Andrew Kahn - Mandelstam’s Love Lyric: Sex and Devotion


Tuesday, October 16, 2018, 4:30pm


CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Room S354

CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Room S354

After some prefatory remarks about Mandelstam’s love lyric, the paper will concentrate on two poems: “Mistress of guilty glances” (“Masteritsa vinovatykh vzorov”, 1934) and “I pray, Dame France, for mercy and compassion,” (“Ia moliu, kak zhalosti i milosti,” 1937). Discussion will address a permanent tension in Mandelstam’s poetry from the Acmeist period (1910) until Voronezh (1934-37) between sexual love, complicated by ambivalence about bodily desire, and ideals of devotion including Charity.  This tension shapes the representational and rhetorical strategies used in establishing the relationship between speaker and beloved. Mandelstam was always capable of a fair degree of poetic difficulty and these poems present some enigmas of interpretation. Whether and how they are specifically Mandelstamian is worth considering. A secondary aim, therefore, will be to make some general comments about the critical methods that help to open up his late poetry.

Andrew Kahn, Professor of Russian Literature and Fellow of St. Edmund Hall, Oxford University