Pushkin On A Chechen Not Acting Checheny
April 24, 2013, 03:56 AM
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Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) was the first world-famous Russian writer.

Yet, his work is notoriously hard to translate. Nabokov, arguing that translating the literary pleasures of Pushkin out of Russian was hopeless, labored for years on an absolutely literal (i.e., not literary) translation of Pushkin's long poem Eugene Onegin as an aid to students learning Russian: it was printed with the left hand page in Pushkin's Russian and Nabokov's translation into English on the right hand page. Edmund O. Wilson's attack on Nabokov's translation set off a famous literary feud.

Chechen feuds, however, tend to be less literary and more literal. Chechens acting Checheny fascinated Russian writers, including Pushkin. From Margaret Ziolkowski's book Alien Visions: The Chechens and the Navajos in Russian and American Literature:

Another, later, narrative poem by Pushkin, "Tazit" (1829-30), is devoted to the conflict between conventional Chechen mores and an inexplicably more enlightened consciousness. "Tazit" tells of a young Chechen who returns to his aul and his father, Gasub, after thirteen years ... Tazit returns at a crucial moment, immediately after the slaying of his older brother, whose death he is expected to avenge in accordance with the strict requirements of customary law. 

The young man proves a disappointment to his father, though, for he is incapable of fulfilling any of the traditional expectations of Chechen culture. In fairy tale-like manner, Tazit has three opportunities to demonstrate his commitment to Chechen ways, but on each occasion his failure to do so is more pronounced. 

First, he refuses to take advantage of the opportunity to leap from a boulder and rob an Armenian merchant. ... 

Nor can he explain why he does not capture an escaped slave with a lasso. 

Finally, and most cravenly from Gasub's perspective, Tazit does not chop off the head of his brother's murderer when he has the chance. "The murderer was alone, covered with wounds, unarmed," he squeamishly objects, and his appalled father can only conclude: "You're not a Chechen — you're an old woman / A coward, a slave, you're an Armenian!" 

Gasub apparently has his own set of ethnic stereotypes.