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Dostoyevsky's "Der Idiot" copied by hand
December 16, 2010 1:04 PM   Subscribe

Dostoyevsky's "Der Idiot" copied by hand Martin copied the entire book "Der Idiot" of Dostojewski by hand. He exchanged the main figure Myskin with his own name: Martin.
posted by riley370 (32 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
sed -e 's/Myskin/Martin/g'
posted by kmz at 1:06 PM on December 16, 2010 [9 favorites]


If you're gonna copy a book by hand, that is a pretty darn good choice...although personally i would probably have copied The Devils and substituted 'facetious' for stepan verkhovensky's name, that would suit me a lot better, sadly.
posted by facetious at 1:08 PM on December 16, 2010


Christus, so ein Idiot.
posted by jedicus at 1:10 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Should have done Notes from Underground. Changing the name would have been easier.
posted by milarepa at 1:12 PM on December 16, 2010


Does anyone know why the accepted translation of the title contains the definitive article? I know Russian lacks the definitive article, but I've always wondered why it was added in the title. Is it just a convention of titles of things to have "The" in them when referring to the subject matter of the text that bears the title?
posted by griphus at 1:14 PM on December 16, 2010


That is a great book, I'm reading The Brothers Karamazov now, which is shaping up to be just as excellent.

As an aside, I'm looking for an essay I read recently. In this essay, the author suggests that Dostoevsky succinctly captures the modern condition. Man that is vague, but has anyone read something like that recently?

Anyways, great book.
posted by kuatto at 1:18 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am mystified as to why this is exhibited.
posted by kenko at 1:25 PM on December 16, 2010


Well, okay. Sometimes I do not understand other people's art projects, and that's fine.

On the other hand, I love A Humument, and I know people who don't get that. So this is why more than one art project is exhibited at a time, yes?
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:32 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, why is the book's title in German in the OP?
posted by Omnomnom at 1:40 PM on December 16, 2010


I heartily recommend DailyLit for bite-sized chunks of Russian literature every day. I've already finished The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot, Crime and Punishment, and am now chewing through War and Peace.
posted by Soliloquy at 1:41 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a German site. Though, it does seem sort of weird that they're writing in English but using the German transliteration of the title.
posted by kmz at 1:42 PM on December 16, 2010


Wait, why is the book's title in German in the OP?

It's a link to a German-language exhibition catalogue. Apparently, the art project is a recopying of an English translation, by a Belgian artist.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:46 PM on December 16, 2010


So this is why more than one art project is exhibited at a time, yes?

You're right—my confusion as to the artistry in transcribing a book with one character's name replaced by that of the transcriber was implicitly a call for only one thing ever being exhibited at a time. Very sharp.

A variant of the question: why is it being exhibited? Is there something about the transcription, physically, that calls for its being viewed—the paper stock, the handwriting? Is there something about it that would be absent from a transcription I carried out of the German text?
posted by kenko at 1:50 PM on December 16, 2010


I'd buy this, but only if he also replaced Nastassya Filippovna's name with "Gina."
posted by hermitosis at 1:51 PM on December 16, 2010


OK, so "Dostojewski" is the Polish spelling of the Russian name usually transliterated into English as "Dostoyevsky"... It looked like something an anti-Semite would use as a bizarre slur, and I was pretty sure that was not what it was, so I looked it up on the ol' Wikipedia and learned something today.
posted by edheil at 1:51 PM on December 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


The Germans also use the Polish transliteration rather than the English.
posted by griphus at 1:54 PM on December 16, 2010


You're right—my confusion as to the artistry in transcribing a book with one character's name replaced by that of the transcriber was implicitly a call for only one thing ever being exhibited at a time. Very sharp.

Thanks, I don't appreciate your insult here. Especially since I was trying very carefully not to insult your point of view, which I think is fusty and outdated and reductive (for reasons I will outline below).

A variant of the question: why is it being exhibited? Is there something about the transcription, physically, that calls for its being viewed—the paper stock, the handwriting? Is there something about it that would be absent from a transcription I carried out of the German text?

Kris Martin is a conceptual artist, and one of the concepts he uses in his art is transcribing famous works of literature, slightly altered.

It is not my favorite thing, either, but pretending not to understand that this is a technique that has been used in art for the last 75+ years just seems silly.

Obviously, lots of art-show juries and galleries and collectors think that this is an interesting art technique. You've made the point that you don't. Let me make the larger point that nobody really cares what you think, or I think; if they find this worthy of exhibiting or looking at or buying, that's their thing.

Let me also make the point that the ship of "Well, I don't think that's art! I could do that myself!" sailed about 150 years ago.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:02 PM on December 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote

History repeats itself, first as a mind-blowing Borges story, then as a stupid art stunt. You might be surprised how often this happens, actually. Some days I feel like most "art" provocateurs were prefigured and made irrelevant by Borges. Ficciones is the Aleph for so much of the world today.
posted by grobstein at 2:11 PM on December 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


I don't know about you sourpusses, but I'd like to see this! I wonder how long it took, I'd like to flip through and see his different handwritings — I bet some pages are really neat and some really sloppy. It's fun that someone is still doing hand copies of books. I'd like to try it sometime, been thinking about it actually.

Does anyone know of any books that are published in the (copied) author's handwriting? I'd absolutely adore that.
posted by mbrock at 2:18 PM on December 16, 2010


Mbrock--I think you should copy this thread in handwriting, and put it on a little museum-like pedestal, for the first metafilter contemporary art exhibition.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:26 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not valid. (Unless he has interesting handwriting)
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:37 PM on December 16, 2010


Let me also make the point that the ship of "Well, I don't think that's art! I could do that myself!" sailed about 150 years ago

Well, I guess in each go-round the insults have to become more explicit. (I'm more inclined to go "I could make that myself, so I could make some art" than "I could make that myself, so it isn't art" anyway—if it's actually true that I could make that myself, which is rare.)

I am actually familiar with the existence of what is known as conceptual art, and have devoted some thought to it (no, really—I even used to be a follower of Danto). And my thought was not "I could do that myself, so it's not art!" My thought was, something exhibited is there to be beheld. It's put in a public place—a gallery—patrons enter the gallery and spectate, more or less actively and with greater or lesser involvement. This is, you might say, an aesthetic phenomenon—it has to do with aisthesis; it's a sensory thing, not merely the intellectual appreciation of the existence (or possibility) of an object with such-and-such a property (as e.g. being a transcription of a work of Dostoevsky's with a given change).

So I wish to know: why is this transcription exhibited? Is it to reassure people that the thing really was transcribed, by hand and all? Is there something about its physical character that we're supposed to appreciate? Presumably the answer to the last question is "no"; that's what's characteristic of purely conceptual art. But I doubt the answer to the second question is "yes", either. It sometimes seems to me that such things (I saw a similar effort, someone's transcription of the first n pages of In Search of Lost Time in various translations (all into English) and editions not long ago) are exhibited because what is displayed is the expenditure of a good deal of effort on something by someone who is, usually, highly educated—sort of a quasi-ceremonial sacrifice of time and concentration for some noneconomic end.

That, presumably, is not the answer that the artist would give. (Maybe it is, but it makes the choice of product somewhat arbitrary.) So I often come to think, well, it's conceptual art and the important thing is the concept. In this case it's not even a concept whose possibility of being executed is in much doubt; of course anyone could make such a transcription. It doesn't take a lot of specialized skill, for instance, and there are no secret gotchas lurking in it that might foil its working-out in practice. The question about the hypothetical transcription that I might execute isn't meant directly to discredit the transcription this guy executed, it's meant to focus the question: what about this transcription, the actually existing one, is interesting? And I take it it's not the text itself, or its having been done by hand, or anything like that.

(And it's not as if it needs to be done to prove something to the artworld, something about how such things actually do have to be accepted as art, or something about the artist in society, or whatever; not really since Duchamp and certainly not since Warhol.)

So why does it need to exist at all, and, existing, why is the object displayed? (It's this kind of thing that makes one think Hegel was right about art and religion. I mean look at the image in the link: the thing is practically on an altar.)

I really don't think I'm simply a philistine, and I don't appreciate being made out to be one. I think that the habit many have of reflexively labeling someone who's skeptical of the merit of something that is (let's say) sociologically art, accepted as art in the artworld, as simply ignorant or incapable of appreciating whatever is in question is just as bad as what the reflexive rejection of whatever new thing has come down the pike characteristic of the actual philistine. (I think even the actual philistine ought to be engaged with, but hey.) It results in insulated discourses.
posted by kenko at 3:12 PM on December 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


Now I'm reminded of poor Sophia Tolstoy, who amongst putting up with other bullshit from Leo, hand copied War and Peace seven times. Seven times! And War and Peace is approximately twice as long as The Idiot, I believe.

And speaking of W&P, in response to griphus's query above, I don't know how exactly it works, but I remember in quiz bowl circles it was debated for a while if answering "The War and the Peace" should be acceptable, since that would be a valid translation from Russian. I don't remember what was ultimately decided.
posted by kmz at 3:17 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote

History repeats itself, first as a mind-blowing Borges story, then as a stupid art stunt. You might be surprised how often this happens, actually. Some days I feel like most "art" provocateurs were prefigured and made irrelevant by Borges. Ficciones is the Aleph for so much of the world today.

Menard however didn't copy the book, he wrote it himself. Wasn't that the whole point?
posted by ersatz at 3:20 PM on December 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


This amused me more when I thought he hadn't actually *meant* to change the name, and had somehow transcribed an entire book with one name wrong because he wasn't paying close enough attention to what he was doing.
posted by gracedissolved at 3:51 PM on December 16, 2010


Yeah, this definitely sounds like somebody who read "Pierre Menard" in college, and didn't really quite get it.
posted by steambadger at 4:56 PM on December 16, 2010


This is one of my favorite books. I can with all sincerity say that I genuinely love the Prince, fictional as he may be. I don't really understand this project at all, but I have no antagonistic feelings for it. I thought I would dig up some quote from the book that may seem relevant in context, but nothing I have on hand quite fits, so I just searched for snippets and the first two things to pop up are:

"Lack of originality, everywhere, all over the world, from time immemorial, has always been considered the foremost quality and the recommendation of the active, efficient and practical man."

and

"Don’t let us forget that the causes of human actions are usually immeasurably more complex and varied than our subsequent explanations of them."


Indeed. Although I'm more fond of these words to live by:

"Pass by us, and forgive us our happiness."

posted by byanyothername at 5:38 PM on December 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote

History repeats itself, first as a mind-blowing Borges story, then as a stupid art stunt. You might be surprised how often this happens, actually. Some days I feel like most "art" provocateurs were prefigured and made irrelevant by Borges. Ficciones is the Aleph for so much of the world today.

Menard however didn't copy the book, he wrote it himself. Wasn't that the whole point?


You're quite right, ersatz, but I still feel like this Idiot is a pale reflection.
posted by grobstein at 5:52 PM on December 16, 2010


Metafilter: this Idiot is a pale reflection.
posted by facetious at 6:15 PM on December 16, 2010


I don't know about you sourpusses, but I'd like to see this!

It's been published. I have one. It was under $10.
posted by dobbs at 8:06 PM on December 16, 2010


Find the unifying theme linking these three apparently unrelateded points: (1) a book, originally in Russian, is widely publicly available in various translations at a reasonable purchase price or, in the alternative, it may be borrowed from a public library (2) The book is called "The Idiot" (3) A man decides to copy the entire book out by hand.
posted by gallus at 7:42 AM on December 17, 2010


Anyone who has ever done any manual transcription of more than a few sentences, whether casually or professionally, can tell you that it is surprisingly hard.

Which leads to some questions: is this an accurate transcription, apart from the name-change? If the scribe's account of its accuracy is to be taken at face value, how did he check it? There don't seem to be any crossings-out in the opening that I saw: did he write it out once, or is this a fair copy? How accurate are the free transcripts of this text on the net compared to the expensive critical editions, and to this transcript/version? If they vary (by how much?) can it be said that there is a book called The Idiot?

And so a universe opens up....

However, I do think that there's something heroical about the very visible labour that goes into projects such as this which tends to get lost in the rather technical debates that they engender. I'm not sure I need to see work to enter that debate, other than to be impressed by the size of his stack of copies. But maybe, as has been said above, he has a lovely hand?
posted by GeorgeBickham at 2:19 PM on December 17, 2010


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