To: CAS Research Group chat, Drawing languages for Dissent
[09:48, 6/13/2020] Amanda Bates writes:
Interesting (?) snippet from a novel:
“Baba Yaga is a ‘dissident‘, beyond the pale, isolated, a spinster, an old fright, a loser. She has never married, and, apparently has no friends. If she ever had any lovers, their names are not known. She does not care for children, she is no devoted mother, nor – despite her advanced years – has she become a granny surrounded by beloved grandchildren. She is not even a good cook. Her function is at once crucial and marginal: ‘courteous’ or ‘rude’ heroes stop when they reach her hut, they eat, they drink, they stream in her bath, take her advice, accept magical gifts that help them to reach their goals and then disappear. They never come back with a bunch of flowers and a box of chocolates.”
“The chief reason for Baba Yaga’s heresy is her great age. […]”
Dubravka Ugresic, “Baba Yaga Laid an Egg”, pub. Canongate 2008 (p313 of paperback)
[Baba Yaga, is, of course, the character from Slavic/Russian folk tales. She is portrayed as an old woman, a witch, who lives in a hut that has chicken legs, and flies around in a mortar and pestle, sweeping away the evidence of her passage (the traces!) with a broom.]
It’s a three-part novel in which the first two parts are commented on by a fictional (?) folklorist, who is possibly a character in the first part.
It goes on to say that Baba Yaga would have once been a goddess, replaced by other religions, yet living on in folklore.
Another trace, I guess.
And there’s a bit about language, too, that I noted as being possibly relevant:
The shepherd opens his mouth and the snake-emperor spits ihis mouth and says: Now you spit in my mouth! The shepherd sputs in his mouth. They spit in each others mouths three times, and then the snake-emperor says: ‘Now you possess the animal language. Go and tell no one what you know for if you tell a living soul you will die that same moment.’ And this shepherd with the newly acquired skill — of understanding speechless language the language of animals and plants — became a wise man.
Language serves the process of mutual understanding. We enter effortfully, we gesticulate, we wring our hands, we explain, we translate our thoughts, we interpret, we break into a sweat, we furrow our brows, we act as if we have understood, we are convinced that we have understood, we are convinced that we know what we are talking about, we are convinced that they understand us, we translate other languages into our own. And all our endeavours boil down to this: we miss the meaning. For if we were to truly understand one another, speaker and listener, writer and reader, you and I , we would have had to spit into each others mouths, entwining our tonges and mixing our spittle, you and I, editor, we speak different languages: yours is only human, whereas mine is both human and serpentine.
N.B. Baba Yaga Laid an Egg is one of a series in which contemporary authors retell traditional stories – the Canongate Myths. I love things like that. Old stories, allusions to hidden secrets, things we’ve forgotten or put on hold…