Monday, December 24, 2012


At the going-out-of-business sale at Kultura's Books, I bought three or four books, one of them EIMI by E.E. Cummings. The Greek verb eimi is "I am" if the diphthong takes an acute accent, "I go" if it takes a circumflex. Cummings surely intended the ambiguity, for he goes plenty--to Moscow, to Kiev, to Odessa, to Istanbul, and back to Paris--and throughout emphasizes his is-ness. He made the trip in May and June of 1931.

The book makes rewarding, though slow, reading. Cummings writes with puns, with nested parentheses that eventually had me thinking of the programming language LISP, with colloquialisms now forgotten (or as" he might write "now And How forgotten). He did not like the USSR at all: not the theater, not the beer, not the food, not the management of day to day life, and particularly not the American enthusiasts for the system whom he met there.. He mentions mostly in passing the secret police, the GPU, who appear at times as "phibetas" after an American three-letter society. He speaks well of an American or two met there, and of a few Russians. Among the sites he visited, he writes with enthusiasm of a museum of modern art in Moscow, of a church or two in Kiev, and in general of Istanbul, particularly of Hagia Sophia and a bazaar.

In the essay "Transcendental Satyr", collect in Every Force Evolves a Form, Guy Davenport writes of EIMI
He went to Russia (the trip was subsidized: did the man ever pay for anything in his life?) and wrote EIMI, one of the best travel books of our time.
Davenport does not say who subsidized the trip. If it was the Soviet government, then the Soviets got a very bad bargain.

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