Reading The Master and Margarita
last night, I remembered just how goddamn funny Soviet humor can be.
“A suspicious person by nature, [Nikanor Ivanovich] decided that the bombastic citizen was certainly unofficial, and maybe even superfluous.”
With that one line, Bulgakov perfectly captures the quintessential Soviet reaction to meeting the devil (the "bombastic citizen") in the streets of Moscow. Why even bother with someone who isn't in the Five-Year Plan?
Reading The Master and Margarita
, I also realize how important it is to have a proper translation. I bought the book for the Object of My Affection's Christmas pressie. He has a four week statute of limitations to pick up a book and feign that he's reading it. When the statute expires, I'm free to yoink the book and pretend like I didn't buy it for my own devious purposes. So yoink it I did, only to realize I'd bought the wrong translation. I went over to Olsson
's and conferred with the staff, who were only too happy to recommend the latest and greatest translation by Burgin and O'Connor. And so I began reading.
Then, one fateful night at the Object's house, we were about to kick back with our respective tomes when I realized I'd left the Burgin and O'Connor translation at my house. Figuring that reading from a different translation wouldn't make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, I picked up the edition I'd given the Object for Christmas, and found it completely unreadable. I can't tell if the translator was a product of the Soviet English-language learning system, where they probably learned useful phrases like "Children learn communism for good of making Uncle Sam know to stop making of nuclear war."
Lord knows he wasn't a product of the U.S. foreign language system, since it doesn't actually exist.
I'm back to reading the good translation and the funny just keeps on coming- Bulgakov seems to be experimenting with his audience's (and the censors')ridiculous bullshit limits while wisely tempering it with complex themes about the quotidian absurdities of Soviet Russia. In the middle of a scene about the frustrations of housing bureaucracy, it's totally acceptable for a giant talking cat to come in and on a whim, decide to have the protagonist framed by the KGB. This might just be the best book ever.
All this is a lengthy way of confessing that I have been engaging in Soviet-style blogging. Back when I introduced Poofygoo, I wrote that I'd learned Poofygoo was Russian for "whatever".
Fast forward several months to a party, where I was telling a young woman from Russia about my blog. When I told her the name, she did a double take and spit out her vodka.
"Do you know what that means?!" she asked incredulously.
"Sure," I said, "It's supposed to signify a little of this, a little of that- whatever's on my mind."
She paused, trying to think of how to explain the word to an ignoramus such as myself, then replied, "Well, in Russia, it is not so nice a thing to say. It is more like telling someone you hope that God say that they should be with the devil."
"You mean, like goddammit?" I asked.
"Yes, but is not so nice as to say it here in the U.S. In Russia, is a very impolite thing to say, is like saying God says 'fuck you!'"
Well, that fit in a lot
better with my five-year plan. So the Goo remains the Goo, goddamming be damned!
Speaking of the Five-Year Plan, it's time for Soviet Worker Jokes!
A Mexican, Englishman, and Ukrainian are lost in the desert. The Mexican carries a bottle of water, explaining, "I have this water for when I get thirsty." The Englishman carries an umbrella, explaining, "I have this umbrella to shade me from the sun." The Ukrainian carries an old tire, explaining, "I did not expect a desert to be in my Five-Year Plan."Why did the chicken cross the road?
There is no chicken. Only bread and milk.What's the first thing a blonde does in the morning?
She Gives thanks to Our Glorious Leader and then goes to her job at the factory.
Here's a Soviet joke Wonkette told me a while back, with the disclaimer, Actual Soviet Joke, paraphrased from a Russian history prof I had... guaranteed to get you laid:
Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev are all riding a train through Siberia. Suddenly, it comes to a halt -- something's wrong with the engine. Stalin is the first to act: He orders that the conductor be shot for anti-Party activity and sends the engineer to the Gulag.
Next, Khrushchev acts -- he brings the engineer back from the Gulag and says "It's been a while, but try as hard as you can to remember how to operate this train." But the engineer can't.
Finally, Brezhnev springs into action -- he orders that all the shades be drawn and demands that everyone left on the train rock back and forth and say "chugga-chugga-chugga."
"There," he says. "Now we're moving again."
That's goddamn funny in any language.