Apr 10, 2022·edited Apr 10, 2022

Cut the hut in half, cut the sky, cleaved the air, cut to pieces for glasses, digging sabre into the goose, Lenin's straight line, and if you count it...cutting farts. Prolly shouldn't count the cutting farts, but it made me laugh. Humans sometimes divide themselves, wall parts off, to survive lousy circumstances, so there's that dividing, too.

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i'm nearly done with a draft of the first short story i've written in years. (Can't believe it--and i've gotta say, thank you, George.) And I'm excited that i'm getting closer to that point of going back into the story (after it rests for a bit and i get some distance) and seeing what's there--what connections (RFCs!) my subconscious made already, and what connections I made consciously and which may need tweaking or deleting or whatever. This is why revising is the best part of writing. I don't have glasses or a goose in my story. But i do have cell phones and clocks and elevators.... A lot to work with.

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The narrator has vision afforded him by literacy. He shares Lenin’s vision by reading to the Cossacks whom, I gather, are illiterate. In this way, the Cossacks are blind and the narrator is their potential guide or teacher. Maybe.

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Apr 10, 2022·edited Apr 11, 2022

Couple of first thoughts -- The old woman is spinning (not knitting) and it would have been with a distaff and spindle.

UPDATE: Thanks for the responses to my comment. Angela Joynes had the same idea and in replying to her comment (below) I realized that Americans associate yarn directly with knitting. Whereas in the UK, where I grew up, we knit with "knitting wool". I wondered why the knitting angle even came up - now I understand! To me yarn can be thread. Or (thanks to another commenter below) sailors used to make rope from yarn - twisted fibers - and "spin a yarn" while doing so.

Translation issues eh? Britain and America - what's the saying: two countries divided by a common language?? OK. update done.

... To me the distaff and spindle idea makes a better visualization possible. You can see a drawing of this method of spinning yarn here: https://en-academic.com/dic.nsf/enwiki/10284779.

There's a video of an old Romanian woman in peasant dress doing this here: https://peasantartcraft.com/traditional-crafts/hand-spinning-wool/

She could be doing the spinning automatically while talking. Both hands are involved - both are held out and up - almost like a person holding arms open for a hug or.... So when he hits her in the chest she is open-armed and defenseless - having to hold these two objects, distaff and spindle.

Also - the narrator first kills the goose - maybe humanely, in a way - by crushing her skull. Then he symbolically rapes her with someone else's sabre - as he doesn't have one. So lots of - what's the word not deflection - "things at a remove".

And it's a "dour" goose - so somehow I feel less sympathetic towards it!

I was really interested in your calling attention to the feminization - that bizarre imagery around Savitsky's boots - and am off to look at the end of the story now!

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Savitsky “saw” in the first sentence, and later his “grey eyes were dancing with joy.” The wild seeing of the Cossacks vs. the domesticated seeing of those who wear glasses.

The most striking RFC I noticed in Dralyuk’s translation was the way the goose’s head “cracked and bled” and, at the end, the narrator’s heart “creaked and bled,” mysteriously identifying himself with the goose.

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Apr 10, 2022·edited Apr 10, 2022

One of the things I couldn't help noticing is that this pulse begins (more or less) and ends with the old woman stating that she wants to hang herself.

I still don't know what I think about that exactly. She's already at the end of her rope and our narrator kicks someone who is already down, I guess? Somehow, I'm not fully satisfied by that. But it does make me think of the pyramid of screaming: boss yells at man, man later berates his wife, she then scolds their child, child then abuses the family pet.

Establishing one's position in the hierarchy is a "superficial" (not sure that's the right word) theme. But the story does so much more, and that subtler part is hard to articulate, or even see clearly.


The old woman's pulse-bookending comments on wanting to hang herself have the effect of telling readers that despite being mistreated by the narrator, for her, there's no net change. It's a little before-and-after assessment.

Reaching ahead in the story: Another thing I noticed is that women (actual and the concept of) show up in the story in a few key spots: Savitsky's boots, the old woman and her goose, the women in the narrator's dreams. Combining that set of three with the two 'cracked/creaked and bled' moments (goose's head and narrator's heart) gets me musing that the feminine/nurturing element of life has little room to exist in this realm, nor now in the narrator's heart.

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Thank you for yet another great lesson, George. I love the concept of a Relational Fictive Connection, which very much mirrors a way of seeing and observing the actual (as opposed to the fictive) world, particularly the natural world. I think that the better we get at noticing relational connections, the better we can train ourselves to be more present, more caring, and ultimately, more kind. I’m thinking of this prescription by Leonardo da Vinci:

“Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses – especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”

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Apr 10, 2022·edited Apr 10, 2022

I am struggling with this story given the events in Ukraine. Given the history of the Cossacks in Ukraine (pogroms) and current events. I absolutely inhaled "A Swim In The Pond..." but that was a different time. I've also read Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands and The Road to Unfreedom recently.

I've been a fan of Russian literature since forever but now all roads lead to Bucha in my mind. I don't want to "piss in anyone's ears" (old Russian saying) but I am looking forward to moving off this story. Hope this makes sense.

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When I read this, this passage of yours stood out to me, George: "This is a chance for him to bond with her, his comrade in nearsightedness (and, we feel, in decency). But in this bond, he senses doom. So, instead, he pushes her in the chest with his fist, and the kills her goose, denying the bond."

Throughout the discussion of this story, I've had at the back of my mind your "Escape From Spiderhead" where a protagonist chooses doom, rather than self-protection, as he understands the bonds he can't help but feel for his fellow inmates.

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No Cossack is wearing glasses, but all the Cossacks can see. To have the vision of the Cossacks, our narrator needs glasses. To see what Lenin has to say, our narrator needs glasses and the Cossacks need our narrator. There’s surely something here.

No one can see what the future will bring. We’ve all learned that in the last couple of years. Perhaps we need the glasses of literature to help us see some of the options that lie in front of us. But as for that, are we really prepared to see what is to be done (to shoehorn in a Lenin reference)? When the narrator sees what is to be done, he does it. He becomes a Cossack. When the old woman sees what is to be done, she does it. She kills the golden goose.

When Stalin saw what was to be done, he did it. He killed millions, including Babel. When Gorbachev saw what was to be done, he did it. He tore down the wall. When Putin saw what was to be done… we all do what we do because we see that it has to be done. And nearly always, that means we see what is necessary in order to survive…and in this chain of events, it seems that this means that we cause pain, suffering and death. As things that need to be done. Savitsky causes death, the Cossacks cause death, the narrator causes death, and even the old woman wants to bring about death…albeit her own.

Our heroic narrator is the same as Savitsky. Our narrator is the same as the goose. The Cossacks are the same as the old woman. We’re all blind. We all have vision issues. We can none of us see past our own noses, and all of us can only see the smallest fraction of that particular appendage.

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In the final paragraph, the narrator goes to sleep ‘under a roof full of holes that let in the stars’. The element of ‘vision’ seems to enter here, too. Perhaps the narrator has come to ‘see’/realise something, however imperfectly, by the end of the story. (If that’s right, then what is seen is apparently something heavenly, literally glimpsed through his dilapidated, decidedly terrestrial surroundings.)

At the description of the landlady’s eyes, I couldn’t help but think back to the earlier description of the ‘dying sun, yellow and round as a pumpkin’, and forward to the moon which hangs ‘over the yard like a cheap earing’—which in its own way linked for me the element of vision with the celestial.

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I love the concept of the sentence rhythm. Earlier this year I started a newsletter on Substack and decided to also read each post as a podcast. I found that listening back to the recording I would need to go back into the text to change sentences, sometimes add something, other times delete something to make the sentence sound better. At times the difference between what I heard in my head when I was writing and what the actual sentence sounded like when read was enormous. Recording and then listening to what I have written has been an eye opener and it is something I am going to try to apply to my fiction writing. (Now thinking I should read this post aloud...just going to hit post though).

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To answer George's question re: the goose... I am a long time keeper of domestic fowl and have owned Geese. Killing her goose was a loss. A goose (not a gander) can potentially lay eggs for eating and if there is a gander in the neighborhood potentially produce more geese. Although the goose was (strangely imo) described as dour, she was preening her feathers which is a sign that she was healthy. To kill a goose for one person to eat is almost like one person eating an entire turkey. They are large and intelligent animals often kept as pets. They are better than guard dogs for warning of disturbances. Do you remember the movie "Friendly Persuasion?" Soldiers come and invade a Quaker Family Farm. The mistress of the family kindly offers to cook for the troops and starts gathering provisions. One of the Rebs starts chasing her goose around the farm yard with his mouth practically watering. This gentle woman shows her fury for the first and only time, going after the man with her broom to save her goose and tell him that she is a family pet. Our purblind mistress is alone and cannot protect herself or her beautiful white goose whose neck was stretched out in the dung. I understand her wanting to hang herself as she gathers her possibly last thing of value into her apron to cook for someone she thought might be an ally. I do have difficulty believing he could sneak up on and kill a goose so easily and kill her by stepping on her neck and head, even if she was distracted preening herself.

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Apr 11, 2022·edited Apr 11, 2022

Regarding connections, I think the woman does function as kind of an inverted mirror of the narrator.

First of all, she's a woman, and in this story where feminine traits are appropriated for masculine uses (power), she represents what is appropriated and powerless. She's doing something traditionally feminine, spinning yarn, and can't do anything but comment on the situation. The story is asking me: does this type of devalued powerlessness actually have value after all? Though she can't directly alter any of the events that occur, she does function as a sort of hinge upon which the narrator's actions can turn. She makes his actions possible. And she represents the part that haunts his dreams: the part that is always commenting on the situation, perhaps the part that can even ascribe value in the first place.

As for the glasses/sight: the narrator's bookishness, represented by his glasses, is a feminine trait that he learns to appropriate - he can *use* his glasses, both to see and to gain admiration towards the end of the story. Her glasses, however, screen purblind eyes. She has nothing to appropriate here, with her poor sight and (we assume) lack of learning. All she can do is mirror, her glasses glinting back at the narrator's own. But the whites are flooded; the mirror is imperfect; the narrator cannot allow himself to really see, except in his unconscious...

The yarn spinning also mirrors the narrator's ability to spin a line (of text). But whereas the narrator can use these lines to "hit" ("Lenin hits it straight away, like a hen pecking at a grain"), the woman is reduced to a kind of aimless spinning of lines of yarn that say nothing. But do they really say nothing? Or do they reveal the beyond of language?*

(Now I'm really hoping someone who speaks Russian can tell me if "spinning a yarn" also means "telling a story" in Russian, as it does in English.)

I also found the repetition of "Comrade this business makes me want to hang myself" to be quite powerful. At first it's an invitation to camaraderie (as George mentioned): the woman is inviting the narrator to recognize all these similarities and bond with her. But he refuses: he's going to appropriate them instead. So when she repeats it, it means something different: it means that the narrator, instead of being someone who can commiserate with her, is instead someone who contributes to the very thing that makes her want to kill herself in the first place. And then it's followed by the slamming of the door: that world has rejected him.

I also love that the goose who gets killed is male and the hen pecking at a grain is female. Underlines how this power/powerlessness is in all of us, regardless of sex; things don't line up neatly along gender lines.

“Phallocentrism is exactly that: not primarily the denial of power to women (although it has obviously also led to that, everywhere and at all times), but above all the denial of the value of powerlessness in both men and women.” (Leo Bersani)

Maybe it's too early for the understory but I can't help saying that I think this story is "about" how power tends to become blind to powerlessness in order to maintain itself.

*"Weary of all who come with words, words but no language

I make my way to the snow-covered island.

The untamed has no words.

The unwritten pages spread out on every side!

I come upon the tracks of deer in the snow.

Language but no words." (Tomas Tranströmer)

I love this story.

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When I first read this story, I took the landlady's use of "Comrade" as no more than a Russian habitual usage. I did get that the Cossacks' presence there was distressing to her. And that they shared "glasses," which I also took to mean that they both saw the situation quite differently from the others present. His action shocked me - blatantly choosing the Cossacks over the more helpless landlady, and obeying the advice to mistreat a woman to win the men's approval. Shocking because I had identified with him. And in that moment realized I could not have done what he did and would not have survived. But in doing so he saved his own life, probably, and possibly hers as well. And bought for himself the moment when he could, in comradeship, read Lenin to the Cossacks, and actually have them listen. They won't change. On the outside. Because people like that don't. But on the inside?

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Sweet, I'm glad the break wasn't too long. George, congratulations on everything, it all sounds amazing--I can't wait to read what you've written! Also, in your last post when you were talking about the cycle of anticipation and anxiety, and then coming out of it and being like what the heck was that all about--it reminded me of being in a love affair. That same all-consuming headiness and then kind of shaking your head when it's all over. That's life and I love it.

Onto Pulse 4, my favorite pulse. I really love that he pushes that old lady, for the story. Like when Olenka's first (and second) husband died in The Darling--how he gave his life for rising action. Here, the narrator pushing the old lady shows he's in the game. He's in it to win it, he hasn't given up. If he had just decided to sit around bemoaning life with the old lady it would be less an interesting story and more just a miserable situation. And because of the fart and general juvenile hijinks of before, this reads like lunch table politics, which I can relate to. I've never been in a war but I remember junior high. Also I love that he has to catch up with the goose to kill it, this brings up a comical picture in my mind. Not because he described it that way but because of the atmosphere created beforehand with the fart and leg stepping, etc. It's tragic but also hilarious. I love that I can't help smiling even though I know it's a really bad situation. Oh and someone mentioned this above, I too identified with the narrator for wearing glasses. I have a super high prescription and always think about how if it weren't for modern medicine, if we still lived in hunter gatherer times, I would most definitely have been dead meat. So I like that I have something in common with the narrator there so when he does the mean thing, I feel it more. Also I love that the old lady says what she says "after a pause" both times. I don't know what it means but I love that it's there.

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