Doctors concluded/ Each man is sure to meet his worm/ Copernicus included). Schoolchildren memorize the following mnemonic, whose Nth word has the same number of letters as the Nth digit of the decimal expansion of pi: Dir, o Held, o alter Philosoph, du Riesengenie! Wie viele Tausende bewundern Geister Himmlisch wie du und gottlich! Noch reiner in Aeonen Wird das uns strahlen Wie im lichten Morgenrot! My mother's mother was a niece of Heinrich Heine, who converted from Judaism to Lutheranism and completely broke with his family, burning most family papers. In his miscellaneous lyric "To My Relations" he denounces them bitterly, concluding "God damn your souls and may you rot in hell," so it is no surprise that my family underplayed their genetic links to this great poet and essayist, master of mythology and German legends, who only late in life returned to "Hebrew Melodies" such as "Jehuda Ben Halevy" and "Translations of a Hebrew Sabbath-Song."

4.3 France

French poetry has always maintained a high level of intellectual argument, including the scientific and fantastic. Blaise Pascal abandoned mathematics and science, in which he was an immortal by age 20, to pursue literature and theology. When Symbolist Charles Baudelaire translated Poe into French, he injected an American style of science fiction, fantasy, and horror into the European tradition, and triggered the ecstatic, hallucinatory, fantastic, surrealism of Artur Rimbaud. Other poets in this tradition include Mallarmˇ, Lautrˇamont, and Jarry. Paul Valˇry wrote that "Poe was opening up a way, teaching a very strict and deeply alluring doctrine, in which a kind of mathematics and a kind of mysticism became one." Gino Severini wrote (1921) "L'art c'est la science faite chair" (Art is science in the flesh). A science fictional and fantastic element was present also in the schools of Aestheticism and Decadence (latter 19th Century), with Baudelaire, Flaubert, Ernest Dowson, and Mallarmˇ influenced by the German Immanuel Kant (1790) and Poe. Jean Henri Fabre (1823-1915) was the world's leading entomologist, but was also well known for his poetry, music, and essays. The hypermodern "Oulipo" school of poets (Nobel Laureate R. Queneau, together with Francois Le Lionnais and J. Roubaud), with works such as 10,000,000,000,000 Sonnets, attack the mathematical roots of language itself. Le Lionnais wrote on the beauty of mathematics in Les Grands Courants de la Pensˇe Mathˇmatique [Paris: Cahiers de Sud, 1948] freqently using poetry to illustrate and emphasize his ideas, especially Novalis ("Algebra is poetry") and Henri Michaux. "A watchmaker, Pierre Caron, who invented a new watch escapement which pleased Queen Marie Antoinette, prospered at court, and became Count Beaumarchais. He had musical and literary talent too, and he later wrote a play on which Mozart based his opera of Figaro" [J. Bronowsi, The Ascent of Man, Boston: Little Brown, 1973]. Schoolchildren memorize the following mnemonic, whose Nth word has the same number of letters as the Nth digit of the decimal expansion of pi: Que j'aime a faire apprendre un nombre utile aux sages! Immortel Archimede, artiste ingenieur, Qui de ton jugement peut priser la valeur? Pour moi, ton probleme eut de pareils avantages. Other notable French science fiction and fantasy poets include: Catulle Abraham Mendˇs (1841-1909) who founded the journal La Revue Fantaisiste and who published his first volume of fantasy poetry Philomela in 1864, Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) who published some marginal science fiction stories besides his poetry, Jules Romains (1885-1972), Thˇophile Gautier (1811-1872), and Jules Laforgue (1860-1887).

4.4 World

There is a cross-cultural enthusiasm for modern engineering and technology throughout Europe, as revealed in Victor Hugo's dithyrambs about steamships and railway engines, and Gabriele d'Annunzio's lyrical response to internal combustion engines, airplanes and racing cars. Little-recognized, this has spawned a wealth of Science Fiction and Fantasy poetry in countries throughout the world. Major English language science fiction and fantasy poets outside the English/American axis include:
  1. Rosemary Dobson, Roland Edward Robinson and Douglas Alexander Stewart of Australia
  2. the late Jorge Luis Borges of Argentina
  3. Maurice Maeterlinck of Belgium (who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1911)
  4. Margaret Atwood, Phyllis Fay Gotleib, Eileen Kernaghan, Douglas Arthur Hill, the late Sir Charles Roberts, Arthur Stringer, Robert Colombo, Leonard Cohen, (Jean) Jay MacPherson, Eli Mandel, Kenneth Alan McRobbie, bpNichol (sic), James Crerar Reaney and Christopher Dewdney of Canada;
  5. Nicanor Parra of Chile
  6. Taner Baybars of Cyprus
  7. Johannes V. Jensen of Denmark
  8. Anselm Hollo, born in Finland
  9. Lenri Peters of Gambia
  10. Deb Kumar Das and Gopal Sharman of India
  11. Jonathan Swift (whose poetry was, sadly, less fantastic than his prose), Lord Dunsany and Alun Llewellyn of Ireland
  12. Italo Calvino and degreed engineer Nobel laureate Salatore Quasimodo (1901-1968) of Italy
  13. Gene van Troyer (currently residing in Japan)
  14. Octavio Paz of Mexico
  15. H.J Cording, Stewart Slater, Hone Tuwhare and Cecil Gordon Challis of New Zealand
  16. Mehdi Ali Seljouk of Pakistan
  17. Jacob Bronowski, born in Poland
  18. Edwin Morgan, William Black, Muriel Spark, Duncan Lunan, Robert Sutherland Garioch, Hugh MacDiarmid, Norman MacCaig and Robert Louis Stevenson of Scotland
  19. Gaston Bart-Williams of Sierra Leone
  20. Ralph Nixon Currey of South Africa
  21. Nalin Chandra Wickramasinghe, born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka)
  22. Derek Alton Walcott, Nobel Laureate, of St.Lucia
  23. Peter E. Presford, Peter Finch, and Alfred Leslie Rowse (b.1903) of Wales;
  24. scientist-poet Roger Joseph Boscovich (1711-?) and Branko Miljkovic of Yugoslavia
  25. Colin Thomas Elliot Style, born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)
Henry Martinson's epic Aniara in Sweden has been translated into English, but not satisfactorily by the author's standards. Ireland has had a century of fantasy poetry triggered by the Irish Literary Revival, or Celtic Renaissance, of 1885-1939, and the influence of poetry by Yeats, AE, James Stephens, Oliver St.John Gogarty, and Lord Dunsany. The science fiction and fantasy poetry of the non-English non-European world have yet to be adequately surveyed, including remarkable individuals such as the Nigerian Amos Tutuola, and Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1921-1993), the first Australian Aborigine to have a book of poems published. She used her writings, which often drew on Dreamtime myths, to campaign for better treatment of Australia's indigenous people, was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1970, and then in 1988 returned the honor to Queen Elizabeth II in protest.

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Copyright 1996, 1997 by Magic Dragon Multimedia.
All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission.
May be posted electronically provided that it is transmitted unaltered, in its entirety, and without charge.