Сontemporary notebooks of love: girls’ subculture in Russia.
Любовь для русского народа
Любовь для русской красоты
Любовь сильнее кислорода
И крепче серной кислоты 1
One of the most exciting and unexplored spheres of private life remains personal papers of teenage girls: the so called "notebooks of love" (тетради о любви). These manuscripts are also known as "albums"(альбомы) and in the last decades of our century they were commonly called "songbooks" (песенники). A notebook contains all kinds of texts about love and relations with boys and is normally circulated only among close friends, being kept in secret from other classmates, teachers and grown-ups.
At first sight such notebook immediately reminds a personal diary and then it could be classed by historians as a document of private life. The intimacy of this esoteric genre seems to be stressed by its hand-written nature, special secret pages and violent cautions against the thieves and the strangers. But, as I intend to argue in my paper, girls’ notebooks demand a very careful approach in terms of private and public - the material involving many subtle aspects, which change their meaning depending on the historical and cultural context.
A typical notebook of the eighties accumulates different genres: one can find here the texts of popular songs; sentimental poems and ballads, the aphorisms and didactic inscriptions; melodramatic short stories; wishes from the friends; "rules of love"; "school chronicle"; various games of fortune telling (гадалки); erotic stories; questionnaires and jokes. A notebook is illustrated with girls’ drawings along with cuttings from journals and postcards; it is often written in different colors.
The content of a notebook in late soviet period is expressly opposed to the official ideology and public life. These subjects are "not taught at school" and are often dismissed by the grown-ups as "scandalous" from the moralistic point of view or on aesthetic grounds as samples of bad taste. It is basically a product of uncensored culture, a kind of girl’s "samizdat".
Being spread mainly among city girls, the notebooks nevertheless demonstrate many structural features of traditional folklore, as I hope to show. Actually it belongs to new written urban folklore that developed in the last decades 22. The other genres of a similar nature are series of political jokes; children’s "sadistic verses" (садистские частушки), the albums of soldiers, serving two years term (дембельские альбомы) and the albums of teenage prisoners. All these genres express the interests of a clearly marked group, in some cases forming an isolated community, the identity of these people being defined by age, gender or social and political position.
Girl’s notebooks could also be located within this system by the parameters of age and gender, but mainly, as it seems, as possessing a definite "symbolic denominator" in terms of Julia Kristeva: "This memory or symbolic common denominator concerns the response that human grouping, united in space and time, have given ... to the problems of reproduction, survival of the species, life and death, the body, sex and symbol"3 3 The collective cultural memory understood in this sense dominates the identity of every owner of the notebook. And consequently such discourse exposes both solidity (due to the stable mode of reproduction and representation) and fragility (because of the necessary interaction with other symbolic denominators).
Both aspects are easily revealed in the diachronic frame. Contemporary notebooks of love are a recognizable modification of Russian women’s album. The historic origin of girls’ notebooks can be traced back to the XYIII century, to the time of Peter the Great. The albums appeared on the wave of fashionable sentimentalism and European influences, when Rousseau and Richardson were the rage of the day. Later the albums became a necessary part in the social culture of girls and young women in the aristocratic families 4 4and were even described in "Eugene Onegin" by Pushkin:
Конечно, Вы не раз видали
Уездной барышни альбом,
Что все подруги замарали
С конца, с начала и кругом...
Тут непременно Вы найдете
Два сердца, факел и цветки;
Тут, верно, клятвы Вы прочтете
В любви до гробовой доски 55...
The albums of the XIX century were a family affair: the first pages were usually filled by the parent’s wishes, and then the owner of the album could go on, offering the album to the friends and copying the favorite texts. The last pages were traditionally considered to be the most important and were filled only by privileged people, preferably by a sweetheart or a future bridegroom.
As time passed, the genre of an album demonstrated its fragility along two lines. First, it became fashionable not only in aristocratic city circles, but also in suburbs, towns and villages, thus changing its social milieu. This process began with the appearance of new democratic educational institutions for girls(such as gymnasium, boarding schools or High Courses for Women) and the type of an "institute girl"(институтка) 66. But the crucial turn happened in the twenties after the socialist revolution, when the albums were "invaded" by the genuine folklore of the peasants, soldiers and even criminals.
The second development emerged in terms of age: the owners of the albums were gradually getting younger and by the beginning of the thirties of our century album-writing was already a privilege of teenage girls 7.
In spite of this change the albums maintained the genre solidity, keeping the key-texts intact. Teenage girls of the twenties and the thirties used to copy the prerevolutionary poems and songs, often without even understanding its meaning. This is a recurrent phenomenon in the history of culture: international children’s lore preserve the most archaic texts, which had been sacred generations ago, or, in a similar manner, a peasant’s holiday dress could reflect the city aristocratic fashions of the past century.
One of the most conservative elements in the structure of albums turned out to be short inscriptions, originally improvised on the spot:"Люби меня, как я тебя";"Все, кто пишет в альбом кроме меня, лгут"; "Пишу тебе две строчки//целую в обе щечки"; "Писал поэт - имени нет// Месяц и число снегом занесло";"Секрет на сто лет"; "Кто писал, тебе известно, а другим не интересно"/I,III,IV/. These formulas, found almost in every notebook, play over the conventions of album-writing and its open secret of a signature, providing the work of the cultural memory and the continuity of tradition.
The structural unity of an album is based on the rhetorical formulas, marking the beginning and end. The utopian dreamland, "territory of love’ is announced immediately through a fantastic address on the first page:
квартира Свидания.8 8
The next page of contemporary notebooks normally contains several ancient warnings. The owner threatens potential thieves:
"Кто возьмет тетрадь без спросу
Тот останется без носу" -/III/
(which could remind, by its brevity and force, of the ancient Latin epitaphs, warning the robbers of the graves) or gently asks the strangers to close the notebook:
Oткрыли Вы тетрадь,
Прошу закрыть сейчас,
Секреты тут мои,
Они же не для Вас!
Then goes the request not to be too strict and not to count mistakes in grammar and spelling:
Когда Вы станете читать,
Прошу ошибки не считать!/III/
Прошу мои ошибки
Считать за улыбки 9.
Making allowance for mistakes marks the explicit opposition to the school norms of writing and the world of rigid rules for everything. The language adopted in the notebooks is indeed "free" and one can find here all sorts of incredible things:
Ты смеешься и плачешь шутя,
Далеко, далеко без рассудка /III/ -
including fantastic time -
В рассветный час заката -
or, by contrast, excessive precision -
Ровно в полночь в изысканном зале,
А точнее, в двенадцать часов/III/.
It goes without saying that nobody expects stylistic beauties in the writings of teenage girls. But it is also true, that the language of love in general can hardly be very original. As Roland Barthes puts it, "Writing about love means confronting with the plaster of language: this is the region of folly, where the language is at once too abundant and too poor..." 10
The associations with "plaster", or rather slush, mud ("le gachis"), also arise because the poems, copied from books, belong to the same type: the majority of them can be classed as melodramatic lyrics, even by minimal aesthetic standards immediately identifiable as "kitsch" or banality 11. A remarkable representative of this kind is a soviet poet E. Asadov. Always despised by official critics, he has been, nevertheless, for the decades the most popular poet in girls’ circles, always receiving piles of letters. His romantic image was especially touching, as he was blind and a veteran of war, so a number of his admirers wrote, offering help.
As the bulk of sentimental trivial poetry in the notebooks is the biggest, it defines a dominant stylistic tendency. In this respect almost all the texts joined under one cover apparently form an intertextual framework, and once a new fragment is incorporated, it is likely to undergo essential transformations to fit in. And even a "classical" poem by Pushkin, Apukchtin or Tjutchev in this surrounding functions as a melodramatic romance: "Гляжу как бeзумный на черную шаль" by Pushkin is a vivid example.
The "preface"(зачин) of a notebook would typically begin with an epigraph poem, like a well-known "Farewell to the childhood":
Детство - пора золотая,
Детством умей дорожить,
Детства второго не будет,
Как ты за ним не гонись!/I/
or a series of general aphorisms about life and love: "Песня без названия - как птица без крыльев"; "О любви глаза расскажут"; "Все приходит вовремя, кто умеет ждать"(here the reader is instantly. reminded about the moral obligation not to count the mistakes!). The most intriguing part of the introduction, however, is the conspiratorial presentation of the main "characters" by initial letters of their names:
На "Б" - моя фамилия,
На "В" - меня зовут,
На "Т" - подруга милая,
На "С" - любимый друг./I/
As time passes, the names of the best friend and the boy can change and the initial letters are respectively corrected: as a result, in these places one finds a sort of palimpsest - several amendments, leaving no chance to the last reader to solve the riddle. The name of the owner, on the contrary, can always be easily guessed, because it is frequently repeated in full form in friends’ wishes or compliments.
One of my basic sources for this work, for instance, is the notebook of a girl, called Valya. I learned her name from the poems, addressed to Valya by her friend, who wished her happiness in love. But the majority of these short poems are standard texts with intended gaps to be filled by the names of the people in question:
Плещут холодные волны,
Бьются о берег морской,
Словно сказать они хочут:
"Валя + ... = ЛЮБОВЬ!"/I/
The name of a sweetheart, being a secret, is never fully deciphered. Other poems playing over the personal names, include special lines with rhymed name:
Валюша, милая Валюша
Мне так нужна улыбка Ваша/I/."
These lines must have been originally coined for a girl called Natasha or Manyasha, but, as we see, this small inconvenience does not discourage a passionate friend. If the original name is appropriate in the notebook, such poem sounds less clumsy and is read as a spontaneous composition, as it was intended by the author:
Наша жизнь ведь еще паутина,
В ней запутаться очень легко,
Так советую, милая Нина,
Не влюбляйся в ребят горячо!"/I/
In the XIX century the tradition of language games in album poetry often included more sophisticated tricks, the favorite being acrostics. This gallant fun is rare in contemporary notebooks, but the girls tend to copy the same classical samples:
Ты хочешь знать, кого люблю я
Его не трудно отгадать,
Будь повнимательней, читая
Ясней я не могу сказать./IV/
The vertical set of initial letters of each line gives the answer: "ТЕБЯ". A proper name is frequently enciphered in a similar way. In our example the answer is also facilitated by the use of a different color in the manuscript for the initial letters.
Semiotics of color in the notebooks is a thing not to be passed unnoticed. The girls were writing their notebooks with great care, clearly and with several pens of different color. Preferably, each person is supposed to use her own color, distinct from the others. In Valya’s notebook, for instance, friends write in green ball-pen, and their messages are situated across the diagonal of the page - this position implies the posture of a casual quick writing on one’s knee.
Before the revolution the pupils from Yurievskaya gymnasium even practiced writing with old-fashioned pens in their albums. The antique pens were meant to signify a special attitude of the owner of an album, who put all her soul in her writing. In modern notebooks each text is framed by an ornamental drawing, made in several colors. Red pen is used for creating an emotional emphasis and marking the key phrases, such as "Я ЛЮБЛЮ ТЕБЯ ВЕЧНО!" or for proper names. The geometric schemes for fortune-telling games are also drawn in different colors and normally make a very vivid and attractive picture. As one can see by the illustrations, different colors here are quite functional, since they help a fortune teller to find quickly the necessary column in the square.
Perhaps the importance of color could be explained by the direct "kindred" relations of girls’ culture with children’s drawings and folklore. In children’s "terror-stories" (страшилки) соlor is a marked feature of all supernatural beings, such as the Red Hand, the Green Fingers and the Black Curtain 12.
All main emblems of love in girls’ notebooks also tend to be colored. Take for instance such universal symbol, as rose - its color of is full of meaning:
Белая роза - свиданье,
Красная роза - любовь,
Желтая роза - измена,
Вся пожелтела от слез 13/III/.
Some of the contemporary songs, popular mainly among the teenage girls, refer directly to the floral code - "White roses" (the hit of a group "Ласковый май"), "Yellow tulips" (the song by Natasha Koroleva). The second song, extremely famous in the beginning of the nineties, is obviously connected with the manuscript short story "Yellow tulips", which is a dramatic tale about unfaithful love. This story was traced in several variants in the girl’s notebooks all over Russia and the song has preserved the theme of unfaithfulness, thus pointing to the manuscript culture as its origin and a secret context, shared by girls-listeners. 14
.Вut not every flower bears an emblematic meaning, the preferred ones are roses, tulips, carnations, violets and lilies of the valley, and a pretty girl would, no doubt, present herself as an "aristocratic" rose, so distinct from other simple flowers:
Дарю тебе корзиночку,
Она из тростника,
В ней тридцать три фиалочки,
А розочка одна.
Галя, это ты 15/I,IV/.
In the notebooks the floral imagery in most cases functions as a direct allegory of love and girl’s fate. This device goes back to the traditional parallelism in Russian folklore:
Из цветов люблю я розу
А из мальчиков тебя.
И тебя прошу я тоже
Люби розу и меня/I/.
The same themes and tropes can be arranged in the form of aphorisms: "Нет розы без шипов, а любви без поцелуев!"/I/; "Розы гибнут на морозе, малолетки - в лагерях."
The passion for roses in written folklore can be compared with the floral decorations in such traditional crafts, as the Pavlovo-Posad shawls or the Zhostov trays, where roses are the principal element of an ornament. But the roses in girls’ poetry are not always so straight-forward "beautiful" and life-affirmative: they are rather seen as decadent and vulnerable, ready to be picked or broken.
Yet the main thing about album roses, perhaps, is their prickliness, an emblem of inaccessibility.
Я встретил розу, она цвела,
Шипов колючих была полна/I/.
And even through such worn-out metonymies, as roses, one can easily identify the ideology of romantic love focused around a proud and unattainable Lady as a sublime object of desire.
Discussing the paradigm of courtly love, Lacan emphasized the concept of the Lady-Thing, the Object, which can be reached only through a series of detours and obstacles 16. The libidinal economy of love as incessant postponement works in the notebooks as the moral imperative of pride at any price:
Такой гордыней ты была,
Не смог я подойти/I/.
A proud girl is a true heroine of all the notebooks, the master of her feelings: "Гордость - первое человеческое достоинство. Нет гордости - нет и человека"/I/. But seen from the "inside" of a proud person, the picture could seem more dramatic:
Замолчи и не смей унижаться
Закали свое сердце в борьбе,
И сумей иногда засмеяться,
Когда хочется плакать тебе/III/.
Thus for girls the matrix of courtly love, inscribing inaccessibility as the proper form of relations between man and woman, presupposes the school of self-negation. The notebooks register the painful process, when the girls start to develop "the fantasy-substance of their identity, whose effects are real: it provides them with all the features that constitute so-called "femininity" and so define woman not as she is in her jouissance feminine, but as she refers to herself with regard to her (potential) relationship to man, as an object of his desire" 17
This "masochistic theatre of courtly love", in terms of Slavoj Zizek 18, necessarily includes a male point of view. So some poems in girls’ notebooks represent a range of male positions, and this also points to the basically fantasmatic character of romantic love in this context.
According to Jean Laplanche, the function of fantasy is specified as "mise-en-scene" of desire: "Fantasy is not the object of desire, but its settting" 19 Different genres of writing, filling the main part of a notebook, give us endless variations of setting, but hardly any significant thematic modifications. Everyone is free to stage a personal romance, and, perhaps, and that is why the notebooks provide a guaranteed escape into privacy, however paradoxical it may seem.
Thus all the notebooks have a very distinctive aura of dreamlike quality: this is an open fantasmatic canon, an ideal frame for individual desires and daydreams. In fact, a case can be made for saying, that for readers various parts of a notebook melt into each other, making up the series of floating signifiers in the discourse of romantic love.
It is important to understand, that the girls in most cases change a text they are copying. They adjust it to their own private circumstances and needs, changing names, time and place, introducing the passages of their own, replacing the strange words by the familiar ones. So each girl, writing the new material into her notebook, literally appropriates it and becomes its author, bringing in her creative accents. As a result, the final variant presents a unique blend of the individual and the collective, an overlapping of the private and the public.
Sometimes the text can be just an arbitrary combination of lines from different sources:
За стеклянными дверями
Матрос Лёлю целовал
И спросил, сверкнув очами:
"Вы поедете на бал?"/IV/
The first line of this text is the beginning of children’s poem (cчиталка); the second is taken from a tragic song, popular in the twenties; the third goes back to "Borodino" by Lermontov and the last refers to children’s game "Барыня". Thus the final variant is constructed as a collage, and the author here acts as a performer of traditional folklore, mixing the appropriate formulas. 20
.What are the typical sources, then, of the new materials? They can come practically from everywhere: from books the girls read at school and in leisure hours; from radio and television, and from the press. The most privileged source, however, remain oral life-stories, often told in companies as real "cases" and later dictated from memory. The same applies to "improvised" (actually heard from others) poems and sayings. And, last but not least, the notebooks are circulated among close friends, who are glad to share the recent materials, read and discuss them or teach each other the new rules of the game. This type of exchange is particularly active when an elder or simply the more popular and self-confident girl instructs a junior one, showing her notebook and letting her copy "the best".
One of the basic functions of a contemporary notebook remains socializing. A young girl would typically start her notebook in the form of an open questionnaire, to be circulated among the classmates. Thus she gets to know her friends, but it also works the other way round: everybody is eager to answer the questionnaire of a popular girl, while the less lucky ones would have to wait and look for those ready to cooperate.
While filling a questionnaire, you must write your full name and address, telephone number and answer the questions about your favorite soap opera, singer, color, animal etc. Also the owner of questionnaire might be interested to know about your relations with parents, teachers, what do you think about this or that person; what is joy, friendship and, certainly, love. As the comparative overview shows, the types of questions change with age, the interests respectively tend to switch from school life and different hobbiies exclusively to romantic affections. A lot of questions are answered by jokes, and the humouristic attitudes are often demonstrated by boys.
In Valya’s notebook the longest text, occupying 20 pages, is a melodramatic story "Tatiana". This is a tale of love with a classical triangle of characters, and the relations between them are noble and gentle: the heroine dies while saving a little girl from drowning in sea and both boys, the former rivals, swear to love and remember her for ever. This plot is a variation of a popular story "Marijka", first registered in the sixties 21.
Copying the text, Valya preserved the plot, but changed the names of all the principal characters: perhaps, she preferred to identify them with the friends she knew or simply did not like the names in the original version. She added some details in the description of the appearance of the main heroine, and, what is most significant, in my view, put a special emphasis on the topic of death in the story, enlarging these parts and composing long speeches in the episodes of the funeral. She obviously had a taste for the sad and the tragic, as she began her story with a passionate appeal (also absent in the original version): "Умер человек! Слышите, люди! Умер человек!"/I/. The sentiment of death was clearly the central for her in the process of copying/living through this story: in the end she wrote the names of the main characters in capital letters with colored pen and added: "and me", thus inscribing herself in the story and simultaneously putting her signature as the author.
Valya’s obsession with death is not a unique phenomenon - in other notebooks love is always associated with death. An unprepared reader could think, that for teenage girls a romantic love inevitably leads to death and wonder about the grounds of such pessimistic prospects, but, as cultural theory might suggest, this link points to the basic mechanisms of symbol formation 22.
In the history of literature this connection is confirmed by the common origin of black gothic and family novels in the second half of the 18 century. The Fair Lady in the poetry of romantic period also potentially displays the features of Femme Fatale (La Belle Dame sans merci). The "kinship" of respective genres in contemporary mass literature, according to Kay Mussell, could be explained, among other reasons, by the fact that "writers of gothics and romances delineate the effect of extreme situations upon men and women in the realm of their conventional domestic concerns and these novels often although not always portray a woman at the center of the action." 23
In girls’ notebooks the interplay between love and death is often phrased in terms of "wise" warnings:
Страшись любви, она пройдет,
Она мечтой твой ум встревожит,
Тоска по ней тебя убьет,
Ничто воскреснуть не поможет/III/.
A popular picture in Russian albums before the revolution was a landscape of a cemetery: a classical sentimentalist topos. So it’s hardly surprising, that death seems to be part of the plan even in the gallant genre of album inscriptions:
Когда умру, когда скончаюсь,
Когда не будет здесь меня,
Тогда возьми альбом сей в руки
И вспомни, кто любил тебя!/IV/
But the anticipated decease, as one can feel, is described not as something radically tragic and gloomy - it is rather the mood of serene sorrow, and tender recollections. This intonation is specific for sentimentalist sensibility since Karamzin and is frequently accompanied by sweet tears.
The contemporary notebooks of love continue this tradition and the readers are supposed to cry after the most touching pieces. Many report they do. This reaction is even inscribed in the texts in the final comments: "Все в зале рыдали"; "Мать и дочь заливались слезами". And the standard epithet for tears would be "сладкие, горючие", marking an overwhelming compassion and collective sympathy as, perhaps, the strongest gratification, received by the readers.
Anne Vincent-Buffault remarks that circulation of tears in the sentimental novels of the 18 century functions as an economic exchange: "They give tears, they own tears, they pay tribute of tears, they buy with tears..." 24 This economy of emotions, obviously at work in the notebooks, indicates one of the important attributes of the private sphere: the discourse of intimate affections becomes the universal code.
Tears appear as a standard metaphor in the philosophic meditation on the passing time:
Не плачь, что розы вянут,
Они опять расцветут,
Не плачь за то, что годы молодые
Уже не вернуть 25.
The sentimental pathos, involving this decadent mood of temporality, is extremely typical for the album-writing. A notebook’s page bears the memory of the precious moments of friendship and youth, reminding: "Memento mori". The same semantic function reveals itself in the opening quotations ("Farewell to golden childhood) and in the collections of stereotyped inscriptions for the photos.
The sense of irreversible time and anticipation of death also imply an absolute belief in Providence. It is worth noting, that this attitude to destiny transcends the gender differences and is shared both by schoolgirls and young men, writing their notebooks in prison. They copy the identical texts, depicting always the same image of merciless fate:
Жизнь - это омут невзгод и страданий,
Жизнь - это море неравной борьбы.
Жизнь - это лес бесконечных плутаний,
Жизнь - это хохот безумной судьбы/III/
To accept the power of Providence in this case means first of all to yield to the inevitable separations and failures in love, while the references to cruel fate would work as a standard consolation:
Мы оба с тобой будем правы.
Наверное, дело в судьбе.
Дорога в судьбе налево, дорога направо,
Ты сам по себе, я сама по себе/III/ 26
In fact, love, death and fate are often fused into a synthetic image of "terrible force":"Любовь/судьба - это страшная сила" - an all-embracing formula in the aphorisms (see also the epigraph poem, opening this paper).
The romantic experience of sublime and terrible is translated in girls’ and boys’ notebooks mostly through the so called "жестокие романсы" - i.e. tragic songs about unhappy love, which are extremely popular in Russian society 27.
In the poetic world of these tragic songs death always comes suddenly and the heroes patiently suffer and accept all the misfortunes, however hard they are. Moreover, contemporary Romeos and Juliets often take poison, with a characteristic phrase: "Я иду к тебе!" In the context of soviet ideology a firm mystical belief in the reunion of souls on heavens apparently worked as a suitable alternative to the official atheism.
The same respect and even awe toward death and Providence one can trace in the melodramatic short stories, copied in schoolgirls’ notebooks: the heroine just happens to turn over the corner, when out of void appears a killer and next moment her lover finds her with a knife in her heart. So how are we to deal with this permanent theme - unmotivated deaths and a resign to one’s fate?
A possible explanation is that a repeated symbolic reenactment of death may serve to antidote primal fear of death, emerging in teenagers. But I would like to follow another line of argument. The characters of melodramatic stories and tragic songs act as victims of fate par excellence, and, symptomatically, after their death all other conflicts seem to be resolved. Their life is thus sacrificed for the peace in a given community, whether it is a band of robbers, lead by Sten’ka Razin, or a group of classmates at soviet school.
According to Rene Girard, sacrifice functions as a ritual channel for violence, putting a forceful closure on uncontrollable vengeance in society: "Once interminable vengeance is avoided, they start to call it "private vengeance" 28 But, as Girard further specifies, "The expression presupposes public vengeance, but the second term of the opposition is never explicit.("l’expression suppose une vengeance public mais le second terme de l’opposition n’est jamais explicite"). By public vengeance one could mean only "the legal system in police society" ("le systeme judiciaire dans les societes policiees")...
This crucial distinction, perhaps, could help to understand why the songs and stories about "private vengeance" were on the peak of popularity in the period of soviet "stagnation" (годы застоя), when the society was governed by a communist party and the legal framework was rather inefficient. The juxtaposition of private and public spheres at that time was almost always interpreted by the audience of the songs in favor of the private.
In the albums of young prisoners the distrust toward an official justice is accompanied by the unconditional belief in faith: "Я раб судьбы, но не лакей закона"; "Суд - это базар, на котором торгуют судьбой, не зная её цены", "Заключенный - жертва судьбы" 29. Such aphorisms are also often used in tattoo. Characteristically, one of the favorite tattoo inscriptions is " меня как я тебя", which is frequently copied in girls’ notebooks.
The overlapping of the two discourses - "love" and "prison" - is clearly seen in one of the most popular plots - "Report from the court-room". This is a history of crime out of love, told by a defendant. And again, this ballad can be found both in girls’s and in prisoners’ notebooks.
A variant of this long ballad is copied in Valya’s notebook under the title "Love". This is "the last word" or rather "the last song", sung by the prisoner:
Друзья, расскажу Вам о том, что случилось,
О том, что я слышал из зала суда:
Судили мальчишку, совсем молодого,
А в зале немая была тишина.
И вот подсудимый, красавец мальчишка,
Судья задает ему первый вопрос,
А он отвечает: "Подайте гитару,
Я песней отвечу на первый вопрос"...
Then follows a harrowing story of love and girl’s unfaithfulness, and the boy takes the law into his own hands:
Настиг на аллее, на той, где встречались,
На той, где ночами её целовал,
Я выхватил ножик, она закричала,
И белое платье в крови увидал/I/.
Heart-rending finals like this are especially typical for thieves’ cant (блатные песни). What interests me in this song is an apparent sympathy of the public to the boy. Everybody here again sheds sweet compassionate tears. In some variants of the ballad he kills himself having finished the story. By this act he regains his status of victim and simultaneously his right for a "private vengeance", to use again the words of Rene Girard. He is guilty in the eyes of the court, but he is justified in the opinion of his listeners. Why? - Because he acts as a private person, and finally vindicates the truth of raw simple feelings, the romantic overtones of sacrifice/violence. His actions are surely criminal and dangerous before the law, but he plays by different rules, challenging the formal legal system.
This distinction, perhaps, could also help to explain why tragic songs enjoy enormous popularity in all social groups in Russian society indiscriminately of class, age and gender differences 30. They are sung everywhere, and a good performance requires a specific intonation of "надрыв", which is more violent, than sentimental sorrow. Whatever crimes are committed by the characters of these ballads, the sympathy of listeners is on the side of a private individual, recognizing only the laws of their passions
What are these laws and where are they written? - one might ask. Girls’ notebooks contain a detailed answer to this question: it’s enough to consult the section "Rules of love".
These pages describe the current etiquette of love and friendship, formulated in a number of didactic aphorisms addressed to boys and girls. This genre appeared in the notebooks in late fifties and flourishes up to the present days. The rules establish the romantic code of love and honor, functioning as a sort of manual for the beginners. A few examples would suffice: "Никогда не отбивай мальчика у девочки"; "Хорошая дружба кончается любовью, а любовь - женитьбой"; "Не люби красивых, они изменчивы"; "Двух - не люби"/I,II/. The main virtue here is a pure and free feeling, radical in all its manifestations: "Умри, но не отдай поцелуя ,без любви" 31.
The norms for boys specify the strategy of a "smart" flirting: "Если ты влюблен в девушку, а она не замечает, то чаще кидай на неё взгляды"; "Если ты видишь, что она тебя любит, то будь с ней повежливей"; "На первое свидание не опаздывай, девушка этого не любит"; " Юноша не должен просить поцелуя, но и не нахально целовать, но на прощанье он должен поцеловать, хотя девушка этого не хочет"/I,II/.
Assertive strategies are encouraged, direct looks and farewell kisses are recommended. But even for schoolboys patronizing attitudes and frequent neglect of a partner’s wishes are considered to be stylish, and this line is fully developed in the albums of young prisoners. They tend to write cynical misogynist texts about women: "Лучше слушать вой волков, чем клятвы женщин"/YII/. In their albums one can find explicit erotic texts, rarely present in school notebooks.
By contrast, "rules of love" contain no instructions about sex. Still body-language, the politics of glances are a subject of great attention: "Если девушка опустила глаза, поцелуй её еще раз"; "Если парень берет девушку за подбородок, значит, хочет поцеловать"/I,II/.
This concrete semiotics is often constructed around mythological schemes of human body. Thus, the opposition of right and left is symbolically loaded, left being the side of heart and love:"Если мальчик моргнет левым глазом и улыбнется, то он подает знак, что любит"; "Если парень наступает на левую ногу, значит, он тебя любит"; "Если парень здоровается и стыдится подать левую руку, значит, любит"/I,II/. A standard metaphorical link between fire and passion сould result in a superstitious prohibition: "Девушка! Не жги спички! Это значит, что ты просишь его поцеловать тебя" /II/ Some objects mean parting - a ring, a mirror, and it is recommended to reject such presents.
The fairy-tale "wise" cautions in the notebooks can be followed by common sense tips on street behaviour: "Никогда не оборачивайся на свист", "Не ходи одна поздно вечером"/I/. Other advices regulate the appropriate responses on different stages of courting: "В первый вечер парень должен идти по левую сторону . Во второй он берет её за талию, а не под руку, и объясняется в любви"; "Если парень кладет руку на колено, то ты её отбрось"/I/.
The surrealistic mixture of different rules and codes would, however, acquire unity if we look at it from the point of view of a girl, the owner of a notebook. For her love, as I have tried to argue earlier, is a realm of fantasy, of anticipated enjoyment and danger, and "The rules of love" provide the fantasy-scene.
According to Slavoj Zizek, "In the fantasy scene the desire is not fulfilled, "satisfied", but constituted (given its objects and so on) - through fantasy, we learn "how to desire".In this intermediate position lies the paradox of fantasy: it is the frame coordinating our desire..." 32 Thus fantasy appears as a screen for the desire of the Other - this point could also help to explain, why there are so many instructions addressed to boys in girls’ notebooks. The phantasmatic coloring easily perceived in the rules of love reveals the discourse of desire at work: "Любовь делится на три поцелуя: холодный, горячий и жаркий"; "Чем крепче жмет парень девушку к себе, тем сильнее он любит её"; При поцелуе девушка не должна закрывать глаза"/I,II/.
It is hardly surprising that the majority of teenage girls, according to the research of S.Borisov, fall in love for the first time after having read the texts from the notebooks 33. But the "didactic" aspect of the "rules" is counterbalanced by the mechanisms of fantasy. As Zizek argues, "a desire structured through fantasy, is a defense against the desire of the Other...(i.e. the death-drive in its pure form)" 34. Desire can be used to work against desire.
I will try to illustrate this double bind in the economy of desire, by two examples. A girl would resist the death-drive by inscribing a simple wish in her friend’s notebook: "I wish you big love, like in the story about Edic and Valya, but with a happy end" Referring to the popular tragic story "First love", she mentally rewrites the final to please her friend - but actually she can not wish happiness without recalling death.
In the second example the language of desire demands the negative displacement of a girl’s feelings:
Умей смеяться, когда грустно,
Умей грустить, когда смешно.
Умей казаться равнодушной,
Когда на сердце тяжело/III/.
This is not just an imperative of social hypocrisy, but a key virtue, I have already discussed in the beginning of my paper - Pride.
Гордым легче, гордые не плачут
Ни от ран, ни от душевной боли...
Не грызет их зависти короста.
Это - правда! Гордые не плачут.
Только гордым сделаться не просто/III/.
In this poem we also have the opposite quality named - Envy. These two features are always paired by contrast. Thus in a classic ballad "Envy", registered almost in every notebook, the envious girl slanders the proud girl; the latter runs out of the class and is hit by a car.
Personification of Pride and Envy in the antagonistic characters could prompt associations with the medieval moralite, where vices and virtues used to be presented in visible allegories. In fact, the hand-written notebooks, circulating among a group of interested readers could also remind of medieval book culture, but I would not like to push this line of argument too far and would rather focus on this specific passion for allegories, so clearly manifested in girls’ notebooks.
As in the "rules of love", the concrete semiotics of body seems to be a universal key and lists such rubrics, as "The meanings of mouth", "Lips", "Manner of walking", "Smiles", "Birthmarks", "Eyelashes", "The meanings of glances". The last instruction, for instance, teaches to decipher the direction of glances:
Смотрит издалека - влюбился;
Вниз - мечтает;
Вверх - страдает;
Вбок - ревнует;
Прямо - любит/I/
Such "signs" are easily turned into the fortune-telling games, which pay special attention even to the most spontaneous body effects. A remarkable illustration is fortune-telling by sneezing ("чихалки") and hiccup ("икалки"). In these games, popular mainly among the girls aged 8-12 years, sneezing and hiccup are classed by the time of the day and by days of week:
Понедельник, 7-8 часов - "Кто-то придет"
Вторник, 18-19 часов - "Вы с ним поссоритесь"/III/.
This kind of fortune-telling is quite ancient, going back to folklore culture. Vladimir Dal’ describes similar games as "сalendar omens" (приметы) 35
Calendar symbolism embraces days of week, birthdays and seasons: if you meet your love on Monday - no good -
Понедельник - неудача,
Вторник - любовь,
Среда - надежда/I/
Practically anything can be read as an allegory, gifts being the ultimate objects for interpretation:
Духи - измена;
Фото - разлука;
Платок - ссора;
Альбом - горячая любовь/I/.
As the signified is almost always the same - the range of prospects in love - the fantasy of a fortune-teller frequently expresses itself on the level of signifiers. A number of fortune-telling games take shape of word-games, that are constructed as acrostic with first letters made of the standard "answers" about the feelings in question:
As a result we have "СЛОН", and by similar principles one could decipher the words "СОЛНЦЕ", "ДУРИЛО" or even invent a strange creature "ЛУРНИСТ Х/Д":
The number of answers can be easily multiplied by adding a row of figures. The meanings of figures are written out on a separate sheet. A fortune teller then would ask to name a letter and a figure, turn a page and produce a detailed answer. The system is further complicated by the request to cross four rows of vertical lines: a fortune teller counts the lines left uncrossed and this gives the combination of figures 11-12, 11-22 and so on. The last parameter helps to define an appropriate column of answers (see illustration 1 in the Appendix). The complex games might be quite subtle and imaginative in the variety of approaches. They are called "гадательные справочники" because of their encyclopedic scope.
In the majority of fortune-telling games the space of a notebook is divided into two parts: the first, containing the list of questions or symbols for the "clients" and the second, the secret one, reserved for the use of a fortune-teller only. In some kinds of games a page is simply turned down by diagonal line. This is done mainly in the games of younger girls. They prefer to make the lists of questions about the future bride/bridegroom: "Where will you meet your love?", "Where will you be living?" etc.(see illustrations 2 and 3) Some answers are clearly meant just for fun: "You’ll meet your love in the litter pit"/Y/.
Since everybody knows, that there is always a secret part in each notebook, these secrets are always an object of intense curiosity, when a notebook is circulated. The owner relies, or at least pretends to rely, on the honesty of her friends, but still takes appropriate measures against unwanted curiosity. Normally a notebooks has several "false" secrets. A page is turned down or rolled into a tube and those who open it are likely to get one of the following messages:
Умные люди читают газеты,
А дураки - чужие секреты.
Куда ты лезешь, ты - корова,
Ведь ясно сказано - не трогай!/VIII/
In some cases to open a secret page means to be involved in an unexpected game:
Открыв секрет, себя ты губишь
Теперь пиши, кого ты любишь/YIII/.
- that is, in exchange you must reveal your own personal secret, and it is to be written in the same page to be violated in its turn by other curious readers!
Other inscriptions in the secret pages play over impatient interest and skillfully create the suspense:
Переверни скорей листок...
Еще листок.. Еще листок...
Чего ж ты ищешь, дурачок?/YIII/
Thus the secret pages of a notebook actually contain no secrets at all, functioning mostly to to sustain the composition of a notebook. This is an open conspiracy, masking the absense of any confidences or intimate notes, and in a way such structure reflects again what we saw in other aspects of the genre.
Being "all about love", a notebook by first impression seems to be a personal diary, but by closer examination turns out to be a written folklore - accumulation of cliches, a collection of anonymous texts. The individual approach can be traced through a strategy of copying and changing a ready text, in the nuances of selection and combination rather than in a straight-forward self-expression.
The impulses of a private person are more visible in the space of phantasms, tears, and reader’s compassion. The economy of desire and the masochistic matrix of romantic love provide universal patterns for staging an individual drama and identifying oneself with "proud" and suffering characters, challenging fate and death. The opposition of private and public is clearly at work in the themes of private vengeance and living by the laws of love. Yet even the concrete body semiotics and the social prescriptions, formulated in the "rules of love" and fortune-telling games, mostly expose traditional models and tend to validate gender stereotypes.
As we see, the contemporary notebooks of love are far from displaying an idyllic and conflict-free "herland". But at least there is always a romantic friend, happy to write in the last page:
Кто любит более тебя,
Пусть пишет далее меня.
List of sources.
I.Valya’s notebook (end of the seventies, the region of Kalinin, donated to the friends before the wedding).
II.Texs, collected and published by S. B.Borisov (1970-1980s, beginning of the nineties).
III.Texts, collected and published by V.F. Lourie (the songbook, 1986).
IV.Texts, collected by V.V.Golovin.
V.The notebook of fortune-telling games of Anna Vainshtein (1996).
VI.The songbook of M.G.Nurok (the eigties).
VII.Texts collected by M.V.Kalashnikova (Perm’, end of the eighties).
VIII.Texts collected by E.Bobrova (beginning of the nineties).
Paper given at the conference "Private life in Russia". University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Оctober, 1996.
- Valya’s notebook /I/:see list of sources at the last page of the paper.
- See Неклюдов С.Ю. После фольклора.- Живая Старина, 1995, № 1, С. 2-5.
- Kristeva J. Women’s time. In: Feminisms. Ed. Warhol R.R., Herndl D.P., Rutgers U.P.,1991, P. 443,444.
- See Лотман Ю.М. Роман А.С.Пушкина «Евгений Онегин». Комментарий. Л, 1983, С.241; Hammarberg G. Flirting with words: Domestic albums, 1770-1840. In: Russia - Women - Culture. Ed. Goscilo H. and Holgrem B. Indiana U.P., 1996, p. 297-321.
- Пушкин А.С. Евгений Онегин, Глава 4, строфы XXYIII-XXIX.
- See Белоусов А.Ф. Институтка. В сб. Школьный быт и фольклор. Часть 2. Таллинн, 1992, С. 119-159.
- See Боброва Е. Девичьи тетради (рукопись). С. 1.
- These lines probably refer to Pushkin’s praise of mistakes: Как уст румяных без улыбки,
Без грамматической ошибки
Я русской речи не люблю. /Евгений Онегин,III, XXYIII/
- Barthes R. Fragments d’un discours amoureux. Seuil, 1977, p. 115: «Vouloir ecrire l’amour, c’est affronter le gachis du langage: cette region d’affolement ou le langage et a la fois trop et trop peu, excessif et pauvre».
- For an interesting discussion of different meanings and functions of kitsch see Boym S. The poetics of banality. In: Fruits of her plume. esays on contemporary Russian women’s culture.Ed Goscilo H. N-Y, M.E.Sharpe, 1993, p.59-85.
- See Успенский Э. Красная рука, черная простыня, зеленые пальцы. Жуткий детский фольклор. М, Экономика, 1992.
- This symbolism can be seen at work, for instance, in the title of a film by S.Soloviev «Белая роза - эмблема печали, красная роза - эмблема любви».
- See Борисов С.Б. Тридцать рукописных девичьих рассказов о любви. Обнинск, 1992, Ирина Ч, с.103-105.
- This poem goes back to the albums of the beginning of the century, when a small basket full of flowers was a standard gift. The soviet megalomania has changed the scale and in the sentimental hit by Alla Pugatcheva in the eighties the guy shows his love with no less than one million red roses.
- Lacan J. The ethics of psychoanalysis. L, Routledge, p.152. For the feminist response to this concept see Grosz E. Jacques Lacan. A feminist introduction. L, N-Y, Routledge, 1990, p. 131-146.
- Zizek S. The metastases of enjoyment. L, Verso, 1994, p.108.
- Zizek S. Op. cit. p.89-99.
- Laplanche J., Pontalis J.-B. Fantasy and the origins of sexuality.- In: Formations of fantasy, L, Methuen, 1986, p. 26.
- The atmosphere of the sixties is immediately recognized through the romantic connotations of geology as profession: the main characters dream of discovering a new mineral and naming it after their love.
- See Bataille G. Les larmes d’Eros. P, Pauvert, 1961; Bronfen E. Over her dead body: death, femininity and the aesthetic. Manchester U.P., 1992.
- Mussell K. Preface.- In: Twentieth-century romance and gothic writers. Michigan, Detroit, 1982, p.Y.
- Vincent-Buffault A. Histoire des larmes. P, Rivages, 1986, p.26: «On donne des larmes, on doit des larmes, on paye son tribut de larmes, on achete avec des larmes».
- Published in: Шумов К., Кучевасов С.В.: Розы гибнут на морозе, малолетки - в лагерях.- Живая Старина, 1995, № 1, С. 14.
- On tragic songs see Гудошников Я.И. Русский городской романс. Тамбов, 1990.
- Girard R. La violence et le sacre. P, Grasset, 1972, p. 29-30:»Une fois que la vengeance interminable est ecartee, il arrive qu’on la designe comme vengeance privee».
- М.В.Калашникова. Альбомы современных детских колоний - Новое литературное обозрение, № 22, с.346-362.
- One of the recent and most full collection of texts is «Современная баллада и жестокий романс». Составители С.Адоньева, Н.Герасимова. СПб, изд-во Ивана Лимбаха, 1996.
- This maxim goes back to the novel of N.G. Chernishevsky «Что делать?», advocating the ethics of «honest» relations between men and women. See Паперно И. Николай Чернышевский - человек эпохи реализма. М, Новое литературное Обозрение, 1996, С. 77-135
- Zizek S. The sublime object of ideology. L, N-Y, Verso, 1989, p. 118.
- Борисов С.Б. Прозаические жанры девичьих альбомов.- Новое Литературное Обозрение № 22, с.362-380.
- Zizek S. Ibidem.
- In traditional culture sneezing and hiccup were considered to be manifestations of evil spirits in a human body. See Никитина С.Е. Икота. - Живая Старина, № 1, 1996, с. 12-13; Даль В.И. Пословицы русского народа.
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